fbook icon 60'Reader's Digest' Interview: 

'The Trivia Man' by Deborah O'Brien

Kirsty People 420

'The Trivia Man' explores the theme of being different and trying to fit in. Was there a particular motivation that led you to write about these matters?

As a child, I was a bookish little girl who desperately wanted to be like her peers but didn’t know how. I think that’s why the need to belong is a theme which has emerged in all my novels, but in differing ways.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the characters of Kevin and Maggie. Where did the inspiration for your main characters come from?

I suppose you could say that they reflect two different aspects of my own personality – Kevin is the nerdy ‘quiz kid’ side and Maggie the empathetic side. However, I wasn’t aware of those connections when I was writing the manuscript. It was only when I read the first draft that I realised why those two characters were so easy to write!

Both Kevin and Patrick could be characterised as being on the autism spectrum. Do you have experience with people who are, to use a popular term, ‘on the spectrum’? Or were there other reasons that prompted you to create characters with these sorts of issues?

In my teaching career I encountered a number of young people with special needs including some on the so-called ‘autism spectrum’. tried verhard to view my students as individuals and not to define them by their ‘condition’. So ofteI’ve heard someone say: ‘He’s ADHD’ or ‘She’s Asperger’s’ and Ive longed to retort: ‘No, they’re not! They happen to be someone diagnosed with that disorder. Theres a big difference.

What led you to base your story around a trivia competition?

On a personal level, I’ve always been a trivia buff, even as a child. From a writer’s point of view, a trivia competition provides the perfect structure and framework for a novel. That’s important for me because I don’t plan my plots so I need those kind of constraints to keep me in line. Every chapter is a week of the competition, culminating in the big reveal at the end of the season when the winners are announced.

Have you been involved in a weekly trivia competition?

Years ago I took part in a seasonal trivia competition in which there was a karaoke session at interval. On the first night I was caught off guard and found myself up on the stage with the rest of my team, singing a Tina Turner song. The following week I disappeared into the loo at the end of round four and didn’t emerge until the singing was over! After that, I used to slip outside at interval, only to find the smokers in the audience had done the same thing. In my novel the karaoke session affords Kevin and Maggie a chance to have a conversation away from the other members of the team.

What was the most difficult question that you were able to answer?

'Which animal doesn’t belong: wombat, koala, kangaroo or echidna?'

This question wasn’t necessarily the most difficult I’ve ever encountered but it certainly created a lot of conflict among our team members. Everyone except me chose the koala because it’s the only tree-dwelling creature in the list. I nominated the echidna as it’s the only monotreme. Being the team recorder, I wrote down ‘echidna’ – against the wishes of the rest of the team. Thank goodness it turned out to be the answer that the quizmaster had on his card, or I would have been in big trouble!

Are you currently working on a new book?

Yes, it’s called 'The Rarest Thing' and is set in the Victorian High Country in 1966. The story is inspired by a true event – the discovery of a live mountain pygmy possum, a creature thought to have been extinct for millennia. My protagonists are a female palaeontologist and an international wildlife photographer thrown together in a quest to locate and photograph the tiny possums in the wild.

Where do you generally find inspiration for your novels?

The inspiration comes from many different sources, including my own experiences mixed with a good dose of imagination. I always begin with a strong premise which propels me through the story. In the case of 'The Trivia Man', it was the idea of a middle-aged quiz champion who is always on the outside looking in. That concept gave me so many intriguing possibilities to work with.

Do you have a particular writing routine and why do you think it works for you?

When it comes to routine, I’d love to say that I disappear into my ‘writing cave’ for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon and write 2000 words a day. But I have no routine. Writing fits into my life whenever I have free time. I wish it was the other way around!

If you could invite three of your favourite authors to dinner—living or dead—who would you choose to invite?

What an intriguing question! My first guest would be the inimitable Neil Gaiman who writes across a range of genres and happens to be one of the most compelling and entertaining speakers I’ve ever heard. As my second guest, I’d choose someone whose writing has been a great influence on me – Lewis Carroll. Even today, in spite of the swag of biographies written about him, he remains an enigmatic figure. And finally I’d love to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of one of my favourite novels, 'The Great Gatsby'. I’m sure he would have some incredible stories to tell about the halcyon days of the 1920s.

Interview with Alison Fraser in conjunction with the publication of the 'Reader's Digest' condensed version of 'The Trivia Man' in the April 'Special Edition'.