Ever Met Anyone Like Nuala Magee?
No. She is an
invention. Some years back, I came across a girl in a writing workshop in
a Melbourne high school. She was about 180 cm tall, with an athletic
figure though certainly not slim. She had on lipstick and make-up and the
boys seemed wary of her. I asked her how she got away with the make-up and
she just laughed. It was game of cat and mouse between her and the
teachers, apparently. She was very self assured in some respects but
vulnerable in others. She set me thinking and I made up the
modelled on anyone you know?
He is a
little like me. I loved footy but by the end of high school I couldn't
really hack the rough and tumble. I was changing and starting to get
interested in ideas and novels and I was never really a macho type, though
I would have liked to think I was. So, there is a basis in my own
experience. But that's as far as it goes. Most of the events in the book
are made up.
you get the idea for what happened to Alex Murray?
Years ago, I
was coaching a football after school team when a boy collapsed and died on
the oval next to us. I watched as the small crowd around him stood there,
helpless. It was a cerebral embolism, not a football injury that killed
him. He had had leukemia but it looked like he was completely cured. I
was deeply moved by the outpouring of sorrow that followed from his
classmates. It stayed in my mind.
you write Touch Me?
I had been
thinking a great deal about the nature of masculinity. How does a man act
in this day and age? After 30 years of feminist influence, are new things
expected of men? Have men responded to the challenge for change in the
face of differing roles and expectations among women? I wanted to explore
this in a novel from the point of view of young adults. I thought it would
be interesting to make my character a footballer, with all the baggage
that this can sometimes bring - the bravado, the camaraderie along narrow
lines, the expectations of loyalty.
Of course, I
had to challenge Xavier and Nuala Magee seemed like the appropriate young
woman to do it.
the Meaning of the Title?
I like to
play around with ironic titles, sometimes. The game of touch football
features in the story and at one stage a girl says to the boys, "you're
supposed to touch me, not grope me." That's an interesting distinction
that some males have trouble with even when they're not playing touch
football. Later, when Nuala finally feels she can trust Xave, she invites
him to touch her and when he chooses to touch her face, instead of kissing
her or putting his hand on her breast, she knows she has made the right
choice. Of course, there is an intimate scene in Nuala's apartment where
Xavier reaches out and touches Nuala's almost naked body. That is an act
of love and acceptance for both of them, along with a bit of basic
But mostly, I
called the book touch me because among men there is a taboo about
touching. It's there in the physical sense. Men don't touch each other as
much as women do and many have been brought up to be uncomfortable with
it. However, it's in the emotional sense that I am most concerned with.
Men are rarely encouraged or allowed to touch one another emotionally, eg.
asking how a friend is feeling, helping him in that deeper sense through
something like a relationship break-ups and other personal crises. Guys
are pretty much left to get by on their own. Xavier lets himself be
touched emotionally by both Nuala and Alex. At the end of the story, he
makes a choice not to cut himself off in that inner and personal sense. He
stays open and goes back to see Nuala. That's the point of the