The confines of a cruise ship headed for the most remote part of Antarctica is the perfect setting for jealous temperaments to thrive and plots of revenge to unfold in this satirical, page-turning novel. Embarking on the ship’s maiden voyage is a cast of colourful characters, including the anonymous firebug narrator whose psychopathic tendencies are all part of his charm; and the rather unnerving, manipulative captain of the ship with a secret worth killing for. As the ship sets sail, it quickly becomes apparent that those on board are so swept up in their desire for recognition, they’re blind to the shared ghosts in their pasts. This novel is a delightfully wicked romp with a razor-sharp edge. Maurilia Meehan’s expertly executed use of irony and subtle humour make even the most outlandish motives believable, and the attention to detail and careful development of each character’s back story results in a thoroughly satisfying, cohesive storyline. The familiar turns of phrase and intelligent wordplay associated with the author’s style are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood. Exploring some of the darker facets of human nature, this book will be enjoyed by anyone looking for a fast-paced read with tantalising twists.
Jessica Slade, Books+ Publishing, June 2016
Reading this sharp, funny novel is like watching a Baz Luhrmann movie of a Noel Coward play. It’s a classic farce, the hyper-real tale of a fire-lighting psychopath and his voyage to Antarctica, which turns out to be a carefully orchestrated revenge plot aimed at four “deserving victims”. The ship is a privately owned and indeed privately commissioned replica of the Queen Mary, a cruise ship whose elegant owner and captain has a corrupt fundamentalist-Christian husband and some secrets of her own.
The four victims, believing themselves to have won cruise tickets in a lottery, share a weakness: they have all been seduced in youth by the promise of fame, and have all been reduced by the hardships of life to credulous and crumbling middle age. This book is funny but often a little bleak, and Meehan saves her most pointed satire for those who desire fame as writers – an extra turn of the satirical screw.
Kerryn Goldsworthy, Age/SMH, 9 September 2016
How did an article from The Age about cutting a hole in the Antarctic ice for a swim inspire 5 Ways to Be Famous Now?
Physical focus for the novel. Who would have such a desire? In order to find out, I needed a ship, which became The Queen Mary replica, thanks to Clive Palmer’s fantasy of his Titanic replica. Then I needed a Captain with this desire among other, more deadly, obsessions.
You’ve said that you enjoy writing and reading about obsessive characters, such as your narrator, who’s addicted to arty girls, gambling and arson – what are you obsessed with?
Apart from scribbling? Until I recently read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych, I was obsessed with dying. This book reminded me to always pay attention to the present moment. So now I obsess about my poppies. (Did I plant them too early? Climate change alters the rules). Will my online Scrabble partner ever play her turn? Will the colours I have chosen for my crocheted quilt turn out the way I imagine them?
More seriously, I was brought up a Catholic but a thorough reading of church history revealed to me its tendentious foundations. I am thus obsessed with exploring how people cling to unexamined, received ideas. I explore this in my characters.
When we’re introduced to your unnamed narrator, the initial defining aspect of him is that he’s a serial arsonist. How did you go about imagining this character, and does he have any redeeming qualities?
I started researching the particular type of fireworks which celebrate the Queen Mary leaving Hobart. As you know, backyard fireworks have been banned since the mid-eighties, and I heard one of our independent Senators announce that one of his policies was to bring back Guy Fawkes night, which the ‘nanny state’ had banned. From this belief the character grew.
Redeeming qualities? I will let the reader decide.
What did you set out to investigate about fame and revenge in your book?
I investigate a set of characters under a particular pressure. Everyone wants to be famous, including our arsonist, but the desire for various types of fame is necessarily thwarted, because there are always just too many people to impress. The few apparent winners create losers and haters, so fame and revenge go hand in hand. ‘We are all famous to our cat,’ is a wise attitude.
You begin your book with a quote from Montaigne – how do his ideas influence your work?
Montaigne would have been a blogger like you if he were alive today. In his discursive essays, he explores why he holds the opinions he does, why other people do. ‘What do I know?’ he was always asking. His scepticism included doubts about the limits of reason itself, as mine does.
Which other books or authors have influenced the writing of 5 Ways to be Famous Now?
A book is the tip of an iceberg. What lies hidden, apart from life experiences, is every book the author has ever read. I am not so much a believer in authorial free will.
What’s the latest non-fiction book you’ve read and what did you think of it?
I am reading 30 Great Myths about the Romantics by Duncan Wu. I have only read Byron so far. It is most revealing about how our received ideas about the Romantics are not to be trusted.
Is there a book you’ve read that was brilliant, yet overlooked by other readers?
Christine de Pizan The Book of the City of Ladies, written in 1405, the first work in praise of women. She speaks out against the literary and philosophical rantings of both the classic and her own era.
Can you share a favourite sentence or teaser paragraph from 5 Ways to be Famous Now?
Here is the opening sentence.
Rest assured, you will find me a most reliable narrator. Facts only.
But will this really prove to be the case? Read on and see…
Interview with Good Reading magazine, September 2016