Have You 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 rest.
Is Xavier 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.
How did you get the idea for what happened to Alex Murray?
Years ago, I was coaching a football team after school 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.
Why did 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.
What is 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 lust.
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-up 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 title.
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