Australian Tiffany's debut novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, is a love story centered on the Better Farming Train making its way through drought-stricken 1930s Australia, educating farmers and their wives.
Was the Better Farming Train real?
It was. The historical records are mainly statistical—the numbers of people attending the lectures and demonstrations on side tracks. I did find some wonderful photographs during my research, and the Australian edition of the book is illustrated with a selection of photographs, mainly of animals. The characters on the train are wholly creatures of my imagination.
Any parallels in contemporary Australia?
As I was writing the book and researching the terrible droughts of the 1930s, we were once again experiencing a very severe drought. I was constantly surprised by how the drought was reported in the newspapers every day. It seems Australians have no drought memory, even though it is so much a part of our landscape. It made me think about how poorly we understand our country, how we live on it rather than in it.
I heard Australian high schools were considering teaching Everyman's.
Actually, no. I'm assisting with a theatrical adaptation of the book, which will tour senior high schools in Australia next year, but I doubt the novel itself will get listed as a high school text. There are concerns about the sex. Clearly, high school kids have sex, or at least think about it a great deal, but evidently they must be protected from reading about it.
The novel toys with the question of whether or not science can really solve our problems. Do you think we've got a better shot today than we did 60 years ago?
We have an irresistible urge to lean into the future—to see ourselves as being at the very height of modernity. I doubt science will solve the current problems of humanity, but it will probably make the inequalities that we live under impressively efficient.
What would your personal Better Farming Train look like?
I like the idea of a train of books and writers. A word train traveling around the country stocked with the great novels and a carriage of writers gazing out of the windows, chewing on their pencils.
Where do you see yourself originating as a writer?
I was born in England and came to Australia at the age of six. I think that being from somewhere else hones your perceptions. When you migrate after you have language, words make sense of where you are.