‘Artificial’ by Greg French – An interview on Greg’s newly released book

Greg French, author of \'The Artificial\'

Those who have read my own book (In Season Tasmania) would know that Greg, apart from contributing the foreword, acted as a mentor during the writing stages of the production. His experiences with the pen (or perhaps keyboard would be more appropriate) span well over a decade, and have included a collection of Tasmanian fishing guides culminating in ‘Tasmanian Trout Waters’, of which Tasmanian anglers refer to as The Bible.

Following from these publications, Greg wrote his first collection of short stories titled ‘Frog Call’ (2005), which has since sold well in excess of 10,000 copies, attracting a readership that reached well beyond the fishing fraternity. The success of Frog Call can be attributed to two factors: Greg’s literary skills, combined with his love and prowess for storytelling. Within these stories, the Tasmanian wilderness and Greg’s own personal relationship with it, aided by a unique circle of friends, provides the fodder for many personal stories.

I’m halfway through Greg’s newly released follow-up to Frog Call, titled ‘Artificial’, which could be loosely described as similar to Frog Call in style and setting. The characters of many stories are new, and the theme is a little different, but all in all, this is another great piece of work from someone with a story to tell, and a story worthy of being told.

Below is an interview Greg and I did earlier in the week providing some insights into his new book, along with some thoughts on getting out into the wild. If you would like to meet Greg in the flesh, he is holding a number of book launches during August, including one at Petrarchs Bookshop, Brisbane Street Launceston on August 15th. Ring Petrarchs on (03) 6331 8088 if you would like to come and hear Greg talk, get some books signed, and perhaps even glean some pearls of trouty wisdom. I’ll certainly be there!

D: What is the thought behind the title?

G: The title is in part a metaphor for the way people seem to prefer manmade environments to natural ones:

Although many fly fishers devote themselves to ‘matching the hatch’—in creating ‘perfect’ imitations of the things trout eat—the truth is that large nondescript flies are usually a better bet. In this regard, trout are like people. They find glitz bigger and better than real life—they prefer artificial things to natural ones. It is self-deception, to be sure, and they don’t realise until it’s too late that there is a sting in the tail.

Nonetheless, I use the title in myriad ways throughout the text, and in order to understand its full meaning you’ll have to read the whole book. Things won’t become completely clear until the very last page.

D: If you inspired readers to do one thing…

G: It would be to question everything, to rage against the machine, to live every day as if it’s your last… Hmm, that’s already three things. Sorry.

D: Where is the best place for beginner bushwalkers?

G: What a question. Forget about where the walkers should start; where should I start?

The easiest and safest places are ones reached via sheltered, well-marked tracks. The Hugel Lakes near Lake St Clair are good, as are lakes Seal and Belcher in Mt Field, the Mersey River in Lees Paddocks, and Lake Esperance in the Hartz Mountains. Really, though, the best fishing is in the Western Lakes and many of the best destinations are not tracked. My recommendation is that the beginner starts off in the Nineteen Lagoons, getting a feel for the countryside around popular waters like Lake Kay, Double Lagoon and Lake Ada. After this, a walk to O’Dells Lake would be a good primer. Then you could try the main walking tracks in the Chudleigh Lakes: Higgs Track from the foot of the Western Tiers to Lake Nameless; and the old stock route from Lake Mackenzie to Blue Peaks. After this you should start to feel confident about making cross-country expeditions.

For more detailed information, you could refer to my guidebook Tasmanian Trout Waters (published by AFN in 2002). Email Daniel to organise a copy.

D: What are your three favourite pieces of equipment?

G: This is a loaded question: I’m sure Daniel wants me to mention my Sage travel rod, which has been broken so many times it now comprises four sections of four different rods. The truth is that I don’t usually have an affinity with gear, any more than I have an affinity with the sheet of paper I happen to be writing on at the moment. The one real exception is my backpack which I’ve customised to suit my peculiar habits. I also take Strokey everywhere with me when travelling overseas (see ‘Strokey’ in Artificial). And I’m quite partial to the lightweight bottles I put my whisky in.

D: Is there a place for modern technology in fly fishing and bushwalking?

G: The point I make is that gear is not the most important thing. It is more critical for your enjoyment of fishing, and more essential to success, that you concentrate on getting an affinity for trout and the natural environment. You can catch lots of trout with mediocre gear if you are out there fishing. You can’t catch any fish with top-of-the-range gear if you have to spend all your time in the office paying it off.

Also, an overreliance on gear can be a real impediment to becoming a good angler. For example, if you spend all your time staring at the screen on your GPS, you never develop a natural affinity for distance, direction and landscapes.

I am not afraid to use technology—for example, I’ve just Google-earthed the rapids on some rivers in Mongolia that I’m earmarking for future rafting adventures—but when out in the bush I travel as lightly as I can with as little gadgetry as possible.

My advice? Try not to go for real low-end fishing gear because it is likely to underperform and/or break. And for safety reasons, always make sure that your camping gear is adequate for the conditions you are likely to encounter. Apart from that, just get out there and do it.

D: What about those pictures at the back of Artificial?

G: When the pages of Artificial were formatted, we ended up with a couple of blanks at the end of the book. I decided to fill them up with small black-and-white snapshots. Each one relates to a specific story, though some could conceivably be associated with more than one story. The idea is that you try and link as many photos as you can with as many stories as you can. If you have trouble, New Holland will soon post the ‘answers’ on their website.

D: Your favourite story?

G: Come on—they’re all good, aren’t they?

Seriously, my favourite stories, as always, are other people’s, like ‘Yamame’ and ‘Penny for your thoughts’.

I think the best writing, in a literary sense, is to be found in the chapters where I’ve discussed language: ‘Spanish inquisition’ and ‘Hootiner’.

On the other hand, the stories I most enjoyed writing were the ones that encompassed my best memories, including ‘Magic’, ‘Laughing dog’, ‘Fly skinking’, ‘Rental car’ and ‘Bear aware’.

But the real story is the overarching one, the subliminal one, that becomes clear only after you’ve read all the stories in sequence. This is the thing I’m most proud of.

D: What do you have planned for next season?

G: In mid-August I go with my family to Ireland for four weeks (grilse, sea trout, gillaroo, loch-resident brown trout) and Slovenia for one week (marble trout and grayling). Woo-hoo!

At the moment I am flat out learning the Slovene language. To je nemogoče.

Words from the man behind the book—thanks very much to Greg French. I am sure that Greg would be right behind me in saying get out there into the wild, for it is the wild things in life that are truly rare and precious. Daniel Hackett.

If you would like a copy of ‘Artificial’ and can’t make it to the book launch, email Daniel to purchase a copy.

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One comment

  • Graham Osborn February 11, 2012  

    Greg is a truly remarkable author , I have Frog Call, Artificial and Tasmanian Trout Waters, I have read the first two three times and have just ordered The Compleat Angler in Tasmania, We his devoted public need Him to write another book , I have been to Tassie twice and it is my ambition to move down there and one day meet this fine fellow,
    Graham Osborn