Way back, in 1999 in Melbourne, when I was ill and scarred following the birth injuries I sustained following the births of my two sons, I thought: I’ll never be strong enough to write again. I had little money and had to get a job back in journalism – then a new friend from The Age, the artist Jim Pavlidis, gave me a notebook. He gave it to me because he was kind and because he saw I was sad about not writing. One morning, in a flash, the title came to me. I thought: wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could write the story of a woman’s life through her body? Through her skin, her physical life, her lovers, through the numbering of everything she had ever loved? The number was arbitrary; it just came to me, as a means of ordering the material. I wanted it to be sensory, passing, gone, like breathing, like seconds, life itself.
My Hundred Lovers ended up being written over many years, and has had many incarnations, and a lot of sad things were happening in my life as life went on. Friends in London – where I lived from 2000 till 2010 – were living through the death of their beautiful daughter, Lottie, who died from cancer a few weeks after her 18th birthday. I remember saying to my friends Sandra and Emma at the time: what is the meaning of writing, what is the point, how can I keep on doing something so seemingly frivolous amidst the seriousness and sorrows of life? It paralysed me, for months and months, until I clawed my way back to some sort of meaning by saying: this is the life we have, the short or the long life we have, the days, the hours. This is our perishing body: Lottie was here. Lottie passed across the earth, we are all passing. The sun is beautiful. A clever and lovely girl once lived, a girl who loved to read. Writing is witnessing. Let me count the ways in which life matters, in which every life matters.