You were raised in small-town Australia—your parents ran an automobile dealership and sent you to Geelong Grammar, the country’s most prestigious prep school. What did they think when you told them you were a writer?
I didn’t tell them. I got a job in advertising. So even though I was writing, I was always supporting myself. That’s the thing that would matter for my father, who was absolutely a creature of the Great Depression. He would worry every time I got a raise. He’d think, Well, Peter can’t be worth all that money, he’ll be the first to be fired. When I finally began to publish, my father never read my work. He’d say, Oh, that’s your mother’s sort of thing. But my mother found the books rather upsetting. I figure she read just enough to know that she didn’t want to go there. I don’t think my brother read my books, but he may have started recently. My sister was the only one who read me.
None of it had to do with disapproval. My mother and father were very proud of my success. Mind you, by the time I won the Booker Prize my mother’s mind had started to wander a little. I’d gone to London, and I called her and said, Mum, you remember that prize? Oh yes, dear, she said. I said, I’ve won it! Oh, that’s good, dear. There were some people here from your work. I said, What work? I don’t know, she said—they had cameras.
A tabloid television crew had arrived at her doorstep. It was some crappy TV show. They said to her, Mrs. Carey, you must be really pleased! Oh yes, she said, Peter always was special. They said, Did he ring you? And my mother said, Ring me? Why would he ring me? He never rings me.