A Sunday Chat with Graeme Simsion

Big Read author will Skype with Dayton from New Zealand on Saturday

Community members who’ve enjoyed this year’s Big Read selection “The Rosie Project” will have an opportunity to meet the author this weekend as the month-long community effort draws to a close.

If you haven’t read the book yet, it’s not too late to get involved. The book’s a fast read, so you still have time to finish it before the final event.

Novelist Graeme Simsion will join the fun on Saturday, April 25, at Sinclair Community College’s Ponitz Center. He’ll be participating from New Zealand via Skype, a conversation that will be preceded at noon by a discussion of the book moderated by Centerville Library’s Caitlin Wissler and Wright Memorial Library’s Elizabeth Schmidt. At 1 p.m., participants will be invited to share their own love stories with prizes given for the most romantic, most humorous, most unusual and most disastrous. At 1:30 p.m., Sharon Kelly Roth with Books & Co. will moderate the chat with Simsion.

It’s all part of the free Dayton Book Expo and Local Authors Event from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. that includes panel discussions, activities for children and book signings. For the past month, there’ve been book discussions and programming around “The Rosie Project” coordinated by a Big Read committee representing 14 public and academic libraries from four counties. Creative programs have dealt with themes in the book — from understanding and living with autism to speed dating.

“The Rosie Project” centers around Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially-challenged professor of genetics who decides it’s time to find a wife. He approaches the task in an orderly evidence-based manner. Then he meets Rosie, who is everything he’s not looking for — but who might be his perfect match.

Simsion, who decided at age 50 to sell his successful consulting firm and try his hand at writing, enrolled in a screenwriting course that eventually turned a script into “The Rosie Project.” The book has been optioned to Sony Pictures and Simsion has published a sequel titled “The Rosie Effect.”


With help from Big Read co-chairs Jean Gaffney and Ben Murphy, we submitted questions to author Graeme Simsion from members of the Big Read committee as well as readers who participated in some of the book discussions on the book. Here are excerpts from his responses. To see our entire interview, check out www.bigread.org

About the book

Q. Your main character, Don Tillman, is never specifically identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome, yet many readers assume it is part of who he is and it’s definitely part of the conversation surrounding the book. Can you talk about that?

A. Through my life, I’ve had a strong interest in technology, in science, and that threw me into the company of many people who I guess we would now recognize as having Asperger’s Syndrome. I got to know, and frankly appreciate, the company of many people who were socially awkward and that provided the inspiration for “The Rosie Project.” I have a particular friend whom I’ve known for many, many years who really struggled to find a partner. I didn’t do any research on Asperger’s Syndrome. I particularly stayed away from reading nonfiction on the topic because I didn’t want to create a stereotype.

Q. Is it unrealistic for Don not to realize he’s on the autism spectrum?

A. All of the people who inspired the Don character do not have, to my knowledge, Asperger’s or autism diagnoses because they’re in my age group… These are people who’ve gone on — they’ve had careers, families, and so on — and they don’t want a diagnosis. I think because Don is presented as a typical person with Asperger’s syndrome, rather than a stereotypical person with Asperger’s, and also because he’s ultimately a hero, he’s someone who recognizes limitations and — as we all do — works hard to overcome them.

Q. Do you share any traits with Don?

A. I think the big human issues that we share are that all of us, or almost all of us, have searched for connection at some times in our lives. And perhaps many of us have despaired about finding it. Don enjoys drinking, he enjoys fine food, and I share both of those characteristics with him. They say a character is a third someone you know, a third yourself and a third you make up.

Q. Do you watch the television show “Big Bang Theory”?

A. No, never. Absolutely deliberate, I stay away from fiction, which is playing in the same territory as “The Rosie Project” because I don’t want to A), steal, or B), be afraid of stealing.

Q. What was difficult about writing “The Rosie Project?”

A. One was getting Don’s voice right because the book stands or falls by the authentic consistency of Don’s voice, and that took quite a lot of work. The second thing was Rosie’s character. I had a lot of help from my wife, a psychiatrist, on Rosie’s back-story.

Q. What actors would you choose to play Don and Rosie?”

A. Sometimes casting against type, against expectations, is more exciting than saying ,“Look. I could imagine Steve Carell as Don. I could imagine Benedict Cumberbatch or I could imagine Ewan McGregor as Don — or we can imagine Jennifer Lawrence as Rosie because we’ve seen her play something a little bit like Rosie as Tiffany in ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ ” I must say, I do think of Alec Baldwin when I think of Gene.

Life as a writer

Q. The characters in “The Rosie Project’ book are quite complex. How were you able to convey that to the reader?

A. Well, I guess that’s what writing is all about. You try to translate. As much as possible I wanted to show, not tell. As much as possible I wanted people’s behaviors to tell us about what they were thinking, rather than declaring what they were thinking. I feel I have to be able to inhabit every one of my characters. You write what you know, and I’ve had a good, sort of hobby-level interest in genetics, in human behavior, for a long time. My wife’s a psychiatrist. Really, the only stuff I had to research was the DNA collection methods.

Q. Were you bullied as a child?

A. Yes, I was. I was bullied quite a bit at school ‘cause I was short and a couple years younger than other people in the class and a bit of a geek. So, in some ways Don fulfills my fantasy.

Q. What fiction authors do you like to read?

A. John Irving is someone I particularly admire because he can do what I try to do — make him laugh, make him cry, make him think — and he’s able to do that with a range of characters, to get humor from that. Right now I’m reading a few Australian authors. Favel Parrett has a book out at the moment. I read a lot of nonfiction, and like many men I’m probably more inclined to pick up a nonfiction book than a fiction book and have to remind myself to read fiction, but when I do I find it a worthwhile and terrific experience.

Q. Has your life changed with the popularity of the books? How do you manage daily life?

A. Well, the best thing is I was able to give up my day job, so it’s changed hugely and I no longer work in Information Technology and in Business Consulting. It’s just great to be doing what I want to do. It’s actually easier now because my partner and I are both involved in writing projects. So if one of us is on a roll, we’re writing, and if it’s our turn to cook dinner, well guess what? The other person will cook dinner. And we are each other’s first reviewer, critic, co-plotter, so we find it’s terrific working together. I’m working on a story with her, here, and we are writing alternating, alternate chapters — I’m writing the male view, she’s writing the female view. It’s a love story with lots of opportunity for humor.

Q. What else are you working on now?

A. I’m working on a new book. Working title is “The Candle” about a love affair rekindled after 22 years. I hear so many stories of people reconnecting with people they went to school with, or knew when they were younger and “romance” blossoming. In this story, there’ll be a few more complications.

Q. “The Rosie Project” makes a strong statement about love being serendipitous rather than planned.

A. I would actually say, based on 25 years of marriage, you don’t find love. You create it, you make it. And I think that’s a stronger message — that two people who really enjoy doing things together, who are making plans together, as Don and Rosie are doing, can fall in love. It’s not a science, but if they want it to last, as we will see in “The Rosie Effect,” they’re going to have to work pretty hard on it.

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