Q+A with Ella Baxter about New Animal
We literally could not be more excited to be publishing Ella Baxter's uproarious and powerfully moving debut novel New Animal in the United States and Canada on February 15, 2022.
Originally pitched to us as "Fleabag meets Six Feet Under," New Animal follows an emotionally distant woman about to turn thirty named Amelia, whose closest friend - her mother - suddenly passes away. Rather than confront her grief, Amelia absconds from her doting step-father, polyamorous brother, and the funeral, to join her equally disconnected birth-father in Tasmania, where she attempts to belong within the BDSM community.
Kristen Arnett, author of With Teeth and Mostly Dead Things, calls New Animal "feral and raw, laugh out loud funny in parts, and absolutely the kind of family mess I love best.”
Emily Temple, author of The Lightness, calls New Animal "a raw, arresting debut, toothy and surprising—a novel that manages to deeply consider the molten core of human experience (read: death, sex, memory, grief) while also poking fun at it."
Courtney Maum, author of Touch and Costalegre, says "How Baxter manages to make the journey of a motherless funerary mortician surrendering to the Tasmanian BDSM scene feel universal is testament to what this unique novel has to say about the effects of mourning on our bodies and our souls."
Following is an interview with Ella Baxter about New Animal.
Q: New Animal does such a tremendous job of balancing the serious with a healthy mix of humor. How did you settle on the tone of the book?
Ella Baxter: There are 138 versions of New Animal, not edits, but separate stories with different characters and plot lines. There were more maudlin versions, hornier versions, darker and more disturbing versions, and I kept rewriting because none seemed right. As soon as I incorporated humour, the protagonist’s eccentricities, dismay at the world, and her curious attempts at connecting to others, made sense, and I could see clearly the person she was and the landscape she was in.
Q: The family at the center of New Animal runs a small funeral home, and Amelia is the resident cosmetic mortician. In addition to writing, you also make bespoke death shrouds. Can you talk about your fascination with death?
EB: I am obsessed with ritual and ceremony particularly around death. It fascinates me that humans need to perform a series of events and tasks in order to mark certain things in life. In regards to death, all of us seem quite confused by how dense and vital and temporary we are. I’ve been making shrouds for five years now, and what started as a means to cope with grief, has turned into a small business. It has become incredibly important to me to honour each person by encasing them beautifully before they transition through their final ritual of burial or cremation.
Q: I think the book captures this limbo state you find yourself in in the wake of trauma so well, where you’re flailing for something to hold on to, maybe trying new things, but did you know from the outset that Amelia’s path would lead her to the kink club?
EB: Engaging in kink was an inevitable arc for her but placing her in the club provided an environment for her behaviour to be contained. I wanted her to experience a push back, and I felt that the only thing that would stunt her spiralling would be a community of people who had the language to describe what she was doing, and the confidence to call her out on it.
Q: When your U.S. agent submitted New Animal to us, she described it as “Fleabag meets Six Feet Under.” I tend to cross artistic mediums when describing books, too, using music, films, tv shows, in addition to books as points of reference. Do you think that comparison is accurate, and are there any other comparable music, films, or tv shows you’d include in that equation?
EB: I love that comparison and I love Dana for coming up with it. I have no idea, I guess this is why we have agents.
Q: New Animal also says a lot about the sometimes unconventional families we choose, rather than those we’re born into. Amelia’s older brother is in a throuple; Amelia sort of works to bridge the divide between her two dads; and the kink club in Tasmania is also a makeshift family of sorts. Was this something you were consciously trying to include, or did it find its way into the story through the writing process?
EB: I did consciously include it, but I was also born into an unconventional family which makes writing complex dynamics cathartic for me. I am an only child who was raised by a single mother who is an artist. My father is half dolphin and his mother was a Russian witch. On my mother’s side there are midwives, spies, and dressmakers. On my father’s side there are dancers, painters and perfume makers. My great uncle was a recluse known as Tarzan because he lived barefoot in the jungles up north. A lot of my family members are from the LGBTQIA community, and a lot of them have non typical family arrangements - it has been my constant norm, and I will write it from the inside out for as long as I can.
Q: New Animal is being adapted for T.V. in Australia. What has that process been like?
EB: I’m so excited that whenever it comes to mind, I have to practice non attachment. I can’t wait to see how Marieke Hardy furthers the characters and the dynamics. It is completely surreal that she is working on the adaptation as I have been a fan of hers for quite some time. Selling the film and television rights was all down to the work of my Australian agent Grace Heifetz who is a powerhouse. She orchestrated a meeting at a local wine bar with Marieke and Jason Stephens who is the producer, and after an hour or so of chatting about the central themes of the book, (death, sex, grief, family, etc) it was clear the story would be safe in their hands, and that the balance of light and dark would be able to be translated well. The process has been smooth but completely unexpected.
Booksellers, critics, and librarians can request an Advance Reader Copy of New Animal.
New Animal is available for pre-order.