He’s a former IT specialist; she’s an eminent psychiatrist. Now Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist are a literary couple, parlaying their original careers into second lives as novelists.
As they sit side by side on a fat, black leather lounge in their Fitzroy home, discussing books and the art and mechanics of writing, you realise what a gift Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist have been to the PR team at Text Publishing. They are the true and perfect fit to the old publishing cliche: “Husband-and-wife literary double act.”
Simsion (PhD 2006) and Buist (MMed 1992, MD 1999), married for 25 years, seem a couple almost symmetrically in sync: both high achievers academically and professionally, with an easy, open affection and a pride and excitement in each other’s passions and projects, they are even close physical matches. He is boyish and built like a flyweight, with the same sharp alertness; she tiny and willow-thin.
Now in second – or for her part, dual – careers as novelists, they are keen collaborators, inspiring, bouncing ideas off each other and swapping projects. They even write side by side, literally, at their cottage at Lancefield.
“No, we don’t get on each other’s nerves,” Simsion says. “I think there’s recognition on both our parts that the other can offer something constructive to the process. I value what Anne brings to my writing. She’s very good with plot and characters: ‘What would a woman do under these circumstances?’
“And she’s my first reader: as I was writing The Rosie Effect I’d read out sections to see if she laughed.”
“He’s my last reader before it gets to the editor,” Buist says. “But before we get to that bit, it’s helping me plot and edit.”
It seems to be working. Simsion, 58, is already an Australian publishing phenomenon, a former IT consultant specialising in database modelling whose first novel, The Rosie Project, became an international bestseller with a subsequent movie deal. Buist, 55, is a prominent perinatal psychiatrist and Professor of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, whose own novel, a smart, sometimes dark thriller called Medea’s Curse, has just been published.
They say write what you know and there’s more than a little of Buist and Simsion – and their areas of expertise – in each of the books. The Rosie Project tells of the socially inept – don’t mention Asperger’s – Don Tillman, professor of genetics, list maker, timetable obsessive and wife seeker. He finds himself searching for the biological father of Rosie, a fiery, single-minded bartender, and against all his rules, falling in love with her.
Medea’s Curse, inspired by Buist’s work with Victoria Police and with more than a little nod to 1997’s Jaidyn Leskie case, features Dr Natalie King, a bipolar, Ducatiriding forensic psychiatrist and sometime cover band singer caught up in a series of deaths and disappearances of children.
Simsion came late to fiction, with Rosie published in 2013, but it struck an immediate chord here and overseas, with Text selling the rights to more than 30 countries for about $1.8 million. It went to five reprints that year and four more in 2014. Buist has been writing stories since she was eight, most just a paragraph or two. “But then I finished one at 15 and it’s still sitting upstairs, handwritten. I was still writing in my 20s.”
Simsion admits: “I had a desire to write a novel in the way that probably half the population does – ‘One of these days I’m gunna write a book’ – and saw that as the pinnacle of artistic achievement …but I didn’t do anything about it. Fair to say I wasn’t really serious about it.”
Simsion had completed his undergraduate degree at Monash, collecting “a bunch of other qualifications” before a PhD at the University of Melbourne. He built a successful data modelling consultancy with more than 60 employees and offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Data modelling, he explains, is database specification with the modeller as the conduit or middleman between client and technician.