About Polly McGee
Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, drinker, explorer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, worked with hundreds of start-ups to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages.
Gender studies and women’s rights locally and globally feature strongly in her academic work, as does the expression of identity through story and narrative. She is a passionate believer in philanthropy and the power of giving, and strongly advocates a collective community approach to wealth and skills distribution. Polly is a bowerbird for technology and innovation and a founder of entrepreneur support organisation Start-up Tasmania. She loves crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and has been known to crowdsurf like no one is watching.
Polly emphatically believes that the answer to most of life’s question can be solved with meditation, barrel aged Negronis and patting retired greyhounds, in no particular order.
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1) Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Ha – the best description is I’m a little like a montage – the whole formed by a lot of little bits. I grew up in Sydney, lived in Byron Bay, Bathurst, Canberra and now call Tasmania home. I’ve travelled extensively in SE Asia and India as well as other exciting bits of the world and love heading off on adventures where I am lost in a completely foreign culture. My life has been shaped so much by my tendency to pursue interesting things, regardless of whether those things appear to have a logical place in my life. You could say that tendency is the kernel of a storyteller – following the scent to get somewhere, and never knowing quite where that place will lead. My career is a consummate example of this! I used weep with envy at people like Elizabeth Gilbert who knew they were on their path from birth as writers. I’ve pursued a hundred things in the quest for what I was meant to do, and it was a revelation when I realized that this meandering was what I was meant to do.
So now I embrace my wanderings and celebrate a life not lived in straight lines. I’ve been a chef, a laborer, a hairdresser’s apprentice, a cocktail waitress, an adult film reviewer, a senior public servant, an academic, a university lecturer, an executive in a railway, coached mumpreneurs, co-founded Startup Tasmania, hosted the Drive program on ABC Tasmania and now I run my own boutique digital strategy consultancy, write and teach yoga, and sit on a couple of Boards. Woven in between my various incarnations I met my husband and am still all swoony eyed about him 17 years later. I have 3 dogs: 2 labradoodles and a rescue greyhound and the five of us make up our furry, fleshy family unit.
2) Dogs of India is a beautiful unusual story about both people and animals. What inspired you to write it?
This story literally found me. I was in India, staying in New Delhi and I met this marvelous woman, Shalini Shamnath who was my host at her beautiful boutique hotel. She took me to meet the native pariah dog puppies she looked after in the local park and I was so stuck by the work she was doing caring from them. While I was hanging out with her and the dogs I had this overwhelming sense that I had to write a story that elevated dogs to a heroic position amongst animals in India. I couldn’t shake the idea, and as the story grew in my mind, it also became the vehicle to explore some of the other themes of India that fascinated me, such as power, petty corruption, the changing roles of women, and of course food and Bollywood! The story felt powerfully like it wanted to write itself, and when I started, it just poured out of me, and I have to say I was happy to be the recipient of this tale.
3) What makes animals so interesting to write about and how did you get the idea to give them a voice?
Animals are interesting – but also for me really tricky to write. Like any being that you can’t get consent from to tell their story, as a writer you have to be so careful to not anthropromorphise their voices. I was clear that I didn’t want the animal characters to have dialogue and in the process become like caricatures or Disneyified, so allowing them to show their personality was a careful dance. I think animal show us an uncensored version of the world, they have such great compassion, and they operate so instinctively. They aren’t worried about how they will look in the next selfie, or held back by the need for material objects, they just need the basics covered and their life is joyful. Dogs particularly are like the most perfect servants of humans. In the Sanskrit epic the Ramayana, the monkey god Lord Hanuman appears in the story to save Lord Ram’s wife Sita from the Demon Ravana. Hanuman exemplifies what is known in Yoga as Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love, he exists only to serve Ram, and in doing so, experiences being at one with the universe and all in it. I feel like dogs model that excellence in such a humble way, they show us the face of unconditional love.
4) You write about different people in India. Could you tell us your three favourite things about the country?
I love the colours of India, it really is the most rainbow hued hypercolour country. I love the sense of the divine, around every corner is a reminder of the deep spirituality of the culture in all its rich diversity, and I love the sense of happiness and hope that I get when I see the love and contentment on the faces of those who have so little as we would measure material things, but they have the greatest wealth of all in a contentment with their lives this time around.
5) What is your all-time favorite book and why?
Oh no – every writer and readers least favorite question! I’d probably have to say the Bhagavad Gita in terms of a text that has so informed the thinking and beliefs of such vast amounts of people and still offers rich interpretations on how to live life that are relevant to our contemporary life as much as when it was written. What I love about the Sanskrit epics is that they are rich with drama while serving up big doses of ways of being in the world entirely directed at love and compassion, which is something that motivates me as a yogi and a woman who believes that the small acts of kindness make a big difference.
6) There are several strong women in your story. Could you tell a bit more about that?
I’m a feminist, and a great advocate for telling women’s stories. History is built on the stories and voices of men, and I wanted to write an intergenerational narrative that showed female heroes of all ages, and gave a voice to some of the issues that we see across society – injustice, domestic violence, inequality. Until women everywhere are equally represented and valued, it is part of my work to continue to remind us that we can do more to make that happen. In Buddhism the Bodhi sattva vow is to attain enlightenment in the buddhahood for the sake of all human beings, but until everyone is experiencing that enlightenment, they have to stick around and keep at it. I think many of us have our own Bodhi sattva style vows about things we are passionate about, and we do what we do to keep contributing to attain that massive goal for the greater good.
7) Dogs of India has a funny and a serious side. How do you combine the two and why have you chosen to combine them?
The best stories are ones that capture you into their flow and release you at the end, giving you a journey, an experience and most critically an emotional connection. Dogs of India was very specifically written to be entertaining, it’s a fast, action packed read and was modelled on the pace and colour of Bollywood, there is a lot of colourful narrative threads to keep hold of at once for the reader. Despite my intentions to subtly weave in some of the social and cultural issues that are certainly not isolated to India, but are universal themes of resilience and survival, I didn’t want to write an opinion piece that pushed my views onto readers. I wanted to write an observational story that was principally a love story and a love letter to the emotional transformations of India, and to dogs ☺ As I have an academic and research background which is all about the layering of meaning and narrative, I can’t help but slip a little bit of the bigger questions in, to leave you gently pondering the world.
8) Food is important in Dogs of India in different ways. What does food mean to you and what is your favourite dish?
Food is certainly one of the main characters in the book, and in my life. I love food and cooking and especially when I travel becoming completely immersed in the food of the country I’m in. I think that food opens the door in travel and conversation to culture that you never get at a museum or monument. On the road you will always find me eating street food and trying to wheedle recipes out of vendors or hanging out in supermarkets spying on what is on the shelves and at the markets. So the food is a journey in itself, and for me what I remember about a place is some amazing meal or food experience I had, that gives the memory a sensual three dimensional quality. I absolutely love Indian food, especially the street and snack food, but I think my favourite things are masala dosas – thin crispy rice pancakes with a dry potato curry, a hot sambar and chutneys to tear off bits and dip in. Paired with some hot sweet chai tea – oh my Govinda – perfection! But my go to comfort food is dhal and rice, it’s the lentil version of chicken soup when I’m sick or sooky.
9) Could you tell a bit more about your writing?
I tend to write to deadline as the majority of my writing has always been delivering texts for other people, generally business writing but often articles or blogs and the like, so while I don’t tend to have that Stephen King daily discipline for my own work, I do write usually about 2000 words a day, and have done so for a few years. I am not someone who crams and smashes out stuff the night before, and I’m very planned in my approach and execution, and I apply this to my book writing, I set a goal of words each day and systematically work till I’m done. I’m blessed with being a fast thinker, talker and writer and I don’t self edit, which means I complete the text and then go back through and edit across the whole story rather than sentence by sentence. Tasmanian author Danielle Wood was one of my writing mentors when I wrote Dogs of India and she taught me the invaluable lesson of planning less and just letting the words come out. It was great advice and I now really trust in the story that comes out being the right one, rather than what I thought it might be. I definitely apply some of what Liz Gilbert would call magical thinking to my work, but it suits my general beliefs and I’m happy to catch on to a bit of creativity and let it flow. I generally write in my office at home, but take my laptop everywhere and write wherever I am. I do like to get away and just go for it in silence, and I often write in bed, interspersed with little creative naps to let the stories develop in my subconscious. I get up super early about 4am every day and keep what I call ashram hours as I do my best work early in the morning. I do yoga and meditate, then get into the writing, and work in blocks broken up with tasty treats, a run, a beach dog walk, a nap, practicing kirtan or another creative distraction to break up the constant tapping away on my laptop.
10) What are your plans for the future?
This year has been amazing, and every day I feel like something else extraordinary happens. I’m currently working on my next book which is a non fiction title called Bhakti Business: The Yoga of Business, it’s designed as a blueprint for women who want to run a heart centered business, using the principles of yoga to structure the approach to creativity and concept delivery from idea to market entry. This marries my two great loves – yoga and startup businesses and I’m so excited about it. The book will be out in March 2017 globally through The Author People and I’ll be running some week long retreats and workshops in Australia and overseas for women who want to get their business ideas up and running, with a couple of teasers here and in Bali scheduled this year.
I have another novel in the pipeline which will be out in second half of 2017, it’s called Parlour State and is set in urban Sydney and centres on the meltdown of an extended family during as they helplessly wait for the death of their beloved matriarch – sounds heavy but it’s a cracking story, of course involving a lot of food, cocktails, sex and coffee. And probably most excitingly – although all that is pretty exciting, Dogs of India has just been optioned by a Sydney based film producer who read the book and loved it, so he and his team are in the process of getting funding and if that all comes off, fingers crossed, I’ll be working with the writing team doing the adaptation.
The future is feeling a little bit amazing right now, and I’m very grateful for the support and incredible talent of the team at The Author People who are really bringing readers and writers together with their brilliant new business model. And super grateful to everyone who has read and loved Dogs of India, I still love the story and the characters so much, and it’s a gift to be able to let them out into the world to play with everyone else. Namaste!
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Review by Suze
Lola is in India to get married, but things aren't going as planned. She doesn't get to see the groom as he has no intention to come home. Instead she spends her days helping her future mother-in-law. She's being paid to get married and take the groom back to Australia, so he can start a new life there. When after a long time Lola still hasn't seen the groom she knows something is wrong. Is marrying a stranger in exchange for money what she really wants though?
Lola lives at Hastinapuri Estate. Her future in-laws are working there. She discovers what life in India is like. Even though things are a mess, something good might come out of her stay. She meets new people, she eats delicious food and she has the chance to learn what it's like to live in India. Will Lola get what she moved to India for or will she have a completely different experience?
Dogs of India has quite a variety of characters. Of course there's Lola, her absent fiancé-to-be and her hopeful parents-in-law. There's the estate owner who loves dogs, there's a former actor who has crazy political ideas, there's a talented journalist with a good nose for a story and there's a kind chauffeur. Two other important characters are a scruffy dog and an aggressive monkey. I loved the combination of humans and animals.
Dogs of India is a funny story with a great message. I admire the way Polly McGee combines humor with a political angle. It's very clever and because she uses a light tone while discussing a serious topic there's a good balance. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of fascinating personalities and vivid colorful descriptions. The story comes to life very well and there is plenty of chaos, but it's always controlled. Each character plays a key part. I loved how everything eventually converges and the ending is fabulous.
Polly McGee has a great writing style and her sentences flow beautifully. I couldn't put this book down and wanted to keep following the lives of the main characters. There are quite a few dramatic twists and turns and all of them are equally creative. I was both entertained and captivated from beginning to end. I like it when a story is different and original. I really enjoyed reading about the dogs and the monkeys. If you're looking for a challenging entertaining read with fantastic main characters and plenty of priceless scenes you should get this book. I absolutely loved this brilliant story and highly recommend it.
One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a paperback copy of Dogs of India.
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