Writer, Rebel, Misfit
Marieke Hardy, photographed at home.
Drunk men, usually," says Marieke Hardy, with heavy-lidded, laconic relish. "That's my passion. Hemingway, Fante, Bukowski. Their problematic issues with alcohol - oh wow ..."
Delivered by this diminutive, peppermint-tea-sipping woman, the remark is funny, but it's not a joke. "I couldn't find any women who write about drinking that way, with the recklessness that men do," she continues, her voice losing its deadpan edge. "Men don't have pregnancy, they have this eternal adolescence up until their 40s, 50s, they drink themselves to death. I mean, it's not an admirable way of life, necessarily," she says, cooling down again, "but it certainly puts that poisonous, beautiful, dark edge to their writing."
Anyone who has come across Hardy could tell you that literary drunks are just one of her many enthusiasms. She's fanatical about live music, especially the scene in Melbourne, her home town. Then there's veganism, which she took up a couple of years ago and now describes as "the best thing that ever happened to me". More unusual is a fervent passion for the veteran political journalist Bob Ellis, whom she has honoured by means of a dog (also called Bob Ellis) and a tattoo, "a combined homage to Bob and Kurt Vonnegut", that reads, "And so on, and so it goes".
But above and beyond and encompassing all this is Hardy's real obsession - language and the written word. For someone of 34, it's a love she has expressed in an impressive range of ways. Since her teens, she has worked, on and off, as a TV scriptwriter, most recently creating a dark sitcom for the ABC, Laid.
Her caustic, dirtily funny blog, Reasons You Will Hate Me, has won her awards, fans, enemies and journalistic gigs. She spent 12 years as a radio-show host, is a panellist on ABC TV's First Tuesday Book Club and last year penned a collection of short stories titled You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead. But she doesn't consider herself ambitious. "I'm not doing any of this with an aspiration to get anywhere, apart from just to keep working in various guises."
For all her deadpanning and self-deprecation, Hardy makes for intense company. In part it's her appearance: an assault of red and white polka dots, bright lipstick, pale cleavage and flower-adorned hair that manages to combine sticky-sweet girlish and '50s-pin-up sexy with an undefined sort of edge. In part it's her manner: she's pleasant and funny, but at all points a little on guard.
Her approach to work seems intense, too. Hardy tends to have several projects on the go at once - "The worst writer's block I've ever had in my life was when I had one thing to work on" - and as her book projects have geared up, she has also been working on the second series of Laid, whose central character, 29-year-old market researcher Roo McVie, might be somewhat unremarkable if she didn't apparently have the power to inadvertently kill men by sleeping with them.
The mood of the show, Hardy says, was inspired by the British comedy Gavin & Stacey. "I watched the whole first series in one go. It was so funny, but I wept like an idiot at the end," she says. Laid's germ, she says, was a newspaper story she saw years ago. "There was a very good-looking young man who died, I think it was in Fiji or something, and he was about my age. It was honestly me looking and going, 'Gosh, he's good looking ... Imagine if I'd had a really weird one-night stand with him and now he's in the papers, but he was just that idiot guy who I hadn't thought about in years?' "
The daughter of Alan and Galia Hardy, both writers and television producers, Marieke "grew up on film sets.
"I grew up with books and books and books and books. And Frank" - Hardy, her grandfather, the left-wing novelist and political activist - "was a kind of distant, tobacco-y presence." But no streak of teenage rebellion ever encouraged her to leave writing behind. "I just never, ever thought about it," she shrugs. "It was the click."
As a teenager, though, she dreamed of being an actor, "which my parents despaired of - they thought that was the worst thing in the world. It was pretty much like coming to them and saying, 'I want to be a sex offender.'" As former stage actors themselves, says Hardy, "they knew how hard it was and how bruising it was and how difficult it is to generate your own work. I mean, you can sit in your living room and write, but you can't sit in your living room and act. Well, you can, but people start to call the authorities."
But isn't writing bruising, too - especially when you're the sort of writer controversial enough to inspire hate blogs? "Really? What? You mean there are people who don't like my writing? I find that difficult to believe," she says tartly. "But - no, I'm so connected to the written word now that I don't feel exposed in any way; I trust everything that goes on the page."
An open forum like blogging, she reckons, toughens you up, although she does recognise the difficulties confessional writing can present for the people she knows: "You're the one sitting at the Christmas dinner table with everyone staring accusingly."
Hardy's current literary hero, she says, is Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a cartoonist and memoirist in her own right, although she is better known as the wife of iconic cartoonist Robert Crumb. "But it's all very well for Aline to sit down and go, 'Bleugghh,' and write a book about her and Robert f...ing, and both having affairs, and the self-destructive behaviours she had when she was younger - but she has a kid." When Hardy told her dad she'd got a non-fiction book deal, "he said - 'That's greeaat, you have to tell us when it's coming out. So we can leave town.' "
There are disadvantages to being from a literary family, she points out. "My poor father has had to deal with it from both ends of his life with his father writing about him." But while she is worrying about her family's privacy, it seems, they are worrying about hers. "My father always said, 'You know, you can write about these things that happen and these feelings, but why don't you just do it like it's a fictional story about someone else?' They do get a little protective in that regard - of which I am fairly heedless, I must say."
A photo Hardy posted of herself on Twitter - a feminist take on a '70s shot of Derryn Hinch, in which she is topless and reading a newspaper in bed, while an adoring indie boy (actor Anthony Hayes) cleaves to her side - certainly suggests a level of disregard for other people's opinions.
"I don't feel anyone can say anything personally hurtful unless I know them and I care about their opinion," says Hardy. "If Bob Ellis said something dreadful about my writing I'd probably curl up into a ball for a week." In a world full of writers, what is it about Bob? Hardy grins a big, open smile. "Have you read his beautiful writing? My God. It knocks me out every time I read it. It's poisonous and it's beautiful and it's passionate and it's honest and it's libellous and it's ragingly - at times, legally - inconsistent, which I'm sure his editors are aware of. But it's just deft and searing."
Last year Ellis performed at a literary event Hardy holds regularly in Melbourne - usually called Women of Letters, but renamed for the all-male line-up. "I thought, "It's just going to be me standing at the front of the stage staring up adoringly, and everyone else is going to say, 'Who is that shambolic figure?' But he wrote this letter to his wife - we asked them to write a letter to a woman who changed their life - and he got the first and only standing ovation we'd had at one of our events. People were weeping. It was one of those moments - that's why. I just adore him and he tolerates my adoration."
Beyond the men of liquor and women of letters, Hardy also mentions a soft spot for Jonathan Safran Foer ("swoon"), whose recent Eating Animals charts his conversion to animal-free eating. Hardy recommended it to the First Tuesday Book Club audience. "Are you still on about your veganism?" laughed the show's host, Jennifer Byrne. "Still on about it, I still am a vegan," retorted Hardy, eyebrows raised. Veganism, she says, was another "click", something that felt as right as writing. She admits it's a surprising fit for someone not exactly hung up on moderation - she's been known to describe herself as a hedonist, and restrained comment isn't really what she's about. (In October, the ABC pulled her column about Christopher Pyne from its The Drum website, apologising profusely for a piece that wished upon the Liberal MP an attack by "a large and libidinous dog", among other things.)
"I'm an incredibly unlikely vegan," she agrees. "I'm quite a lazy person, I love food, I hate making a fuss in restaurants." But in the end, she says, "I just didn't want to connect what was on my plate with how it got there."
"A creature of habit", Hardy prefers to work with "no music, no telly, quiet-quiet. I wake up quite early, I like to read the papers and have breakfast, then go and sit at my desk." She's happy to have written her first book, because "I felt afraid of the genre and I really respond to deadlines - I needed an editor to say we believe in you, we believe in this story." She says she loved working in radio, but what makes her happiest is writing her opinion down in a considered way, rather than rambling her views at "six o'clock in the morning".
A lover of recklessness she may be, but when it comes to her work, Hardy is careful and precise. She may not see it that way: "I don't feel disciplined at all," she says more than once during the interview. But if she writes that she wants to see you attacked by a sex-crazed St Bernard, chances are she means exactly that.