Searching for Von Honningsbergs by Rowena Wiseman

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Lawson is sent overseas to retrieve three paintings for an exhibition. He has a thorny love affair with an anorexic Russian Latvian firetwirler, does a deal with two shady characters in Brazil and runs for his life from a madman in Beijing. When Lawson discovers that he has actually become involved in an art world scam, he begins to question the true value of art.

What are the main themes of your book?

SEARCHING FOR VON HONNINGSBERGS is all about art – what are the stories behind artworks, why did an artist paint a certain piece, why did someone end up with a particular artwork on their wall and what does it mean to them? It also questions how we interpret art. There’s a whole industry around art – there are curators, art historians, auction houses, collectors, marketers (my main character Lawson calls these people ‘parasites’) … do we lose the artist’s original intention in other people’s interpretations? Can we ever really know exactly what was in an artist’s head when they created an artwork? What is the true value of art? And finally, one of the big questions asked at the end – is it okay to do the wrong thing for the right reason?

Who or what inspired your story?

SEARCHING FOR VON HONNINGSBERGS was inspired by an article I read in Melbourne’s major newspaper about an art curator going overseas to search for some Sidney Nolan paintings. I began wondering about how artworks end up distributed all over the world, who owns these works and how did they come to be in their collection? What, essentially, was the story behind those artworks?

What do you like best about your primary characters?

I lived with Lawson’s voice in my head for many years – I find him witty, sardonic and straight up about the way things are. He hasn’t been sucked into the ‘art world wank’. He is an insider on the outside.

What are their worst peculiarities?

Lawson is probably pretty self-centred at the beginning, however, he does develop empathy for others along the way. I’ve got another character, called Baiba, who Lawson has a brief and stormy affair with. She’s an anorexic Latvian Russian firetwirler, who smokes cigarettes only on the weekend and gives herself orgasms to burn fat. I had a lot of fun with her as a character.

How does your main character evolve?

Lawson dreams of being an artist, he spends a lot of time imagining his exhibition openings, the articles people are going to write about him and his set of adoring fans, but he’s not actually producing any artworks. By the end of his journey he is actually motivated to start painting. By his own admission, as an art student he was always too proud and thought he was too talented (just no one had noticed yet) to take criticism. But by the end of the story, he realises that he doesn’t know it all and he still has a lot to learn.

What’s the principal message you want to send to your audience?

Perhaps that there is much more to a work of art than what we just see.

What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about your book?

In 2007 SEARCHING FOR VON HONNINGSBERGS was longlisted for the Australian Vogel Award and a reworked version was highly commended by the judges in 2012. In 2012 I received a thorough reader’s assessment from a major Australian publisher and they said:

“The novel retells the old story of a would-be artist finding his purpose (and perhaps sacrificing too much in order to do so), and [Wiseman has] done some interesting things with the structure. As is often the case with a manuscript like this, I’m reminded of other fine work. Lawson’s voice often put me in mind of D.B.C. Pierre and his struggles reminded me of the young protagonists in Hesse or Kerouac.

It’s a roman à clef that asks questions about creativity, inspiration and what it means to be an artist, and also touches on the idea of the Faustian bargain. The story asks lots of questions about interpretation and its limits. It’s a clever model – carefully constructed and often engaging.”

Where can we purchase it?

I recently self-published my novel on an exciting new publishing platform called Screwpulp. They use a unique crowd-driven pricing model that helps market and build demand for each book. Readers are encouraged to rate and review books and thereby sift the better books to a higher tiered price. This model rewards early readers with lower prices and rewards popular authors with higher revenue. Screwpulp accepts book submissions across a wide range of genres with no exclusivity and allows one free download a day for users. It’s still in the Beta phase, but people are already predicting that it’s going to present a new chapter in publishing … You can purchase my book on Screwpulp.

About Rowena Wiseman


Rowena Wiseman writes literary fiction and children’s stories. Her blog, for writers trying to get published, has been selected for the National Library of Australia’s archive program PANDORA. Her first novel Searching for Von Honningsbergs was longlisted for the 2007 Australian Vogel Award and has been published on Screwpulp.

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