Andrew Pippos takes a moment to ponder when asked about the creative influence that the inner-city holds over him. He gathers his thoughts, then speaks.
“The city has always done something to my imagination,” Pippos says to City Hub. “I see Sydney as this kind of beautiful, too-bright, menacing place with the echoes of many different types of ancient cultures in it.”
The Erskineville writer credits Sydney as the birthplace of much of the fictionalised characters readers discover on the page, and as the muse for the ideas and themes that grow embedded in his brain. But it was his years of perfecting his craft that now places him amongst the elite of the Australian literary landscape.
The author published his debut novel, Lucky’s, in November last year, a story spanning over 80 years that grapples with ideas of failure, deception and the pursuit of love. With a large period to cover, and a convergence of themes to hit, the structure of the novel proved a hurdle that Pippos initially found challenging.
“I just needed to make sure that everything was plugged in the right way, that everything was connected,” Pippos says. “[It] was a matter of plot and also a matter of bringing out themes that united the different storylines.”
Playing central to the world of Lucky’s is the Greek-Australian café, a nostalgia infused national establishment that saw its birth and demise at either end of the 20th century.
It’s an aesthetic that has struck Pippos with particular resonance much before he ever began writing.
“That’s the world I knew as a child, that was my community,” Pippos says. “That was a fascinating milieu for me for all sorts of reasons.”
A younger Pippos did not have much of a choice when it came to the Greek-Australian café. Throughout his childhood, he would often visit family whose business – and as an extension, lives – were in the cafés. Pippos’ grandparents had one of their own: an alluring diner in the small NSW town of Brewarrina.
Berthed and sustained against the backdrop of assimilationist Australia, those who would dine at the cafés like Pippos’ grandparents would never see Greek food – no one would expect such a cuisine, nor would there be any interest for it.
A good friend
With the institution rendered obsolete for many decades, and with Australians now seemingly clutched to the allure of European cuisine, Lucky’s has reawakened an era that – even to Pippos’ surprise – evoked strong sentiment within a variance of readers.
“I realised that since the book has been published … a lot of people have fond memories of these cafés,” Pippos says.
“I’ve met people in their 80s who remember the cafés, and people in their 40s, there is some nostalgia for them.”
But despite any idolisations that have arisen in readers, Pippos maintains that the novel is far from an observance of the establishments.
“The book is not a celebration of the Greek-Australian café institution … [or] of that immigrant history, it’s a more complex and darker story.”
As is the case for most novels, the writing process for Lucky’s was a long haul. For Pippos, his novel was the project that stood beside him for eight years of his life; a period where he laid his father to rest, welcomed his daughter into the world, and earned his PhD.
Pippos admitted looking to Lucky’s as a piece of comfort and companionship throughout some of the most turbulent moments of his life.
“Letting it go was hard because it was a friend,” Pippos says. “It was a good friend to me through some years of real upheaval.”
But in October last year, Pippos finally let his creation edge into public view. And it was met with acclaim.
Lucky’s was announced as one of six books shortlisted for the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award last month, an honour which Pippos doesn’t take lightly.
“The Miles Franklin was probably the first literary prize I had, [it’s] the most high-profile book award in Australia,” Pippos says.
“For a long time Lucky’s was a private world, and sometimes it felt like an extension of the daydream that I had as a child, so for my writing to be recognised so publicly, is very special.”
The nominees for the Miles Franklin Award are judged by their literary merit and presentation of Australian life in any of its phases. The winner will be announced on the 15th of July and will pocket $60,000 in prize money.
A Literary Gem
While Pippos welcomes the praise, he feels more indebted to the long creative process that formed Lucky’s.
“Writing is a big part of my identity, I’ve worked in other jobs while I’ve pursued my writing,” Pippos says. “You need to commit to it if you really want to get somewhere.”
Throughout the years of work that made Lucky’s, Pippos considers the process to have been a challenging clash with his personal life – but one that remains intensely rewarding today.
“When you’re working on big projects, you can’t just stop everything and be completely obsessed with your project, you don’t want to put your life on hold, or be outside life too much.
“You want to be in the current of things.”
Now with the announcement of the Miles Franklin award just days away, and a $60,000 prize awaiting the victor, Pippos remains committed to the tide of the present.
But still enamoured by his muse, Andrew Pippos’ stream of inspiration is assured to never be far from reigniting once more.