LIKE most people the thought of writing a book terrifies Claudia Karvan.
"In another life I'll write a book," she jokes. "Probably not in this one.
"I reckon it's just about the hardest work anyone could ever do. That's my humble opinion.
"Thomas Keneally won't tell you that. He says it's great fun and he's written 60 books.
"Most of the other authors will share with you how confronting, exasperating, relentless and just how stuck in your own head and your own voice [it is]."
Karvan, of course, is known as one of Australia's most accomplished actresses in film and TV. She's starred in everything from the movies The Heartbreak Kid (1993) and Paperback Hero (1998) to TV shows The Secret Life Of Us, Puberty Blues and Bump.
The 49-year-old is also an avid reader. It began at 16 or 17 when she discovered the genius of authors like Graham Greene, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan.
"They're really comforting and teach you how to be alone and enjoy your own company, which I think is important," Karvan says of books.
"They leave a lot more to your own imagination to fill the gaps and come up with the imagery yourself."
Books have also played a practical role in Karvan's life in keeping her occupied and away from the vices that can plague the entertainment industry.
"As an actor we have a saying, 'you don't get paid to act, you get paid to wait'," she says.
"You spend a lot of time waiting around on set or being away from friends and family and staying in hotels, and books always provided me with a lot of solace.
"They were a positive distraction and better choice then others that one can choose when you're away from home and on the road.
"I'm very grateful for the stories and books that I've read and the writers' influence on my life and the entertainment they've given me, but also the insight into human behaviour and history and psychology."
When we speak to Karvan she's 80 pages away from finishing Shuggie Bain, the 2020 Booker Prize-winning debut novel by Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart.
Karvan makes an effort to read most Booker Prize winners.
"It's so grim," she says. "It's relentlessly cruel and so sad, but it's his actual childhood, so I have to finish it. But it makes you feel ill. It's a really tough read.
"Generally I like to read books that leave me feeling stronger and better about humanity. I like life-affirming books that make you feel connected to humanity."
With her deep-seated appreciation of reading, Karvan sets out to learn about the people behind some of Australia's greatest stories in the TV series Books That Made Us.
She spoke to the likes of Richard Flanagan, Helen Garner, Tim Winton, David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Christos Tsiolkas, Alexis Wright, Thomas Keneally, Liane Moriarty, Trent Dalton, Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko in various locations around Australia in search of what inspired them to create their masterpieces.
"They were all eager to connect and they have curious minds, but they're also deep thinkers and they carry a real responsibility," Karvan says.
"They're very aware of the responsibility that comes with telling a story and how revealing it is of them and their values and personal perspectives on life."
Karvan's journeys for the TV series included visiting the Winton Wetlands in northern Victoria to speak with Sofie Laguna about her novel The Choke and paddling down a Tasmanian river with Richard Flanagan as he recalls his inspiring first book Death Of A River Guide.
"Richard Flanagan was a river guide and he got stuck between boulders and water was cascading over his head," she says.
"He was on the verge of drowning for about three hours and he could only breathe through a little pocket of air as the water was travelling over his face.
"To be in that wet, cold, damp river and imagine this epiphany and life-changing experience certainly made me connect to the novel in a whole other level."
Books That Made Us is on 8.30pm Tuesday on ABC TV or anytime on ABC iview.
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