Listen UP! Summer Author Series: Conversation With Graeme Simsion

Graphic / Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty

Graeme Simsion, author of “The Rosie Project,” visits the University Park Public Library tonight (June 26) as part of the Listen UP! Summer Author Series, sponsored by Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty. His book is about a genetics professor named Don Tillman, who undertakes The Wife Project so he can find a mate who can put up with his quirky habits and demanding personality.

Here’s what Simsion has to say about Don, in a Q&A from the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster. For more information about Listen UP!, click here.

What or who was your inspiration for Don? 

People I worked with and taught. There are plenty of Dons out there. One close friend struggled for many years to find a partner, and he provided inspiration for my first version of the story but the character and story have changed a lot since then. There is no “real” Don!

Do you love the Museum of Natural History as much as Don does? 

Not that much! But it’s one of my favorite places in New York. 

Do you have any idiosyncratic “deal breakers” like Don with ice cream preference? 

I don’t think so, but I’ve been married for 24 years, so I don’t have a lot of recent dating experience (!) I really don’t like smoking, but dated a smoker for some time when I was younger. Back in those days, if I was really attracted to someone, I’d make a lot of concessions. Perhaps less so now. 

Don is a bit of a foodie. You founded Pinot Now and have eaten at El Bulli. Can you talk about the role of food and wine in your life? 

I’m also a bit of a foodie and a wine lover. I cook a lot, and put quite a bit of effort into meals. I actually do jog to the local market, though not on as regular a schedule as Don.

Cooking is a good opportunity for thinking (as it is for Don), and I enjoy the results. My wife and I drink a lot of wine – probably too much – and treat our travel as an opportunity to try restaurants and local produce. It’s a balance to the more intellectual business of writing. 

How did you develop and dive into Don’s voice? 

I channeled a close friend who has a background in information technology–a very technical background. In the early drafts I could hear his voice, but over time Don developed his own mannerisms. I borrowed habits like “greetings” and expressions like “human sponge mode” from other colleagues and friends. 

Do you feel that this is a story of triumph for Don? 

Absolutely. Don is the hero of the story in all senses. He sets out to do something that is a huge stretch and overcomes obstacles and his own limitations to achieve it – along the way learning some lessons about what he really needs. And he does this in a fundamentally decent way.

You have a background in data modeling. What is that exactly, and did your experience with it contribute to your portrait of Don and his Wife Project? 

It’s basically the job of specifying a database–describing in precise technical language what data is to be held and how it is to be represented. A bit like an architect describing to a builder exactly what needs to be built, after helping the client express their requirements and proposing a design. The discipline itself doesn’t feature in the book, but some of the people I met in the field–precise, highly organized people–contributed to my characterization of Don. 

(Excerpted from the Simon & Schuster Reading Group Guide for “The Rosie Project. See more at:

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