It’s my pleasure this week to introduce you to academic and author Alison Booth, whose work has been described as ‘evocative, insightful and thought-provoking’
ALISON’S TOP TIPS FOR WRITERS: Keep at it. Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself and remember that writing a novel requires a very long apprenticeship. Make sure you have a day job or some other income source because only rarely can writers make a living from writing alone.
Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky (2011), A Distant Land (2012), and A Perfect Marriage (2018).
Alison has had a number of residencies at Varuna, The Writers’ House, following on from her initial award, and she is active on social media (Twitter and Facebook). Alison loves doing radio and other interviews, and also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at https://www.alisonbooth.net
Why do you write? I write because I’m driven to, because it helps me make sense of the world. And because the act of writing involves so much concentration that I escape from myself, and when I emerge from that state I view my day-to-day life more calmly.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d still be doing my other work, which is being an academic economist. And in addition to that I might be painting, which I love though I’m not very good at it.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Finding an agent for my first book.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? I leave the development to the publisher, apart from the cover. I love seeing the way the cover evolves. The design of my latest book, The Philosopher’s Daughters, took me by surprise because the wonderful Emily Caudelle got the cover exactly right at her very first draft.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The escape into another world. The joy when the writing is going well and the surprise when things emerge from my subconscious that I hadn’t known were there.
—the worst? Those days when what I’ve written seems like utter garbage and I lose faith in myself. I think we all get those days and we have to guard against them.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Maybe do a creative writing course.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m very glad I wasn’t told much because it’s good not to be put off when you’re driven to do something!
What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Read widely.
How important is social media to you as an author? Writers need solitude and many find engagement with social media a shock. But social media provide a useful way of keeping in touch with other writers and what’s going on in the industry. What’s more, publishers insist upon it for book promotion.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet.
How do you deal with rejection? With difficulty, though I did have some training for it: being an academic in my field involves frequent rejection of papers from journals and one learns to toughen up. The important thing is to remember that opinions about fiction are subjective. What one person loves another will hate. Put the rejection letter aside for a few days then return to it later, to see if there’s anything of substance in it you can take on board. Remember also that sometimes a book is rejected because the reader hasn’t got beyond the first chapter, so you might want to rethink that. And then send the book off to another publisher.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? That’s a hard question to answer as it requires detachment on my part. Instead I will borrow the words that author Karen Viggers used to describe The Philosopher’s Daughters: ‘evocative, insightful, thought-provoking’.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope readers get pleasure from my novels. I hope they enjoy the journeys the books take them on and are interested in the way the plot enhances character development, which is basically what my work is about.
What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors? I have a great many favourites. Patrick White, Kate Grenville, Evie Wyld, Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler are particularly wonderful. Recently I’ve discovered Khaled Housseni’s work and I’m looking forward to reading all of his novels.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler spring to mind. I’d like to ask Rose Tremain how she has managed to find such variety in her plots and Anne Tyler if she writes a long draft initially and then pares it back to the exquisite and parsimonious prose that characterises her work.
]A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession. London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or to devote herself to painting. When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life. Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand who is seeking revenge.
Buy the book here.