Sandi Scaunich’s career spans the fields of medical anthropology, women’s health, and diversity and inclusion. Her writing has appeared in various blogs, academic reports and The Age. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and a very energetic Kelpie x named Pesca. Chasing the McCubbin is her first novel.
To find out more about Sandi, visit her website at www.sandiscaunich.com.au
Why do you write? I’m not a big planner, so for me writing is an exciting and mysterious process of discovery that takes me out of my head and into the minds and bodies of my characters.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I (temporarily) stopped working in my career during the second lockdown. Until then, writing had been a side passion that I squeezed in around working and family. The kids are back at school now, which means I’ve been typing away freely, doing Q&As (ha!) – and gosh, it’s been lovely!
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My career is outside the publishing industry, and therefore I had no comprehension of how it operated. Unsolicited or agent? Bulk submissions or one at a time? These questions, and many more, were complete unknowns to me. So I enrolled in several courses, but the publishing industry still seemed like an exclusive grand palace with guards and huge gates where only a selected few gained access. Eventually I broke through!
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? When it came to editing and cover design, Transit Lounge were incredibly collaborative. Actually, I loved the first cover proof, so there was little back and forth!
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The joy of creating a new story filled with unique characters that, in my mind, live and breathe.
—the worst? Spending long hours at a keyboard isn’t great for the body! At the end of a writing session, I sometimes feel like I’ve aged ten years. And back and neck aches lead to headaches – so not great. I’ve integrated regular exercise and stretching into my weekly routine to counteract this. A must!
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Hmm … Would I have the wisdom and knowledge I have now? If so, I’d ditch the expectation of a publisher responding almost instantly with a big, enthusiastic, accepting YES.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That the publishing industry moves at glacial speed, and to expect rejections, often in the form of silence. Plus, I’d recommend attending as many pitch sessions as possible.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Graeme Simsion told me recently to keep my expectations realistic. This really resonated with me, as it’s about celebrating the wins and avoiding disappointment. An extreme example, but I see it like this: if an author is disappointed their book ‘only’ hit number 2 on the New York Best Sellers list, then said author (the J K Rowlings aside, of course) needs a reality check! It’s made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list! (On a side note, that’s not something I expect to be dealing with!)
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I am definitely in the debut writers’ camp of ‘write what you know’. Stick to a subject you’re passionate about and know intimately. And listen to your gut instincts. For instance, there was a moment in the early stages of writing Chasing the McCubbin when I toyed with the idea of changing Ron’s character. By way of background, Ron is meant to represent a modern reincarnation of the man in Frederick McCubbin’s famous painting ‘Down On His Luck’. In the 1800s, impressionist painters, such as McCubbin, were promoting the white male narrative through their works – the white man as explorer, worker, prospector, farmer, etc. In light of contemporary values, I was tempted to carve up this traditional narrative. But Ron was simply too clear in my mind to disregard. I could hear him speak, visualise his walk and see him pottering in the shed. So despite my brain urging me to sever the continuation of the white male narrative, my gut told me to stick with Ron. Likeable or not, progressive or not, he evolved authentically as I saw him. Authentic characters engage readers; if they’re not, they risk feeling more like vehicles. Trust your instincts, I reckon.
How important is social media to you as an author? I’m a bit of a technophobe, really. In fact, I’d avoid social media completely if I could! But, hey, it’s no longer 1991, the year Chasing the McCubbin is set. My most significant tech-related achievement of late was connecting my Instagram to Facebook and Twitter! As much as I’d ideally be happy to avoid social media, I do want to connect with readers, and therefore I’m making an effort to post regularly on Instagram (I rarely check Facebook and Twitter). I’ve even posted a few vids of me chatting to the camera – talk about progress!
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t really believe in ‘writer’s block’. I think it might be more a crisis of confidence, although, luckily, I haven’t experienced it yet. Until recently, my biggest obstacle was finding the time to write – that was my personal block!
How do you deal with rejection? A Spritz Aperol and a blockbuster-action-type-movie. Like anything Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars…
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Atmospheric. Sensitive. Honest.
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? Having a chat over coffee with Helen Garner would be a dream. I’d pick her brains about all-things-writers-life … I’m not fussed about what exactly. In fact, she could tell me her preferred breakfast cereal and I’d be interested. (Is that, um, creepy?!)
The Pines, an outer Melbourne suburb down on its luck. A country in the grip of recession.
Experienced collector Ron senses new possibilities: swift evictions provide hard-rubbish to scour and garage-sales have doubled. There’s only one problem: since losing his wife, Ron has struggled to navigate the suburbs alone. Plus, his deteriorating health slows him down.
This all changes through a chance meeting with Joseph, a troubled, withdrawn and unemployed 19-year old who knows nothing about antiques. As Joseph comes to understand and appreciate Ron’s world of eccentric bargain hunters, and hopefulness, his ability to navigate a history of family violence and to see a future for himself grows. Both come to share the wild dream of finding a rare bargain such as an original Frederick McCubbin painting and making their fortune. So begins an exhilarating adventure and an unlikely and beautiful friendship.
Set against the background of the early 1990s, Chasing the McCubbin is funny and sad in equal measure. A story of loneliness and the ageless desire for belonging, it will be the most heartbreaking yet feel-good novel you will read this year.
‘Truly fine writing with a great sense of characters and place, sympathetic and heartfelt without being sentimental, Scaunich pulls us into a fascinating world of low stakes and petty rivalries.’ GRAEME SIMSION, author of The Rosie Project
‘Authentic, subtle, evocative and alive.’ KATE RYAN
Buy the book here.