Inez’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write however you want to write. Make your own rules, find your own voice.
Inez Baranay was born in Naples, Italy, grew up in Sydney, Australia. She has published 12 books of fiction and non-fiction, and has lived in and taught creative writing in countries including India, Indonesia and the United States. Most recently Inez taught at the university in Canakkale, Turkey, on the shore of the Dardanelles. She now lives in Sydney.
To find out more about Inez and her writing, visit www.inezbaranay.com
Why do you write? I couldn’t bear not to. I need those periods of immersion in imagination and language, to be making something, to be in that state of other-being. But why why why, it’s a mystery eventually; sometimes to need to write feels like a curse.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t realistically imagine not being a writer. I’d have to be someone very different. A gardener? A painter? An outrageously wealthy heiress?
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Waiting until the right publisher at the right moment turned up – it took a while.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? After the publisher (Transit Lounge) accepted the book they assigned an editor (Kate Goldsworthy) who was great for tidying up the manuscript and helping me solve remaining issues.
The publisher consulted me about the cover; several covers were suggested, then this one, and I immediately said Yes. The image gives me a good feeling.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Writing itself. The solitude, the complete freedom. You make your own rules, invent your own way of working.
—the worst? The realities of financial poverty, the times it’s going badly and my whole life seems based on stupid delusion.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Learn a trade by which to earn a living. When I started out there was an expectation that earning a living was possible from literary, independent writing.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing anyone could have told me would have made any difference, I suspect.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? A strangely difficult question: good advice in general seems to confirm what you already feel is true, so the best advice came from myself, to trust the instinct. (No general advice suits all situations.)
How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all, except sometimes as a place to lurk and see what’s going on in the world and how people talk about it.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t like that expression. Every creative endeavour has different phases, you can’t expect it always to be like it is when it feels like it’s flowing. Sometimes the writing doesn’t go well. Almost to the point of despair sometimes. Just keep going, try a different way, go for a walk, have a nap if you need to.
How do you deal with rejection? Pick myself up, dust myself off. Persist. Maybe feel horrible for a while then make up any interpretation of the rejection that makes me keep going.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Experimental. Imaginative. Precise.
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? Hm, that would have to be the subject of the biography I am currently writing, Sasha Soldatow, who died in 2006; he was my first editor, and wrote brilliantly, but not enough, who had talent to burn but, by all accounts, was destroyed by alcohol and pills, or by whatever made him turn to them rather than to writing.
Turn Left at Venus
They were two little girls on a very big boat.
In the 1930s, Ada and Leyla meet as children on a boat bringing migrants from Old Europe to the New World. They talk of seeing kangaroos yet end up living miles apart from each other in suburban Sydney. Their separations are often lengthy but their friendship endures across continents and
decades and is a thread in this haunting story of writing, relationships and ageing.
Ada (A.L. Ligeti) becomes an author, searching for a Utopian world, exploring aspects of patriarchy and gender in her groundbreaking feminist science fiction novel called Turn Left at Venus. That novel and its sequels are celebrated and much discussed by generations of fans. Memory and imagination fold seamlessly into one another as Ada keeps moving on,
from relationships and places, living in hotels and rental spaces
in Kings Cross, San Francisco, Ubud and elsewhere.
Baranay’s emotionally resonant portrait of the solitary and artistic
life, lived adventurously across space and time, triumphantly
celebrates the singularity of being, of age, of imagination, and
of the ‘getting ready’ for the ending that life demands.
One of the loveliest aspects of my writing life is connecting with other children’s book creators and sharing the excitement of a new story finding its way to young readers. This week I’m chatting with Vikki Conley and Penelope Pratley about their creative life and their beautiful picture book, Ella and Mrs Gooseberry.
Congratulations to you both on the release of this warm-hearted story about Ella’s quest to find out what love looks like and how to help her next door neighbour find it again. It brought a smile to my day and I’m sure it will become a favourite with families.
Penelope, what was your response on first reading Vikki’s manuscript? My first response to a manuscript is always to draw a few quick sketches as I read the story and see how the characters present themselves.
Did the story immediately conjure images for you? Immediately I knew that the images where the characters explain ‘What love looks like’ would use the colours of the rainbow in the background which would lead to a rainbow of colour as Mrs Gooseberry danced in her kitchen. I also really wanted to include the ‘floating’ elements to represent the magic feeling that is love.
Please share a little about your process in illustrating the book. How collaborative was it? As an illustrator I complete a storyboard that is then sent to the publisher. The art director and editor then provide feedback on placement and any early changes that may need to occur. Then I complete a set of ‘good copy’ drawings that are sent back to the publisher and shared with the author. From there the publisher provides me with any further changes before I commence the final illustrations using pencil and watercolour paint.
Vikki, has the book been illustrated the way you envisioned it would be when you wrote it? When I write, I visualise scenes, not necessarily exact color or style. However, I always hoped that the story would be in soft watercolor with gentle characters and warm colors. Penelope has done just this with her beautiful illustrations. So I think the answer is yes!
Do you have a favourite part of Ella and Mrs Gooseberry?
V. I love the floating images that represent each character’s wonder and response to the question, “What does love look like?” I was thrilled when I saw Penelope had conceived this concept for the story. It added visual excitement and supported the story in such a original way.
P. It’s so hard to choose just one part! I’m particularly fond of the ‘love looks like’ pages – especially the ‘grandma’ page as it’s based on my beautiful mother-in-law. I also love the small story of the soccer ball getting stuck in Mrs Gooseberry’s front yard that we later see Mrs Gooseberry kicking happily.
What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading this book?
V. That they will be encouraged to wonder. That they will explore the idea of love with their family. That they will consider how others feel. That they will feel warm inside like an apple pie!
P. I hope readers will appreciate the importance of community and will value that love comes in many different forms and that a child’s solution to a problem comes from the heart.
Where do you find your creative inspiration?
V. In so many places. In particular, I expose myself to a lot of art and wilderness. I read widely. As a treat, I try to get to galleries and performances. A podcast, audio book or music is often playing in my car, or while I cook dinner. I walk among trees and along rivers several times a week. I then try to notice the small things in life – sounds, body language, light, movement, colors. Diverse experiences are also good for my creative juices – travel, food, climbing mountains, trying new things regularly.
P. Well Vikki’s beautiful story obviously, my family and friends and ‘Olive’ who was an elderly blind lady I used to read to after meeting her on the bus home after school. I would spend my Sunday afternoons walking to her house and reading her The Secret Garden and many classic tales.
How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s books creator?
V. Enormously. I grew up on a farm nestled in between the mountains, rainforest, the ocean and a national park. Animals, the natural world and adventure left a lasting imprint on my mind and soul. I have memories of doing backflips down sand dunes and spotting kangaroos hopping along the beach on remote islands, body painting myself with white clay found in river streams, making daisy chains for the orphan lambs that we reared by bottle, and eating icecream with mulberries picked straight from the tree. I still feel, smell and smile about all of these memories. They inspire my writing every day.
P. I was very ill as a child and still suffer from a range of chronic autoimmune conditions. So books and art have always kept me company. When I returned to school in grade two after a long stint in hospital our class was reading Possum Magic. The accompanying activity was to recreate one of Julie Vivas’ stunning watercolour illustrations. That moment was completely magic for me. I was not a great reader until early high school but would spend hours listening to stories on cassette tape and poring over picture books. My Nan in particular encouraged my love of art, always providing a steady stream of paper and materials to keep me company while I was unable to attend school. Art and creativity have always had a consistent presence in my life.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
V. Finding space in my life to just keep writing.
P. Believing that I could. Because it doesn’t matter how many people tell you can do something until you believe it yourself.
What’s the best aspect of your creative life?
V. Working with other creators who bring their own imagination and flair to a project. That sweet spot where story meets illustration is like honey on crumpets!
P. Oh my goodness – there are SO many! I suppose the best one is I get to do what I love every day and I am still available to be a mum to my two beautiful children.
V. Having to keep so many multiple projects and jobs on the go in order to be able to afford crumpets.
P. Time! I never seem to have enough of it and I spend vast amounts of time alone. Sometimes it would be great to have someone to bounce ideas off as I’m creating.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now in this industry? What do you wish you’d known?
V. I would have reworked my early manuscripts for longer before I started submitting. Perhaps done my Australian Writers’ Centre Picture Book course sooner – it helped me take a giant leap.
P. I think the only thing I would do differently is to have started sooner.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
V. Just keep writing.
P. Do all things with excellence.
What’s your top tip for aspiring children’s books creators?
V. Just keep writing. But also seek opportunities to improve eg a mentor, a course, a writer’s group.
P. Put your work out there and put time in to hone your craft with daily repeated practice.
How important is social media to you?
V. I used to be slightly afraid, almost opposed to social media. However, I now embrace it. It’s helped me connect with many creators and professionals in the industry. It’s also allowed others to share my journey and support me along the way.
P. Not overly important as far as self promotion but super important for the beautiful friendships and for the advice of fellow illustrators and writers who are so generous with their time and knowledge.
Is there a favourite childhood book that has influenced you creatively?
V.The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton because it is pure bliss and wonder. And also The Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth for its fun and cheekiness. How can you ever forget that line…? “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread man.”
P. Ha! I can’t possibly only share one. Possum Magic – Mem Fox, Let’s Play – Marie Hall Ets, Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams, The Little Matchstick Girl – Hans Christian Anderson, and The Little Green Road To Fairyland- Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.
Vikki Conley is one of the most prolific emerging children’s authors, with seven picture books being released within the next two years. She is a writer, book reviewer and intrepid adventurer. She has worked as a professional writer and marketer, with diverse communities in Africa, Asia and Australia, for over 20 years.
Vikki has been short-listed, long-listed and placed in competitions including Jackie Hosking’s Poetry For Kids (2019), the CYA Competition (2018 & 2019) and the Charlotte Waring Barton Award (2017). Vikki has a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and has completed two children’s picture book courses (Writers Victoria and the Australian Writers’ Centre).
Penelope Pratley is an emerging illustrator, writer and educator living in NSW, Australia. The first picture book she illustrated was published in 2018. With an aim to grow hearts she uses watercolour, ink, pencil and mixed media. Penelope always had a BIG dream to write and illustrate quality books and inspire children to read. When she’s not working in her garden studio or munching chocolate freckles, you’ll find her at the back of the local bookshop in the children’s section. Penelope has illustrated two picture books published in 2019 and is excited to be illustrating more for publication in 2020. To find out more about Penelope, visit https://www.penelopesnest.com/
About Ella and Mrs Gooseberry
Grumpy old Mrs Gooseberry from next door has lost her love. ‘I didn’t know you could lose love,’ says Ella. So she begins her quest to find out what love looks like and how she can help Mrs Gooseberry to rediscover it. Her mother says love is like home-cooked pie. Her teacher says it’s like lanterns in the night. Perhaps love might look like a little kitten. Ella and Mrs Gooseberry is a heart-warming picture book about a child’s understanding of love, selfless giving and how it makes you feel.
John Kinsella is the author of more than 30 books. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry. His most recent works include the poetry volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Open Door (UWAP, 2018). Story collections include Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). Recent novels are Lucida Intervalla (UWAP, 2018) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.
Why do you write? Because it’s how I best communicate and because I feel writing can offer alternative directions for thinking and behaving.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Unimaginable. But I would still be trying to stop forests being destroyed and working towards justice and rights issues. If I didn’t write, I’d still be a reader. Reading is more important to me than writing. Reading and trying to stop the damage in whichever non-violent way I can.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Early on, probably my own disruptive and turbulent behaviours.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the covers? I am always involved in the making of my books. Cover designs are usually the choice of the publisher, but I get some input and in the end it’s always a collaborative effort, even if it’s a matter of choosing which version from the array the designer has come up with. In this case, one of my brother’s artworks was used. Many of my covers have been designed around his unusual and indelible art.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That it’s an ongoing process — that my work in one way or another, even across genres, is interconnected, to my mind at least!
—the worst? I like proofs because I don’t like errors — or if there are ‘errors’, I want them to be intentional and to know what they’re about… but my eyes get strained by the time the third pass proofs are signed off on! So proofs are a conundrum!
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Start sober. I’ve been sober for almost a quarter of a century now since giving stuff up, but I wish I’d been sober from the beginning of my writing life.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Oh, nothing really — one finds one’s own way, whatever that is.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Never give in.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never give in.
How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all — I think it’s a delusion.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I switch from genre to genre to avoid it. If I can’t write, I walk or (continue to) work to save the environment (which I also do when I can write). There’s always too much to do — no time to worry about those kinds of blockages!
How do you deal with rejection? It’s part of a writing life. I accept it and move on and try again. If I believe in a piece of work, I believe in it no matter what. I like critical input, but I also know myself as a writer, I think. Either way, I don’t give up on something, I keep working at it.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Strange, specific, activist.
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? A technical poetry discussion with John Milton would be interesting, though we’d run into problems with his tacit and less than tacit approval of violent acts of correction. Novelist? Probably Carson McCullers… an hour with her would be intense. Her writing life was complex… I am not sure what I’d want to be told about it other than what she’d hope to have written if she’d had a longer life. Maybe she wouldn’t have known.
Fascinated by caves and digging holes since childhood,
Manfred discovers a path through to another realm via a
Neolithic copper mine at Mount Gabriel in Schull, Ireland.
The world of Hollow Earth, while no Utopia, is a sophisticated
civilisation. Its genderless inhabitants are respectful of
their environment, religious and cultural differences are
accommodated without engendering hate or suspicion, and
grain not missile silos are built. Yet Ari and Zest accompany
Manfred back to the surface world. ‘Come with me and see
So begins an extraordinary adventure in which the three
wander the Earth like Virgil’s Aeneas, Ari and Zest seeking
re-entry to their own world. The Hollow Earthers are shocked
at the cruelty and lies of the surface world, the dieback
spreading through the forests. Yet they are seduced by the
Kinsella’s parable draws on a rich tradition of Hollow Earth
literature and science fiction including Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892). With strange beauty, its alluring
trajectory vividly captures our 21st century world in crisis.
Like Manfred we are often blindly complicit in the earth’s
downfall. ‘Happiness is under our feet.’ sings the narrator in
this passionate, layered and compelling new novel.
Philip’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read. It’s always the same advice. Be critical not sentimental. Look for individuality and value in your own work and be welcoming but be rigorous in developing it. Quality matters more than popularity.
Philip Salom‘s new novel The Returns is his fourth novel. He has also published 14 collections of poetry. His recent novel Waiting attracted wide-ranging acclaim in reviews and in 2017 was shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin Literature Award, as well as the Prime Minister’s Award and the Victorian Premier’s Award. His two earlier novels are Playback, which won the WA Premier’s Prize for Fiction, and Toccata and Rain which was shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal and the WA Premier’s Prize.
His poetry awards include winning the 1987 Commonwealth Poetry Book Prize in London for Overall Best Book of Poetry, after having won Best First Book Prize for Poetry in 1981; the Western Australian Premier’s Prize (twice for Poetry) and the prestigious Newcastle Poetry Prize. Plus numerous shortlistings in the major national book awards.
Philip was recognised with the 2003 Christopher Brennan Prize which is Australia’s most prestigious lifetime award for poets for “poetry of sustained quality and distinction”. Visit Philip’s website at email@example.com
Why do you write? I’ve always been interested in making. As a child I did very little of it but those adults who did caught in my imagination as doing something thrilling, something I desired. Any kind of making, buildings, bridges, paintings, sculptures, but essentially visual forms. Though I read books non-stop it was only in my 20s that I realised I might actually make them. Not external visualisations, but internal ones. ‘Buildings’ you could say, that work in the mind.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Very hard to say. I have forgotten what it is not to write. And during the last 10 years I’ve had long works-in-progress happening all the time. I have already finished the novel which will follow The Returns. However, I love the idea of being a trouble-shooter, a Fix-it, a problem-solver. The challenge, the creative and imaginative thinking required, the suspense. The resolution. Especially if it has a hands-on physicality, thus the pleasure of working mentally but in three dimensions. Unlike writing, which for all its imaginative recreation of life, is actually a very inward encounter.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I was lucky. The first manuscript was picked up immediately because I was plucked: a publisher knew what I was working on and asked to see it. But some manuscripts have been harder to place and made me sit down and look very hard – to see if there were problems, then face up to them. First is the feeling of having gone wrong with it, having worked superficially, made errors of judgement. You must be rigorous, and get over it. Re-writing, even re-imagining, can be very confronting personally and tough in terms of sheer concentration, then in the new writing, and new re-writing. Endless re-writing sometimes!
How involved have you been in the development of your books?Did you have input into the covers? Sometimes my poetry has employed unorthodox layout so for a book I did with Penguin I was asked to do the entire layout myself. Fiction is much easier so I’m not involved. I always comment on my book covers, though, as part of my on-going interest in art and design. This new cover is the most unexpected so far and I have grown to really like it.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being so mentally involved with the actual writing. Fiction is something I carry in my head: my characters, their dialogue, their possibilities, potential surprises in development. It suits the loner in me to spend my private time in a place and with an imagined cast no one knows exists. Until it does.
—the worst? Not knowing quite how much has been achieved in one’s work and, much worse, receiving occasional reviews that seem to exist as bloody-minded dismissals of the work. Some reviews are examples of condescension by the ignorant, some are vindictive, some are not very bright. Thank god for the rest.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have written more fiction from the beginning and as a poet made more of the networking that poetry (with its very much smaller base of readers) necessarily exists within. Especially in Australia, where the readership and public reception of poetry are less – and less generous – than in many other countries.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Same as the above, really, that there is the actual writing (which is private and which I value most) and there is the profession itself, where the public profile of any writer is established and promoted (or not). Most professions are like this but like many I had assumed the writing sold itself. It can, but mostly it doesn’t. There is a huge amount of unseen promotion behind very visible writers.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? A writer I admired telling me that I was on the right track i.e. keep going.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read. It’s always the same advice. Be critical not sentimental. Look for individuality and value in your own work and be welcoming but be rigorous in developing it. Quality matters more than popularity.
How important is social media to you as an author? It doesn’t appeal to me though its power and reach can be significant.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’m lucky not to have it. Something always comes if you let yourself be subsumed by the work itself, not your anxieties about it, which are you, and personal. Drop the ego-self but keep the ego-confidence. During a long work I worry about where it’s going and how to solve its problems or demands (such as, does this scene work? Is it right to end it this way? Etc). I solve the problems by writing.
How do you deal with rejection? It’s a hit to the stomach. Keep on. Again, turn back inwards to the writing and if there are lessons in the rejection, use them.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Its own self.
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? I remember the old saying: never meet your heroes. As above, the work is the ‘self’ that matters. The desire to meet others is of course very great. I had met and become friendly with John Clarke and he was an exception. His life and work were very much the same. Human, droll, insightful, hilarious and welcoming. That voice. A beautiful person.
Elizabeth posts a ‘room for rent’ notice in Trevor’s bookshop and is caught off-guard when Trevor answers the advertisement himself. She expected a young student not a middle-aged bookseller whose marriage has fallen apart. But Trevor is attracted to Elizabeth’s house because of the empty shed in her backyard, the perfect space for him to revive the artistic career he abandoned years earlier. The face-blind, EH Holden-driving Elizabeth is a solitary and feisty book editor, and she accepts him, on probation …
Miles Franklin finalist Philip Salom has a gift for depicting the inner states of his characters with empathy and insight. In this poignant yet upbeat novel the past keeps returning in the most unexpected ways. Elizabeth is at the beck and call of her ageing mother, and the associated memories of her childhood in a Rajneesh community. Trevor’s Polish father disappeared when Trevor was 15, and his mother died not knowing whether he was dead or alive. The authorities have declared him dead, but is he?
The Returns is a story about the eccentricities, failings and small triumphs that humans are capable of, a novel that pokes fun at literary and artistic pretensions, while celebrating the expansiveness of art, kindness and friendship.
Praise for Philip Salom’s writing
‘Philip Salom … dissects the vulnerabilities of the human condition (loneliness, fear of intimacy, powerlessness, guilt), the power of the past to haunt us, the fear of the future to mire us, and the redemptive effects of love and acceptance.’ -Miles Franklin Award Judges
The book is available here and from all good bookshops.
Angela’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read and write. Don’t talk about writing. Do the work. And love what you do.
Angela Savage is an award-winning Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her debut novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. All three of her Jayne Keeney PI novels were shortlisted for Ned Kelly Awards. The Dying Beach was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. She has taught writing throughout Australia and overseas. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Monash University, and is currently Director of Writers Victoria. Visit her website at http://angelasavage.wordpress.com/
Why do you write? Because, as Franz Kafka said, ‘a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.’
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Being a monster.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Maintaining momentum in the face of rejection.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? One of the most exciting aspects of developing a book is the dialogue between the writer and publisher, particularly during the editorial process. I aspire to be someone my publisher enjoys working with. I take advice. I meet deadlines. I welcome editorial feedback. I check in when it seems appropriate but I don’t hound them. I respect their expertise. That said, I did push back on the initial cover design until I felt we had something really striking; designer Peter Lo has done a beautiful job.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Realising my dream of becoming a published author and having my work read. Also meeting other writers. And I get loads of free books.
—the worst? That there’s not more writing in my life.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Planned things better so I could afford more time to write.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That being known as a genre writer means some people will look down on you (I had no idea!); it will also make it harder down the track to publish non-genre fiction.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Just get the story down. The first draft is where you dump your ideas, meet your characters, sketch the arc of the story. Re-writing is where you craft that draft into a book. I used to spend hours trying to write the perfect opening paragraph. Now I believe you can’t write the perfect opening to a novel until you’ve written the ending at least once.
How important is social media to you as an author? All the evidence suggests being on social media doesn’t sell books, but it’s brilliant for connecting with readers and other writers. When it comes to productivity, though, I’m inclined to take breaks from social media in order to write more (fighting feelings of FOMO every step of the way).
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are certainly times when the words come harder. In her TEDx talk Creativity in the age of distraction, Kim Wilkins explains that writing takes us into unfamiliar territory and, as such, we are easily distracted by tasks that are less demanding of us (social media being a classic example). She says it’s important to be still, to sit with the discomfort. That said, I find it helpful at such times to take one of my characters for a walk and imagine the landscape through their eyes—to get moving, both literally and figuratively.
How do you deal with rejection? It makes me feel like I’m back in high school, being shunned by the cool kids. But I tell myself that rejection is a writer’s lot, and that the experience of rejection can bring us closer together through empathy and compassion. My 13-year-old also likes to help by reminding me that JK Rowling had 12 rejections before she found a publisher for Harry Potter.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Exquisite. Moving. Powerful. (I stole that from Christos Tsiolkas’s cover blurb for Mother of Pearl).
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? I’d spend an hour in a bar in Wyoming with Annie Proulx and pick her brain for tips on dialogue and capturing regional voices in characters.
Mother of Pearl
A luminous and courageous story about the hopes and dreams we all have for our lives and relationships, and the often fraught and unexpected ways they may be realised.
Angela Savage draws us masterfully into the lives of Anna, an aid worker trying to settle back into life in Australia after more than a decade in Southeast Asia; Meg, Anna’s sister, who holds out hope for a child despite seven fruitless years of IVF; Meg’s husband Nate, and Mukda, a single mother in provincial Thailand who wants to do the right thing by her son and parents.
The women and their families’ lives become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of trying to bring a child into the world across borders of class, culture and nationality. Rich in characterisation and feeling, Mother of Pearl and the timely issues it raises will generate discussion among readers everywhere.
‘This is a story of family and motherhood, and also a story of culture and exploitation that asks us to think through the costs of our insatiable desire in the West to have everything. What I find remarkable about this novel is how it refuses easy and lazy judgement, how it takes seriously questions of loss, longing, and our human need to connect with each other.’ -Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap
‘A beautifully crafted novel from an incredibly gifted writer. Angela Savage explores the ethical minefield of international surrogacy through the stories of three women, desperate but determined to repair the broken parts of their lives The prose is as precise as it is poetic, the characters so deftly drawn. I read this book compulsively, racing to its poignant conclusion with my heart in my throat.’ Melanie Cheng, author of Australia Day and Room for a Stranger
Erin Rhoads has been been writing about her zero waste life since 2013, sharing how she reduced plastic and her rubbish, leading to a happier and healthier life. Through Erin’s pursuit to live plastic-free and zero-waste, she learnt to eat real food, discovered new skills, cut down her exposure to harmful chemicals, found joy in moments over things and simplified her life, while saving money. Erin is on a mission to engage with individuals to redefine what is waste and how we can create less of it. She was a consultant on ABC’s War on Waste; shares skills and practical help to hundreds at workshops, talks and forums; helps organise and assist environmental action groups and co-founded Zero Waste Victoria and Plastic Bag Free Victoria. Her first book Waste Not: Make a big difference by throwing away less was released July 2018. Find out more at her website here.
What motivated you to start your blog, The Rogue Ginger, and did you have any idea it would lead you to become an author and prominent commentator on zero-waste living?
My blog began in January 2013 with the intention to document my new life in Melbourne as I had recently moved to the city. Six months later I watched my first eco documentary The Clean Bin Project which I shared on the blog. For those who haven’t seen it, the documentary follows a couple from Vancouver as they battle it out to see who can produce the least amount of rubbish over one year. The movie had a profound impact on me, soon after I couldn’t stop seeing plastic everywhere in my life and decided I needed to reduce too. I signed up for my first Plastic Free July, documenting it along the way, and haven’t stopped! I never once expected someone who was once a climate change denier that spent her spare time buying fast fashion and a lot of fast food to be writing a guide book on how live zero-waste..
Your new book, Waste Not Everyday, offers 365 ways to reduce, reuse and reconnect and offers daily inspiration for a year of zero-waste living. What do you consider the most important first step for a family wanting to live a life with less waste and more meaning?
Up to 40% of what we are putting into our bins is organics, like food waste. That’s almost half of our bins. If we started reducing the amount of food in our bins then our landfills would also halve in size. Looking at our food, especially how we shop, is a great first step. Halve your bin today by becoming a better food shopper. Our bins are made up of up to 40% food waste. Before leaving the house make a shopping list and don’t forget to look inside your fridge and fruit basket, so you’re not buying more of what is at home already. Writing a list and sticking to it helps us avoid reaching for food we don’t need. Look for recipes that will encourage you to use up the whole vegetable and try using up scraps for making homemade stocks. For any remaining food waste start a compost or worm farm. Your council might even take food scraps in the green organics bin, so double check. If you don’t have space for a compost or worm farm sign up with ShareWaste.com, to link you with people in your neighbourhood that will accept it. Our food scraps don’t break down in landfill properly because therE is not enough of oxygen and microrganisms to help. It becomes a sludgy liquid while creating methane gas. By composting our food waste we are also putting nutrients back into our soil and food.
How much of your time is taken up with research and keeping up to date with the latest environmental findings?
A lot less these days as there is so much more being reported by the media compared to when I started on my zero-waste journey. The information is much easier to navigate, which is great! Of course this also means we all need to be critical and make sure the right information being released by say a scientific journal is not being watered down in the wrong way by larger media outlets.
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing books and promoting awareness about our need to think about the future of our planet?
Most likely I would be working as a graphic designer which is what I was doing until I had my son. I imagine I’ll return to this field at some point in the future, but maybe for an organisation or not for profit in the environmental area. Writing books has been a lovely adventure but it doesn’t cover the rent or put food on the table.
Were there any obstacles on your path to publication?
The biggest obstacle was trying to figure out what to include in both books. I wanted to make the information easy to understand and accessible no matter where you live. I hope this was achieved!
How involved have you been in the development of your books?
My publisher and editor at Hardie Grant were very supportive and we worked closely on the books from development through to the printing. Together we looked at ways to keep the production as low waste as possible.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life?
Being able to help others and the environment is the best aspect.
Trying to find the time with a vivacious two year old!
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?
I have the opposite! There are too many ideas in my head and sitting in draft documents ready to be put into the world.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer and speaker?
I wish I had done a class on public speaking. I get so nervous wondering if how I’m delivering information is actually the best way. It’s still on my list to do. As for writing, I’m not sure what I would do differently. Probably just write more because I enjoy it so much.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Don’t compare yourself to others. Whether it’s writing or if you are making eco changes in your life. Everyone is different and just because someone is doing it one way doesn’t mean it will suit yours.
How important is social media to you?
Depends on the social media – I love Facebook because of the communities that can form through Facebook groups. I’ve watched fantastic initiatives spring up to become helpful tools used widely not only in Australia but across the world. There is also the support Facebook communities can offer too.
What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?
I recently finished Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (which I loved!) and am currently reading Island by Alistair MacLeod. This has been hard to put down. Unfortunately when I try to read anything my son will want me to read his books instead. His current pick is Truck Truck Goose.
What is your top tip for anyone wanting to write a non-fiction book?
Plan, plan, plan! Remember you’re writing to help your audience understand a subject so think back to how much you didn’t know before becoming an “expert” on the subject. I constantly asked myself what kind of book I would have liked at the beginning.
Now for a little light relief – If you were stuck in a stalled lift for several hours, who would you choose to share the experience with you and why?
Scott Morrison – hopefully by the end of the experience he would be a waste warrior and ready to turn Australia into a circular economy!
Waste Not Everyday
Suited to those who are interested in taking their first steps towards a zero waste lifestyle, this book is a lighter, easier approach to Erin’s first and more in depth book, Waste Not. Also makes a great gift for friends and family looking for a simple introduction to the concept of zero waste.
Would you like to throw away less? Do something for the planet? But not ready to dive straight into composting or go totally plastic-free yet? Waste Not Everyday is your step-by-step guide with 365 easy changes that will not only influence what you throw out but also have a genuine impact on the future of our planet.
Split into four easy-to-follow parts, Waste Not Everyday features simple tips that will lead to a real shift in thinking and action and show you that a zero-waste lifestyle is actually achievable – for everyone, every budget and every schedule. With tips ranging from actions and inspiration to recipes and resources, Erin takes you on a gentle journey towards a life with less waste and more meaning.
S L Lim was born in Singapore and moved to Sydney as a child. They don’t eat animals. They hate heterosexuality, the gender binary, the energy industry, other industries, racism, sexism, progressive politics as an aesthetic/lifestyle signifier as opposed to a material engagement with injustice and power, including in one’s own life; getting up in the morning, the requirement to exchange one’s labour in return for a wage, and people who casually mention they are better than you. They like stickers, food, pretty yet inexpensive stationery, mathematical approaches to vegan baking, direct action, quiet people with an ironical yet wise approach to life, noisy apparent assholes with good hearts, queerness, tendentious takes, mutual care, mutual accountability and mutual aid. They like to read blender reviews online where the reviewer obviously had totally insane expectations for the blender. Sunsets are beautiful. Borders are violence. Vaginal orgasm is a mass hysterical survival response.
Why do you write? I would like to create beautiful things of lasting value which is independent of my existence as a person.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The pleasure of naming a phenomenon, concept or experience that went previously unarticulated.
—the worst? Oscillations between megalomania and self-abnegation.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Start earlier, work harder.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? In terms of the writing: there is no secret. Do the work and keep doing it. In terms of getting published: treat this as its own skill quite separate from the writing itself.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Regard human systems as comprehensible and problems as solvable.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Write. Read very carefully. Hang out with dead people. Keep writing. Be hard on your own work. Find persons whose judgement you trust and make use of their intelligence and kindness.
How important is social media to you as an author? I regret cruelty and loss and time and holding on to friendship and to love as it curdled into indifference but I regret NOT ONE SECOND of the time I have spent on the internet.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? By reminding myself the obstacles that exist to prevent me from writing today will still exist tomorrow so if I don’t write today I probably won’t write tomorrow and this will go on for a while and then I’ll die.
How do you deal with rejection? Lying face down on the carpet. One aspect I struggled with during years of feeling like a waste of space, a pool of sentient mush dissolving on the bathmat, was the realisation everyone gets rejected, a lot. If I were a brilliant misunderstood genius I would probably be getting a lot of rejections. And if I were a self-deluding hack… the exact same thing would be occurring. There was no way of evaluating which particular universe I was living in.
Come to that, I still don’t know. Am I any good? Are you? Is what? Are unicorns hollow? Just because a question can be formulated grammatically doesn’t mean it has an answer. The trouble with this approach is it tends towards the conclusion literally nothing means anything. This isn’t untrue, exactly, but it doesn’t help you get out of bed, and I need all the help that I can get.
So maybe a better approach is to remember publication is not the only market of merit; there is a huge amount of structural unfairness and just randomness. But there are also ways you can improve your chances, like getting better at your craft and submitting your work to lots of publishers and agents.
My advice, if you were asking for it, is: do the thing you’ve got to do, because you do, and… well, that’s it, really. Good luck.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? It’s getting better.
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? Kim Stanley Robinson. I want to go hiking with him and either talk about Buddhism or not talk at all but simultaneously look at things like lichens and go ‘hmm’ so we understand we both appreciate this sublime phenomenon and are experiencing it in a manner both collective and solitary.
by SL Lim
This is a story of a friendship so connected that without it one is not whole but lost.
Middle-class, clever and white, Nick is a child of privilege while his best friend Andie is the daughter of Indo-Chinese refugees. Despite their very different backgrounds, they share a conviction they can change the world for the better.
At the outset, Nick is pushing papers in a dead-end job while Andie is embarking on a secular crusade against world poverty. This generates conflict with her white husband Benjamin, who feels that Australians should come first. Meanwhile, Andie’s cousin, the teenage Tony is burdened by his parents’ traumatic past and impossible expectations. To their dismay, he finds solace in radical faith.
S.L. Lim acutely captures the dreams and disaffections of a millennial generation. Real Differences is an emotionally resonant novel about idealism, ethical ambition, and love, filled with unforgettable characters. It ultimately asks us the most important question of all: What is our life for?