Sally’s top tip for aspiring authors: If you haven’t already, do a creative writing course at a reputable institution. It isn’t just what you learn from a writing teacher. You will receive feedback from your peers in the workshopping setting and you will make writing buddies that will support you on your journey.
Sallie Muirden is a writer who lives in Melbourne. Her first novel, Revelations of a Spanish Infanta, won the 1996 HarperCollins Fiction Prize. Her second novel, We Too Shall Be Mothers, was published in 2001. Her collection of poetry, The Fable of Arachne, was published in 2009. Her third novel, A Woman of Seville, was published in 2009. And her new novel Wedding Puzzle is published this month. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne and she taught creative writing for a long time. She has also worked for many years as a teacher of English language to migrants. She grew up in East Malvern and South Yarra but she has lived in the suburb of Northcote for more than 28 years. She loves surf beaches, zumba, swimming, reading, meditation, cats and watching Australian rules footy.
Why do you write? When I started writing at 19 and 20 it was to record my thoughts and understand my feelings in a diary. Nowadays writing is a habit and I almost exclusively write for pleasure and to relieve tension. I always feel much better after a good writing session. It is a mental exercise in make-believe, but it is better than daydreaming because you make an art object with your thoughts.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would probably be teaching English to migrants, as this has been my main professional occupation over recent years.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? In the early days it was finding my own voice and writing fiction that didn’t sound like Virginia Woolf. With my last three novels it has been the painful realisation that it is going to take many drafts before a manuscript wins the admiration of publishers.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I have been involved all the way with Transit Lounge, since I first signed the contract. I have been allowed to keep the novel I wanted. With the cover a designer created a number of possibilities and fortunately the publisher and I both liked the same cover the most.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best aspect is when I feel I am breaking new ground in early drafts. Redrafting is also deeply satisfying when I see my novel becoming a cohesive whole.
—the worst? The humiliation of a nasty personal review in a major newspaper can ruin your fragile confidence and stop you taking creative risks.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would spend more time writing and less time teaching and not worry about money as much because in the end the writing is invaluable and I can live on a small income and still be okay.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Don’t listen to the stories of authors who write a novel in six months. It can work for some but for most writers it is a long and painstaking endeavour. Taking time can only improve your novel and bring it closer to perfection and/or publication.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Listen to your editors.
How important is social media to you as an author? It’s absolutely crucial to boost interest and tell people about your work. However, I really admire writers who can get along without it.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’d call it ‘writer’s time out’ rather than ‘writer’s block’. I have gone for long periods when I’m not writing because I am prioritising other things such as employment. I end the ‘writer’s time out’ by quitting work and getting up very early and sitting at my desk. When I have the house to myself and my mind is brimming with energy the writing starts to flow again.
How do you deal with rejection? I just remind myself how many attempts it took J K Rowling to get published the first time with Harry Potter.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Musical, intelligent, nostalgic.
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 like to spend time with Margaret Drabble because I met her at a book launch once and she seemed a lovely person. I’d like her to tell me how she came to write her first three amazing novels. I’d like the honest truth about her own life at that time.
On the morning of her wedding, 24-year-old Beth Shaw drives
down the peninsula to the Portsea Hotel. She is uneasy and
confused because she has just learnt something devastating about
her fiancé, Jordan, that completely changes her view of him.
As Beth’s old schoolmates and her relatives arrive for the big day
at the bayside idyll, Beth contemplates her childhood in suburbia.
She worshipped the school relay runners, one of whom was Jordan’s
high school sweetheart. Painful memories of earlier disloyalties
and betrayals resurface. Her dreams and wedding threaten to spin
out of control. Will the truth ever be known? And must she make a
fateful decision about more than just her wedding arrangements?
Award-winning author Sallie Muirden deftly evokes the
contradictions of human behaviour, and growing up in the ’70s
and ’80s. With its Austenesque feel, Wedding Puzzle is an astute,
entertaining, and often tense comedy of manners, that considers
our choice of partner and the decision to marry as the key
moment in our lives.
The book is available here.