Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I discovered creative writing while studying as a mature-age student at university. I quickly discovered after enrolling in an English Major that there was an opportunity to reach academic achievement by writing just a few lines of “verse”. So, in 1994, there was this type of infusion, combustion, a sort of chemical reaction that took place in my head. I thought, ‘what an easy way to get through university by writing a few lines of poetry’. However, little by little, I noticed that the poetry required a lot of work, so too the many English essays: Literary Studies 1 & 2, Literary Theory, Jung and Freud, Contemporary Critical Practice, Semiotics, not to mention Semantics. What? My mind boggled with all that confusion, my thoughts raced with all that study, last minute swatting, the late hours, no sleep, hubby grumbling about his tea not cooked on time, asking things like ‘where was she?’ I was 47 and loved every minute of it. This was amazing since my last high school report said I’d make a good librarian. Librarian!
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
I had my first poem titled “Life in Albania” published in the university’s broadsheet. It was 1996 and a publication meant marks towards your writing unit. As budding writers we used to meet every Friday at “Lunchlines” in one of the lecture theatres and the broadsheet publication came last with the writer reading to the audience. It was the most nerve-wracking thing at the time and I didn’t even know any Albanians.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Last Asbestos Town is now published by Adelaide Books. I had a dream that was so crisp and clear that I thought it would make a good novel. At the time our Prime Minister Tony Abbott had brought in Australia’s Border Force to keep out Asylum Seekers. I thought at the time what if fascism took over in our country? How horrible life would be. So I mixed the dream (which is in the novel) with the idea of an Asbestos Task Force enforcing the removal of all known asbestos. I had also read a novel by Honey Brown titled Red Queen about a futuristic killer virus. Her book inspired me to speculate on the “what if?”
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
It has taken me 5 to 6 years with many re-writes and help from my writing critique group. I’m not a fast writer, but I have learnt that getting four to five pages ready of your novel for other writers to comment on forces you to get on with the project. Then there’s the homework, taking on board whether you will edit, change your initial idea or simply pass. A green pen is handy to tick or cross out their written suggestions.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I don’t stay in the one place and usually move around the house to different locations. I now have a nice outdoor setting that I call “The Office”. It’s more inspiring outdoors where you can look up at the sky, listen to the birds, talk to the cat, admire your garden, the herbs, the newly planted succulents and think about a four dimensional world that you need to create in your writing.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I like photography and although I’m an amateur ‘point & shoot’ person on my Sony Cybershot, I spend a few hours uploading pictures to Instagram and on my blog. I like to photo-shop out the bad bits!
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
When I first started writing poetry, I loved the Beat Poets. I will never forget Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, his dictum “Go thou across the ground; go moan for man; go moan, go groan, go groan alone , go roll your bones, alone.” I love American poets, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Jane Hirshfield, Ted Kooser and Billy Collins. When it comes to How-to books, Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg has influenced me to write what I know and the power of detail. Others in individual ways have inspired me. Peter Carey’s The Tax Inspector & Oscar & Lucinda, Margaret Attwood’s Alias Grace, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men & The Road, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, The Little Friend, and The Goldfinch, to name a few. These are the masters who have “kept me interested.”
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I have finished another novel titled The Ozone Café about three separate owners and the café’s demise through council corruption; however, it till needs polishing. From time to time I work on a collection of prose poetry that I like sharing on my blog, on my poetry Instagram and submit to journals. I’ve started a new novel that will include widowhood, infidelity, online dating, a stalker, and a crime. No title as yet.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I will only think about readers in terms of not boring them. The asbestos novel has been well received and readers are telling me that it’s not something they usually read, but like it!
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
For any new writer, I suggest that they join a writers group or a critiquing group. It is important to have other eyes on your work. Your peers see the typos, the mistakes and may even suggest better ideas than you first thought. If that’s not possible, join an online writing group or class that provides feedback. And don’t be too precious about your work; you will get better over time. When it comes to the genre you are writing, and we have all heard this before, read, read, read that particular genre. That way you can gauge what has come before. For newly published authors, don’t stop at one book, keep going!
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
There is no such thing as writer’s block, only a lack of time to focus on your writing. I also like Jack Kerouac’s idea – first thought, best thought. I practice this in my prose poetry.
Natalie Goldberg in Writing down the Bones states, “We are important and our lives are important; magnificent really and the details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think; this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here, we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known the earth passed before us. Our details are important.”
How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I read about 20-25 books a year, although lately I have moved over to audio books. They are great for the busy writer. I will read almost any genre that shows favorable reviews on Goodreads and any other suggestions by writers/friends. However, I still love reading poetry and it’s always that compression of language that inspires and influences me.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
I’m not sure although I do steer away from clichés, hackneyed phrases, and try to make my writing fresh. Some readers have commented that my prose writing is poetic. As a published novelist, now going into the future, I’m hoping that my work doesn’t send them off to sleep!
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
If it wasn’t for Adelaide Books I don’t think my novel would have ever been published in Australia. A major leap of faith for an unknown Aussie writer is huge! It seems to me that independent publishers in America are more progressive and are very supportive of new work and new voices. In Australia, there are no new trends, only unattainable awards/prizes. Publishing by the majors is very subjective, either you have to be published in that genre first, have been an award winner, have an agent, jump through a series of hoops, send a sample to their Manuscript Monday or to their Friday Pitch, and never hear back. And since Covid-19, most are no longer taking unsolicited manuscripts. Therefore I say, go America! I have the utmost gratitude and pride for your Editor-in-Chief Stevan Nikolic and the crew – you are awesome!