- Guest Author -
Today, I welcome another very talented author from Australia.
Welcome, Lee ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I began publishing work at sixteen - mostly journalism and occasional short stories for young adults. I lived then in Israel and worked as a young reporter for a national magazine until I turned eighteen and began the compulsory army service. My first book, a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up with scars on my body, was published when I was twenty years old.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I wish I was a planner! This would have made my life easier. As it is, I usually discover what I am writing about just by doing it and this is why my first drafts usually take long time to materialise. I tend to start with a lot of mess: random notes, quotes, vague ideas, disparate sentences and paragraphs, snippets of scenes or argumentative writing, references for future reading. This mess can be stressful and confusing, but I also find it conductive to my creativity. Writing around the topic means I give myself the opportunity to come up with something unexpected, hopefully fresh. Plus, writing like this keeps me curious, curious about what I’m really doing. Later I organize the mess into a sort of coherent flow.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I get to go to cafes, which is where I love writing. Plus, in my work I process many of my own experiences, and thus save a lot of money I would have otherwise spent in therapy… More seriously, writing serves for me the same functions that religion serves for many. It helps me to understand better the world around me and through writing I try to better myself.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The agonizing self-doubt I experience almost every time I write.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I didn’t really have a professional life before I became a writer, because I started so early. But because I am a greedy person, and because it is difficult to make living just from writing, up until five years ago when I finally could afford focusing on writing, I did many other things. Amongst all else, I worked in a singles’ agency, organised dance parties, worked with people with mental illnesses, was a journalist and, most recently, taught social work and social sciences to undergraduate and postgraduate university students. I think, or rather hope, that these diverse occupations fed into my writing and made it richer. Now I only work in a writing related sphere, mentoring other writers and teaching writing classes.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
This is a really difficult question to answer… Probably the fact that early in my thirties I managed to change the language in which I write and that recently I published my first book in English.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I am in the process of co-editing an anthology of short memoirs, Rebellious Daughters, with the writer Maria Katsonis. The book is due to be released mid-next year and features some of the finest Australian female writers.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I only write about what feels urgent to me, so I don’t need external inspiration to generate ideas. However, during the writing process itself I often lose heart and then I re-read writers who make me fall in love with writing again –Joan Didion, Robert Dessaix, Marguerite Duras, Hanif Kureishi, Gustave Flaubert to name a few. Going away to writing residencies also helps.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
My latest book is a memoir and since its publication last year I’ve been mostly writing personal essays, so I write a lot of creative nonfiction now. But my first books were fiction: two novels and a collection of short stories. Occasionally I also publish poetry.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
The most important thing for a beginning writer, and for any writer for this matter, in my view is to ensure they are writing not what they think they ought to, or what may sell, but what is truly urgent to them. Best books usually arise from burning questions writers need to resolve.
I also think too many beginning writers are busy focusing on plot development, and on their characters. These are crucial aspects of creating a story. Yet, sadly, what often gets overlooked is the most fundamental feature of good writing - the quality of prose, the minute choices of words, in short the writer’s voice. Writer’s voice is not only an aesthetic component, but the essence of a work. The way we tell our stories impacts directly on their content.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I had one spell lasted several years. It only ended once I realised that this was happening because I was too scared to write the book I needed to write and instead tried to work on safer projects. So I stopped all I was doing and wrote The Dangerous Bride which explores the possibly last sexual taboo in our society – non-monogamy.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Since I became mother, I simply write whenever I have childcare, which is usually two long days of ten to eleven hours and one half day of four hours, plus I write during my son’s daily two-hour sleeps. So I no longer have the luxury of daydreaming or ‘getting into the mood’ for writing. Instead, whenever I can I just attack that mythical blank page (not always successfully, though).
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I tend to be non-monogamous not only in my intimate life, but also in my working habits. When I write, I like wondering between my local café, my bed, my couch and my desk.
15. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I don’t have one favourite author, but many authors. But I do have a favorite book, which affected me most profoundly, on many levels - Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I read this novel several times, the first being when I was still a child, and I believe its philosophical and humanist bent helped shape my personality and my tragicomic worldview. The book taught me about the redeeming power of laughter in the face of the despicable, how irony rather than righteousness is our best friend. This novel was also partially responsible for my quasi-metaphysical approach to writing, where I often use my work to try finding some hidden order in the chaos of life.
16. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
One of the readers of The Dangerous Bride said that reading my memoir felt to her like sitting on a porch on a rainy night and drinking vodka. I was stunned by how she, unknowingly, described exactly what I was feeling as I was writing the book...
17. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
By nature I am a confessional writer. My work almost always somehow relates to my life or at least to people who have mattered in my life. But I often disguise my own experiences by fictionalising them, sometimes even attributing them to male characters. The Dangerous Bride is my most personal work to date not just because I describe my life there, but also because of the extent to which I expose my internal world of desires, paradoxes and weaknesses.
18. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Reading, of course. I read at least a book a week. I am also into cooking; sometimes I fantasise about an alternative life I could have had as a chef… Then I am also a great consumer of arts, particularly painting, dance and theatre.
19. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
All my four books are published by mainstream publishers, so I’ve always had professional editors working on my manuscripts. Unlike some other writers, I thoroughly enjoy this process of being edited. It feels so good to have another person care deeply about something that obsessed me for some years during the writing period.
20. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Once I finalise the anthology early next year, I’m hoping to clear some time for thinking and sort of trial-and-error writing to get the feel for what kind of a next book I want to write.
21. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
In some ways, yes. I know recently it’s been tough for this industry, but I hope that mainstream publishers will resume taking more risks, or at least stop getting increasingly more and more cautious in their publishing choices, so that we can have many more Joan Didions and Henry Millers out there.
22. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Many, many, many times… Thomas Mann once wrote that ‘writers are those people who find writing difficult’. He must have meant me. Writing rarely comes easily to me, because it is always bound with enormous self-doubt. What I find particularly daunting is creating first drafts. I can be seized then, to the point of paralysis, by the feeling that I have nothing, or nothing worthy, to say. So of course I tried to quit, but somehow never couldn’t. I think for me writing is like romantic love – often painful, but paradoxically also essential for my wellbeing.
23. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
For me it has never been about sales/money. If my work speaks to enough intelligent readers, this is a success for me. I think I write to ‘impress’ a particular type of a reader…
24. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Flamboyant, shy, inconsistent, funny (I hope…). Oops, these are already six words!
25. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
I just finished a terrific collection of personal essays by another confessional writer, Emily Gould, called And the heart says whatever. She is very young and very sharp. I was utterly taken by her self-awareness, candor and wit.
26. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Yes. Thank you very much, dear Clancy, for having me on your blog.
Clancy's comment. Thank you, Lee. The title of your book has me interested. I might have to buy it to find out how dangerous the bride was / is.