The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Marion Von Adlerstein
author of The Freudian Slip
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born at home in Sydney, at Bankstown, and I lived there until we moved to a Housing Commission house at Guildford when I was about twelve. I was educated—if you could call it that—at Parramatta Domestic Science school, where I learned typing, shorthand and how to scrub out a bathroom, but my best subjects were English and Maths. I left at the age of fifteen and went to work as a typist in a solicitors’ office in Sydney. I was so bad at it I was amazed they didn’t sack me.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At eighteen I wanted to marry my boyfriend.
By thirty I was divorced, living in London, a successful copywriter at Europe’s largest advertising agency and I was too happy to want much more.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That marriage and children are every woman’s destiny.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I can’t say it had a direct influence my writing, but at the age of thirteen I heard The Ride of the Valkyries (on a secondhand 78) for the first time and I was overcome with a great surge of optimism. It gave me a high, like a drug. Empowerment, it’s called now. I thought, ‘I can, I can!’ What that meant I didn’t know. I just knew I had it in me to strive. It also led to a lifelong passion for Wagner and visits to the Bayreuth Festival in 1957 and 1958. So many books, paintings and pieces of music have moved and inspired me during my life that nothing else stands out from the rest.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
To see if I could. And for the freedom of it. I’ve been earning a crust from the written word since I wrote my first piece of advertising copy at Hordern Bros department store in Sydney in 1949. From the mid 1970s, I became a journalist with Vogue Australia for more than twenty years. After that, I authored two works of non-fiction. As you can see, I’m a late developer.
They say you should write about what you know, so I set The Freudian Slip in an advertising agency in Sydney in the 1960s, a period that seems to fascinate people lately. I’ve worked in advertising agencies in Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York, so it was fun to fictionalise those experiences through three women from different social backgrounds: Bea, a copywriter; Desi a television producer; and Stella, a secretary with more ambition than talent. I suppose the basic story is about the folly of unrealistic expectations. It also questions the notion that only men held important roles in advertising at that time. There have been successful women copywriters in Australia since the late 1940s—perhaps even earlier.
(BBGuru: From the publisher –
Sydney, 1963. Three young women are taking on the world of advertising. Don Draper wouldn’t stand a chance. And Marion knows … she was there!
Early sixties in Sydney. Women wear princess-line dresses, edge-to-edge duster coats, gloves, perfectly matched handbags and shoes and seamed stockings. They are defined by the vital statistics of their bust, waist and hip measurements and if they are over thirty they re over the hill. Kings Cross is bohemian, Paddington is pre-gentrified and the crowd at Beppi s and the Ozone charge their boozy lunches to job numbers.
At the advertising agency Bofinger Adams Rawson & Keane, two talented women hold important creative roles. One, Bea, is a copywriter. The other, Desi, is a television producer. Because they are successful in their work and rewarded by it, few of their colleagues know how adept they are at mismanaging their private lives.
Anxious to join this starred twosome is a young secretary named Stella, who embodies all the qualities for success ambition, dedication, energy, efficiency except creative talent. In its absence she relies on stealth, flattery and plagiarism, to walk, in her Jane Debster toe-peepers, all over the others in realising her ambition.
She succeeds. At least, for a while … )
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
A feeling that they’ve been entertained.
I am in thrall to Deborah Eisenberg, her enlightenment and insight. Her short stories are about civilised people of today, finely-tuned and often world-weary. I would love to be able to write like that, with her precision and sensibility, but I accept that I can’t.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have never had specific goals. I’ve just gravitated to what I needed. Now all I want is to keep on writing.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t just keep it in your head. Write it down. Now. Start with a diary and be as honest as you can with it. Nobody else is going to read it unless you want them to, so there’s no need to hold back. Think of it as rich raw material and a way of finding your own voice.
Marion, thank you for playing.
Thank you for the play date.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.