Susanna Freymark, author of Losing February, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Susanna Freymark

author of Losing February

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Melbourne and lived there for five years before moving to the steelworks town of Whyalla in South Australia. To this day I have a fascination with industrial landscapes and the ocean as we spent most weekends sailing on the 40-foot yacht my dad built in the backyard. I loved school, so much so that I became a primary school teacher. My first job was at a remote Aboriginal school in Central Australia. The Pitjantjatjara people gave me the nickname –  Wara meaning Tall One because I am six foot tall. Years later, in my forties I retrained as a journalist because I wanted to earn my living from words.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12 – I didn’t want to be anything. I was too busy playing to think about grown -up life. My sister and I created a gang and to join you had to eat ants. I spent my days riding my bike around the block with the other kids in the neighbourhood.web-shot1

At 18- I wanted to be a teacher (and became one), I was passionate about literacy and my joy was seeing a child’s eyes light up when they could write their name or read for the first time. The power of words and knowledge were something I strongly believed in.

At 30 – I was raising children and running a children’s bookshop and learning centre in London. The children came to Author Workshops, we made books and sold them in the bookshop. I had author visits from Helen Oxenbury, Michael Rosen, it was fabulous. Secretly, I wanted to be an author myself.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At 18 I thought I could change the world by talking about it, by protesting and complaining. Later I learned it takes action to change things. It is too easy to complain. (or sign a Facebook petition)

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Can I include poetry? On our yacht there was a framed poem, and during some wild storms I recited that poem over and over . . . When you’re lost in the wild and you’re scared as a child and death looks you bang in the eye. (from Robert Service) It was heavy stuff for an 8-year-old.

Books – I devoured books as a child. Loved, loved, loved Magic Faraway Tree, Swallows and Amazons, February Dragon. . . It’s a long list. The joy of bring lost in a story became a powerful escape and of course, I soon began making up my own stories.joni-mitchell_blue

I loved music, but the 70s dished up some tacky stuff but I loved it anyway. Yep, you’ d catch me singing If  You Leave Me Now by Chicago into my hairbrush. Hardly inspiring words but again, it was my escape into a fantasy world.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I love words. As a teenager I wrote out the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s Blue to see what it looked like on the page. The printed word fascinated me. Or I’d take a sentence from a Shakespeare play to see how it stood on its own.

I’m not a  painter or musician and words were a natural place for me to go to express myself. I didn’t really think about too much. I just wanted to tell a story. Looking back , I think the privacy and intimacy of book attracted me. You don’t have to share it, it is something you do alone.

 6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It is the second novel I’ve written but the first to be published. It draws on real life experiences from the best and worse year of my life. I wanted to explore love and sex and how they shape who we are.

(BBGuru: publisher’s synopsis – Bernie, a divorced mother of three, lives in a converted shed – albeit with a great view – in Byron Bay. She works part-time as a journalist for the local paper. Bernie has an amicable relationship with her ex-husband and strong female friendships. Her life is steady, normal, recognisable.

While writing her first novel, she gets in contact with an old friend from university. Jack is married, has two children, and has never forgotten Bernie. A tortuous, intimate, passionate – yet frustratingly sexless – affair follows, fuelled by the exchange of hundreds of confessional text messages and emails.

Jack’s inability to be physically available to support Bernie becomes clear when her father dies and she is threatened by her neighbour. When Jack ends their relationship, Bernie is emotionally destroyed and wracked with guilt. She seeks solace in a string of increasingly dangerous and twisted sexual encounters. What begins as an innocent search for validation on internet dating sites leads – frighteningly quickly – to sexting, pornography, brief liaisons in seedy motels, group sex, and swingers’ parties. She hides her new lifestyle from her family and friends and retreats into nameless, addictive sex.

Losing February describes, in sometimes disturbingly graphic detail, what happens when a strong, energetic, capable woman in her early 40s completely loses her sense of self and mistakes grief for punishment.)

Click here to order Losing February from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Booktstore

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I’d like them to believe in the capacity of love to change us. And that life is complicated and were all just finding our way.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Raymond Carver  (brilliant short stories that grab you by the throat. The way he drew characters on the page was breathtaking, the narrative is so and clipped and unforgettable).white-teeth

Helen Garner, (straight-up honest writing with not a word wasted.  I carry her phrases around with me like ‘the coin of the moon’ , doesn’t that say so much with so few words?)

Barbara Kingsolver  (what a storyteller, stories that move and take me with them)

Margaret Atwood ( what an original  and prolific story teller she is and the language is evocative, she is an author I reread)

Zadie Smith (when I read her first novel White Teeth, I was amazed at the way she wrote her characters, they became my friends in my head while I  read her book) .

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I have three more novels in my head. There are themes in life I want to explore like belonging, evil and love. I’d like to write more and give more.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Never, ever give up. Learn from others. Watch how people you admire operate and surround yourself with people who lift you up. And write every day. No excuses, just do it.

Susan, thank you for playing.

Gemma Crisp, author of Be Careful What You Wish For, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Click here for more details or to buyThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Gemma Crisp

author of

Be Careful What You Wish For

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1.    To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Hobart, 11 minutes after my twin sister. We were brought up on a farm, along with our two older brothers, 11 sheepdogs, 300 cattle and 7,000 sheep. I went to a local country primary school, then travelled 1.5 hours each way to go to secondary school in Hobart, and spent two years at the University of Tasmania before transferring to Monash in Melbourne to finish my degree.

2.    What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At 12, I think I was recovering from the realisation that I would never be an Olympic gymnast after repeatedly failing flexibility tests in gymnastics class. At 18, I was tossing up between becoming a French teacher or a foreign diplomat, both of which lasted about five minutes. At 30, I wanted to be 27 again.

3.    What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Click here for more details or to buy...

That by the time I was in my 30s, I’d have a wardrobe full of Prada and Gucci. Instead, it’s full of Sportsgirl and Dotti – the same as it was when I was 18. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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?

As this is my first novel, I freely admit I’m still developing as a fiction writer. Given my genre is chick-lit, I have to namecheck Maggie Alderson (also a former mag girl), Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella as authors I’ve enjoyed while lying on a sun lounger somewhere exotic with a cocktail in hand. I know chick-lit can be looked down on by some in the literary world but whatever gets people reading is a good thing in my opinion.

5.    Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I didn’t actually choose to write a novel, it chose me – thanks to my publisher at Allen & Unwin emailing out of the blue to ask if I’d ever thought about writing a book (did someone say, ‘Lucky duck?!’). Having said that, given I’m a magazine journalist who writes for a living, pulling a novel out of my hat was the easiest option compared to singing/dancing/painting/acting, all of which I am spectacularly bad at.

Click here for more details or to buy6.    Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s the story of Nina, an Aussie girl who squeezes her foot in the magazine industry door while living in London, before she moves to Sydney where her career takes off – but not without a few hiccups here and there. It’s an insider’s look at the Australian magazine industry (which, despite what many people believe, is very different to the world of The Devil Wears Prada!) and is best read lying on a beach, slurping on a rapidly melting Frosty Fruit while trying to guess which celebrities some of the characters are inspired by …

Click here to buy Be Careful What You Wish For from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

7.    What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Besides an inside look at the crazy, amusing and sometimes plain ridiculous stuff that can happen in the magazine world? I hope people realise that sometimes you can become so focussed on getting to where you think you want to be, that once you get there it’s hard to admit that it’s not the right place for you after all. Happiness is more than a job title or salary.

8.    Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Geraldine Brooks, for writing People of the Book, one of my favourite novels. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, but after trying to write a couple of sex scenes, I have to give props to E.L James – it’s tricky (and really awkward)! And, last but not least, I really admire all the ghostwriters out there – after writing my own book and knowing how much time and effort it takes, it must be hard to stand by and watch other people get the glory.

9.    Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?Click here for more details or to buy...

To be honest, I’m not really a goal-setter – I don’t even take a shopping list when I go to the supermarket! I’m more of a ‘let’s just see what happens’ kind of girl when it comes to big picture things. Luckily for me, a lot of what has happened so far has been far beyond my wildest dreams, so I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

10.    What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction, blogs, tweets or Facebook status updates. And try to develop your own tone, as that’s what will get people coming back for more. PS – don’t try to write when hungover; you’ll just have to re-write it when your brain is functioning again.

Gemma, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Be Careful What You Wish For from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Anita Heiss, author of Paris Dreaming, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Anita Heiss

author of Paris Dreaming, Manhattan Dreaming and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Gadigal country – the city of Sydney, and spent my childhood in Matraville, where I played street cricket and tennis, and had weekends at the Matraville Skyline drive-in where Mum worked. I went to St Andrew’s primary school with the ‘Pizza Hut Church’ and swam down La Perouse in summer. I went to high school at St Clare’s College in Waverley for secondary and spent summers down Bronte and south Maroubra.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I just wanted to be popular because I felt like a square peg.  At eighteen I wanted to be an investigative journalist because I liked the thought of working in the media. At thirty I wanted to be the best writer in any genre possible. I’d already published poetry and satire and was writing my doctoral thesis on literature and publishing.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At 18 I believed it was possible to have a relationship with someone who had different political beliefs than I. Now I know the reality!

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 these have influenced my writing, but they do inspire me as writer.

One: Mervyn Bishop’s iconic land rights photograph of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam Pouring Continue reading

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