Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. All three of her Jayne Keeney PI novels have been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards, with The Dying Beach also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. She won the 2011 Scarlet Stiletto Award for short crime fiction. Angela is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; I still have a book of bad poetry I wrote when I was ten, complete with “about the author” blurb on the cover.
I wrote off and on for years until 1998, when I returned home from six years living and working in Southeast Asia to discover that I was entitled to a large tax refund. Heeding Virginia Woolf’s advice (“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”), I took to my desk and wrote full time for about 18 months, producing the manuscript that would ultimately become my first published novel.
My big break came in 2004, when I won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript for what became Behind the Night Bazaar. One of the people on the judging panel was an editor at Text Publishing and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The book took me six months to write, and six years to re-write.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest book is The Dying Beach, the only adult novel shortlisted for both of Australia’s major crime writing awards (the Neddies and the Davitts) in 2014.
I’m currently working on a novel called Mother of Pearl about commercial surrogacy between Australia and Thailand for my PhD in Creative Writing.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
My partner is also a writer and we share a study, a large room lined with bookcases, our desks facing each other. The state of our desks reflect our different ways of working: he’s a plotter and his desk is neat and orderly; I’m a “pantser” (someone who flies by the seat of their pants) and my desk is chaotic, although I know where everything is. The shelf above my desk contains photos of my loved ones, Buddha statuettes from Thailand representing different days of the week, and an owl I crocheted recently, which my nine-year-old named Paige.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Up until recently, I fitted writing in around a four-days-a-week job. Now that I’m on a PhD scholarship, I fit paid work around writing. A typical day involves lying in bed, wondering whether I should get up and take notes or lie back and ruminate on my novel (rumination usually wins). After getting my daughter off to school, I hit the desk and start writing, trying to avoid the distractions of Gmail, Facebook and Twitter (collectively known as “the Bermuda Triangle of Productivity”). I usually work until 5.30, then break for family time and dinner. Three or four nights a week, I’ll go back and work from 8pm until around 11.30pm. I write slowly. On a good day, I write 1,000-1,500 words.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I often write first drafts in longhand, and rework my notes as I transfer them onto the computer. I don’t usually plan my novels in detail: Mother of Pearl is unique in having a structure, ending and title in place long before I’ve finished it. My first objective – and this was the best advice I received when I first started writing – is to get the story down. Then the real work of re-writing can start. My first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, went through eleven drafts. The most recent, The Dying Beach, took five. I guess writing is like any other craft: you get better with practice.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
That’s like asking why I breathe. I have to. Otherwise I’d die.
It helps that I love it.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Much of my inspiration comes from having lived and worked in Southeast Asia. The experience was both challenging and enriching; and there’s nothing like living outside your culture to realise how profoundly you are shaped by it. I’m interested in people who are considered outsiders – or outliers – in any given culture.
I’m also inspired by author Barbara Kingsolver, who says in the forward to her award-winning novel The Poisonwood Bible, “I spent nearly thirty years waiting for the wisdom and maturity to write this book.” As a writer, I’m greatly encouraged by this admission as I continue working on that requisite wisdom and maturity.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
For me, it’s the juggling act: finding time to be a good writer, while also being a good partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend, citizen. (I have written about it here and here). I’ve had to learn to embrace routine and discipline – not traits normally associated with the free-spirited life of an artist – after resisting them for decades, because I can’t earn a living, write and be a mother without them.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
Funny, but nothing springs to mind. I’m one of those people who likes mystery and the journey of discovery. I didn’t find out the sex of the baby I was carrying and I never read the last page of a book until I reach the end.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
I aspire to write a book as powerful as the books I love that have changed me – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje spring to mind.
I hope to keep writing for as long as I breathe. The great advantage of this art form over others – such as rock n’ roll – is that there’s no age limit (although someone should tell that to The Rolling Stones).
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Barbara Kingsolver, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Angela Carter, Alice Walker, Kate Atkinson, Alice Pung, Amanda Curtin…though this will vary, according to when you ask me.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Angela Savage!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Jo Sheather
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