Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Louise Allan’s first novel, The Sisters’ Song, is out now with Allen & Unwin. The manuscript has previously been shortlisted for the 2014 City of Fremantle—TAG Hungerford Award and awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship.
Louise grew up in Tasmania, Australia, but now lives in Perth, Western Australia. Her first career was as a doctor, but in 2010 she ceased practising medicine and took up writing. She has had several short stories, essays and articles published in literary anthologies and medical journals.
Apart from writing, Louise also enjoys music, photography, walking and nature.
YOU’RE A DEBUT NOVELIST. CAN WE MENTION YOUR AGE?
Sure can! I’m 51. I didn’t start writing until I was 43, proving that when it comes to writing, you’re never too old to start.
FROM YOUR HAND TO THE PRINTING PRESS, HOW LONG DID THIS BOOK TAKE?
I started writing The Sisters’ Song in earnest in 2012, so it took six years to get to print, but that’s not counting the short story I wrote in 2010 from which it came. It’s gone through about three big rewrites, and 3,333 drafts in between, each time inching closer towards a publishable book.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO PUBLICATION.
I started writing the book in 2012, but there have been interruptions. As a mother of four, life and family periodically intervened, and things like being shortlisted for an award meant I couldn’t work on my manuscript until I knew the result, which took nine months.
When I started writing, I didn’t know if I had any talent or if my book would ever be published. I kept going regardless, continuing to learn the writing craft through courses and workshops, seeking feedback on my writing and then redrafting. I had little “wins” along the way, like the Varuna residency and the shortlisting for the City of Fremantle—TAG Hungerford Award, that kept me motivated and hopeful.
The turning point was in 2015, when my now-agent gave me loads of critical feedback. I can’t overstate how useful it is to get feedback from someone in the industry, and I went back to the drawing board and rewrote the book. My agent accepted the revised version, and it was then bought by the first publisher she sent it to, Allen & Unwin.
But the editing had only just begun! Editing with my publisher, Annette Barlow, involved substantial rewriting and I actually added about 12,000 words, but it’s made a huge difference and I learnt a lot.
WHAT KEPT YOU GOING WHEN YOU CAME UP AGAINST ROADBLOCKS?
I don’t know, really. The goal of finishing a book, the need to tell the story, the vision of the book I wanted it to be in my head, the hope it might be published one day, the dream of producing something worthwhile. All of that, and the fact I’m pretty determined and don’t give up.
WHAT’S ON THE CARDS FOR YOU THIS YEAR?
Publicity for the first part of the year, and then family time as it was severely lacking last year while I devoted myself to my book. I’m also hoping to carve out some time to finish a draft of my second novel.
WHAT’S THE LAST BOOK YOU LOVED BY A FEMALE AUTHOR?
One of my stand-out books for 2017 was The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose. I was captivated by the prose and so moved by the characters. For me, the book says everything about why we need art and why we need each other.
ABOUT THE SISTERS’ SONG:
Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.
As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.
The two sisters are reunited as Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.
Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.
Over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.
Thank you, Louise Allan!