Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Rebecca Edwards is a poet and visual artist living in Adelaide, South Australia. She has had solo exhibitions in Tokyo, Townsville and Brisbane. Her work is influenced by a childhood spent in Papua New Guinea, Nauru, various parts of Australia; an exchange at age sixteen to Japan; and travel as an adult in Africa, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. She is currently writing a novel set in 19th century Malaya. Her published works are Scar Country (UQP), Eating the Experience (Metro Press), Holiday Coast Medusa (Five Islands Press) and The River Sai, a young adult fantasy set in Japan (University of Queensland Press).
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
My parents are English teachers and passionate readers, and encouraged their three children to be creative and to love words. They both come from families of storytellers. When your father intones “The Wasteland” as his choice of bed-time story for a four-year-old, you probably have no alternative but to become a poet, but I was an artist before I was a writer: drawing came more naturally to me than reading and writing.
My first poem was published in the NSW School Magazine when I was ten. My grade five teacher, Michael Parmee, taught us all how to write, critique and draft free verse and haiku, and also showed us how to get published. I was going to Nambucca Heads Primary School at the time.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest book of poetry is the verse novel Holiday Coast Medusa, FIP 2002. My latest book is The River Sai (UQP 2006). Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to purchase either title.
Currently I’m working on a novel set in the Malay Archipelago in the 1870s – All Things Return. I’m going to Borneo for a month soon, to research that area.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
Shambolic. I wish it wasn’t! When I’m travelling I write in a journal and on my lap-top, and fill sketchbooks with notes, collages and drawings. At home I write at the family computer, in a room crammed with board-games, books, unidentified bits of paper, framed and unframed images, camera and computer equipment, a filing cabinet and a large wine-rack. My husband’s collection of swords, knives and clubs hangs on the wall behind the computer and our daughter’s toys litter the floor. Luckily, outside the window is our peaceful, half-feral garden, tall gums and flourishing wattle visited by blue-tongue lizards and lorikeets in summer, and by winter rain. I can ignore mess, but any kind of mechanical noise or heavy beat gets to me when I’m writing, so I’m happy here amongst the kipple.
My art shed is also crammed full of stuff, but is much better organised – for the moment at least.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work best in the morning, after a good night’s sleep. A typical day begins with a pot of tea, and the struggle NOT to make art, but to write. Must not go to lovely shed, but sit at the computer and use other side of brain. Wrangle words. Try not to kill anything good before it’s even begun. I have to make myself do it, and sometimes I find myself in the shed anyway, like a naughty kid wagging school. If I get into the right head-space I love writing just as much as making art, but getting there is really hard. I distract myself all the time.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
On an ideal day I wake up with energy and a refreshed mind. I sit at the computer with my cup of tea and write. At the moment it’s prose. I don’t answer the phone or look at my emails. By about one pm I feel very tired, so I have a sleep. Then I pick up my daughter from school. If I’m lucky I get some more work done in the afternoon, but I’m also happy just to be with her and her dad. Reading, researching, note-taking and re-drafting are aspects of writing I can sometimes accomplish when I’m tired, but fresh work never, so I’m very jealous of my morning hours.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I couldn’t do, or be, anything else. I’ve tried, and I was miserable. This might sound self-indulgent, but I’ve had to be extremely stubborn to stay on this path. I’ve been given two gifts, writing and art, and I need to do one or the other each day. I know how lucky I am to be able to live this life, and I feel compelled to make the most of what I was born with. That means searching for original expression, either in words or image, and making sure each line, each brush-stroke, is my own.
When I’m writing or making art I’m in touch with what makes sense to me, in myself and in the world. That feels really good. I would describe it as joy. Teaching writing or an aspect of art-making also gives me a similar sense of joy.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I see something odd, or beautiful, or mystifying. A unique thing. It could be a rusted piece of metal by the side of the road, or a magpie spreading out its feathers for ants to rummage through. I want to make something with this found object or image. Sometimes it’s an assemblage in a box, or a mosaic, or a suite of poems. I don’t want to forget anything that’s happened to me, good or bad, or anything I’ve witnessed. I want to retrieve what others forget. People fascinate me. Other animals do too. I keep boxes of photographs, bones, driftwood, fossicked china, feathers, pages from newspapers and magazines. I read, I travel, I eavesdrop shamelessly. More recently I’ve started collections of images via Pinterest. Anything I don’t fully understand is a source of inspiration, so I’m rarely dry.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
I can’t answer this question honestly without mentioning mental illness. Wierdly, the hauntings of profound depression can also be a source of inspiration, but, as David Marr once said, it’s hard to be creative if you’re dead. So I take the medication and remain above that level of hell, but I suspect I’m also removed somewhat from the kind of intensity – the intense pain – which was the way I once felt the world and wrote about it. Depression has taken huge bites of time out of my life; I prefer the lesser obstacle of finding a way to feel deeply, ie to connect with poetry, past a chemical buffer. Antidepressants don’t seem to affect the quality of my prose or visual art… I hope not, anyway.
My biggest external challenge at the moment is getting published again. I’m hoping this novel will break the drought.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
I will keep on writing, whatever happens. I’d like to see writers be much more generous towards each other, and much less precious about their own work. That doesn’t mean be less critical when reviewing, it means celebrating something if it’s good, no matter how you feel about the person who wrote it. Less ego, more wonder. Publishers, stop saying poetry doesn’t sell as if that’s a reason not to publish it.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Gwen Harwood, Thea Astley, Roberta Sykes, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Wolfe, Murasaki Shikibu, Lady Nijo.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Rebecca Edwards!
— Nicole Melanson
Like this interview? Follow WordMothers or Subscribe to meet more great female writers!