Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Joanne Fedler is the author of nine books, including the international bestsellers Secret Mothers’ Business (2006) and When Hungry, Eat (2010). Her books have sold over 600,000 copies worldwide. She is an inspirational speaker and writing mentor and takes groups of women on writing retreats to Fiji, Bali and Tuscany each year.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I started writing stories when I was six years old, and have always written poetry, short stories and kept a journal. I studied literature and law, but took the law fork in the road, imagining I could be of greater service to humanity as a lawyer in South Africa (which shows you how naïve I was). I kept writing as a hobby, and was accepted by Hedgebrook women’s writers colony in Seattle for eight weeks where I wrote the first draft of my first novel. I worked as a women’s rights activist for many years, until I hit burn-out and a personal dead end. My husband and I immigrated to Australia when my kids were little (2 and 4), and I was a full-time mum for four years, battling to figure out how to be a useful member of society in Australia without requalifying as a lawyer. Eventually my husband encouraged me to finish writing the novel I had begun in my late twenties. And that’s when my writing career took off.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest book, Love in the Time of Contempt: consolations for parents of teenagers (Hardie-Grant), has just been published. It’s a first-person account of what it’s like to raise people who are “sprouting hair, tits and attitude” all over the place. I’ve adopted an unusual approach to its launch by getting 200 early adopters on board to read and review the book before its release and to help me spread the word. I’ve also launched a campaign around the book called A Million Connected Parents and will be selling little bracelets to support adolescents at risk in South Africa as part of the campaign.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
Cluttered. I work in a sunroom in our apartment in Coogee, Sydney. It is freezing in winter, and eye-blindingly bright and hot in summer. But it has a view of the ocean. I am terribly messy. It is one of my least adorable qualities.
WHEN DO YOU WORK?
All the time. I am never not thinking about working. It’s ridiculous, I know. I work at night, early in the morning and in any spare moment I can snatch from my mothering and (very basic) house-keeping duties. I try to get up early, walk or go to yoga before my day starts. I do kid-related activities and once my kids are at school, I sit at my desk until hunger, a full bladder or school pick-up prods me to stop.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
It depends what I’m working on. I am not a structured worker, but chaotic, impulsive, even blundering. But I trust the organic process of writing. As long as I am putting words on a page, I am happy.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
My older sister, Carolyn, was born hard-of-hearing and I was the only one who could understand her. Apparently I began to speak when I was nine months old, interpreting for her. So I’ve always appreciated how important words and language are; how fundamental it is to have a “voice.” But when I was fourteen, my dad gave me a copy of Dylan Thomas’s play for voices Under Milkwood and the beauty of his language made me want to “do that” with words. I love how language gives shape to thought and feeling and how through words, we can connect with ourselves and each other (strangers, whom we’ve never met and will never meet). I do what I do to make others feel less alone, and remind me that we are all connected.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I think of writing as the discipline of paying attention. To everything around you. To all interactions. All sounds. All internal processes. I am inspired by people who pay deep attention, like the poet Mary Oliver. I am inspired by brave thinkers. I watch lots of TED talks. I read plenty of poetry. I grab whatever inspiration I can from wherever I can. I am inspired inside silence and when I am able to access my own deepest presence in the moment. Because inspiration is all around us at all times.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A WRITER?
The loneliness. The lack of peer interaction. No Christmas parties. Days where I am boring myself and the writing is horrible, clichéd. An inbox full of spam. Endlessly distracting myself with Facebook and internet searches instead of focusing on the writing.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
I’d like to have a steady income as a writer and not have to worry about affording things. I am pragmatic about writing and whilst I see it as a calling, I want to make a fabulous living off what I do. I don’t believe artists should starve. There is enough suffering in this world for us to feel the paradox of beauty and horror. Artists make this world livable. And they should be rewarded the way sports stars and celebrities are. Through my writing retreats, my vision is to empower as many women writers as possible to write their books and sell as many copies as they can.
I’d like to see the publishing industry become more author-driven rather than agent- and publisher-driven. I’d like authors to take a more pro-active role in promoting their books and getting their books into the hands of readers. I’d like books to be seen as precious, not cheap discounted items.
WHICH FEMALE VOICES WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR MORE OF?
I’d like to hear from women who don’t have voices. Women in third world countries. Muslim women. Women raising kids with disabilities. Single mothers.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FEATURED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Kate Shand, author of Boy: The Story of My Teenage Son’s Suicide
Thank you, Joanne Fedler!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Simon Taylor
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