Frequently Asked Questions
Questions About Anita's Life Generally
Where did you grow up and how was your childhood?
I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Matraville - between Long Bay Jail, ICI Industrial Estate and the Malabar Sewerage works. I had a wonderful childhood playing cricket, tennis and footy in the street with the kids of the neighbourhood. Mum made lots of chocolate cakes and she worked at the drive-in, so we went to see films a lot. Dad was always working in the garage and making things around the house. He used to get on his bike, put one kid on the front, one on the back on his shoulders and we'd squeal as he rode up and down the street. We always ate dinner together, and there wasn't a TV in the kitchen then, and no Playstation or Wii. My parents were very family oriented. There was a lot of love in my house. Of course, we fought too, but that's what all kids do, don't they?
Where is your family from?
My Mother was born on Erambie Mission Cowra - Wiradjuri country. Most of her family is scattered around Tumut, Brungle, Griffith and Sydney. My father's family are all from Austria. He was from a little village called St Michael in the Lungau, Salzburg.
What kind of jobs have you had?
I worked at a chicken shop when I was still in school and then a department store on Thursday night and Saturday morning. My first job out of University was writing comic scripts for Streewize Comics. I then set up my own consultancy business doing social research and media / PR. I went back to University and did my PhD and continued to do research projects. In 2001 I landed a job as Communications Adviser for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council. In 2004 I started at Macquarie University as Writer in Residence and in 2005 moved into Deputy Director role. I am now a full-time writer.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
An airhostess, a nun, a movie star, and / or a journalist.
What do you consider important in your life?
My family, friends, purpose, my own evolution as a human being.
What are you passionate about?
Helping people understand the diversity and reality of Indigenous Australia in the 21st century. Helping to raise awareness about literacy issues in Indigenous communities. This is why I am a Books in Homes and an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador.
Can you describe one of your proudest moments?
I have a couple, but one would have to be the day in 2001 when I graduated with a PhD in Communication and Media from UWS. I was the first Aboriginal student to do so in the University's history, and it was a day that I celebrated with my family and close friends. My Dad was a carpenter, and he was all decked out in a new suit and bought me every piece of memorabilia available on the day. His pride in my achievement (which was really his and my mother's achievement, because I wouldn't have been there without my parent's hard work and support) made me even prouder.
What are your favourite things in life?
Chocolate, reading, writing, chocolate, walking and swimming (to burn off the chocolate), laughing, shopping, being with friends and family, chocolate, positive people, chocolate, drinking icy cold water, lying at the beach, exploring new cities and chocolate
Where is your favourite place in the world, so far?
That's hard: definitely my hometown Sydney for its soul and coastline, New York for its energy and Paris for food and shopping!
What is your earliest memory?
Going to the Blue Mountains with my Dad in my Mum's green VW beetle
What were you like at school?
Outwardly I was confident but inwardly full of self-doubt.
Who was your first relationship with?
Gene Autry - the singing cowboy. I was 5 and he was on the telly.
What don't you like talking about?
The times I've disappointed the people I love.
What was your most humiliating moment?
Trying to rap and having 400 students laugh at me. I have no musical ability whatsoever.
What do you cook at home?
I don't cook much, but when I do, I like to make a kangaroo curry, chili con kanga and kanganese (roo Bolognese).
What would your last meal be?
Masses of salt'n'pepper squid shared with friends and family.
What is your favourite gadget?
My computer - I write, email, and play on Facebook and occasionally I'll churn out a book.
How would your friends describe you?
Probably something along the lines of: 'thoughtful, generous, fun, always on the go, too hard on myself, impatient'.
What don't you find amusing?
Jokes based on race or disabilities.
What is your favourite colour?
Pink (and black).
What is your favourite drink?
Icy cold water.
If you could be anyone for a day?
Oprah - of course. She's the most successful broadcaster in the world and is genuinely interested in the stories of everyday people. I could learn a lot being her for a day.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Bennelong's second wife Barrangaroo - she was strong, feisty and committed to her people.
Which living person do you most admire?
Other than my Mother - I'd say lawyer and author Terri Janke for her intellect, her ability to write and sing, her peaceful aura, and the fact that she's totally likeable and gorgeous!
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am the most impatient person I know.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
The inability to empathise with fellow human beings.
What is your greatest fear?
Failure - but I rarely think about it.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I'm collecting a piece from every Tiffany's store around the world.
What is your definition of contentment?
The beach, a breeze, a book, a companion and a cocktail.
What is your favourite journey?
Life's journey is the ultimate.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Humility is so overrated; I think everyone should just brag about themselves endlessly. Did I tell you about this fabulous book I just wrote?
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Strong, capable intelligent women aren't supposed to be concerned about those things are they?
Has there ever been a moment when you were perfectly happy?
Right now. Every day I wake up and wait for something wonderful to happen, and inevitably it always does. Even if it's just a quick chat with a friend on the phone. So many things are precious, we just need to recognise them.
If you could wake up with one new skill tomorrow, what would it be?
The ability to sing like Aretha Franklin.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being the first Aboriginal person to graduate with a PhD from the University of Western Sydney.
What is your most treasured possession?
A Tiffany's bracelet my father gave me for my 37th birthday. I wear it every day.
Who are your heroes?
What song do you never want to hear again?
I nearly ran my car off the road the last time Knights in White Satin came on the radio. I hate it!
How would you like to die?
With dignity and surrounded by those I love. Or, so dramatically I make the news and have a huge glamour photo on the front page of every newspaper in the country!
Who or what makes you laugh?
My brothers Mark and Josef are hilarious - just ask them!
Questions About Writing
When did you start writing and why?
A long, long time ago, before email, I was the world's greatest pen pal. I used to write epic letters, simply because I loved to. It seemed I had enough to say to fill a book - well about six of them...
Did you do anything to help you learn to write or did it just come naturally?
I just started writing, and kept at it. I'm still learning. I surround myself with capable writers and try to sap their knowledge and skills with every coffee or meal we have. I wished I could do something, anything, that came naturally, but alas, I'm the kind of person that has to constantly practice.
What do you love about writing?
The chance to use creativity to escape, to heal, to write the world I wish we had, and also to make social change. I am at my happiest when I'm punching the keys.
What do you think makes a good writer and who are some of your favourite authors?
A good writer will make their reader feel something: empathy, sympathy, fear, anxiety, relief, sadness, uplifted. A great writer, I think, will make me laugh out loud when reading their work. Jonathan Safran Foer does that for me. As for my favourites, my bookshelves are full of Australian authors, and when I grow up I want to be able to write like Rosie Scott, Kathryn Heyman, Linda Jaivin, Mark Ragg, Alex Miller, Terri Janke and Kim Scott.
Who influences your poetry and/or novel writing?
People I know and have conversations with give me inspiration. I love writers like Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Alex Miller, Rosie Scott and Larissa Behrendt.
What do you like to write about?
Things that are important to me - social justice, human rights, Indigenous issues, the human condition, how we relate to each other, relationships between friends.
How do you find moving between genres of writing - from poetry to children's books to novels?
I enjoy the change of voice, pace and structure. Poetry is less structured for me, and is about making quick social points about an issue. The children's book allows me to go back to a younger voice and play with language, and the chicklit novel lets me be very creative with scenes, storyline and characters. I'm moving among genres to see if I can do one well, and when I find one I'm good at I might stick with it!
Do you have any advice you could offer on writing and publishing?
On writing: Write every day and read widely across genres, geography, gender and culture. You will get a feel for what you think works on the page and it will help you define your own style and voice. Join a writer's centre and the Australian Society of Authors to make contacts, get professional development and to learn about the industry.
On publishing: Get your manuscript looked at by a professional before you send it to a publisher - don't waste your time or theirs not having done that. Don't give it to a relative or friend, unless of course they are editors. You need objective, professional advice. Look at the books in the store / library and see who publishes the kinds of works you are writing. Then check out their websites to see if they accept unsolicited materials and to find out the process for sending your manuscript in.
On selling a book once it's published: I'm lucky, I have a background in PR and a PhD in Communication and Media, and so I know how it all works and I exploit the media if I can when it comes to selling books. I will go on any radio show (OK, wouldn't do Jones or Laws) and do any paper anywhere if it means reaching a bigger reading audience, and hopefully selling a few more books.
On what to write: I think lots of people can write, the hard thing is writing something at the right time and something that other people want to read. Something that is different, that fills a niche, that has a good storyline and is well written. And a hook that the media will run with. I launched Not Meeting Mr Right on Valentine's Day so there was a hook there, but of course the difference was that the heroine - while following the formula of boy meets girl - had complications in her search for Mr Right.
Do you tire of book launches and repetitive interview questions, or is it all good fun and good publicity?
I don't tire of book launches, who would? You're the centre of attention, there's a party that someone else mostly pays for, and you don't have to clean up. It's true, I sometimes get tired of the same questions, but it's all part of the process of writing and publishing. I want people to read the words I've agonised over to get on the page. Therefore, I have to do the work to make the book move out of the warehouse and onto the shelves.
Questions About Who Am I? The Diary Of Mary Talence, Sydney, 1937
How did you come to write a book for the My Story series and why was writing about a child of the stolen generations important to you?
I was approached by Scholastic who wanted to have a wholistic view of Australian history in the series, and not necessarily an Anglo / Eurocentric view, or one that only considered the 'glorious' or 'feel good' moments that of course we need to celebrate. Writing about the Stolen Generations was important to me for two reasons:
Firstly, because there was no material whatsoever on the issue of child removal policies written in a format accessible to young people in the classroom, making it easy for teachers to omit teaching it as part of a history class. To give a complete picture of the significant moments in Australian history post 1788 - it is essential that such an important, albeit tragic, part of Australian history is taught. I believe we have some wonderful moments and some dark moments in our history, but they need to be embraced and understood from the schooling years on. Writing Who Am I? The diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937, gave me an opportunity to transport the reader to a particular moment in Australian history that is still impacting on many Australians today. Secondly, my own Grandmother was taken to Cootamundra Girls' Home at the age of 6, and then went to the Home of the Good Shepherd in Ashfield before she was put into service at the age of 14. I don't know one Indigenous Australian who hasn't been affected by the policies of protection. And those of us who have an ability and platform to educate and inform on the issue, and want to make some social change through understanding the consequences of such policies, feel compelled to write, sing, perform etc about it.
Did you find writing in a diary form gave you any special challenges? How did you approach the task of writing the story?
I hadn't written much fiction previous to this novel, but I was truly grateful for the format. It gave me limits which were useful for the first novel for young people. I also appreciated the goal of the novel, as explained by the publisher: 'To transport the reader through the voice of a young person at a particular point in Australian history'. I really enjoyed the process of reading books for young people to look at voice (it was a bit hard to remember back to that age). Having said that, I did draw on a lot of my own memories as a young Koori being harassed on the playground, and was able to use a lot of that material in the book.
In the notes at the end of the book you mention many of the written resources that you used to research Mary's diary. Did you also talk to people who had been part of the stolen generations and use their experiences in the book?
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Eileen Stevens who spent 9 years in Bomaderry Aboriginal Children's Home
What special attention did you have to pay to features of the language you used and details of everyday life to bring Mary to life and give her the real voice of an Aboriginal girl living in the 1930s?
The 1930s setting was a bit of a problem, and that's where I had to research books from that period and find relevant terms and slang words. And the editor also picked things up, for example, at one point I had Mary use the word 'ballistic' in relation to how angry her teacher was. It was pointed out to me that perhaps that word wasn't used in the 1930s and I had to find something more appropriate. I'm told that there's a dictionary of terms over the various decades, but I don't think I've ever seen it. I also got a couple of cousins about Mary's age to read drafts of the manuscript to give me feedback on the language. I had the word 'assimilation' in the text, and they just said, 'that's too big a word' so I had to amend the text accordingly. And the discussion then became Mary saying of her conversation with Dorothy, 'She used a really by word starting with 'A'. It is much more realistic for a 10 year old to have it that way.
Questions About Not Meeting Mr Right
How would you describe your book Not Meeting Mr Right, briefly?
It's a book about a gorgeous, intelligent, capable young woman who momentarily forgets that her single life is fabulous without the need to compete with many of her contemporaries who are married, mortgage-holding mothers. In her desire to meet her own Mr Right and prove she can have it all, she embarks on a very strategic journey where she finds a few undesirables, a couple of complete losers, some appreciated sex, and one or two potential husbands. The outcome of her strategy is what is most surprising though.
Is the Alice character based on yourself, or anyone else?
Of course! I am gorgeous, intelligent and capable!! Seriously, for the most part, the book is fictional. But I don't believe in pure fiction. I think all writers bring something of themselves and their life experiences to the page, and there is material in the book that has been inspired by my own tragic love life. Yes, I have been stood up, dumped by email and tried internet dating. (But I've never done a SWOT analysis about being in a relationship. Perhaps I should!)
What inspired you to write Not Meeting Mr Right?
As a Koori woman living in Sydney, home to the largest gay population in the world, finding a man to marry 'black or white' was always going to be a challenge. After a decade of dates from hell, being stood up and put down, cheated on and lied to, the mere thought of meeting a decent guy was almost laughable. But analysing and researching how to do it was fun and exciting! Trying to find Mr Right myself gave me lots of material for a book that I knew single women the country over would relate to. I have written and published about the politics of identity, the Stolen Generations and Indigenous issues generally. But I also want to write about other aspects of my life. I shop for bras, menstruate, queue for toilets in nightclubs and shop at Tiffany's whenever possible. These are things many women do, black or white. So I wrote a book that I'd like to read, in the hope that other women would chuckle over it and nod in agreement at how desperately hard it is to meet Mr Right, in Sydney, in the 21st century.
What was your writing process - did you write it from front to back or more randomly? Did you know the ending before you started writing the novel and did it change as you wrote it?I wrote a plan with chapter headings like: Hen's Night, Dates from Hell, A wedding, and so on. I wrote about 20,000 words in 10 days because I had the material in my head and I just needed to sit down and get it on the page. I thought I had the ending on about day three of writing - she was going to end up with Marco. In fact, I think in the first draft given to the structural editor, she was with Marco, but of course that changed.
What was the editing process like? How did you work with your editor?
My agent Tara Wynne recommended I have a consultant editor - Nicola O'Shea - do a structural edit for me. As a writer I can safely say it was one of the best investments I have ever made. The manuscript went from present tense to past tense; we lost chapters but gained 20,000 words. I can't recommend enough sending your manuscript to someone whose job it is to edit and assess. When the manuscript went to Random House I was given a wonderfully talented publisher named Elizabeth Cowell. An absolute star, she would go through all the comments she had to ensure I was happy with her suggestions and I worked on what I thought was best for the novel, taking on board her skills and knowledge. I can't wait to work with her again.
Questions About Manhattan Dreaming
Lauren is one adventurous girl. Is she based on you?
I like Lauren as a character. She's committed, focused and likes to eat cake but exercise as well. She also likes to shop and enjoys her time in New York. So in those respects she is like me, but she also spends a bit too much time in cyberspace following her footballer, Adam, and in that way we are not very similar at all.
Was this your dream when you were a little girl?
I have lived in Canberra and spent some time in New York and they truly are worlds apart. It wasn't my dream as a young girl to move from my home (in Sydney) to New York, but I have fallen in love with the Big Apple in recent years and my ideal life would be six months in Matraville and six months in Manhattan every year.
Did you have to go to New York a lot to research your book?
I had the idea for the novel while in New York in 2008. I was staying in SoHo and making myself at home Downtown. I loved it. It was the first time I felt truly at home in a place other than in Sydney and Wiradjuri country in central NSW. The sense of peace I felt was extraordinary. It made sense then for me to write about the city. I went back in 2009 to specifically research, in the peak of winter, but even with the black ice and below zero temperatures I managed to fall deeper in love with the city that never sleeps. Researching in galleries, museums, bars, cafes, shopping outlets etc was hard work, as you can imagine! Seeing the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden was one of my all time highlights!
Lauren is very interesting because she is so competent in her career and yet she has made poor decisions in her personal life. Do you think this is reflective of many women today?
That's a loaded question, but it's fair to say that many people - both men and women - can be strong, reliable, competent and sensible in their career decisions and goals, and yet, do themselves a disservice (as does Lauren) when it comes to the opposite sex.
What do you think is more important, the fulfillment one gains from career, or from love?
I think this is purely personal choice. I have fabulous women in my life who are not career-minded at all, or even interested in their own personal love story and they are completely happy. I know some women who are content with their family lives as mothers and are fulfilled. I know other women who have careers and are also mothers. I know very few women though who are stay-at-home mum's because most of the women in my circle want to be out there and amongst it all. For me personally, my fulfillment comes from knowing I have had a full day, that I recognise the things that I am grateful for and that 'love' as it were, comes in many forms and daily I am surrounded by it.
There are a lot of Indigenous artists spoken about in the book. Are these friends of yours? And do you think this will raise the profile of these people?
I have worked in the arts for ten years and yes, many of the artists in the book are friends and / or colleagues of mine. Some of them I don't know well at all but I admire their work, and am inspired by it. One of the aims of all my work - regardless of genre or audience - is to raise the profile of Aboriginal art and culture and raise awareness about the diversity of Aboriginal society in the 21st century, and our artists do that so well.
What are you writing next?
I am currently writing the follow-up to Manhattan Dreaming which is set in France and called, you guessed it: Paris Dreaming. Due for release through Bantam in 2011.