Monday, June 13, 2011

Joanne Fedler - Author Interview Series

Photo by Richard Weinstein

Joanne Fedler is the author of The Dreamcloth (2005 Jacana Media), Secret Mothers’ Business (2006), Things Without A Name (2008) and When Hungry, Eat (2010 Allen & Unwin)

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

I was a die-hard Enid Blyton fan – I wanted to be one of the Five and to live in the Faraway Tree. Re-reading Blyton now with my son, I’m struck by how old fashioned it is. But in my childhood memory, it was magical.

When did you first realise you were a writer?

I’ve been in love with words all my life – I became my hard-of-hearing sister’s translator from when I was 9 months old and saw how she had to struggle for language. I wrote my first story when I was six, called Goodbye Kitchen and kept writing my own stories. My dad introduced me to Dylan Thomas when I was in my teens and that’s when it happened – like seeing a sculpture or hearing music that takes you beyond function and deep into beauty. And I knew then I wanted to do that with language. Then when I was in year 11 I had an extraordinary English teacher – Joan Orkin - who adored my writing and once gave me 100% for an essay. She made me believe I could be a writer. But funny thing the ego is, I only called myself a writer when my first book was published.

What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

I want people to say NO when someone asks if they can borrow my books – because they’re nervous they won’t get them back. I want my books to feel like a friend to my readers. I hope my books make people both laugh and cry and help them feel less alone.

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

It depends what I am reading and why. I can read for pleasure if the book has nothing to do with what I’m writing, but I always learn from reading – I learn about good writing, bad writing, plot, character – and I can see the craft as I read, but I am able to switch off if I’m just reading to relax.

Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?

I tend to seek out the kind of writing that supports my own writing. I go for really beautifully written books (plot doesn’t matter that much to me) - so I love Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, for example. I re-read certain kinds of books that have the same ‘tone’ or style that I am aiming for in the book I am writing. So while I wrote Secret Mothers’ Business, I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, and while I wrote Things Without A Name, I re-read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.

Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood
Toni Morrison, Beloved

Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Michael Leunig, The Lot

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

A book of poetry – probably something by Mary Oliver - because you never get sick of poetry.

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

Beautiful prose. Each sentence a sculpture. Something I want to savour and not rush through. Finely drawn characters with subtle tensions.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

Too wordy, overwritten or emotionally facile - I’m an impatient reader. If I read a book that seems sloppily thought through or badly written, I discard it after a few pages. Maybe even after a few paragraphs.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?

No favourite authors, only favourite books – all the authors I love have written some ordinary stuff. But I will always read anything certain people write – like Franzen, Leunig, Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Steve Toltz, Debra Adelaide…

If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (how many people can can pull off a story about a 14 year old girl being raped and murdered and make it uplifting?… astonishing writing, extraordinarily conceived)

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver (sharply observed, fascinating characters)
Beloved and Sula, Toni Morrison (writing you want to sink into, and re-read and re-read and re-read)
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (deeply observed, finely attuned to the subtleties of human interaction)

The 100 Secret Senses, Amy Tan (mystical, beautiful writing about a relationship between sisters that crosses lifetimes)
Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne (some of the finest characterization and dialogue you’ll ever read)
A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz (sustained characterization of un-cliched characters, and bright, fresh, funny writing)
Anything by Dr Suess (everything I know about the lyricism of language I have learned from Dr Seuss)

Essays in Love, Alain De Botton (maybe just because I agreed with it all… but also sharply written, clear edited prose)

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?

2010 was a fictionless year for me. I read heaps of books on spirituality (my favourite being Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle) and relationships (the brilliant Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel about how to keep passion alive in a long-term relationship).

What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?

No idea how this will play out – technology will certainly influence how we read, but I don’t know if it will make more readers out of us. For me, reading is about what happens between a reader and a page, that grainy feel of turning the page, the dog-earing of pages you want to come back to, the writing of notes in margins. I will never be one of those readers of e-Books, but I see the value of them especially for travel. If there is no future for print books it will be a sad commentary of the people we’ve become – de-sensualized, over-technologized, virtual readers. But maybe it’s the greener, kinder option for our planet.

Joanne's books have sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. She is currently working on a sequel to Secret Mothers’ Business and is offering a two-day writing workshop in September - details here.

Find out more about Joanne at or visit her blog at

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