Despite its name Eliza Henry Jones’ debut novel, In the Quiet, has been making lots of noise on the Australian literary scene since its publication last month. This is quite an achievement for a new author and one of tender years (she’s 25 at time of writing). In the Quiet a deeply moving novel about a family coming to terms with the loss of a wife and mother set on the rural fringes of Melbourne. Eliza Henry Jones spoke to Better Reading about her novel and the challenge of writing in the voice of a dead woman.
Better Reading: As In the Quiet is your first novel, can you please tell us a little about your path to publication?
Eliza Henry Jones: I’ve written a novel every year since I was fourteen! Most of them have reflected whatever it was I was grappling with at that point in my teens – religion, mental illness, dementia, belonging, etc. Calidris Literary Agency began representing me in 2012 for another manuscript called Long Breath. Long Breath didn’t get picked up, but by the time we’d heard back from all the publishers, I’d written the first draft of In the Quiet. It shared many similarities with Long Breath and I wasn’t expecting it to be picked up – it ended up with five offers for publication! Which absolutely blew my socks off! I signed with HarperCollins Australia a bit under a year ago and the rest is history.
BR: How much were your times spent on writing programmes, such as the Varuna fellowship, helpful to the process?
EHJ: I started writing In the Quiet while on a young writer residency program at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – I don’t know that I would have started writing it if I hadn’t been there, as it wasn’t a story I’d been pondering on, it just hit me like a tonne of bricks and away I went. I think there’s a lot to be said for the atmosphere of a residency – the way that writing is suddenly shifted into being the defining part of your time. I was also at Varuna earlier this year with some absolutely incredible writers. Writing residencies and fellowships are a brilliant experience.
BR: In the Quiet is narrated from the point-of-view of a dead woman, Cate. Was it strange or difficult to write from this point of view?
EHJ: Cate’s voice just came to me. Much of the first ten or so pages of In the Quiet is what I started writing in 2012. Narrating the book from the perspective of a mother who had recently died just fitted in with what I wanted to explore and how I wanted to explore it.
BR: We understand you have some background in psychology and studied grief and trauma counselling. How did this help with the characters of In the Quiet?
EHJ: Ironically, I think working and studying in a field unrelated to writing was the best thing I did for my writing. Particularly studying and working in an area that forces you to confront emotions and behaviour and people at their most complex. It changed how I looked at things.
BR: You live in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne. How much is living a rural existence helpful to your writing?
EHJ: I love the Dandenong Ranges – the tree ferns, the mists, the mountain ash. The hills very much have their own smells and sounds; they’re very atmospheric, and that helps me write. Although, living in a place that makes you happy and where you feel peaceful and connected is immensely valuable, no matter what you’re doing.
BR: What contemporary or classic Australian writers do you most admire?
EHJ: Gillian Mears and Carol Lefevre
BR: We understand you have three-book deal with your publisher, HarperCollins. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning next?
EHJ: My second novel explores a rural Australian community after a bushfire and is due out in 2016. My third one is still in the very early stages!
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