Briefly tell us about your book.
No Small Shame is the story of a young Catholic immigrant torn between love and duty at a time when there were high expectations but little agency for women. Set during the years spanning WW1, Mary O’Donnell sets out for Australia in hope of a better life, but one foolish night of passion leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage. Mary is young, Catholic, poor and living in a tumultuous time of war. Her journey from powerlessness to agency is a story of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.
What was the research process like for the book?
Initially, I did months of library and internet research, studying steamship voyages, life in a coal mining village, then wartime on the home front in Australia. I visited the Wonthaggi Historical museum to learn of the life of my grandparents and the town’s early history. I studied both the local and Melbourne newspapers, as well as ships’ logs and manuscripts of passenger diaries in the Victorian State Library. In 2010, I travelled to Scotland and visited the site of Bothwellhaugh. Though the village was demolished in the sixties, I was able to walk the ground of the area and take in the light, the smells, the foliage and birdlife. I travelled down the very, very dark remnants of a coal mine shaft in Lanarkshire and met with a Strathclyde Park ranger who shared a wealth of photographs and maps, and told the most wonderful stories of ex-residents.
What are you hoping the reader will take away from reading your book?
A greater appreciation and understanding of how women’s steps towards gaining agency often had to be achieved by slow degrees, particularly when they came from a place of poverty, low education and strict religious constraints. Not every emerging feminist was feisty or loud or able to change the trajectory of their lives through protest or rebellion.
How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?
Amazing! It’s such a thrill! The printed copies arrived while I was away on Norfolk Island for a writing residency and I had to wait almost two weeks until I was back home to hold one. My husband was under strict orders not to open the box, but I had the joy of seeing a short Instagram video by my publicist, Holly at Ventura, opening a box and that was exciting to see the printed book. But nothing compared to my taking out that first copy, holding it and seeing it realised. A real book!
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
I try to be at my desk by nine most days. I’m not as disciplined as I should be and I’m a great procrastinator. It can take me all day to get to actual writing because there’s always important research to follow up, fact checking, reading over yesterday’s work, tweaking and editing, writing emails, Facebook, Twitter etc. But for my current work-in-progress, I’m trying to put the writing first. I can’t give away too much about it yet, but my new novel is set in the year directly after the First World War and tells the story of a young Australian soldier who elects to stay on in France, the French girl he loves, and the traumatic reason he refuses to go home.