What inspired the idea behind this book?
When I was about ten years old, growing up in north-western Victoria, we had a sheep farm on the outskirts of town. While the farm did okay, there were problems with rabbits and foxes. Sometimes, my dad set traps there, and on one occasion he caught a young fox. To my amazement, he brought the fox home.
On our kitchen table, he carefully dressed the wound on its leg. He then fashioned an enclosure for it in our backyard. I was astonished by its presence but also confused by my dad’s care for this wild animal.
In the weeks that followed, we grew close to the fox. We looked after it like a pet, feeding it meat, and let it out to wander in the backyard. We kept it a secret from our neighbours – it was a small town, and keeping a pet fox wouldn’t have gone down well.
I won’t give away the rest of that story. But it was, perhaps, my first insight into the complexity of the adult world. And it intrigued me.
I penned a short story based on that experience. It was published by Meanjin back in 2016, but I had a sense of unfinished business. I felt there was a deeper, unresolved question about morality that I still needed to explore.
And so, two years after the short story was first published, I returned to it. And that’s where The Others began.
Does the creative process get easier with each book?
I wrote The Others not really knowing where it was headed, which has been the process (if you could call it that) for all my books. In the end, it took me over two years to draft, but it’s over five years since I first started the short story.
Each book has its challenges. If anything, I think I’ve found it harder over time. My expectations of the writing are higher, so I’ve probably become tougher on myself. But I’m also lucky to have a fantastic publisher in Vanessa Radnidge at Hachette. Vanessa often understands my work better than I do and helps get it to where it needs to be.
But what has gotten easier is the belief I can get it done – it’s usually a question of time at the desk. The process can never be sped up, really. It needs hundreds of hours in front of the page, connecting with the characters and their world. There are no shortcuts.
What’s some great advice you received?
When I was studying creative writing at RMIT, I had a brilliant teacher – the late poet and performer, Ania Walwicz. In her classes, we read works from a diversity of authors and genres. It opened my eyes to what was possible, both in form and content.
Ania gave us permission to write with freedom, to avoid self-censorship, and to let it flow onto the page, without pre-judgement. It was the greatest gift, and it’s always where my best writing begins.
What’s your daily routine like?
I’m a night-owl, so my writing day doesn’t usually start until about 11.30 am. Up until then, I’ll walk the dog, get some exercise in, a late breakfast, then emails. After that, I have some clear space to enter the world of my manuscript. Here I’ll usually spend about two hours, before a lunch break, then maybe an hour after that, depending on other commitments.
When I’m drafting, I like to stay in touch with the manuscript every day. Even if I have very little time, I might just re-read the last page I wrote, then make some minor amendments. I find that if I’m away from the work for too long, it can be difficult to pick up any loose threads.
In the late evening, I’ll always dive into my current read. When I first started writing, I thought reading other authors while drafting might influence my voice. Since then, I’ve become a bit more confident in my process. Plus, reading is just an essential part of my life.
Are you able to switch off at the end of a day of writing?
I find exercise is really important. Running, cycling or a session in the gym is always part of my day. Apart from keeping me healthy, it also gives the conscious mind a bit of a rest.
Plus, when busy with something other than writing, aspects of the story will often fall into place. It’s surprising how the subconscious often does the heavy lifting.