Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Interview: Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss is the author of several books including Manhattan Dreaming and, most recently, Paris Dreaming

Hi Anita, thanks for answering some questions for us! Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just started Sherman Alexie’s The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Why did you choose Paris as the setting of your latest book? Is there a special connection you have with the city? (and further, did you take the opportunity to travel to Paris for "research"?)
My character Libby Cutmore had to go abroad, and Paris with the Musée du Quai Branly in mind, was the most sensible place to take her. There is already an Indigenous arts presence there, and Libby works at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra so I could quite easily write a believable storyline to get her there. I had also been published in French – my novel Who am I? The diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 is published by Au vent des îles – and when we released in France, my interviews were done at the Musée and I just fell in love with the space, especially the cafe with the view of the Eiffel Tower.

Because I believe in suffering for my craft, and I am a method writer, I did have to get into character and head to Paris. I needed to cruise the Seine, weave in and out of galleries and museums, shop in designer stores and flee markets, and eat too many croissants and macaroons! The only way to write the scenes, the smells, sounds, tastes etc is to experience them.

In Paris Dreaming, Libby works at the Musée du Quai Branly, what attracted you to this gallery out of the myriad available in Paris?
I was inspired by the extraordinary Indigenous Australian Commission of works at the Musée du Quai Branly. Co-curated by Hetti Perkins and Brenda L Croft, it includes some of my favourite artists, Judy Watson and the late Michael Riley. I wanted to bring the experience of the Musée to those who may never have the opportunity to go to Paris and see the overwhelming installations for themselves.

Putting Aboriginal themes and characters into the 'chick-lit' genre has been extremely successful. Did you feel at the outset that this would be the case? 
To be honest, I didn’t think about the potential success of my work when I started writing in this genre, I just wanted to put Aboriginal women in urban areas and the complexity of our everyday lives on the Australian literary radar. I’m glad now though that the books and the storylines based on relationships between women and their friends, their mothers and the men in their lives speaks to a wide range of audiences.

Manhattan Dreaming, Paris Dreaming
, where to next?

Can you believe the next stop is Brisbane – the city and suburbs! But when you dig deep there’s almost as much culture and excitement in Bris-Vegas as there is Manhattan and Paris, especially around the cultural precinct on the Brisbane river.

How do you find the daily life of being a full time writer?
I left academia to be a full-time writer and while it is financially an insecure way to be, I have never been happier or healthier. When working on a novel deadline, I will work seven days a week for two months, and then give myself a lot of me time. I like the variety in my life, and my days including writing, performing, school visits, library visits and research. I never get bored. But I must admit that I am very disciplined, motivated and a workaholic.

You've been recognised with various awards, including Deadly Awards, has there been one that stands out as especially satisfying?
The Deadly Awards are meaningful because they are like our community ‘peoples choice’ awards and so it is validation that my own mob recognises what I do, and appreciate and am humbled by that. I am also very proud of winning the Australian Society of Authors award in 2003 (Tim Winton was a co-winner), because it was recognition from within the writing world.

Having worked on poetry, children's fiction, chick-lit, non-fiction, reviews, anthologies and other types of writing is there one that you can say you prefer? And is there a genre or style you haven't tackled yet that you'd like to?
I really enjoy working with the students at La Perouse Public School on our two novels Yirra and Her Deadly Dog, Demon (2007) and Demon Guards the School Yard (2011). But the most interesting work – in relation to researching and writing – has to be writing chick-lit, or as I prefer to call it, commercial women’s fiction. I’d like to be able to write for the stage also... one day!

Can you tell me a little about the short film you made and what inspired you to make it?

As part of the Lester Bostock Mentorship Program through Metro Screen NSW, I created a short film titled Checkerboard Love, about the relationship between an Aboriginal girl and her non-Aboriginal boyfriend who were having their parents over for dinner to meet for the first time, and they frantically de-Aboriginalise the flat to lessen any chance of friction.

What are you working on next?
I’ve just handed in the first draft of a memoir on identity titled Am I Black Enough for You? It will be released through Random House next year. In the meantime, I’ll be busy ‘researching’ arts and culture in Brisbane for my next novel Tiddas about five Aboriginal women from Mudgee, all finding themselves in Bris-Vegas in their 40s.
 Paris Dreaming, Manhattan Dreaming and Anita's other works are available online at Shearer's Bookshop.

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