I abandoned a novel earlier this year. This has happened to me before and I am sure it will happen again. But it is a terrible feeling, to abandon characters and work, and a world that has been building. It’s painful to let go – to have decided that it doesn’t feel right. Then it is about starting again.
This is the first of a series of talks with writers I’ll be posting here. I’m really excited about these posts and what these writers have to share. My first interview is with Australian author Favel Parrett. Favel started writing seriously in her early thirties when she decided to go to TAFE and study Professional Writing and Editing. Instead of finishing her diploma, Favel wrote her prize-winning novel Past the Shallows, which if you haven’t read it, stop reading this, go to the bookshop straight away, and buy it, because it’s brilliant. Her second novel When the Night Comes is also brilliant, and another of my favourite books of all time. When the Night Comes is based around the Antarctic Supply Ship, the Nella Dan. In 2012, Favel was awarded the Antarctic Arts Fellowship, and travelled to Antarctica to complete research for the book.
NLK: I know the ocean is really important to you. How often do you get to surf?
FP: Not as often as I’d like! These days I only get a few surfs in a week – three if I get lucky. Winter is the best time for me – the waves are great and it is slightly less crowded, and there is always the chance that I might see a Southern Right Whale on it’s way up to warmer waters.
NLK: Do you still have the writing studio in the Nicholas Building in Melbourne? Where do you write?
FP: I was in that special building for over 7 years, but the rent got very expensive and it was also time for a change. I still miss it – the people and all the creativity going on. But I’ve turned the small garden shed at my house into a writing place (well a carpenter friend of mine did the work). It’s at the back of the garden and it feels far away from everywhere. The nicest thing is that now my dogs can come to work with me.
NLK: What is your ambition?
FP: Right now it’s just to turn up – try and write most days, even if it’s only a small amount of actual words. That’s it for now, one day at a time…. Trying not to think beyond that because the bigger picture can be frightening.
NLK: Is self-doubt necessary to be a good writer?
FP: I guess it is, even though it feels uncomfortable. I know that for me when I feel like my work is going really well and is easy, it usually means that the writing isn’t that good. But when I feel unsure and uncomfortable, the writing sometimes has something important to tell me.
NLK: Can you tell us about your latest project?
FP: I abandoned a novel earlier this year. This has happened to me before and I am sure it will happen again. But it is a terrible feeling, to abandon characters and work, and a world that has been building. It’s painful to let go – to have decided that it doesn’t feel right. Then it is about starting again. I think I have something that will hold, but I can never be sure. That’s all I can tell you for now!
NLK: What is the biggest influence in your writing?
FP: Place. It seems to come first and be the most important ‘character’. Writing about place, really being in that place with all the smells and sounds and colours can give me all the mood and feeling that I need. I think Per Petterson, the Norwegian writer, has influenced me very much. I am so moved by his work – the characters and the sense of place.
NLK: Do you use editing software like Grammarly or ProWritingAid?
FP: I never have. I often think I should give software like this a go, but then I have a weird and unorganised system that seems to work, somehow… So I think I better stick to it.
NLK: How do you motivate yourself to write? I procrastinate all the time, do you also fall into this trap?
FP: I procrastinate. I think every artist does. It’s important to remember to feed yourself creatively. Take a day where you can just do something nice, – surf – walk in nature – go to an art gallery and that might be enough to help you get back to work the next day. It’s also important to remember to forget the dishes, cleaning, chores during your designated time to write. Turn off the internet – and the phone. It’s hard but it helps.
NLK: What advice would you give to anyone starting to write?
FP: Keep going, keep writing. IT IS POSSIBLE. It’s so hard to believe that it is possible to get your work published. It feels so impossible and it is hard. But it does happen. Do the work. Keep sending stuff out there. Keep reading. It’s such a long road and rejection is the worst – but it seems to be part of it. Just keep going….
Excerpt from Past the Shallows
Harry stood on the sand and looked down the wide, curved beach of Cloudy Bay. Everything was clean and golden and crisp, the sky almost violet with the winter light, and he wished that he wasn’t afraid. They were leaving him again, his brothers, Miles already half in his wet suit and Joe standing tall, eyes lost to the water.
Water that was always there. Always everywhere. The sound and the smell and the cold waves making Harry different. And it wasn’t just because he was the youngest. He knew the way he felt about the ocean would never leave him now. It would be there always, right inside him. That was just how it was. “What should I find?” he asked. Joe shook his dry wet suit out hard. “Um . . . A cuttlefish bone, a nice bit of driftwood . . .” “A shark egg,” Miles said. And there was silence.
Harry waited for Miles to say he was joking, waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. He just kept waxing his board. So Harry stood up and ran.
He followed the marks of high tide left behind on the sand and his eyes skimmed the pebbles, the shiny jelly sacks, the broken shells. Cuttlefish were easy but shark eggs were impossible. They looked just like seaweed. He kept thinking he’d found one only to realize it was just a bit of kelp or a grimy pebble. There was hardly any point in trying. But he did try. He always found everything on the list. Always.
There was a cormorant gliding low, its soft white stomach almost touching the water, and Harry watched it as it moved. He watched it slow down and land on a rock on the shore. He walked close, walked right up to the rock, but the bird didn’t move. It just stayed still. And he’d never seen one alone. Not like this, on the land. They were always in groups, cormorants. Huddled together in groups on the cliffs and rocks, long necks reaching up to the sun. Sometimes they stayed like that all day. Together. Waiting and watching. Resting. The bird called softly, and Harry was so close that he felt the sound vibrate inside him. He wanted to reach out and touch it, to stroke the silky shimmering feathers down the cormorant’s back. But he stayed still, kept his arms by his sides. He thought that maybe the cormorant was sick. That maybe it couldn’t find the others. And he didn’t know how they made it, how they survived. Flying over all that ocean, flying and flying in the wind and in the rain. Diving into the cold water. They washed up in the surf sometimes, the lost ones.
Excerpted from Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. Copyright © 2014 by Favel Parrett.
Favel Parrett burst onto the Australian literary landscape with the heartbreaking debut Past the Shallows. She was discovered through the 2008 Hachette Australia/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program and then in 2009 was a recipient of an Australian Society of Authors mentorship. Favel has had a number of short stories published in various journals including Griffith Review, Island and Wet Ink. Past the Shallows was critically acclaimed around the world and was shortlisted in the prestigious Miles Franklin Award, won the Dobbie Literary Award, and Favel herself won the ABIA Newcomer of the Year Award. Her second book is When The Night Comes (2015 in USA).
Favel has a passion for travel and loves to surf. She lives in Australia with her partner, David, and her two dogs, Dougal and Bear.