I met Theresa Smith through the Australian Women Writers Challenge (#AWW17) – an excellent movement designed to raise awareness of writing by Australian women. She lives on the other side of country to me (of course) but I felt such a connection with her, I couldn’t wait to interview Theresa and find out more about her writing, reading and her passion for books. I hope you enjoy Theresas’ insights into writing as a journey as much as I do.
NLK: Can you please tell us about AWW and the work you do there?
TS: The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge joins with other movements aiming to raise awareness of excellent writing by women – the VIDA Count, The Stella Prize and the #readwomen hashtag. The challenge has entered its fifth year and is going from strength to strength. Founded and led by Elizabeth Lhuede, the team behind the scenes is made up of women who love to read, write, and combine both of these pursuits with a focus on the work of Australian Women Writers.
I joined the challenge as a reader at the beginning of 2016, but my involvement was very much on the fringes until there was a general call out for volunteers. As editor for historical fiction, my main task is to regularly ‘round up’ the reviews within my genre and showcase these in an article that is published monthly. I also coordinate the Historical Fiction Sunday Spotlights, which run twice a month. I have a keen interest in interviewing debut women authors and would love to at some stage even make this a regular feature, similar to my Historical Fiction Sunday Spotlights.
Recently, I have also taken on the social media aspect of AWW. Being a part of AWW is such rewarding work. I’ve met some wonderful women writers, terrific bloggers, sensational reviewers, and read a whole lot of books that I might otherwise have overlooked. It has completely changed my reading habits for the better. Anyone can sign up as a participant, you don’t have to wait until a new year: http://australianwomenwriters.com/sign-up/
NLK: What would you tell your younger self about writing?
TS: That it’s so much more than putting words onto paper. I work in a senior high school, in the careers department, and I often come across young writers who aspire to have a writing career. I am caught between encouragement and discouragement, which is terrible really, but it’s so hard to make a career out of writing. It takes a long time, a lot of patience, determination, an ability to persevere in the face of rejection, and an additional source of income. It’s not often that it will be your main job straight away, it still isn’t for me!
I think that if I could step back in time and whisper into the ear of my young self, I would say: stick with journalism. Leave the novel writing to someone else. It’s taken me a long time to realise this, but now that I have, my focus is redirected and my writing life is so much more settled and happier for it.
NLK: Why did you become a journalist?
TS: I always loved to write. When I was young, it was stories, then when I was pre-teen, short novels. I pretty much stopped writing once I was a teenager though, becoming busy with achieving at school and generally living a teenage social existence. In my senior years at high school I began to love writing again, but of a different kind. I actually enjoyed writing essays and opinion pieces, absolutely loved researching, and took immense pride in teacher feedback that indicated I had talent in this area. I was determined to go to University, despite no one else in my family having ever done so and not really being able to afford it at all (thank goodness for HECS, student loans and tinned spaghetti) so studying Journalism was a no-brainer for me.
Along the way at Uni, I fell out of love with Journalism, but not with writing, and Sociology became my main interest. Eighteen years later, and I have returned to Journalism. It kind of feels like I’m where I should have been all along.
NLK: What was the biggest lesson you have learned through writing?
TS: That it’s an extremely powerful and persuasive medium, in all its formats. In the right hands, this is incredible, but in the wrong, catastrophic. Because people believe what they read. Not everyone will believe the same piece of writing of course, but for any particular thing written, someone will believe it, and think about it, and talk about, pass it on, and adopt it. You can’t dismiss fiction on the basis of it being made up. Readers don’t care about that part, if it speaks to them, taps into their inner consciousness, then they’re going to pick it up and run with it. I think that if you are a writer, you need to understand that what you write is going to be read, examined, and possibly judged. How it comes off is in your hands. The ability to write well and have the means to get your words out into the world is not a privilege to be taken lightly, in my view.
NLK: What kind of books do you most like to read?
TS: Fiction mostly, but I do enjoy memoirs. Historical fiction is my favourite but I tend to be a little fussy with the era and setting. I like fiction that leans more to literary, but I don’t exclusive stick with this. If I had to estimate, I’d say that about 90% of the books I read are written by Australian women. The other 10% is made up fairly evenly by Australian men and female authors from abroad. Obviously, my work with AWW steers me towards more books by women than men, but I would like to read and review a few more books written by Australian men over the next few months for my own blog www.theresasmithwrites.com
NLK: Have you read anything that made you think differently?
TS: Almost every time I finish a book I feel that on some level the content has changed me. Recently (otherwise this answer would just keep on going on) I found The Crying Place by Lia Hills to be a particularly moving novel that led to a bit of introspection. Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman were both thought provoking as well. I absolutely adored A Hundred Small Lessons by Queensland author, Ashley Hay. Such a beautiful contemplative novel about motherhood and love, it stayed in my thoughts for quite some time.
Has any one novel changed me dramatically or altered my thinking permanently? Yes. IT by Stephen King, read in my formative teenage years. I never walk past a street drain anymore and I loathe clowns. And no, I will definitely not be watching the new movie, not even the trailer.
NLK: How does writing change the writer?
TS: For me, being a writer has made me more of an observer. I watch people closely and sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m doing this so I can be more discreet and not come off as too intrusive. Being a writer makes me more curious and to a certain degree, more empathetic. I like to know what’s going on beneath the surface of a person if possible so I’ll talk to people about all sorts of things if I get the opportunity, even to complete strangers if chance arises. I can become a little interrogational at times, particularly with friends who work in the police force and as paramedics, two professions that are absolute minefields for a writer in terms of human nature.
Above all though, writing fills your head, and sometimes this is good, but at other times, it can be tiring because it often leads to over thinking and over analysing. I have a contemplative nature, so I’m frequently guilty of this. But writing allows me a freedom as well, like no other, because I can sit down in front of a blank page and fill it with my thoughts. I’m lucky, not everyone can do this, and it’s a gift I treasure.
About Theresa Smith
Writer, avid reader, keen reviewer, book collector, drinker of all tea blends originating from Earl Grey, and modern history enthusiast. Theresa enjoys reading many genres but has a particular interest in historical fiction. Theresa is the Historical Fiction Editor with the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
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