Tabitha Bird is the author of ‘A Lifetime of Impossible Days’ (2019, Penguin) which you must have seen all over social media in recent months. Tabitha is a resilient, tender-hearted person who very generously answered all my questions with such honesty and warmth it quite takes my breath away. Read on to find out more about the author whose manuscript was rejected 85 times before she landed a literary agent…
NLK: How long have you been writing? How long did it take you to write A Lifetime of Impossible Days?
TB: I’ve been writing for about eleven years but when I first began, I didn’t think of it as writing. To understand that, I need to give some background.
In my early thirties I had run so hard and so fast from my childhood trauma that I had forgotten who I was, what I wanted out of life. Struggling to cope with painful memories, there were days when I could not get out of bed.
During that time I was asked a simple question by a most wise counsellor: what does the pain look like? It was to be a very powerful question and I will never forget how important it was for me to answer it.
I went home, opened up a word doc on my computer and thought about it.
What if pain could have texture, colour, shape?
What if pain could be a character?
And more powerfully, what if pain could have a voice? What if MY pain could have a voice?
I began to write about a character named Beast who had a little girl trapped in the cave of my heart.
This was be the kernel of the idea for the youngest character in my novel named Super Gumboots Willa.
I began sending emails to my counsellor in between sessions of the story of Beast and that child. Writing is how I process the world. And through this writing I found my voice, which to a trauma survivor is everything.
Eventually I had a very messy memoir on my hands, which I polished and sent out to agents and editors. This manuscript got very close to being published but ultimately, I decided it wasn’t memoir that I wanted to write. I loved fiction, specifically fiction with a magical twist. I set about using the emotional truth of my healing journey to create a completely fictional story.
A Lifetime of Impossible Days took about four years to write once I decided I didn’t want to write memoir.
NLK: You left the city for life in the country which seems like a courageous move. Can you tell us your reasons for choosing the country life?
TB: Our youngest son came to live in our family about seven years ago. He came from foster care and brought with his own issues and trauma. I knew I would not be able to return to full time work because this little guy needed me at home. Our new family of five simply didn’t fit into our current city home and we couldn’t afford a larger house without me returning to full time work. Moving to the country made financial sense but country life had always been a dream of mine.
NLK: You talk about writing A Lifetime of Impossible Days as an exercise in healing. How can writing help with healing?
TB: Super Gumboots Willa showed me how innocent I was as a child, she took my hand and taught me how to play again, how to imagine and the importance of fun. She knew that imagination fuelled by courage can be enough to get one through. And I couldn’t let that child down.
Middle Willa, that thirty-three-year old mother in my book who is struggling and failing and wishing desperately that she could BE more and DO more; she urged me to look back on my thirties with more compassion. She showed me that a messy love and imperfect life is good enough. That I am enough simply because I showed up and I kept trying.
And Silver Willa made me laugh. She is full of wise-crackery. She says all the things we wish we could say sometimes but don’t dare. Most of all she gave me hope. She wanted me to see that we should never give up on our futures, that we are not the sum of what has happened to us. That we can take what has been done to us and transform our lives into something beautiful.
For me that is what this book is all about. Taking everything that was ash and transforming it into beauty. Not only did I write a book, but in many ways, I wrote my life.
NLK: I love your story of perseverance in finding a literary agent. You queried 85 agents before you signed with Golden Wheat Literary, how did you not lose faith in your manuscript during this time? In hindsight, is there anything you would do differently if you had your time again?
TB: I had already persisted through surviving trauma, my healing journey and the sheer guts it took to write a really vulnerable book. There was no way I was giving up on seeing that book out into the world. Put simply, I stubbornly believed it might help others. I would not let myself quit. I’d look in the mirror and tell myself that the story mattered and that I believed in it. It helped me stay focused. I wouldn’t do anything differently. I believe the timing of the book being agented and published was perfect and that I would not have been ready any sooner.
NLK: Can you tell us a little about your writing process or any writing rituals you have?
TB: I need quiet. Like total silence. I often write in the very small hours of the morning because ‘noise’ is still in bed at those times and I can think. Other than that, I have a personal policy of complete honesty as I write. I don’t mean that the stories are true. I mean that the emotion, the insights, my way of looking at the world, who I am; all of that I try to place honestly upon the page. I refuse to write something I don’t believe in or write characters that don’t ooze the messy realities of life.
NLK: You have been an absolute champion promoting A Lifetime of Impossible Days at many book events. At these events have any of your readers surprised you with anything to do with their reading?
TB: My readers always surprise me. They read my book! That shocks me daily with such joy and humility. To have someone spend 11 or so hours with characters you created in a world you made up is a great gift. Many of my readers made me jam drops, which kept me fed on long drives home from events! One of my readers bought me some gumboot earrings, which was very special. There have also been so many beautiful messages sent to me as well.
I’m always amazed at the level of insight and the depth with which my readers read A Lifetime of Impossible Days and I thank them all for it.
NLK: What has been the most surprising thing about being published?
That I’m published! Ha! Honestly, if you could have seen the mess my life was in only 11 years ago you too would be shocked. I was in such a broken place. I’m forever thankful for Penguin’s belief in my work. They were so supportive of me every step of the way. I’m incredibly thankful to my counsellor, Esther, who I still see. I would not physically be here without her. She saw in me a writer and called that writer forth! How do you thank someone who introduced you to the magic of words and the thing you most wanted to do in life? If I find a way, she will be the first to know!
About Tabitha Bird
Tabitha Bird is a writer and poet who lives and works in the rural township of Boonah, Queensland. By day Tabitha may be found painting, working on her next book or with her husband, three beautiful boys and Chihuahua.
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Image courtesy of Tabitha Bird