Interview with Annabel Smith, 6 November 2013 As we have both been nominated for the Most Underrated Book Award, we thought it might be a good idea to interview each other. You can find Annabel’s interview with me here.
What do you want readers to know about your novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot?
Whisky and Charlie are identical twins who have become estranged. When Whisky has a life-threatening accident Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again. It’s a book about the messiness of families, which people seem to relate to. I also want readers to know that it’s not as serious as it sounds. There are lots of funny parts. Well, I like to think so anyway!
What’s your writing process like? Has it adapted over time? Do you have a particular writing space? How do you get into the “zone”?
My writing process is completely organic. I just show up at the page and see what comes out. This has been the way I’ve written all my novels so far. I love the surprise of discovering what my unconscious has cooked up while I wasn’t looking. I write in my home office while my son is at school. The writing ‘zone’ is an elusive space! Some days I sit down and it surrounds me, sealing me inside. Most days it’s not that easy. I have to creep up on it from behind, or chase it around until it gives up in exhaustion and finally lets me in. Occasionally it eludes me entirely and then I just press refresh on my email 800 times and fritter on twitter.
Who are your favourite writers? Why?
I love Jennifer Egan for her wry humour and psychological perceptiveness; Louise Erdrich for the vividness of her prose and her incredible insight into human nature, Ann Patchett for creating relationships so intimate I feel like I’m part of them. I love Margaret Atwood’s world-building and sense of playfulness, Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination, Justin Cronin’s ability to almost make my heart stop with suspense, and Maria Semple’s gift for creating the most hilarious and improbable scenarios. And Jonathan Franzen, because, well… Jonathan Franzen!
Whisky Charlie Foxtrot is your second novel. How did you find that the writing and publication process, as well as the marketing, differed between the two novels?
My first novel, A New Map of the Universe, was written as part of a PhD. I had a brilliant supervisor, Richard Rossiter, who operated as a kind of built-in editor, which was an amazing gift. At the same time, because it was the first book I had ever written, I was groping in the dark for much of the process. I suffered bouts of paralysing self-doubt and writer’s block. Writing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot felt easier because I had more confidence. The structure, which is built around the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc) was also a great springboard for ideas.
Everyone says that your debut novel is the most difficult one to find a publisher for but for me, the opposite was true. A New Map of the Universe was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to – UWA Publishing, whereas I gathered countless rejections for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot over a period of three years before it found a home at Fremantle Press.
My involvement in the marketing of the two books couldn’t have been more different. A New Map of the Universe was published in 2005, before the concept of the writer-as-marketer had taken off. I did whatever UWAP asked of me, including a few radio and print interviews, and one or two events at libraries. It didn’t even cross my mind that I could take matters into my own hands. Marketing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot has been completely different. I’ve been connecting with readers and potential readers through my blog and through social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. I’ve visited fifteen book clubs and delivered presentations at a dozen libraries. I’ve felt deeply involved with the marketing and believe my efforts have made a difference to sales, especially given that the market is much less buoyant now than it was when my first book was released.
What is your next project? How do you see your future as a writer in Australia?
My next project is a speculative fiction called The Ark set in a post-peak oil scenario. It will be published in early 2014 accompanied by an interactive multi-media app which will encourage readers to engage with the text in new ways.
I hope that one day I can be successful enough to support myself through my writing, but I know it can take many years and many publications to reach that stage, and for some writers, it never comes. Mostly, I try to enjoy the journey, learn something from each book I write and challenge myself to continually experiment and improve.
What would be your advice to new writers?
- Read widely and deeply. Talk about books, take them apart to see how they work.
- Write as much and as often as you can, and be patient. Allow yourself time to develop and find your own voice.
- Join or form a writing group. The process of critiquing and being critiqued will improve your writing like nothing else I can think of.
- Subscribe to writing journals. One day you’ll be ready to submit your stories to them. They rely on subscriptions to survive and without them you’ll have no markets for your work.
- Support local independent bookshops. Online stores won’t give you the time of day until your books start to sell in the tens of thousands, whereas local bookshops will hand sell your novels when you’re a complete unknown. Don’t let them go out of business!
How did you feel when you discovered your novel had been shortlisted for the MUBA?
Whisky Charlie Foxtrot hasn’t been shortlisted or even longlisted for any other awards this year and I thought it was its destiny to fly under the radar, so the MUBA listing came as a lovely surprise. It’s gratifying, in a way, for someone to acknowledge that your book hasn’t received perhaps as much attention as it deserves. I’m thrilled to be on the list.
Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards.
She has been writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA), had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University.
In 2012 she was selected by the Australia Council as one of 5 inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for the creation of an interactive app to accompany her experimental speculative fiction The Ark. She is currently working on an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis.