This interview originally appeared on Booktopia’s blog on the release of The Bondi to Manly Walk. They call it Ten Terrifying Questions. While I didn’t find it particularly scary – thank goodness – it certainly made me think. Some of the answers reveal where I’ve come from and some hint at where I’m heading, so here it is for you.
To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born, raised and schooled in the land of Puberty Blues – southern Sydney’s deep suburbia near Cronulla. There was lots of natural bushland, lots of trees, and I loved clambering over large sandstone rocks – as big as Uluru, I thought – in the school’s playground.
What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I remember answering this question as a kid with my own question: what job could I have where I can read all day? It hadn’t occurred to me that I could simply write my own stories.
So at twelve I wanted to be an international flight attendant. All I needed was to be multilingual, immaculately groomed … and two centimetres taller. The latter never happened. Arguably, neither did the first two.
At eighteen I wrote in my school’s yearbook that I wanted to be “a world traveller and beach bum”. It’s the genesis of my first book: my love of travel and the coast. As a job, I really wanted to be a presenter on Getaway. I wish I took a gap year but instead went straight to uni: an Arts degree where I learnt about ‘intertextuality’ and further dampened my creative spirit.
By thirty I had been back to university a second time for a Master of Arts, believing that formal education was the key to success. I still didn’t believe I could be a creator, but that someone with writerly leanings like me could be a journalist. On day one working in a newsroom I remembered that I hated news. Slight problem. It took a few more years of producing radio and a very short stint on TV – then a decade working in travel – before I found my way back to writing.
What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you don’t have now?
That being creative is for ‘other people’.
What are three works of art – this could be a book, painting, piece of music, film, etc – that influenced your development as a writer?
Visiting the Louvre as a teenager. Not another painting, another sculpture – boring! Then my mum would report back from reading about the work – who did it, when, why, what happened next – and it was fascinating. It’s the story that transforms an object into something I can hold on to.
The sense of place in Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park resonated down the years. For decades I couldn’t visit The Rocks in Sydney without feeling the story hint at its own aliveness.
The oft-cited The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: the most practical call to action for a life well lived. I wished it hadn’t sat on my shelf for a decade before reading it. I thought I had to be some kind of artist first before even picking it up. It has nothing to do with being an artist and everything to do with being a deeply contented and true-to-self person (who, as it turns out, is most likely some kind of creator).
Considering the many artistic forms out there, what appeals to you about writing non-fiction?
But why? Why are things like they are? It’s what I didn’t like about the news cycle; its focus on who, what, where, when. I like to linger on how and why and what does that mean? History helps the present make a lot more sense.
Please tell us about your latest book!
The Bondi to Manly Walk is the definitive guidebook to Sydney’s best multi-day walk, linking two of Australia’s most iconic beaches via the glittering harbour city.
From my tourism days I know a walk is more than how to get from A to B, so while the book includes clear instructions, itinerary suggestions and easy-to-follow maps, it also focuses on storytelling: the local social and natural history to bring the path to life and transform an incredibly scenic walk into a deeper experience.
What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope that both lifelong Sydneysiders and first-time visitors will be surprised and delighted both by the walk itself and the stories they discover along the way.
Who do you most admire in the writing world and why?
Elizabeth Gilbert for writing across genres to follow her changing interests (From ‘The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon’ to The Signature of All Things and City of Girls), for helping shape my healthier attitudes towards creativity (Big Magic), and for continuing to create despite her irreplicable success (Eat, Pray, Love).
Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have external-facing dreams to tick off over the course of my writing career: peer-reviewed awards, New York Times bestseller, screen adaptation, blahdy blah. But the only outcome I can control is to produce something that satisfies me. This is my only goal.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Treat your writing with the same seriousness, professionalism and dedication as a Very Important Job but approach it with the light-heartedness of play, flippancy about the outcome and forgiveness for your own perceived failings.