Author Anita Heiss shares her (very tidy) desk with us

Good morning Anita Heiss; published author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry; winner of many awards, and speaker of many keynotes all in the past decade. Gosh that was a big chunk of exposition, wasn’t it? Thanks for sharing your desk with us today. Just…shuffle over a bit, thanks. That’s better. So, your latest novel – Tiddas – was released this year. What’s it about?

Tiddas is a story about the role female friendships play in our lives. Set in Brisbane and focussing on five women who have been friends since childhood, the novel revolves around their personal and shared journeys as they all head towards turning 40.

The title of course referring to the Aboriginal word meaning ‘sisters’ in a broad sense. And we’re thinking there will be plenty of readers who can relate to these characters! Tell us more.
Their monthly book club meetings see conversations unpack their demons, dramas and dating stories while considering issues of fertility, health and fitness, careers, motherhood and substance abuse. Alongside those conversations, there’s a thread about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture, and obviously Australian literature and the role that book clubs play in bringing women together to talk about life.

Anita HeissMonthly book club? That’s great. Hope one of the characters is Jennifer Byrne. Now, how much of this was inspired from your own life?
My previous four titles were all about women in their thirties – and those books were fun and interesting to research and write. But I myself am now mid-forties and the conversations and challenges we have in this age bracket are significantly different. The directions our lives take can change dramatically in our forties – by choice or otherwise – and I wanted to capture some of that drama. I also wanted to explore on the page how being fabulous and forty can also be fraught with disappointment, fear and painful realities.

That’s a very honest take on it, and again – one that will resonate widely. So, it sounds like there’s a theme running through it all that ties things together, yes?
The concept of sameness. In Tiddas I wanted to talk about not only the differences that can exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women but, more importantly, what connects us as women, as human beings.

Care to elaborate, in 100 words or less?
Regardless of cultural heritage, as women in our forties we will be experiencing, talking about, struggling with, suffering from, rising out of, being inspired by many of the same things… children growing up and leaving home, or not being conceived at all. Partners who have left us, cheated on us, or better still romanced us and supported us. Friends who have helped us juggle hard times, rarely judged us, but always supported us. Identities that have made us stronger or somehow stifled us, and the physical changes that have impacted on our own bodies, and sometimes our relationships.

98 words…nice. Well, Tiddas sounds layered, realistic and fascinating, and we’re going to give some copies away at the end of this post. But before we do that, let’s have a look at this desk of yours. Far too tidy to be a real author’s desk, surely! (Guess you did know we were coming…and it’s in a separate office, not your home…) Anyway, the desk itself is pretty nice.
A beautiful desk made by my late father. I think it's Tasmanian oak, recycled from other pieces of furniture. I only started using it recently, having got rid of the formal, corporate type desk. This one has a warm feel about it, and I like that I can marry my creativity with Dad’s.

That’s quite special. Right, let’s see, what else… iMac computer, tick. Bottle of water, tick, coffee mug, glasses – nice frames, uh-huh. Okay, tell us about this mouse pad.
A Martin Luther King Jr mouse-pad I picked up at the MLK Freedom Walkway Museum when I was in Atlanta for a Black Writers Reunion and Conference.

And what’s in your in-tray there? Bills, filing, okay, nice and n—oh! Sorry! Oops. We’ll get something to clean that up with. But seriously, you should really keep the lid on that water bottle. Okay… Here we go. All dry. Right, where were we? The notes stand.
My notes-stand with pages is held up by four pegs with the words: PEACE, LOVE, HOPE, HAPPINESS. I have a wooden penholder as well, gifted to me by a tidda when I left Brisbane last year. And a hand painted ‘starfish’ rock created by Joanne Nasir. She’s an awesome creative disruptor from Darwin.

And this over to the right, out of shot, it’s an interesting mix. Please explain.
That’s my vision board, which states my mantra for 2014: “I can change the world with a little faith and a lot of passion”. It also has 10 goals for the year reminding me of what I promised myself I would do this year. The board includes some items stuck to it: medals for my marathons, a toy number plate from NYC, a photo of my head stuck onto someone else’s bikini body. All memories or inspirations.

Wow, some say writing a book is like running a marathon. But you had to go one better by writing a book AND doing a marathon. Hashtag overachiever! Okay, finally, those paintings over there. Talk us through them.
Directly in front of me is a painting my cousin Bev Grant titled “Social Butterfly” – it’s done in earthy colours and it sits next to photos of me taken recently in Hong Kong, and another small painting of sunflowers in Montcuq, France.

Alright, so here we are. Day in the life of Anita. What's the first thing you do before you start to write? 
I need to get the mundane realities of life out of the way and out of my headspace for the day. I am a morning writer, so I get to the computer early, knock over the urgent-only work-related emails (and Facebook / Twitter if need be) and try and mentally let go of everything aside from my storyline and the word count and deadline staring me in the face!

And what kind of word count are we talking here? How many words do you aim for in a day?
When I am on deadline for a book, I aim for a minimum of 2000 words per day in the first draft stage. A good day would be reaching 3000 words. An excellent you-can-have-a-glass-of-wine-tonight writing day would see me write around 4000 words. These are rare of course, and would require a lot of chocolate and caffeine.

Bravo! Our three favourite words just happen to be chocolate, coffee and quaff. So you’re on a winner. Now, talk us through a typical timeline of your day. We don’t need Jack Bauer minute-by-minute detail, but an overview of when we’d find you sitting here.
On a ‘normal’ day I wake sometime between 5-6.30am. First thing is exercise, either the gym or a run with my buddies at Maroubra Beach or Centennial Park. Healthy breakfast and in the office by 9.30am (let myself skip the school-zone traffic). I’ll sit at my desk the entire day and leave by 6pm. I eat lunch at my desk. Do my media interviews on my mobile phone sitting at my desk.

So basically, we’d ALWAYS find you sitting here! Wow, you really must know this desk pretty well. We’re starting to feel like a gooseberry, perhaps we need to leave you two alone… 
Hang on, what about meetings? – you’d surely have to leave for those.
I try not to arrange meetings away from the office during the day because I like to work in chunks / blocks of time. And I try to be strong and stay off social media if I am on a deadline!

Yeah, good call. So, when you finally DO drag yourself away from this place, what do you do to chill out?
While working on a major project like a novel, I rarely read because I my eyes are so sore by the end of the day that I can hardly focus. I do like to wind down, and that’s usually lying on my couch watching one of a very few shows that take my fancy like ‘Big Bang Theory’. The odd tipple is allowed but nothing too much because I need a clear head every morning. And I have a lot of chats on the phone each night with my closest tiddas of course!

That crazy Sheldon and his “Bazingas”. Okay, thanks so much for the tour. Anyway, what’s this on screen you’re working on now?
I’m currently writing the text for a public artwork recognising the contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made through their involvement in wars. The artist I am working with is Tony Albert and the memorial will be opened in Hyde Park, Sydney on ANZAC Day 2015. I’m also working on some ideas for a collaborative project with the very talented and lovely Kate Forsyth.

She IS lovely. Good luck with those things. And finally, before we give away the books, got any advice for aspiring writers who’d like to be where you are today?
Read widely and invest in your own professional development – join writers associations, attend relevant workshops, get a mentor, pay for a structural editor for your work before shopping it around. And be clear about why your book is worth reading, not whether or not you think it is worth writing.

Want to win a copy of Tiddas by Anita Heiss? Of course you do! 

And all you need to do is give us another word that you use in a similar context to describe YOUR close friends. To enter, simply include your WORD (and the reason you use it) and your postal address in an email to courses at writerscentre dot com dot au

We have two copies to give away and entries close 11:59pm Tuesday 30 September. The entry that makes us feel most warm and fuzzy (hey, it's about friends) wins.

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