Aha, there you are Eva Novy – sitting in your circle-shaped chair all relaxified. And wow, check out the cover of your debut book, Darling, Impossible! – great name by the way. We are certain that every writer currently glancing at the cover wishes they were sitting at that gorgeous wobbly-painted café right now.
So, introductions out of the way, let’s hear from you Eva. We have some questions lined up here on giant Love Actually-style cue cards. So let’s turn on the recorded music of Christmas Carolers and get started.
Please tell us about your book Darling, Impossible! (still loving that name, by the way) in 112 words or less.
“Darling, Impossible! is a coming-of-age story about a young woman on a quest to uncover a family secret. Lily, who is from a migrant Hungarian family, grew up in Sydney. Her parents refused to teach her Hungarian, claiming it was impossible to learn. But for Lily, Hungarian has always been the language of secrets. She knows there are dark stories in her family’s past, things they aren’t telling her – and every time they discuss anything interesting, they switch to Hungarian. This is the story of what happens when Lily goes behind their backs to take illicit Hungarian lessons from her family’s nemesis. She ends up learning more than she signed up for…”
Duhn duhn duhhhh! Wow, we can already see Christoph Waltz playing someone in the film version. But seriously, it sounds like there’s a bigger theme at play in the book…
“It’s a story about the migrant experience in Sydney focused on three generations of strong, spirited women. It also explores the idea of keeping secrets to protect the next generation – does it sometimes do more harm than good?”
Mmmhmm. Oh. What? Sorry, we assumed that was rhetorical. Ahhh, yes is our answer. Sometimes it does do more harm than good. But back to the book – where did the idea come from?
“I am also from a Hungarian background and often felt frustrated as a child that people I loved were telling stories in front of me in a language that was so familiar, but completely incomprehensible. For a curious little girl, that is torture! That’s when I started fantasising about secretly learning Hungarian to eavesdrop on my family. As it turns out, the secrets were not as juicy as I imagined, so instead I started dreaming up stories of what would happen to someone when the secrets they discover end up changing the course of their life.”
That. Is. Brilliant. So it’s really quite autobiographical, apart from the bit where your family is actually quite boring (we say this with respect). So, the idea in a way had been with you since childhood…but once you decided to write the book, how long did it take you?
“Well, I started the novel when I got pregnant with my first child, Oliver. He is now seven years old!”
Kids really do make excellent timekeeping devices.
“It took me more than five years to write the book and then another two to get it published. But I did take major breaks in between – after the first draft I took a full year off to get a bit of distance. I didn’t even look at it for a year. Then I went back to it and basically rewrote the entire thing. In that time I also had two children and moved countries twice! So though I have been working on the novel for more than seven years, I wouldn’t call it ‘full-time’ work.”
No, we get it – you’ve been busy! And hey, this is your first book (congrats). Have you always wanted to be an author?
“I have always wanted to write a book – it’s been dream for as long as I can remember. Whatever else I’ve done, the main characters of this book have always been with me in the back of my mind, waiting to come out!”
We’re going to go ahead and mark that down as a yes. Now, you attended the seminar How to Get Your Book Published here at the Australian Writers’ Centre. How did it help you?
“I had just finished my second draft and I was at a total loss as to how to proceed. I didn’t know whether I was ready to look for an agent, or whether I needed a complete rewrite. My husband bought me [the seminar] as a birthday present. The presenter, Geoff Bartlett, was very clear about what to do next – get a professional editor to do a manuscript assessment. I didn’t even know that type of service existed, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed.”
And what did you learn from the assessment?
“The assessment gave me general feedback: strengths, weaknesses and next steps. The professional editor I engaged, Linda from Golden Orb Creative, had exactly the right advice for me. I felt as though she really ‘got’ what I was trying to do, and she also knew the industry very well. She also turned out to be a publisher at Lacuna so it all happened from there…”
Well, that is handy. Now, next question. Hang on, these cards are very big. Worked better for that guy in the movie… Okay, here we go. What’s your typical day like? Do you have a writing routine?
“I am not good with routines. I am probably at my best late at night, and I am definitely not a morning person.”
(Explains why we’re doing this at 11pm. But please, continue…)
“Having had to fit my writing around my two little boys, I got very good at running to the computer whenever they gave me the chance: during a nap, while they were busy playing, when they were at preschool. One thing I love doing when I’m imagining a scene is pacing up and down the corridor talking to myself. I look crazy, but it’s my favourite way to explore new ideas.”
Pacing up and down the corridor talking to yourself. Noooo, that’s fine. Really, it’s normal. Ahem. So, speaking of pacing, we’ve almost finished. Now that Darling, Impossible! is published, what’s next for you?
“I definitely want to continue writing. I have started on a new novel, but it’s still at a very early stage – I am writing the first draft.”
Exciting stuff all the same! So here’s the bit where you get to give some advice to others hoping to get their first book published. Let’s just turn off this music first. Okay, fire away.
“The best advice I have is to keep going. Just keep going. So many times I wanted to give up so I could do something else – sleep, or hang out with friends, or just relax. But in the end the single best thing you can do is keep going!
“I also recommend engaging a professional editor to tell you where you stand when you think you are ready to look for a publisher. I gave my work to my husband to read, and he was very honest and gave lots of good feedback. But in the end, he loves me and is very supportive… I think it’s important to get a totally objective perspective from someone with no strings attached and who works professionally in the industry.”
Excellent advice Eva. And on that note (played on an instrument with no strings attached), we’ll leave it there. Enough. Enough now.
Has all this talk made you Hungary for more? To get your own copy of the exquisitely titled, deliciously covered Darling, Impossible! by Eva Novy (published by Lacuna Publishing), purchase it here.