Author and journalist Allison Tait talks about her passions for feature writing and fiction writing. Her novel The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World is making waves in the world of middle grade fiction.
Our top-rating podcast So you want to be a writer features a regular ‘Writer in Residence’ segment – where an author, editor or other industry professional has a chat with either one of our awesome presenters, Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo.
In episode 44, Valerie ambushed co-host Allison by interviewing her. And with two decades of magazine and fiction experience, Allison was happy to oblige (once she’d brushed her hair). Here are some highlights…
On the not-so-climactic day she quit as a full-time writer at Cleo:
“I was doing a story where I had to get 10 guys to identify the clitoris on a diagram – it was called Can He Find Your Clitoris? So, I had to find 10 guys willing to identify the clitoris with an ‘x’ on a diagram and then have their photo next to it with who they were and how many girlfriends they’d had, and all of this kind of stuff – a really high point in my journalistic career.
“[For] one of these guys, I had to go to Kingsgrove petrol station. I took the train out and met him there, so on the bonnet of his car he identified the clitoris on a diagram for me and I had to take a photo of him against the petrol station wall and get him to fill out the questionnaire and then I headed back into Sydney. I got back and I walked into the office of the editor and I said, ‘OK, that’s me done. This is my notice. I’m finished. I’m not doing this anymore.’ It completely tipped me over the edge.”
On what drove her to two of her current passions, freelance writing and fiction writing:
“I wrote my first freelance story when my oldest son was about three months old. I started writing fiction [again] to keep my mind from going insane. That’s basically why I started. I would just sort of sit there at night when everyone else was asleep and I was awake, and I was an insomniac as well and I just started writing fiction again, quite furiously.
“Fiction was something that I could do completely independently of anybody else; whereas freelance writing required interviews, phone calls, all of those things.”
On why freelance writers should be patient with editors and their email replies:
“Essentially, as the editor of a magazine, you’re running a business. You’re essentially the business manager and it’s your job to make sure that the content is going to sell and the cover lines and things like that, but you’re also in a thousand meetings a day with advertisers and a thousand meetings a day with management…”
On the last thing she does every night:
“Basically, I sit down and send myself an email every night of all of the things that I need to do the next day. I do that because I’m an insomniac and if I write it down before I go to bed – like it’s the last thing I do every day to write this list and email it to myself – then I know I don’t have to lie there thinking, ‘Oh, what if I forget to do that?’ ‘Oh, did I do that?’
“So, it’s all there. I learned that from a sleep psychologist years and years ago — this is a great thing about features writing; you get to talk to all the experts!”
(And in case you were wondering, Allison emails herself because she can’t read her own handwriting…)
Allison is also a presenter at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She teaches Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1.