Anna Fienberg – Interview (Oct 2014)

Anna Fienberg

Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Writing is the next best thing to reading. I love reading because you can travel great distances and never leave the room. With writing, you travel just as far but you get to choose your destination, and who you will meet along the way. A wonderful thing about writing – especially novels, which you often have to live in for at least a year – is that everyone and everything thing behaves exactly as you want, which is something that hardly ever happens in real life!

Q. Tell us 5 words that best describe you?

Hopeful, fearful, day-dreamy, determined, love-to-laugh.

Q. What tips would you give to an aspiring writer?

The most important (and enjoyable) job to do as a writer, in my opinion, is to read. Read widely and with passion. That’s how you build the muscle of the imagination, your mind creating pictures more and more easily and vividly as you meet the words. The kind of books you like to read will probably be the kind you want to write. Try out different voices – copy the voice of authors you love, nothing wrong with that! Your work will always be different, but if you love the way an author writes, chances are their voice is similar to your own, and it will help you find it amongst all the other overlaying stuff in your head. Develop character with great persistence and passion – use your own feelings, open your heart up like a paintbox, and colour in your character. Even if you write fantasy, try to use and describe your feelings of fear, sadness, ecstasy…whatever it is your character is feeling. This takes a lot of practice – it’s one thing to feel something, another to find the words to express it. But it will come the more you dig into your own gold mine, which is your self and your experience. Keep a notebook and write down any strong ideas or feelings, dreams or snatches of conversation. Write about something you really care about – that is what will sustain your writing. Deep feelings are important, and you will find you become very attached to your character, a part of yourself. This ultimately makes it easier to feel the situations you are writing about – because you are inhabiting the world of your character and his or her story. Write from the inside.

Q. How many hours do you spend writing each week?

Sometimes I want to write all day – for a week – and other times I feel blocked, do nothing, can’t stand myself. When that stuck phase comes, it’s good to go for a long bush walk, and let your mind off it’s leash. Usually I come back relieved, and maybe with the germ of an idea about how to solve the next problem. I wish I were more disciplined with writing, but often real life gets in the way, or my own fear (I can’t do it, this is stupid, why can’t I write like X, that’s not even funny). What I have to tell myself is that unless I put words down on paper, there will be nothing to work with. The other thing that gets me going is a fast approaching deadline! As the composer Chopin said, making music is like a cobbler getting up each day to make shoes. It just has to be done, and you can’t sit around waiting for the muse…Still, it’s good to find out what conditions put you in the mood.

Q. What prompted you to sit down and write your first story?

I’ve written stories since I was about eight. I loved writing about my current obsessions – mermaids was the first, I remember. I found that the more I explored my imagination with a pen and notebook, the more I found out about mermaids. They were right there, swimming about defeating sea monsters or singing staggeringly beautiful songs in hidden caverns of my imagination. And then I got a job with School Magazine – a literary magazine for children in NSW – and I wrote a serial called ‘Billy Bear and the Wild Winter‘.  I started and finished that story because the magazine needed more serials for Countdown – and then that became my first book!

Q. How do you come up with your characters names?

I think a lot about the names of my characters because they can do so much good work for you in such a short amount of space. First, I think about what is their most important quality as a person. Then I try to think of a name that will reflect this. For instance, in the Tashi  books, I called the shoe maker Not Yet, because when customers leave their shoes with him to be fixed, returning later to pick them up, they would always ask: “Are my shoes ready?” And he would always reply: “Not yet, come back tomorrow.” Not Yet was a hopeless perfectionist, I think.

Q. If you could invite one author, dead or alive to dinner who would it be?

I would invite the author Morris Gleitzman for dinner because a) he is a very good friend already – I’ve known him for over 20 years! As such, I would know what to expect, which is always an advantage in dinner situations b) he tells very good stories at dinner, not just in books, and he makes me laugh. This allows me to forgive him for being so incredibly disciplined with his writing and therefore enormously prolific (something hard to take when one is stuck on a plot-turning and hasn’t touched the computer for days on end.)

Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would you be and why?

If I were feeling brave and adventurous, I might be Wicked, the pirate and main character in a book I’ve just finished writing. Wicked goes through harrowing adventures, but I love the way he keeps turning up on the page, ready for more. The book will be called Wicked’s Way,  to be published next year, a companion book to Horrendo’s Curse.

Q. What’s next From Anna Fienberg?

Guess what – next month a whole new collection of Tashi stories will be published: Tashi and the Wicked Magician.  It has four new stories, including a band of robbers, a haunted house on fire, and a terrible ghost-dragon that Tashi has to conquer…

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