The Melbourne Writers Festival is on at the moment – I went to hear novelist Sonia Orchard speak about her latest novel, Into the fire.
It’s a story about womanhood and friendship, even though Sonia told us she didn’t set out to write a book about friendship. Lara, the protagonist, and her friend Alice, become friends when they meet in the Women’s Studies department at Melbourne University but as they grow into young adults, they make different choices which leads to a drifting in their friendship.
Readers know from the beginning that Alice was killed in a home fire. The story begins when Lara is returning to visit Alice’s husband and three children, a year after Alice died.
Tali Lavi, who interviewed Sonia, noted that as soon as you have finished reading the book, you want to flick back through it to find out when your ideas about what happened changed. Doesn’t that make you want to read this book?
I’m halfway into this novel but I’m so intrigued by the characters and their choices that I suspect cooking dinner, washing clothes and puppy-walking may fall by the wayside in order for me to sneak a few more chapters in. It also brings back memories of being a young Melbourne Arts student, with three-thousand word essays to write and lectures about obscure writers to attend.
A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop with Sonia about time management techniques for writers. Sonia encouraged us to fill out a few questions sheets, which I still pull out and use now when I’m stuck or have lost my way. Sonia had both practical and empathetic strategies, as well as a range of questions which made me consider my writing style and habits in all sorts of different ways.
Sonia’s article about feeling as if she’d failed her three daughters when she struggled to maintain a writing career while looking after her young children, also struck a chord with me. Women writers need more than a room of their own now – they also need a nanny, a virtual assistant and a cleaner.
Might be time to fill in Sonia’s worksheets again.