Susanna Freymark spoke with me ahead of the launch of her novel, Losing February in February 2013.
Who or what inspired you to write Losing February? Is this based on personal experience or observation of women as a whole?
The book is drawn from my own experiences of love and sex with a heavy dose of fiction thrown in because fiction allowed me the freedom to write the story and characters without boundaries. I have spoken to a lot of women about love and sex as well. Both fascinating topics, don’t you think?
In your blog, you write that the final line in the book synopsis, written by someone else, floored you. Can you explain why this is?
Oh, I could write an essay on this. My motivation to write Losing February was that writing about it would help me process and understand what had happened to me. But when the publishers wrote the book blurb, they encapsulated why I had written the story with the words ‘she mistakes grief for punishment’. I knew it must be true because I was totally floored when I saw those words. You know, when there is this great big Truth right in front of you but you can’t see it, and then, all of a sudden, there it is. I was very upset for a few days but now I feel grateful because I understand my actions and sense of loss in a deeper way now.
What do you think causes a woman to lose her “sense of self”? Is this something that can happen at any age, or do you think the forties are a vulnerable time?
So many of life’s twists and turns can cause a woman to lose her sense of self. Death, loss, a difficult birth, divorce … Life is messy and our resilience is tested many times over. You know the saying – that it is not what makes us fall down that is important but how we get up. I lost my sense of self and fell down. This, I believe can happen at any age, not just to the young and the forties are no more vulnerable than any age. Hopefully as you get older, you know yourself better and can deal with the bumps of life more easily but really, a woman in her nineties has that same capacity to fall head over heels in love.
What do you hope readers will get out of Losing February?
That for some reason is a very difficult question. I hope they will be touched by Bernie’s story. I hope it is a story that they can be lost in. I hope it will spark conversations about what love means. I also wish that anyone who has low self-esteem doesn’t choose bad sex with the wrong men to escape to.
Losing February is set in Byron Bay. What made you chose that location?
When our family returned to Australia after living in London for 15 years, we travelled the countryside in our coaster bus and when we came to Byron, we loved the place. I lived in a small village (one shop, one church, one tennis court) called Federal for 10 years. So Repentance Creek village in Losing February is inspired by Federal, one of the most beautiful places in Australia.
You work as a journalist full time – have you always wanted to do creative writing?
I was a teacher before I retrained as a journalist. My great joy was teaching kiddies to read and write. Believe you can do it, I’d tell them – but secretly I wanted to write myself. Have always loved words and stories.
Do you find it difficult switching between styles?
No problem shifting styles. And I love both. Although telling the real life stories of other people is easier than the fiction stories in my head. Yet both bring out different aspects of myself. Journalism is so social – you meet so many people and writing fiction is so solitary and you meet yourself, I suppose.
What was your publishing journey like? Any highlights/lowlights?
I had four short stories published, one in the UTS Anthology which was a thrill Then, on a whim really, I submitted a first chapter to Pan Macmillan in their Manuscript Mondays where anyone can submit the first chapter by email.They asked for another, another and then to see all I had (which was 50,000 words at that stage). Everything happened very quickly once they said they wanted to publish it. Having the month of February in the title pushed that along because it was ideal to release the book in, yep, you guessed it, February.
If someone wanted to start creative writing, what advice would you give them?
Just do it. Don’t wait until the time is right, or until you feel good about yourself or think you have a great story to tell. Just start writing. Make observations in life, write down unusual characteristics of people you see and write them down. Pick an ordinary moment in your own life and amplify it. Most importantly, spend time by yourself and with yourself. I use loud music to shut out the world, someone else may like quiet but whatever it takes, climb inside your own head and see what is there. PS. Watch less television and read everything.
What has been your biggest learning experience so far?
In writing, you mean? In my first book (unpublished) I was advised by a publisher to chuck out the first 40,000 words. I had told the reader too much back story. It took awhile but eventually I hit the delete button and started the story with the action. best and hardest advice I’ve ever had.
Now that your book is out, what’s the next step?
To share it, to enjoy it and then … work on the next one which is half done called Drowning on the Way Home. It is about belonging and set in outback Australia
What do you look for when you read fiction?
Interesting characters, I’m going to be spending a lot of time with them, as in the time it takes me read a book, so I want to be involved.
Lately there has been a growing move to put Australian women writers on the map, courtesy of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Was this long overdue?
I think every country should heavily promote its own women writers. How else can we tell our stories? And I think it is vital that Indigenous Australian writers like Melissa Lucashenko and Anita Heiss (very different writers) have their stories heard. It is a reflection of who we are – all these writers, painters, photographers, actors. Black, white, male, female, young, old – we all have stories to tell. And they all deserve equal weight.
Which Australian women writers do you admire the most?
Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Melissa Lucashenko, Cate Kennedy, Kate Jennings.
Five things that mean the most to you in life?
Five, only five? I could list hundreds. Today, my top five are
1. Family, friends and those I love.
2. My husband and our new puppy.
3. Being myself.
4. Being and feeling healthy.
5. Love, love, love – never underestimate it.
Which book are you reading now?
Just finishing The Gathering by Anne Enright.
Which book do you think all young women should read?
Books that move them. Makes them weep and then lifts them up again. For teenagers, Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn is stunning about a young girl coping with divorce. For language – anything by Barbara Kingsolver or Raymond Carver’s A Small Good Thing. That story is so moving and makes you grateful for every single breath you take.