Category Archives: The Co-op Book Podcast

Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide – The Women’s Pages – Podcast

Debra Adelaide speaks about her novel The Women’s Pages with the Co-op.

The Women’s Pages is about the choices and compromises women make, about their griefs and losses, and about the cold aching spaces that are left when they disappear from the story. It explores the mysterious process of creativity, and the way stories are shaped and fiction is formed. Right up to its astonishing conclusion, The Women’s Pages asserts the power of the reader’s imagination, which can make the deepest desires and strangest dreams come true. Debra Adelaide is the author or editor of over twelve books, including the best-selling Motherlove series (1996-98) and Acts of Dog (2003). Her novels include The Hotel Albatross (1995), Serpent Dust (1998) and the best-selling The Household Guide to Dying (2008), which was sold around the world. In 2013 she published her first collection of short stories, Letter to George Clooney, which was long- and short-listed for three literary awards. Her most recent book is the edited collection, The Simple Act of Reading (2015). She is an associate professor in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.


 

Rob:
You’re listening to The Co-op Book Podcast. I’d like to welcome Debra Adelaide to the Co-op Chat. Hello, Debra.

Debra:
Hello, Rob

 

Rob:
Now, Debra, we’re sitting in your office here at UTS, and I’ve got to say, it’s probably your archetypal literary academics office. Lots of memorabilias and books and things around. It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m looking up to the right and seeing “Wuthering Heights.”

 

Debra:
That’s a really interesting copy of “Wuthering Heights.” I have many copies of
“Wuthering Heights.” Most of them are at home. That’s a series of classics brought out with pulp covers, which I’ve only bought for the cover. I’m never actually going to read that version of “Wuthering Heights.” I think the print’s too small, for start, but I love these. This has got Humphrey Bogart on the cover.

 

Rob:
You’ll be pleased to know that Debra Adelaide actually does buy her books based on the cover.

 

Debra:
I do, and I buy them at The Co-op Bookshop, as well.

 

Rob:
That’s good to know, using the-

 

Debra:
It’s my local bookstore. We’re literally above the bookshop here at UTS.

 

Rob:
It’s good to know, supporting The Co-op, but we’re not here to sort of rattle on about bookstores; we’re actually talking about your latest book, not unrelated to “Wuthering Heights.” “The Women’s Pages,” about to be released. Now, tell me about the process of writing this book because it’s quite interesting.

 

Debra:
It started with a short story that I had published a few years ago called “The Sleepers in That Quiet Earth,” which is the last few words of the novel, “Wuthering Heights,” and the story is a two-part narrative about a woman who’s reading “Wuthering Heights” to her dying mother. That’s a contemporary story, just because her mother wants it read to her in hospital. Another story that that character has invented very loosely based on her reading of “Wuthering Heights,” but it starts with a character in Australia in the 1960s called Ellis.
She follows this woman’s story, and she knows that the name has come from Ellis Bell, pseudonym of Emily Brontë, and that there are sort of weird absences and gaps in this woman’s life, like a missing mother. That’s all she knows, and she doesn’t really understand that there’s necessarily a narrative connection between that story and “Wuthering Heights.” What she understands, and I guess what I came to understand when I finally realized this was more than a short story, but a novel, was that “Wuthering Heights” is actually about storytelling and creativity, and that’s what my novel is about.

 

Rob:
Storytelling and creativity, and there’s a lot of those things through out the book, and if anyone that’s read “Wuthering Heights,” there’s a whole lots of other themes. It depends on your reading of it, but a bit of revenge in there, as well. One of the things that I sort of took from your book is, it also goes through the different roles of how women’s roles professionally and in society have evolved over time. Is that correct?

 

Debra:
Yes, that’s true. I had also, when I realized this story was not going to go away even
though I’d finished it, and I still had all these characters in my head and I had all these questions about their pasts and how the connections between the contemporary and
the older story were really forged. I was also thinking particularly about writing a novel about women in Australia in that period of transition. The character, Ellis, is older than my generation, a little bit older, a woman who’s just on the cusp of a world that’s about to change, so she experiences changes in her life and actually creates changes in her life because she realizes that she’s just about to enter what you might call a feminist age. She’s very much a product of her upbringing in the 40s and 50s and so on. That’s the big challenge for her: how you shake off the very, very narrow roles that were prescribed for women then and do what you really want to do and become independent.

 

Rob:
How do you think that that kind of stuff has changed into contemporary times for women. Storytelling and creativity, and there’s a lot of those things through out the book, and if anyone that’s read “Wuthering Heights,” there’s a whole lots of other themes. It depends on your reading of it, but a bit of revenge in there, as well. One of the things that I sort of took from your book is, it also goes through the different roles of how women’s roles professionally and in society have evolved over time. Is that correct?
Debra:
Yes, that’s true. I had also, when I realized this story was not going to go away even though I’d finished it, and I still had all these characters in my head and I had all these questions about their pasts and how the connections between the contemporary and the older story were really forged. I was also thinking particularly about writing a novel about women in Australia in that period of transition. The character, Ellis, is older than my generation, a little bit older, a woman who’s just on the cusp of a world that’s about to change, so she experiences changes in her life and actually creates changes in her life because she realizes that she’s just about to enter what you might call a feminist age. She’s very much a product of her upbringing in the 40s and 50s and so on. That’s the big challenge for her: how you shake off the very, very narrow roles that were prescribed for women then and do what you really want to do and become independent.

 

Rob:
How do you think that that kind of stuff has changed into contemporary times for women?

 

Debra:
Of course it’s changed dramatically because I’m old enough to remember that when I was very young, that it was perfectly normal for you to go to school, leave as soon as you could at 15 or 16, as a girl, and mark time until you got married and had babies. I had friends who, that’s what they wanted to do, but things had changed, obviously, by the time I was a teenager. Now, that would be a very odd thing to express as a 15, 16-year-old girl, that that’s all you wanted to do. You know, girls are now encouraged to finish school, to get careers, to become qualified to go to university, all the things that they weren’t in the 50s and 60s, by and large.

 

Rob:
Maybe the challenges now come within the professional life, the quality with in professions and things like that.

 

Debra:
Yeah, I think there are very different challenges now, and one doesn’t want to say things are better or worse compared to the 50s and 60s, but there are very different challenges now. Like, the essential problem is that women are, I guess, pretty much confronted with doing two jobs still if they want to be partnered and have children and have a career.

 

Rob:
Have you always had this fascination with “Wuthering Heights?”

 

Debra:

Yes, I guess … It is a fascination and not an obsession. I don’t remember when I first read “Wuthering Heights,” but it’s a sort of book that I’ve been rereading all my life and growing into, and every time I read it, I find something new in it, as you do with any book. I was doing a Master’s Thesis on another author years and years ago, and I just kind of resisted it. I’d been rereading “Wuthering Heights” and thinking about it, and I remember going to my supervisor and saying, “I can’t do that thesis,” I was going to do on whatever it was, “because I’ve got these things to say about ‘Wuthering Heights’ that won’t go away.” She said, “Well, go for it,” so that’s what ended up, very late, actually, in my thesis, changing the topic. I ended up doing a thesis on “Wuthering Heights” and thought, “Oh, it’s out of my system,” but this was a long time ago. Clearly it wasn’t out of my system, and this novel, I’m sure, still won’t get it out of my system, either.

 

Rob:
Tell me a bit about your writing process, Debra. How do you write? This is probably giving away stuff to your students.

 

Debra:
If I talk to my students mainly in this, you’re here seeing my very messy office with papers and books everywhere. This is a lot of work, this job, so obviously I don’t write here. I do write but don’t write creative prose. I write uncreative prose, if you like. I have to work at home to write fiction, and I work in a very messy, ad hoc way, and I don’t recommend it because I always get in a novel, particularly always get in a huge structural mess, but it’s the only way I know how to work. I tell my students that because I think students get really anxious about the right way to conduct your professional writing life. In my experiences, there is no right way; there’s only the way that works for you, but it’s very important to identify what works for you and to stick with it and not give up because you can’t write every day and beat yourself up if that’s not happening.

 

Rob:
It’s interesting how many authors have very different approaches, so to speak. The late Rhys [Courtney 00:09:01] was very regimented, nine to five and having hour breaks, and other people just write and write and write and-

 

Debra:
He set himself a task, he would finish it by the first of August or something every single year, I can’t remember when it was. I set myself deadlines, and I stick to them, and I
think that’s really important. Aside from that, though, whatever night I’ve got free, whatever weekend I’ve got free, whatever afternoon, whatever morning. I don’t find I have to sort of beat myself up to do that; I want to do it. I think every writer who works as I do has a fantasy of being a full-time writer, and I lived that fantasy for a little time a few years ago, and it actually didn’t make any difference to my production, so I thought, “I may as well be doing what I’m doing.”

 

Rob:
Does the academia sort of inform your writing?

 

Debra:
Only in a very broad sense in that I am so busy here. Our jobs are pretty full-on, and I get desperate, really desperate, and that sense of desperation fuels panic, and that fuels my discipline because I think, “X number of months have gone by. A year’s gone by. What have I produced? Nothing, or one story, or whatever. I am now going to really work my guts out and get this novel finished,” or whatever.

 

Rob:
Now, as you know, many of our listeners are either students or about to end their lives as students and have this relationship with The Co-op. What were you like as a uni student?

 

Debra:
I was a really dull, boring university student because for me it was just like dying and going to heaven. In my background, you weren’t meant to finish school, you weren’t meant to go to university, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all. My dad said to me, “Well, finish school, then, if you don’t know what you want to do.” I had a wonderful English teacher when I was in fifth form, then fifth form, that’s how long we’re going back, and she said to me, “Well, of course, Debra, you love books and reading. You’ll go to university and you’ll obviously study
English,” and I thought, “University, what’s that? English, reading books? That sounds really good,” so I did and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t just study English literature, but I focused on that and I did honors in it, and I worked quite hard and I enjoyed myself. I really, really loved it. There’s nothing exciting to tell about my university years.

 

Rob:
Do you think it’s different for students now, being that you’re back in uni, on the other side of the fence?

 

Debra:
Absolutely. It’s very different because students have, first of all, they come having had that dreadful pressure of the HSC, which is just, I think, is child abuse, a form of child abuse. I’m actually serious about that. It’s an appalling and unnecessary process, so they’re very anxious, then, when they come here, our undergraduates, particularly. They’re anxious about marks and grades and performance and all of that. It’s a lot of hard work to undo that and in creative writing say, you have to fail before you can write anything. Before you can produce something that works, you have to have 10 drafts that don’t work. You have to accept failure in order to be a writer or any kind of creative producer.
The other pressure, of course, is they have to work. Financial pressures. I was hugely
fortunate in being part of the generation that had free education. I would not have gone to university without it because my family wasn’t in a position to support me. There’s no question that it was a huge privilege, looking back on it, and I also had a teacher’s college scholarship which paid me a very princely stipend of $25 a week.

 

Rob:
Ooh. That’s a coffee.

 

Debra:
Oh, it was a fortune to me.

 

Rob:
Debra, what’s next for you? From a fictional writing perspective, that is?

 

Debra:
I have some ideas for short stories and I’ve made notes, and when I say notes, it’s been probably three words on the back of a Woolworth’s docket or bus tickets. No, not a bus ticket; we don’t have any more, but you know what I mean. It’s all very inchoate. I’ve got a folder, obviously, of bits and pieces that I tinker with and think about and return to eventually. I’ve also got an idea for a novel, which would be completely different to this, and it’s been prompted by my youngest son, who looked at this book, looked at the first pages of the proofs, and which describes, as you probably have read, the sort of domestic detail of a woman talking to another woman at shops, deciding what she’s going to buy and take home and cook. He just said, “Another domestic novel. Why can’t you write something that I want to read?” That sent me off thinking, “He’s got a point there.” It’s always good to set yourself a challenge as a writer, just to try something different.

 

Rob:
You get into different worlds, don’t you? It’s like a travel trip.

 

Debra:
That’s the whole idea with writing, and I haven’t deliberately stuck to domestic stuff. It seems to happen. It’s not all domestic, not like the last novel was very heavily tied into the domestic world. It was just one of those things, so it took out of the mouths of babes. Not that he’s a babe; he’s a teenager, but it made me think. It really made me think. I’m thinking about that.

 

Rob:
You heard it here first on The Co-op Chat, Debra Adelaide writing a sci-fi fantasy novel.

 

Debra:
“Game of Thrones.”

 

Rob:
Debra, thank you for being part of The Co-op Chat, and we look forward to getting copies of your book, “The Women’s Pages,” out November 1st. Is that correct?

 

Debra:
I think it might be the week before, but, yes, it’s about then.

 

Rob:
Either way, The Co-op Bookstore or Co-op online will have copies awaiting you, so thank you for your time, Debra.

 

Debra:
Thank you, Rob.
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Yassmin has packed a lot into her 24 years! Born in the Sudan, Yassmin and her parents moved to Brisbane when she was two, and she has been tackling barriers ever since. At 16 she founded Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on helping young people to work for positive change in their communities. In 2007 she was named Young Australian Muslim of the Year and in 2010 Young Queenslander of the Year. In 2011 Yassmin graduated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and in 2012 she was named Young Leader of the Year in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence Awards as well as an InStyle cultural leader and a Marie Claire woman of the future. Yassmin has now been awarded Youth of the Year in the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards. She also loves V8 and motorcycles. Great woman – great read!

Yassmin’s Story: Who Do You Think I Am is now available in-store and online. We have an exclusive extract Exclusive Extract – Yassmin’s Story.

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Gain insights from a successful CEO who’s lived a big life. Be inspired by his unabashed real-life stories. Learn how to dream big and have the courage to pursue your passions and be willing to fail in that quest. Take the practical tips and apply them to your own career.

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Be sure to get a copy of Fever City here

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Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut. For fans of Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, and Paula Hawkins comes Holly Seddon’s arresting fiction debut—an engrossing thriller full of page-turning twists and turns, richly imagined characters, and gripping psychological suspense.

Get a copy of Try Not To Breathe Here