Recently I was able to have some question answered by the lovely Louise Allan whose debut Novel The Sister’s Song is a truly exceptional novel. I have been recommending it to everyone, and I have heard nothing but good about it. About a month ago I did a review about it which can be found here https://littlebigreads.com/the-sisters-song/.
I have really enjoyed reading Louise’s responses and it seems that she has gone along the emotional ride the book takes you on just as we the readers have. I hope you enjoy gaining a bit of insight into Louise and her book. Oh, and Louise, laughing at your own writing when it is funny is totally acceptable and wonderful to see.
You used to be a doctor but have now written an amazing book, what inspired you to write? Was writing a love of yours before you joined the medical profession?
I started writing in 2010, soon after I stopped work. Until then, although I’d been creative as a child, I’d not written creatively since I left high school.
I can’t pinpoint the exact point I decided to write. I remember reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in the mid-nineties, and feeling moved by the book and the story it told. It also dawned on me that the author was an ordinary person, an English teacher, who’d decided to write, and it made me think ordinary folk could write books. A few years later when my children started school, they wrote stories and won a couple of awards. I was reminded of when I was in primary school and chosen to write a story for a young writers’ competition. I began to wonder if, perhaps, I could write as well as my children.
At the same time, I was feeling a little unfulfilled, and my brain felt irritated and unsettled, like there was an annoying drip somewhere keeping it awake. I ignored the drip for some years, because I didn’t know what was causing it or how to stop it. As soon as I started writing, it stopped, and I realised it had been my creativity begging to be let out.
What made you choose Tasmania as the location for the book?
I grew up in Tasmania, and while I thought about setting my novel elsewhere, Tasmania, at the time, was the only place I knew well enough to write about. Tasmania is associated with all my childhood memories, so it feels as if it’s embedded within me. I think everyone feels that about the place in which they grew up.
This book was so emotional in places, did you find yourself going along that emotional journey with the characters while you were writing?
Gosh, yes! I was in tears as I wrote some of the scenes and angry during others. Some of the scenes still make me teary when I re-read them. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I also cracked myself up writing some of the more humorous scenes!
How did you select the names of your characters?
Because Ida and Nora are based on my grandmothers, Olive and Edna respectively, I wanted names in keeping with the times and the era. That went for all the characters, so I chose names like Len, Alf, Rex and Beryl.
The only names I wanted to be pretty were those of Grandma, whose name is Estella, and Grace. I love the name Grace because it has a softness and gentleness, in keeping with its meaning.
What was the most difficult part of having your book published for the first time?
Just about everything about publishing your first book is hard—from writing it in the first place, to editing under a publisher’s guidance because you’re never really sure you’re doing what they want. You also have a deadline, which increases the pressure.
Being published itself means your book comes under readers’ scrutiny—every reader’s different, and they make of it what they will. It’s made me feel a little more exposed than I’m comfortable with at times.
Can you name one trait that you admire about both Ida and Nora and why?
This is a great question! I love Ida’s ability to accept life as it comes and people as they are. Her belief in everyone’s goodness brings out the best in the people around her.
As for Nora—what can I say that’s good about her? I love her, but there’s nothing much lovable about her! She was passionate and talented, and born to things other than motherhood. I wish she’d had the chance to pursue her dreams, then I think she would have flourished and we might have seen a completely different Nora.
What does it feel like to have Nora and Ida out there sharing their story with the world?
I’ve sat here in the attic with these characters and loved them for so long on my own. To now see readers embracing them, too, is incredibly heartwarming and a wonderful feeling.
Thank you Louise for taking the time to answer my questions and thank you for bringing Nora and Ida alive through a book to share with us.