This week, I have the vivacious Dr Anita Heiss as my guest blogger.
As regular tweeters and FB friends will know, Anita is a very close tidda of mine. Not only is she outrageously funny, gorgeous and does great bling, she is also multi-talented.
Her latest novel, Tiddas, is about five Brisbane based long time girlfriends, Issy, Xanthe, Veronica, Nadine and Ellen – all believable witty characters who are dealing with everyday life problems that many women face, career anxiety, relationship angst and friendship dramas. It is a smart, entertaining read and I loved it
Anita has said she writes because she wants to change the way the world views Indigenous Australians. It may be fun to do at times but it’s deadly serious work. In Tiddas, as in all of Anita’s books, she puts Aboriginal women, their arts and culture and politics into the commercial fiction arena.
I put these five questions to her.
1. What/who was the inspiration for your new novel, Tiddas?
The amazing women friends in my life form the basic inspiration for Tiddas. http://www.anitaheiss.com/tiddas.html The work is really about paying homage to those who have been there through thick and thin for many years, and still love me.
I was also inspired by Brisbane – I have adopted myself to the city – and the sense of peace I have always found there. My circle of women friends in Brisbane in particular provide a support base beyond the phone and social media – and we catch up in person more than my friends back in my home city. I think that’s what sets those friendships aside from my life in Sydney, where I can speak to friends every day but see them only every other month, sometimes years, because logistically it just seems to be more difficult.
Brisbane as a setting is also a character in the novel, with the river and jacaranda trees featuring heavily – hence the cover of the book.
2. Tiddas is a story about what it means to be a friend and examines the strength and challenges of life-long friendships. The five women are often brutally honest when talking/arguing with each other. What does being a friend mean to you?
Yes the characters in Tiddas are (at times) brutally honest and that’s because they love each other and understand that truth is essential to the longevity of their relationships. To me, honesty is part of the overall role of communication in any relationship, and is an important part of true friendship. I also think that unconditional support, even if we don’t agree with something our tidda chooses to do with their life, is at the core of being a real friend.
3. In the novel, the friends belong to a book club, the Vixens. Was it difficult choosing which books to include? Can you give me an example of a couple of the books and why you chose them?
Choosing the books the Vixens would discuss was actually quite easy for me. They are all works I have read and either loved or I’ve felt they are important Australian works that needed to be read more widely. The novels range from old titles like Terri Janke’s Butterfly Song (2005) to Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby (2013), which took out the QLD Book of the Year. Both give insights into contemporary Indigenous women’s lives and concepts of place. It was important for me to include Nicole Watson’s The Boundary as it is set in West End and talks about the history of the invisible boundary that Aboriginal people couldn’t cross to go into the city. Everyone in South Brisbane at the very least should know this history.
I also included non-Indigenous women’s titles like The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper because I wanted to have some references and discussion in my own novel around the sad reality of Black deaths in custody and in particular the history of Palm Island.
4. Reading Tiddas, I enjoyed learning more about Aboriginal culture. I especially liked reading about Mudgee in central NSW, about Ellen’s job as a funeral celebrant, and about the light hearted rivalry between Queenslanders and those born in New South Wales. Being a Brisbane girl, I also loved the Brisbane setting. It felt genuinely authentic to me.
You obviously do a lot of research for all of your books. What aspect of the research did you enjoy most when writing Tiddas?
I’m really glad you enjoyed all those aspects of the novel Lisa, because as you know you can’t control the way people read once you put your work out into the public domain.
To answer your question, I am a method writer and immerse myself completely in the character’s headspace and physical space where I can. So for me, research is the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of any writing project. I spend months reading about places, walking the areas I write about, talking to locals and visiting recommended places; restaurants, cafes and cultural venues.
I lived in Veronica’s house in The Gap for a week. I spent ten days living in Kangaroo Point and walking (and trying to run) the course along the river that Ellen did. I spend a long time in West End in the flat Izzy lives in and caught that city cat to Southbank many, many times.
I went out to Mudgee and did the tourist sites and the sacred sites. I stayed in the hotel Veronica stayed in and I sat in the club where Aunty Molly’s wake was held. I wrote down everything I could see, hear, smell, touch and taste because I wanted the experience to be authentic for the reader. In that way, I experience the story as it unfolds. And that’s what I love most.
To be specific, I guess I’d have to say checking out all the great bars and restaurants in Brisbane was my favourite part of research. And who could blame me, really?
5. Your books have been called Koori-Lit. As well as being an entertaining and thoughtful read about friendship, relationships and real life, how important is it to you that readers take away something about Aboriginal culture and history?
The whole point of my books is to make a change in the literary landscape, especially for readers. I want them to go away having felt something for the characters of course, but I also want them to have a greater awareness of a group of women in society they may never have thought about before.
Obviously in Tiddas the Wiradjuri women are like their non-Aboriginal friends in terms of careers, desire for companionship and their shared love of books. But Xanthe, Ellen and Izzy are also conscious of their community responsibilities, they have accountability as professionals representing their mob, and they feel the personal pain of government policies of child removal in the past. Most Aboriginal women I know are like these characters, and I want other Australian women to understand that.
I also want to showcase the endless talent in our community in terms of arts and culture and so always weave into the storylines theatre, music and visual arts, hoping that readers might also read beyond my novels and search out more information themselves. In fact, I know they do. I have had journos tell me they googled musicians for instance that they first read about in my novel (Manhattan Dreaming) http://www.booktopia.com.au/manhattan-dreaming-anita-heiss/prod9781864711288.html
Thanks for sharing, Anita!
Most importantly, you can buy Tiddas from:
Bookworld (free shipping in Australia)
Booktopia (autographed copies available)
Readings – Melbourne (free shipping in Australia)
Gleebooks – Glebe, Sydney
Avid Reader – Brisbane
Pages and Pages – Mosman, Sydney
Better Read Than Dead – Newtown, Sydney
QBD nationally (free shipping)
It’s also stocked in Dymocks, BigW, Kmart and Target.