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Episode 44

Episode 44 is here and that means a superfantabulous interview with globally loved and respected author Susanne Gervay! Join hosts Veronica and Darren as they discuss potential numerology battles, the search for philosophical equality that is feminism, the power of literature to tackle the blight of bullying and the art of rock concert research... and a whole lot more.


What Country do you write on?

Gadigal people of the Eora Nation (Sydney)

When did you first admit that you were a writer?

It was trauma. As my father was dying, I began to write seriously, to cope with my grief. I began writing about him and wanted to honour his life. My first publication was in literary journals which was centred on this grief. Later I began writing for young people. My father is always intertwined in my stories. He is the voice of wisdom as Grandad in my ‘I Am Jack’ books; to the boy and the grandfather Zoltan in ‘Heroes of the secret Underground’.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I lived through reading. Four books every week from the mobile library. I was obsessed with the biographies of the great composers from Mozart to Beethoven.

What inspired you to write/this book/these books?

I have been writing ‘Heroes of the Secret Underground’ all my life. I just didn’t know it. It is inspired by my parents who survived Nazism and terrible atrocities, escaped to a displacement camp and were eventually selected by Australia. They began their lives like many refugees, working in factories, without English, living with deep loss, but they always had hope and a belief they would rebuild their lives and create a future for their children. I wrote this, so that young people know, that they must never extinguish hope and that whatever adversities they face, they are heroes.

Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I write from a deep place of truth that is personally important. However I also write for an audience. I have written for adults, but my heart is with young people as they develop their values and who they are.

Is there anything specifically Australian about your book/books?

Eucalyptus trees, the bush, beaches, cities and Australia is always in my books. As a writer I reflect my country and you’ll find a kookaburra laughing or the rocky sandstone cliffs of Sydney within my pages. However my themes are universal. It is about meeting adversity. Finding humour in dark places. Search for identity. Meeting the powerful issues of life from school bullying, disability to sexual consent.

Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

There are so many secrets for those who wish to dig for them. I write with the hope that readers go back to the book, to uncover questions that feel unanswered, so they can find their own answers.

Why do you think listeners should read your book/s?

Not every reader relates to every book, but for those who relate to mine, they will find solace, humour, ideas that make them question and think. For young people, I write to partner them in the quest for meaning and self understanding, It is a safe place to fall, when the world gets too much. It is a safe place to grow when they need pathways to achieve their dreams. It is a safe place to hang with characters who are their friends, so they are never alone.

Is there a message in your book/books/writing? / What’s the main message you’d like readers to take away after reading your book/books?

I want them to find the messages they are seeking in my books. When they close the book, I hope the characters travel with them long after the book has been read.

Who is your most or least favourite character to write?

I have characters I love, which is different to characters I write about. All the characters I write about have to inspire emotions in me, so I can write them. So no most or least favourite.

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

Over the years I have received thousands of emails, notes, messages. This is an example of one. However all the mail I receive touches me and inspires me to keep writing.

Hello Susanne Gervay.

I am writing about a current book I have bought and read, I AM JACK. I
get bullied at school almost every day and it makes me sick. I just
didn't feel like going to school. I pretended to be sick and stay home
for the day. I've talked to the School Councillor, I've tried to tell my
mum, I've thought of getting back at the bullies, but all these things
don't seem to work. But I AM JACK inspired me to tell everyone that I am being bullied. It makes me feel great and today I treated my mother with respect (I wasn't doing that lately because I was fed up with everyone) and I think she knows there is something fishy going on. I just want to thank you for what you have done and I think you are a great writer. I will enjoy reading all your other books.

Yours sincerely,

11 year old girl.

What genre/s do you write in?

Social realism. I write adult short stories for anthologies and literary journals. However my books are from picture books to Young Adult. My last book is a time slip which includes fantasy. This is a new style for me and unlikely to write time slip again.

As a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?

Pantser sadly. I feel this method leads to lots of false starts and dead ends. However I love the excitement of not knowing where I am going.

How much research is involved in your writing?

I research a lot. Even though I am driven to write from experience, the underlying information must be correct. For example, in my Young Adult novel ‘Butterflies’ (HarprCollins) I spent a year researching the impact of burns on survivors. It was a difficult journey where I read medical books, interviewed the Burn Unit, doctors, patients, families and more, until I understood what it meant. Then I wrote ‘Butterflies’.

What’s your writing routine – if you have one?

I struggle for time and find writing time difficult to achieve. I need quiet. My ideal would be to write every morning until lunchtime. However that ideal rrarely happens. I go away sometimes for a week to get that creative space I need and crave.

Where do you write?

In my study at my laptop.

What’s your favourite writing food and drink?

Coffee, coffee and more coffee.

Who helped you most when you were starting out?

My critique group who were four women writers. We critiqued each others’ work and that was essential to developing the craft and more.

What’s the most useful writing advice you’ve been given?

While writing is an alone process, it is not alone. Without community it is too hard. The writing community helps in critiques, support on the journey, celebrates on the wins and supports you on the downs, when your work is rejected. They give you pathways forward towards publication.

What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I am desperate to start a new writing project. However at the moment I am overwhelmed by promotions, festivals, my not-for-profit charity work where I support literacy through Room to Read, indigenous and disadvantage literacy for Books in Homes, head the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Australia East & New Zealand and so much more. It is hard to find time to do what I really want to do – write.

What inspired your book cover/s?

The design team of my publishers design my covers. I give comment, but it is not my arena. However in ‘Shadows of Olive Trees’ I designed the cover and love it. It was inspired by Greece, a girl seeking independence and the colour red.

What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

Join a community of writers as there is so much collective wisdom there.

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Click below to learn more about this author's spectacular literary work!

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