15 revealing questions. That’s what the Booktopia Book Guru, John, asked me the other day. They were nothing like the questions I answered about my new book here. There’s lots of info about me here that you won’t find anywhere else – like that I go to bookshops rearranging shelves so that my own book is prominently displayed. Or what my most embarrassing writing moment is. Read on to find out…
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born in Sydney. Raised in Sydney. Schooled in Sydney. All just a handful of suburbs apart. Lived in Italy for a year after school. Returned to Sydney to settle near where I was born/raised/schooled. I’ve moved many times but never out of the area. Gosh, I sound so sad and limited.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12: the editor of Dolly.
At 18: the editor of Cleo.
At 30: anything but a magazine editor.
I was passionate about magazines when they were the hottest game in town. Growing up that’s how I identified my tribe, via a masthead. But by the time I hit 30 I had one child, was psychotically desperate to have another and frustrated with the slow pace, lies and….stuckness of magazines. They really have not changed since the 80s. But the world has. And so have women. I missed it for a little bit but more the working in a team of women part. Now I’ve re-created that with Mamamia and it’s a million times more fun and satisfying. All my friends who are still in mags are gagging to get out.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I was ready to be an editor. And that the faster I ticked off everything on my Life List – career, moving in, babies, more babies, more career, faster, faster, more, more, faster – the better. Actually, the faster I did things the faster they fell apart. I’ve learnt that lesson again and again. Foundations may not sound like a sexy thing but by GOD you’d better have them underneath your career and your relationship if you want either of them to work out.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
1-Meeting Lisa Wilkinson and being given a work experience placement by her at Cleo when she could (and probably should) have chosen dozens of other girls. I have learnt more from her than anyone else in my career. And she’s also taught me a huge amount in my private life. I feel so fortunate to have gone from calling her an idol to calling her a friend. I’m feeling teary just thinking about it.
2- Losing my baby daughter halfway through my second pregnancy was a turning point in my life. It began a chain of events that were awful but eventually wonderful. I’d say the same thing about struggling with infertily afterwards. It made me a more compassionate, humble, open person even though it hurt more than I had words for.
3- Taking a job at Channel Nine and becoming a TV executive for eight long months – or maybe it was only 7 – was the best thing that could have happened in my career. It wrenched me out of the warm, milky bosom of women’s magazines, put me through a sausage grinder with no anaesthetic and by the time I found the courage to push the eject button, my self-esteem, reputation and confidence were minced. It took a long time to recover and I was ashamed and humiliated (among other things!) but it toughened me up, taught me what I DIDN’T want to do for a job and made me reassess everything. Most importantly, it prompted me to start Mamamia.com.au the day I resigned.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Books are the only medium in which I write where people have to pay to read it. They have to take the decision to allocate me money from their pockets and time from their lives and they have to commit. That is tremendously scary to contemplate but it gives me a feeling of security to write more personally and in more depth and detail. I really really enjoy writing in a more disposible way too – with my column and with Twitter and particularly Mamamia.com.au – but for a writer, nothing beats the luxury of a 100,000 word wordcount.
6. Please tell us about your latest book Mia Culpa…
I write so much that it sometimes feels like things I want to say or develop on a bit can get lost in the disposible culture I mentioned. With this book, I wanted to take some of my favourite columns and re-work them and expand them and add some new material. Like taking favourite ingredients and making a different kind of cake with fresh icing and jam and cream. And a cup of tea. And….where was I?
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
For there to be a more realistic portrayal of women in the media. I never tire of feeling outraged by the way we are sold utter lies about the way women look. It’s disgusting and most of us don’t even realise what we’re looking at every day in every magazine and on every billboard is a computer construction. It doesn’t exist. How can this even be legal? And why aren’t more people making a noise?
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
Anyone who is doing good away from the spotlight. Not that people like Oprah aren’t extraordinary or inspirational but she gets a lot of love and gratification from what she does. People who are working to help those who are disadvantaged – children and refugees particularly – have my utmost respect and admiration.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I can never answer questions about goals or future plans. My husband has them for our business but I prefer to limit my forward planning to the weekend. Tops.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Start a blog. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. You just need to get into writing as something you do each day, not just this namby pamby unpredictable THING that floats in and out of your life unannounced when the MUSE arrives. Muse, shmuse. Writing is a discipline. Get on with it. You can always edit crap words. You can’t edit no words. Google “Elizabeth Gilbert, Ted Talks” and watch her video. THAT’S my attitude to writing.
11. Every writer spends at least one afternoon going from bookshop to bookshop making sure his or her latest book is facing out and neatly arranged. How far have you gone to draw attention to your own books in a shop?
I am very bad at this. Shamefully so but not the way you would expect. I did this constantly when I was an editor. Every editor does – putting their magazines over the competition at the checkout. Often, I’d go to Coles and I could tell which editor had been there before me according to what magazine was on every single facing.
Peter Fitzsimons is excellent at DIY merchandising his books – not that he really needs to. They sell a motza. Still, he marches around bookstores asking customers if they’ve bought his book. Would you say no to Peter?
When Mamamia came out and I was doing a book tour, I would put my book prominently at airports. I got so busted one time. Embarassing.
12. So you’re a published author, almost a minor celebrity and for some reason you’ve been let into a party full of ‘A-listers’ – what do you do?
Stay home. I never go to those kinds of parties. Can’t stand them. Could have gone every night when I was in magazines and then TV but never ever wanted to. My night of bliss is home with my family and my laptop! Or dinner with girlfriends, wine and pizza.
13. Some write because they feel compelled to, some are Artists and do it for the Muse, some do it for the cash (one buck twenty a book) and some do it because they think it makes them more attractive to the opposite sex – why do you do write? (NB: don’t say -‘cause I can’t sing, tap or paint!)
I can actually sing and tap and I can also paint-by-numbers! I write because I have to. I want to. I need to. It’s how I process my own thoughts and experiences and it’s how I connect with other people.
14. Have you ever come to the end of writing a particularly fine paragraph, paused momentarily, chuffed with your own genius, only to find you’ve been sitting at the computer nude or with your dress half-way over your head or shaving cream on your face or toilet paper sticking out the back of your undies or paused to find that you’re singing We are the Champions at the top of your voice, having exchanged the words ‘we are’ for ‘I am’ and dropping an ‘s’? No? Well, what’s your most embarrassing writing moment?
I don’t think I have embarassing writing moments. When I’m in The Zone, I have no feelings. Don’t need to go to the loo or drink tea or eat or sleep. But they’re not that common. Mostly I’m easily distracted.
15. Rodin placed his thinker on the loo – where and/or when do you seem to get your best ideas?
On the treadmill. I try to run every morning – or at least walk – and I now keep my phone nearby with my italk app ready to record ideas or phrases that pop into my head. It’s always amusing to listen back – lots of heavy breathing.
So there you have it. You can buy the book here and please feel free to ask more questions in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can.