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My First Time...with Joy Rhoades

Joy Rhoades was born in Roma in western Queensland, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. At 13, Joy left for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over: first Sydney, then London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. It was in New York that she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the New School University, and wrote much of The Woolgrower’s Companion, a novel inspired in part by snippets of her grandmother’s life and times. She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.

Joy Rhoades | The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for The Woolgrower's Companion...

It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.

With their own scars and defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid, but danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself drawn to Luca.

Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but, over the course of a dry, desperate year, she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

It feels like my novel decided to write me. Because as I started to write, I kept coming back to the stories I'd heard growing up; of droughts and floods, dust and rain. Writing that seemed very real to me; that world – of the remote Australian bush – came alive for me as I wrote. And the story, of a young woman struggling to manage a sprawling sheep station unfolded – not without hiccups and dead ends but with a momentum that surprised me.

What's the one thing you wish you'd known before you started to write it?

That finding a great publisher was only the beginning. That a book is like a child; you have to nurture it and support it and be proud of it.

The Woolgrower's Companion | The Riff Raff

What's your go-to procrastination method?

Research! I can happily go down the Internet rabbit-hole for hours, determined to find the specifics of something that, objectively, I probably don't need to know at that moment. But still, down I dive.

What's the biggest tantrum you had while writing your book?

I had a moment I remember when the manuscript for The Woolgrower's Companion was at 148k words. At that point, I was mostly happy with the story, and it was then that I realised that most publishers will not consider a debut manuscript that's much over 100k in length. That was a bad moment. But the cutting and rewriting I did after that made for a sharper book, for sure. I didn't get right down to the 100k in the end but I got much closer.

Best thing about writing your book?

I have always loved to write. Time evaporates when I'm writing in a state of happiness and creativity. The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi named it flow, when a person's mind is stretched, reaching, striving to accomplish something they find both difficult and worthwhile. That's it for me. That's writing. And I count my blessings that I know that.

And the worst?

Writing is a lonely business. And especially with my first book, even my snatched moments of writing felt quixotic. What's to say this passion I felt for writing would manifest itself in anything even readable? But it's good to know more that those this-is-all-rubbish wallows (and that was my default position) seems to be universal. If I'd actually thought it was good, I should have been worried.

Go-to writing snacks?

Chocolate, chocolate, more chocolate.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. I hear a story or read an article or overhear a conversation on the street. It sets me thinking about how that might play out. And it's an odd thing but I feel a compulsion to write. A psychologist in the audience at an event I did in Australia in April when The Woolgrower's Companion launched there, said to me that it sounded like I have what is called an "harmonious obsession." Meaning my passion for writing is sufficiently under control that it's not yet obsessive or addictive!

The book that changed you?

Lots of books have changed the way I look at writing. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio showed me the power of short stories, and I've been reaching to write for anything like that power ever since. The Great Gatsby I am in awe of: lyrical writing; the capture of the Jazz Age; the tragedy of Daisy and Gatsby and even of Nick. Glorious.

Toni Morrison's Sula I find so powerful! Her depiction of National Suicide Day stopped my heart. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin resonated for me: a girl in the bush struggling to want to do something different from what seems predestined. Finally, Sally Morgan's My Place opened my eyes so much to the sometimes terrible realities of suburban Aboriginal life.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

Tough question. Probably Doris Lessing. Or George Eliot. Or even Dickens, but I suspect he'd be a bit of pain in the neck, in person. So Eliot. George Eliot. She'd be amazing.

One piece of advice you'd give first time writers hoping to get published?

Stephen King said it best: He compares writing to crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub because "there's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt." I still consider myself a newbie, but I do know that writers have to be ready for that criticism from inside and outside. And be unmoved.


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