Wendy Waters

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Wendy Waters is the best unpublished writer I know.Her novel, Catch the Moon, Mary, is about to be published by Linen Press.

How many novels have you written now, Wendy?

Let’s see, I’ve got eight first or second draft manuscripts, two polished manuscripts and a work in progress. I’ve been writing every day for the last fifteen years and taking a totally structured approach to my writing since 2007.

The turn-around that year was winning the Women’s Weekly/Penguin Short Story Contest and getting some serious attention from the media and publishing world. Not published mind but seen at last lol.

Can you tell us a bit about “Fields of Grace” and what influenced you?

Fields of Grace was my winning short story and I know this sounds weird but I don’t write short stories very well at all. I find them incredibly difficult. Isabelle Allende said: “Short stories were far more challenging than novels because they required precision and a clean narrow arc whereas novels had room for “sloppy” writing and drawn-out arcs.”

I agree, I love to waffle on about scenery and I explore every nuance of a person’s character and motivation. Maybe I would have made a reasonable, if exhausting, psychologist! My influence for the short story was the same as the novel-length adaptation of it – my grandmother. Dagmar Thompson was a world-class violinist who trained with master teacher/performer Ysaie in Belgium in the 30s.

Her career was cut short by the war and she returned to Australia where she married the boy next door: scientist/artist Rupert Scammell.  In her 90s, she wondered about the life she might have had if she had stuck with her career. Her rheumatic fingers caressed the violin as she spoke to me and the saddest moment was when she looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked: “Is it too late?”

Where did you draw the inspiration from?

The inspiration to write this novel and indeed every other one came from that question. “Is it too late?” I was about 15 at the time and resolved never to ask it of myself. On my death bed I want to look back and say: “I gave it everything I had.”

What are you doing for work now?

Ha-ha…work and earning money are two different things for me! For money I’m waitressing and for work I force myself past the blocks and blanks of my current project Catch the Moon, Mary.

What makes you write books?

Passion, challenge, a love of language but above all it’s my chosen medium for expressing my soul.

What are you currently working on?

Catch the Moon, Mary. Now this is a labour of love/hate. Ten years in the making, umpteen drafts. It’s a difficult story to tell and I don’t want it to sound preachy or trite. Basically, it’s about a very gifted girl whose music has attracted an ambitious angel who recognises its potential to reach the masses and convey a subliminal message of hope.

However, the angel has spent so many years dabbling in the delights of the flesh he is no longer fit to seed inspiration and must get “clean” before he can effect change. So you see what I mean, I run the risk of sounding gospel-preachy or just plain fey. But in fact, the story is an exploration of life and its nuances and the age-old argument for exercising free-will as opposed to exorcising free-will.

The angel pushes all boundaries, sins as a justifying means to a greater enlightened end, and finds himself weighted with consequence. All dictators justify their appalling behavior by testifying for the greater good of humanity. I’ve had a bit of fun with this by making the ultimate judge – God – so focused on a vision of perfection He is completely blind to iniquity and couldn’t give a damn about judgement.

What is your attitude to publishing and the way it reflects Australian literature?

Tricky one to answer as I’ve had limited experience with publishing. But from what I’ve heard from people inside the industry publishing is in the worst doldrums it’s been in for twenty years. Great time to start a career! I think the answer to the second part of your question is inherent in my answer to the first part – the industry cannot accurately and fairly reflect Australian literature if no-one new is getting published.

Why do you think so few Australians read Aussie writers?

Because by and large the books that are getting published reflect yesterday’s Australia. Australia has changed dramatically since the 1950s when “Summer of the 17th Doll” was the height of sophistication. We are no longer a nation of beer-swilling, footie-obsessed, sheep-shearing, mate-slapping yobbos.

The face of Australia today is a multi-cultural face. We are no longer insular. We are world citizens and very sophisticated. The arts in general have not caught up with the changes in Australian culture. We actually have a culture and a world voice and a population largely unrepresented in the arts. But if writers keep “dumbing down” their work to get themselves published the industry will completely die.

It’s on its knees worldwide, no question, however this could also be transitional into a world of reading online and buying only those books worthy of hardcover shelving in a personal library. I think it’s a great pity the bar isn’t set much higher in literature instead of publishers seeking watered-down clones of classics.

I know it’s bloody difficult to get published but setting the bar so low does not increase readership or a love of reading. People who read will start on trainer-wheel Mills and Boon but watch them reach for Marquez when they have the necessary balance.

What’s the last Aussie book you read and what did you think of it?

Well, you know I read yours online lol and loved it. But physical in-the-hand take-to-bed with me Aussie book was Anthony O’Neill’s Scheherazade. I had read it in 2003 and loved it then for its language and exotic subject and it didn’t disappoint. He’s a world-class writer worthy of hard-cover perpetuation.  

Who are your influences?

Marquez, Winterson, Woolf, Joanne Harris, Mansfield, Bronte sisters all three, Keats and above all – LIFE.

Who are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading The Lollipop Shoes Joanne Harris’ sequel to Chocolat.

Who do you admire?

Anyone who doesn’t give up. I volunteered at Oasis – the Salvation Army Crisis Centre for homeless youth in Sydney – for six months in 2010 and I have never seen such “grace under pressure” courage as the brand of bravery in those kids who staggered in week after week committed to finding one reason to live another day.

Can I please publish that chapter of ‘Catch the Moon, Mary’ that you sent through some time ago? I reckon that will really knock people out.

Absolutely.

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