Makedde Vanderwall is a fantastic character, a realistic combination of intelligence and beauty. Considering your interest in women’s rights, was it important for you to create well-drawn, authentic female characters?
Thank you. I wanted to create a character I could relate to as a reader, but also a woman who could survive incredible challenges. Mak is flawed, but also strong and intelligent. She is constantly underestimated and she learns how to deal with that, sometimes even using it to her advantage. I always focus on strong female characters, but with this series I particularly wanted to explore the character arc of someone who is a bit naive in the first novel and becomes very tough and street smart as the series progresses, ending up with an incredible skill set and determination for justice, earned the hard way. In my latest Mak novel, Assassin, (out in Sept with HarperCollins) all of these aspects of her personality and experience come into play.
Speaking of women’s rights, I read your recent blog post on the subject. I was rather shocked by the film statistics, especially once the Bechdell test became a key variable. Why do you think women are so underrepresented in the arts? Do you think it’s a matter of stodgy old gate-keepers who don’t want to share the spotlight, just a lot of red tape, or is something more sinister at play?
A lot of gender bias is unconscious and it effects choices made by both men and women. Many of the stats quoted in my blog show this, as males and females continue to overwhelmingly select novels by men, for instance, as the more worthy of literary merit, despite men and women being published in about equal numbers. Likewise, stories in film are still largely told from the male perspective. I suspect this is in part because women are accustomed to being told male focused stories and appear to have little issue with it, whereas stories about women, produced by women are still largely presented as, and viewed as being relevant only to women. Stories about men’s experiences, made by men, continue to be dominant and to win the majority of film and literary prizes. We don’t clearly see this until something like the Bechdel test is applied to groupings of popular or award winning movies, as a gauge of the industry as a whole. Some of the strongest female heroines in film and literature still exist in totally male dominated worlds, where they never once exchange a word with another female. Many of my favourite films fail the Bechdel test, but the test – though limited – does give a pretty good overview of the skewed perspectives in the content we consume. It is good to be aware of it.
There are a lot of issues at play here, including the content men and women produce, dominant cultural perspectives on what is ‘worthy’ and what is mere fluff, ‘chick lit’ or ‘chick flicks’ and so on, and the lack of support for female directors, who by the nature of the film industry need big money backing to get films made.
Beyond this, there is also the pressing issue of gender diversity and equality amongst our leaders and decision makers. With a female PM it is easy to forget that 75% of cabinet positions in Australia are still filled by men. We have made great gains for equality as a culture, however we come from a centuries long history of women being second class citizens, unable to vote, own property, etc, thus traditional gender roles with the man as head of the house, head of business, and the ‘natural’ bread winner will take some time to balance out. With that history, it is perhaps unsurprising that unconscious bias favouring male authority still exists. The best thing we can do is be aware of it and make informed choices, knowing these stats. Are there great female authors, directors, characters, leaders and politicians we are not hearing about? You bet. Once you seek them out, you find they are there, waiting to be discovered and celebrated.
Although you’ve expressed interest in writing since you were young, it wasn’t until after you pursued and developed a career in modeling that you published Fetish. What gave you the courage and the discipline to tackle that first project?
I wrote Fetish when I was 23, without a publishing deal or agent, and at that time the idea of being published was very abstract. I wrote for myself, as being a published author was something I dreamed of but did not expect to achieve. In many ways, I still write for myself. I think that it one of the keys to writing with authenticity.
I think it was lack of confidence that saw me wait that long to show any of my writing to anyone, apart from my school classmates when I was ten. I naturally feel inclined to write, so it does not take courage. But sharing my writing does.
I abhor routine and as a result I don’t have any typical working day, except perhaps when I am on hard deadline. On those days I wake, turn my phone off, get a coffee, get on my laptop and work solidly until I hit my word count or until the day ends, with only short breaks to eat and stretch. It is physically unhealthy to stare at a computer for 12-14 hours a day so I don’t like to work like that more often than needed. Lately though, it has been needed a lot.
I can’t help but notice that you’re a bit of a rebel, which is fabulous. You have a unique way of thinking about and approaching life. Where did your fearlessness come from?
I don’t have a lot of time for fear. Fear is an emotion that drives a lot of what is negative in the world – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, etc. I’ve found that one of the best ways to combat fear is to face it head on, and to get the facts.
Echoing your question to Michael Robotham, if I may: Why writing? Why does this mode of creative expression appeal to you?
Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a house full of books and I looked forward to reading each night. Storytelling and essays are vital to expressing human truths.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Victoria, BC, last summer and absolutely fell in love with the city. Care to share some of your favourite spots?
I adore the organic eatery, ReBar and I frequent it whenever I am in town. I also love ChinaTown, the breakwater, the Parliament buildings and the sights of the wild coastline. Arguably my favourite place in the world is Tofino, on the coast of Vancouver Island, several hours from Victoria. It is a magical place of natural, windswept coastline and temperate rain forests. I have many fond memories of summer holidays there as a child.