We caught up with author and GO Ambassador Anita Heiss. Anita was the first Indigenous person to graduate with a Phd. from the University of Western Sydney.  She is now the successful author of some 18 books.

ALEX (GO’s Head of Media): You were the first person in your family to graduate from university? Why did you become a writer?

ANITA HEISS:  I went to uni at a time when most of the published material I had to read about anything to do with Aboriginal Australia was written by non-Aboriginal people, some of those people had never even been to Australia. To me it was like having to read material about women written by men. I wanted to see our stories, our diverse voices, our contributions to society on the page, in the Australian literary landscape, and in the classroom.

ALEX: You are so successful at being so versatile and prolific as a writer. These are some of the descriptions describing your work– author of non-fiction, historical fiction, chick lit’, children’s literature, poetry, social commentary, satire and travel articles. Wow, so many hats! Is there a reason why you write such a variety of topics in such a variety of styles?

ANITA: Thank you! Different genres reach different audiences and focus on different themes. Each book I work on has a purpose – recording history, showcasing Wiradjuri people, encouraging young people to read, marrying sport and literature and so on.

ALEX: You’ve now written some 18 books. How do you get your creativity going to know what to write? Do you have a plan, a synopsis?

ANITA: I’m a plotter, that means I map out the story completely before I even start to write. It’s like an essay plan for the entire novel (or non-fiction work if that’s the case). I start with an idea, I write a synopsis of up to 1000 words, and then pull that back to 300 words, then the 25-word lift-pitch. I do character profiles for the main characters, and nut out their personalities, quirks, backstories and relationship networks, even what they wear and eat (so that when I write about them in the story I know what they’ll order in a restaurant or wear to a meeting or a community event). I do all my research, or as much as I possibly can, and I would rarely write about a place I’ve never been too – because authentic settings are essential to me. So, by the time I sit down to write, I know the structure, the settings, the characters, the plot points and to some degree the ending. I rarely get writer’s block, and if I do, I just move to the next chapter.

ALEX: Some of your books are set in country towns like Mudgee and Deniliquin, and others in far-away places like Paris and New York. How do you research your where your characters go and what they do in the story?

ANITA: I work out a plan for each research trip: who do I need to speak to – locals, staff in relevant organisations, people who know the place. I contact them and make appointments. I may send through a list of questions before I meet with them. I make appointments and spend time in libraries, museums, galleries, eateries, sites and venues taking notes and writing scenes as I go, even though I may not know where it will sit in the final story. Research trips – especially to places like Paris and New York – sound like fun, but trust me, when you are self-funding you make the most of every minute you are there. I feel like I see cities in a different way doing my research as I look at everything through lens of my character. I call myself a ‘method writer’.

ALEX: Are your book characters based on you and other people you know? Do you do a lot of people watching?!

ANITA: I LOVE people watching. And some books are based on random people I’ve seen as I sit in a café or restaurant or on public transport, others are completely made up. Some are composites of myself, friends and family. I do hope that readers can see themselves in some of my characters. For good and bad.

ALEX: Were books and reading a big part of your childhood? Where were you when you were 10, and what were you reading? It was before Harry Potter!

ANITA: Well, I hate to admit it, seeing as I’m an author, but I didn’t read as a child. After school and on weekends I was out on the street playing cricket and footy and tennis with the kids in the neighborhood.

ALEX:  Do you have a special family memory around reading?

ANITA: I remember sitting on my dad’s lap in his mustard-coloured, vinyl Jason-recliner, and he reading me a Golden Book. I think I was about four years old. I can’t remember the title of the book, it’s the only memory I have of us reading together.

ALEX:  How was it working with GO legends Adam and Mick on your children’s book, Kicking Goals with Goodsey and Magic?

ANITA: It was like herding cats!!  Seriously, what a privilege to be able to work with two friends, brothers, role models, legends. Asking them the same questions at separate times and hearing their stories, their humour and wisdoms. Now and then someone will send me a photo of their child reading that book and I’ll send it to the fellas so they can see their continued impact on getting young ones to enjoy reading.

ALEX:  You have won so many awards and received so much recognition for your talent and hard work. What does success mean to you?

ANITA: Success to me is making my family, my mob and the Ancestors proud. In terms of literacy, if I can help change the stats around Indigenous literacy in Australia, and see equality for Indigenous kids in the classroom and their futures, then I’d see that as some level of success.

ALEX:  Do you have any tips for any budding young writers in our GO community, even if they are growing up in homes without a lot of books?

ANITA: Read, read, read! Across genres, across genders and across geography. See how words and stories work on the page and it will help you find your own voice. And write without fear. Write what you know. And always write from the heart.