Favel Parrett is receiving positive reviews all round for her first novel, Past the Shallows. I caught up with her to find out about how important a mentorship is for emerging writers, what it’s like to have your own writing room, and why she could possibly need an edible hat…
Let’s get this one out of the way up front. How do you pronounce your name? Can you tell us a little bit about it? I love it (it’s much more exciting than Fiona Crawford)!
It’s pronounced Fay–vel (like ‘navel’). The very old legend goes that there was a chestnut horse called Favel and if you brushed the horse and asked for a favour it would be granted. I used to really dislike having an unusual name, but now it seems right.
Can you please outline briefly what the book’s about?
To me Past the Shallows is a book about love, loss, and the bond between brothers. It is also a story about how secrets can destroy a person and, ultimately, a family. Place is almost one of the characters. A place at the very end of the earth.
What inspired it? You’ve mentioned a town you once visited…
Tasmania had a huge effect on me when I was a kid. I moved to Hobart when I was about eight with my mum and my brother, and later we moved much further south to Franklin. I had never been anywhere that felt so ancient, so isolated, so wild.
Water is everywhere in Tasmania. Everywhere. You can smell it, feel the salt in the air. It rusts cars and everything it can get its teeth into. Snow on the mountain, grey skies, forest as old as the world. The Southern Ocean—clean and beautiful and terrifying.
I also find Tasmania has a certain sadness—an incredible beauty and a sadness there in the earth, in the stone cottages and the timber farmhouses. The past right there. The past still there.
How many years and incarnations has the book been in the works? Has it changed much during that time?
I draft so heavily. Every scene was re-written so many times before it even got to an editing process. I started a TAFE course in Professional Writing in 2006 and I never thought I could write a novel. I wrote a short piece set in Tasmania that had the very beginnings of Miles and Harry in it.
In 2007 those two boys were still with me, and I realised there was a much bigger story there. I just kept writing about them. I wrote about them for years. The book has changed so much since the start and yet the essence of place and of Harry and Miles is there in the very first draft—the very first words I wrote.
If you had to sum up the book and its target readership in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
I never thought about a target readership while I was writing. I guess I thought that if it ever got published (and I didn’t think it would), then my publishers would know where to place it and how to market it. I just hope that people find something meaningful in the book—that they feel a connection when they read it and that it stays with them.
You wrote in a blog for Readings that you started off with a location, then found the characters, then wrote scenes out of order (including writing the last scenes first). Did this make the journey easy, exciting, or frustrating, or a little of all three?
Frustrating! But I think all writing is frustrating and hard. It is for me, anyhow. I also think that my brain likes the challenge—the problem-solving aspect of writing. It is really magic when it comes together and parts make sense. When things become clear. That part of the process is exciting.
You like surfing and you’ve written about a character who’s afraid of the water. Is that based on anyone you know?
Before I surfed, I never thought much about the water. I knew it was cold and could be dangerous. I was scared going on the boat to Tasmania from Melbourne because the crossing was very rough. I had never seen ocean like that—boiling and wild. My brother and I were really seasick and pretty scared. I probably used that memory for Harry, but mostly, it just seemed to be a natural part of the story. Part of Harry’s story.
You have a studio space in which you write—your very own writing room. Can you describe it/tell us about it? How important is it to your writing process?
I actually share it with two other writers—Kim Bear and Robyn McMicking—but they work full time, so I have it to myself most of the time. It has become very important to me to have a space just for writing. To say: ‘This is important. This is my job. I will take it seriously.’
When I go to the studio the intention is set. I am going there to work. There is no internet and I turn my phone off. It is in an old art deco building that has caged lifts and dark corridors, but my room is light and bright and feels like home.
How important was the Australian Society of Authors mentorship support during this time? Can you tell us a little about what this involved? How important do you think a mentorship/mentoring is for emerging writers?
I was lucky enough to be mentored by an editor called Julia Stiles. We had many conversations on the phone before she read my manuscript. Then she sent me back a report and a structural edit. We talked on the phone a few more times and had quite frequent email discussions. I spent many months working on the ideas and changes we talked about.
We were going to go through the whole process again, but I got a two-book deal with Hachette and Julia and I had to part ways. She is an incredible editor and it was a wonderful experience. I think these opportunities are so important for emerging writers. I would encourage anyone to apply.
I’ve noticed you have a book trailer (and that lots of writers are starting to pursue this avenue). How did you come up with yours? Do you think it attracts a different readership than traditional text-based information and reviews?
I was so surprised to see this beautiful trailer. The team at Hachette made it and I knew nothing about it. It was early on, before any reviews or press, and it made me feel great. I think visuals attract attention. That is why book covers are so important.
Likewise with QR codes and your website. How important do you think these are to getting your name/brand/book out there and fostering a conversation about the book and a fanbase for the future?
It seems to be important—Facebook/Twitter/websites. It seems to be part of being a writer today: connecting to the public in different ways.
You’re a keen traveller, including to Africa and Bhutan. Might we see these appear in future work?
They have both appeared in published short stories and I am sure they will appear again. Bhutan is part of my life, as the friends I have over there have become like family. And Africa totally changed my life. I have been lucky!
I have written a lot of stuff set in Zambia, enough that it may become a novel at some point. Right now it is just short stories and scenes, but the energy is definitely there. It is there and you can’t turn your back on that.
In December I am going back to Kenya to see some of the children I sponsor through a grass-roots foundation called Lolida School Fund. They are graduating from high school this year. It is a massive deal—their road has been extremely rough and I am very proud of them.
Four years ago I promised that I would learn Swahili if they got through school. Now I only have six months so I’d better get cracking!
Christopher Currie (author of the newly released The Ottoman Motel, and about whom and which I’ve previously blogged) stated on Facebook that he’d eat his hat if you didn’t win the Miles Franklin. That’s a glowing endorsement. Care to comment on that?
Chris is an amazing writer and an incredible friend. I feel so lucky that I met him in 2008. I honestly think there is no chance that my book will win or even get shortlisted. I think I better buy Chris an edible hat!
You’ve received some glowing reviews for the book. Is that exciting or humbling or…?
It’s amazing. I really couldn’t have asked for more. Everything that has happened so far is way more then I expected. I have been very lucky.
You’re working on your second book. Care to give us some hints on what it’s going to be about?
Sure. These are the things I know so far:
- A young girl and her brother try to find their way in a new place.
- A stone city full of ghosts and empty streets. A place where the wind blows in cold and from the south.
- Everything gets brighter when the vikings come to town—the men who work on an Antarctic supply vessel from Denmark. They are giants and they breathe life into Hobart. Chasing the light from the Arctic to the Antarctic, they sail the world end to end, never stopping for long enough for the darkness to catch them.
- But there is a terrible accident off Macquarie Island. And nothing is ever the same.
Thanks Favel. I’m looking forward to it already! I also have some great news:
- Favel will be talking about her book at Avid Reader (Brisbane) this Thursday night. Details of the event (including how to RSVP) are available here.