Christie Nieman, co-author of Just Between Us
Tell us about your latest creation…
Just Between Us: Australian writers tell the truth about female friendship. This book is an anthology put together by myself and four other women: Maggie Scott, Miriam Sved, Maya Linden and Natalie Kon-yu. We are all friends and writers and at some point it dawned on us that the female friendships we saw on television and in films and literature were not at all like the friendships we experienced, friendships which were more rewarding and difficult than they were effortless or catty. We each wrote our ‘real’ take on female friendships, and invited our favourite female Australian writers to do the same, and voila!, Just Between Us was born.
Where are you from / where do you call home?
I am from Osbornes Flat, which is near Yackandandah, which is near Wodonga, which is on the Victorian side of the Murray. For the past 20 years I’ve been a Melbournite (what a great city!), but just recently I moved to central Victoria, so now I’m a Goldfields girl. Every day I’m visited by a billion beautiful tiny woodland birds. It’s lovely.
When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?
David Attenborough was my hero when I was a kid, so for a long time I wanted to be a biologist or a zoologist. Even as an adult I took time out of writing to go back to study environmental science. But I found that every time I
had to write a report about an animal or an environmental impact, I’d end up writing a story about it instead. Some things just can’t be resisted. So I kept on writing and married a zoologist instead of becoming one.
Aside from Just Between Us? Well, while I was studying environmental science I came across the concept of ecological disturbance. I’ve written a young adult novel where grief and ecological disturbance run parallel and interact. I think it is my best work, but no-one’s seen it yet as the ink hasn’t yet been pressed to the page. So aside from that, I think my play Call Me Komachi has been one of my favourite works, because there is something about actually seeing an audience respond to your words: you don’t get that with fiction. It’s like watching a group of people read your mind: it’s an incredible connection to make.
Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?
My house is chaotic, my garden is chaotic, my car is a nightmare; my desk space is … relatively orderly! (The operative word there being ‘relatively’.) It does, however, tend to accumulate a lot of clutter related to tea-making and tea-drinking.
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?
I like to read natural history, young adult fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction, pop science, environmental philosophy, and anything at all written by Margaret Atwood.
What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?
At the age of sixteen I read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. I have never had an experience like it before or since. A light bulb flicked on in my head. It was very much as the great woman herself wrote in Negotiating With The Dead: ‘When I found I was a writer at the age of sixteen…’
If you were a literary character, who would you be?
I’d love to be someone cool, like Sherlock Holmes or witty, like Elizabeth Bennett, but actually, if I’m talking in terms of Jane Austen I’m probably more like a strange and unlikely mix of Lydia and Mary Bennett: loud and inappropriate one moment, and too serious and bookish the next.
Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?
As I may have let slip earlier, I’m an incurable bird watcher. Moving to a box-ironbark bird-paradise was probably not a great move for my career – I will never get any work done now! I’ve also taken up the banjo, not to be
kooky, but because I really love the sound of the thing. It is hard to feel sad when watching a bird really enjoy a bath, or playing a tune on a banjo.
What is your favourite food and favourite drink?
Blue cheese and tea. Not together.
Who is your hero? Why?
I know lots of ecologists and environmental scientists who work with endangered species and threatened ecosystems. They go quietly about their work, conscientiously collecting data, creating projections of future impacts, caring about species that no-one else has even heard of, and they keep working even though their work is often heartbreaking: often the species or ecosystem they are working with disappears before their eyes. But they keep going, working towards understanding the next species, the next ecosystem, and then trying to protect them. They are my heroes.
Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?
I’m an optimist here. I think language and storytelling are so basic to human beings, that whatever the form, there will always be stories made out of words by some people, and read, listened to, watched by others. The narrative arts are very robust I think.