It is a great pleasure to have Anna George author of Tipping for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. For the unknown, Anna has worked in the legal world as well as the film and television industries. Her first novel, What Came Before, was shortlisted for the 2015 Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Best Debut Fiction awards. To help celebrate the release of her latest book, we sat down for a chat. Read on!
Ques- Tipping is undoubtedly an apt title. How did you come up with it?
Anna- The book is about tipping points; it’s about how a moment can happen after which everything changes suddenly and dramatically. I wanted to allude to that in the title. It’s also about my main character- Liv, who is half falling over the stage in her life because she’s so rushed and overwhelmed at the beginning of the story so she’s not really feeling balanced at all. The combination of those ideas put together resulted in ‘tipping’.
Ques- How much of the story is you? How much of the character Olivia, or Duncan are you?
Anna- It’s inspired by true stories of real change and particularly at schools. My friend got locked in her car by her husband accidentally. Mostly when you write, your characters are sort of shavings of you. Liv is inspired by me because I love reading books. In terms of Duncan- I’ve worked in the world as a lawyer like him, where he’s very much overworked and things have been out of control of his life as well. I had that feeling a long time ago working as a young lawyer and being friends with people who still work in that culture where you’re completely sucked into the work machine and don’t have much balance. Don’t tell my kids but there are bits of my boys in the book in reruns.
Ques- What has been your biggest takeaway while writing Tipping?
Anna- In Tipping, I am playing around with a story using humour, which I didn’t put in my other two, but I am always concerned with social justice and particularly I suppose the consensus in women’s lives. I think exploring the world and gender politics is a little fraught. My book has activated people’s personal responses to the issues in their lives. Some people came forward and said, ‘oh my god, you’re writing about my life.’ One woman said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to stay married if I keep reading this book.’ Other people have wanted to go home and ask their spouses just how much work they do around the house. So, it’s bringing up stuff for people which I didn’t imagine it would. It is inspiring people to have a look at the schools where their kids go and talk about the issues that the schools were not sure how to tackle. So, this book is probably more than my other books, it made people look at their own lives.
Ques- Your book talks about dealing with teenage students in an Instagram scandal. Do you think technology has changed our relationship with our children today?
Anna- I think it’s confronting and challenging for parents, given that we haven’t grown up with that technology to fully understand its reach and effect. It just adds another layer to your child’s life, that you are not directly in control of other than turning it off or taking it away, which is not the kind of practical or realistic as a permanent response. It’s another layer that impacts them and how they perceive the world which is alarmingly worrying.
Ques- Is there any particular message that you want to convey via Tipping?
Anna- The possibility that real change can be made through tweaks at home. You can change the power of tweaks; you can make a small change to have a significant impact in your life or in your workspace. The core idea that a school can go through a culture change like that is absolutely real. And that’s what I am excited about to share with people in the book. To read Tipping and read what works because there is absolutely the possibility of change to be made here.
Ques- How many rewrites, did you have to go through while writing this book?
Anna- Oh gosh! I don’t count my rewrites, but I do a big gnarly first draft. Show it to a couple of people and then do a really big rewrite. This book I actually shared with my agent earlier than what I would usually do. She was involved with some feedback there. Then I did a big rewrite, and I went to the publisher relatively early. I also did a lot of rewriting because this book is quite long, so there was the real potential to cut stuff out and to hone in on what was working.
Ques- Every book is so special in its own unique way, but I want to ask you, how does it feel to see the labour of your love, out in public, at the bookstores?
Anna- It’s exciting, but the primary feeling you have is vulnerability. One must be so excited about the book coming out, but I used to feel a bit like I was walking around in an overcoat with nothing on underneath. At any moment, you’d be revealing everything to everyone, it’s a very confronting feeling and you feel like people are talking about you out there because they’re talking about the book. So you just feel very exposed and vulnerable and excited. My feeling of sort of being really exposed is easing, but it’s just learning to live with that and also learning not to care too much about how many people love it or don’t love it or what they say, I have to live with that.
Ques- How did your love for writing begin? Did you do a lot of journal writing while growing up?
Anna- I have done a lot of letter writing to myself. I guess it’s a form of journaling, but I would address it to myself or to other people in my life so I’ve always processed my thoughts on the page. I used to do a lot of letter writing back in the day when there were letters and not emails, to people overseas. I’ve got notepads full of short notes to myself where I am just processing my thoughts on different issues or where I am in my life. I did write a bit when I was at school. I read a lot and wanted to write. I didn’t quite know how to make a job out of writing so didn’t do that straight out of school, but was really encouraged by English teachers during school with my writing. I wrote a lot of stories but when I finished school I didn’t know what to do with my stories. I didn’t know how to channel that into the next stage.
Ques- Did you have to go through some initial rejections when you began writing novels?
Anna- I avoided it. I did a professional writing course. And early on in that course after one year, I had written a draft of a novel. I didn’t understand you were meant to rewrite them and make them really good before you sent them out so I just wrote a draft and then sent it off and got a rejection which was a quite nice rejection in hindsight, but that put me off for years, I was so shocked that I got a rejection. I was so naive.
So I just avoided finishing a project for a number of years after that. I would start something and get halfway through and stop. Then I started running film scripts and eventually made a promise to myself that I would write a book all the way to the end and then rewrite it and make it as good as it could be and then send it out because I hadn’t done that. I had that one rejection, and that was years after I decided to focus on being a writer. I made a plan to send it out in the little waves, just to a few publishers or a few agents because I didn’t want to get rejected by the masses. And I knew I only had one go with each publisher so I didn’t want to waste all my chances in one hit.
The life of a writer is constantly about getting rejections, I reckon. Whether it’s pre-publication, or while you’re published and you’re trying to sell more widely. So you have to be very resilient.
Ques- Do you usually write on your desk, or you like to hop out in cafes and do some writing there instead?
Anna- I work in my office these days so I’ve only been in this house. Earlier, I used to write in my kids’ playroom. I’ve always written in the mess (laughs). And if I get a bit stuck or I need to just freshen up a bit, I might go to a cafe with a notepad and write thoughts or character notes or something like that. But it’s been a while since I’ve done that obviously with COVID, I couldn’t do it at all last year so I mainly have my desk.
Sometimes when I’m in a rewriting and a structural phase I break everything down on to these little cards, then I go to the dining room and just put them all over the dining table and organise them in that way.
Ques- Does your husband read your book much before anyone else?
Anna- He’s probably my first reader. Poor guy goes through a few drafts, he’s probably read about three different drafts of this book, which is a challenge for anyone but he’s a good reader. He’s very grounded and sensible, reads like a regular reader. He tells me, ‘I am not sure why this is happening’ or so. He actually drills down into a more pragmatic way.
Eva Clifford who’s a friend, writer and agent is also among my first readers.
Ques- When you’re not reading, writing, or taking care of your family, what do we see you doing?
Anna- I am usually walking. I walk every day by the beach. I’m quite a happy eater, so you’ll see me eating, or walking or hanging out with friends, I don’t have too many other hobbies at this stage, unfortunately.
Ques- What are you reading currently?
Anna- I’m really bad at these questions. I recently bought Emotional Female by Yumiko Kadota. I am reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown at the moment. It’s about how to be courageous enough to hold that space where everybody is potentially reading or talking about your work.
Ques- Do you have any tips for the new aspiring writers who are working on their first novel?
Anna- My tip would be to read widely. Get to the end of your first draft because often it’s easy, common to give up in the middle. Push through to the end of your first draft so you can see what you’ve got in your manuscript and figure out what interests you, what’s working, what you want to continue with and then you’re going to go through a lot of rewriting. I’d also say don’t give up your day job. The writing life is challenging, and for a lot of writers; they don’t make their main income out of it so you really need to have a balance which I really wasn’t told 25 years ago when I started writing. It took me twelve years to write my first book, three years for my second and four years for my third. So you writers hang in there- you need to have grit, determination, passion, really care about what you’re writing about so that you can keep going back and reworking on it, and then surround yourself with positive people who affirm your journey, share the journey with you.
Ques- Just last question, what are you working on next?
Anna- I’m hoping to stay in this lighter tone for now. I can’t say too much about what it’s about, because sometimes you talk the story out before you write it and then you don’t have the freshness there. It’ll be something about women-men and family relationships.
Read our Tipping Book Review here.
Tipping by Anna George was published on 2nd March 2021 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.