It is great to have the fantastic Gigi Finster for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. Gigi Fenster’s first book, The Intentions Book, was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards and was longlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. Her second book, Feverish, was published in 2018 to critical acclaim. Her novel, A Good Winter, won the 2020 Gifkins Prize and was published by Text Publishing in September 2021. Gigi has two daughters. She lives on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand with her partner, a flock of chickens and way too many cats.
What was the defining moment when you felt A Good Winter must be written?
Gigi- Ooh, that’s an interesting one. I’m not sure there was a defining moment. I had the idea cooking away in my head for some time before I started actually writing. I think I tend to do that with fiction – to come up with a small idea, or a character, or event, and then let it sit at the back of my brain for weeks or months or even years before I decide that I will actually write it. Then it will be more weeks/months/years before I actually start writing. Not very efficient, I suspect.
How did you finalise the title for your book? Did you write the book first or the title?
Gigi- The first few lines came first. And from the first line, the title. I find that my first lines do often come first. This is not always a good thing since I can get wedded to an opening that isn’t actually working. I find myself really quite resistant to changing the opening, even when I know it isn’t working. In this case, the opening gave me the title, and the opening did actually work, so that was all fine.
What research did you have to go through while writing your novel?
Gigi- For this book, I actually didn’t do much research – except to watch the movies that the characters watched. Oh, and I did some research into Dory Previn. I had a vague idea that her father had locked her and her mother up, but I didn’t know the full story. I wanted to get it right, so I read quite a bit about her.
I am so taken with Olga’s character. She is thoughtful and intense. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration that went into her character development?
Gigi- Initially, I thought Olga would be awkward and self-absorbed, but I intended her to be someone we would feel sorry for. She had different ideas – she had no intention of being an object of pity. I wrote the book in the first person, using her voice, and it felt as if she was really pushing back at any portrayal of her that was pitying. As I wrote her, so her bitterness and anger came out more and more. I have had students who’ve said that their characters highjacked their stories, and I’ve been grumpy with those students, telling them it is their job to control their characters. Now I’m not so sure we can always completely control our characters. Sometimes, it might be more fun to let the character lead the way.
The book takes a very shocking climax. How did you think of it?
Gigi- I changed the ending so many times. I think I always knew what would happen, but I resisted it, because it felt a bit too brutal. All the other endings I tried just didn’t work, though. So in the end, I accepted that it might just be a brutal ending.
Did you always wish to be an author?
Gigi- That’s an interesting question. I have always been a reader and, as a child, I did keep a diary, write wee poems etc. But, as an adult, I found the idea of writing somehow embarrassing. It was like there was a voice in my head, saying, ‘Who do you think you are? You’re such a wanker if you think you can write’ etc. So I stopped trying. Then two things happened: The first was that my sister (Rahla Xenopoulos), who is a wonderful writer, wrote her first book. And she talked about writing to me and encouraged me. The second was that I moved countries. I found myself alone and lonely in a place where no one gave a shit about what I was doing. And that kind of freed me to stop being self-conscious about wanting to write and to just get on with it. I found a writing group and …
How many re-edits did you have to go through for A Good Winter?
Gigi- So many, so many, so many.
What drew your attention to the world of writing?
Gigi- I guess being a reader. I don’t think one can even try to write unless you are a reader. My mother got us reading from a young age. She always said, ‘If you can read, you will never be bored’. I think the same applies to writing. If you write, you will never be bored. And you will never be on holiday!
What has been your biggest takeaway from writing A Good Winter?
Gigi- Ooh, another nice question. I have been interested in how many people have said that they recognise themselves in the horrible character. If you write a lovely character, no one says, ‘I see myself in them’. But write a monster, and you’ll have people saying, ‘Oh no, I think I might have felt that particular jealousy once or twice’.
Between Lara, Sophie, and Olga- which is your most favourite character and why?
Gigi- Olga, it has to be Olga. Because she is so fucking awful. And therefore such fun to write. And fun to be with.
If you could, would you change anything in your writing journey from start to now?
Gigi- I would have started earlier. Like way way earlier.
Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
Gigi- Another lovely question and, cheesy though this might sound, I actually don’t know that I do. There are some books that I’d like to get written and some books that I’d like to read. And my garden is a mess, and I’d love more time with friends. But unfulfilled dreams? I don’t know. Perhaps I dream really really small, and domestic.
Do you have any messages for the aspiring writers out there?
Gigi- Don’t let that inner critic silence you. Start writing early. And read, for crying out loud, read.
Is there anything you might want to add on?
Gigi- Thank you so much for these great questions. And for all you do to promote writers and books and reading.
A Good Winter was published on 14th September 2021 by Text Publishing. You can purchase the book here.
Read our book review for A Good Winter here.