Some years ago I met a wonderful emerging writer at the Hachette Livre/QWC Manuscript Development Program, Favel Parrett. Since those days when we sat by the seaside at Bribie Island being mentored by the likes of Bernadette Foley and Kim Wilkins, Favel Parrett has quietly stepped into the elite circle of Australian literary writers. Her haunting debut novel Past the Shallows was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award. Since the below interview, Favel took out the Kibble Award earning herself $5000.
1. Your debut novel Past the Shallows has received rave reviews from some of Australia’s toughest literary critics. What’s that been like?
It is always so hard reading reviews of your own work. It is easy to see the negative points and completely miss all the positive things the reviewer says about your writing. But now, looking back over the past year, I can read reviews with more balance and see how many great reviews Past the Shallows received. Pretty incredible really!
2. Your book was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award. Walk us through how you were notified and what a nominee goes through after being short-listed.
Firstly, my publishers rang to tell me I had been long-listed. They were over the moon and I remember saying –There is NO WAY I will make it to the shortlist – but how great to be on this long-list. I think it was about a month later that they rang again to tell me I had indeed made the short-list. I was in shock and then felt completely unworthy for a week or two. Part of me still feels like I didn’t deserve to be on that list.
3. You were in very good company on that short-list, did you get to schmooze with the other writers?
I only got to meet Tony Birch and Frank Moorhouse, and they are both lovely. We did a Miles Franklin ‘tour’ together with events in Sydney and Canberra before the announcement cocktail party in Brisbane. It felt nice to share the stage with such talented writers. Frank made me laugh a lot and that helped with my nerves!
4. What was your inspiration for the book?
It is a good question and one that is hard to answer…
I didn’t have a story, a plot. I had a place – a tiny town on the south coast of Tasmania. That coast had a huge influence on me when I was young. It is isolated and wild, a place I will never forget. Then I found two boys, Harry and Miles.
They told me their stories, out-of-order. I wrote the end first. This seems to be how I work. It is frustrating. To me it feels like my writing is problem solving.
5. What does it take to write a book that gets short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award?
I think it is the same for every single writer who has ever written a book. TIME, dedication, belief, persistence, beating resistance and backing yourself.
6. The final version of Past the Shallows is a result of the QWC Hachette Manuscript Development Program; how vital was that process, do you think, in getting the end product?
It was the first time I had ever had a professional read my work and say – there is something here that is worth continuing on with – just keep writing. That meant a lot and helped me keep going. It also gave me the opportunity to have somewhere to send my manuscript once it was finished. However, the best thing about the program was the other writers. We were all in the same boat. Writing, working – trying to get published. We encouraged each other and still do – all these years later. I made 7 wonderful writing friends over that week and their support has been so helpful over the years.
7. Were you disappointed not to win the Miles Franklin Award?
I felt an immense sense of relief. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to win – I just felt a weight fall from my shoulders when Anna Funder’s name was called. I could finally enjoy being short-listed and enjoy the fact that my work had been recognised and put up there with some of Australia’s best writers. I felt like a winner and was very happy for Anna Funder. It was incredible to be short-listed.
8. Tell us one thing about yourself that your fans don’t know?
I am becoming a very keen birder, and especially love watching sea birds.
9. Tell us about your next project.
I don’t know the whole story (as usual). The book is called Tell Me about the Sea. It has these things in it:
- A Danish polar vessel that supplies the Australian Antarctic bases in the 1980s.
- A family that move to Hobart with nothing but the contents of 3 suitcases.
- A story about kindness and the comfort small things can bring.
10. Who influenced your writing?
This changes all the time. It is something that is in constant flux, but there are some writers who will probably always find themselves on the list. Per Petterson – every book of his, Maya Angelou – her poetry and her autobiographies, Kerstin Ekman – The Dog, Cormac McCarthy – The Road. Hemmingway’s short story collection – Men Without Women.