Interviewing a best selling author

I interviewed the best selling Australian author, Fiona Higgins as part of the ‘Festival 4Play’ at Bar Luna – a teaser for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Fiona wrote, ‘Love in the Age of Drought’ and ‘The Mothers Group’ and will be attending the Festival in October.

She’s been based here in Bali for a year now and told me that, on any given day, she’s likely to be doing one of three things: parenting, writing or participating in the philanthropic sector.

Her first book, a memoir called, Love in the Age of Drought was published in 2009 and 2010 by Macmillan.

Interviewing Fiona Higgins

Interviewing Fiona Higgins

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and educational read – a bit of an ‘eco-love story’.

As a memoir, it’s obviously about Fiona herself, a city girl from Sydney, who falls in love with a rural gent from S.E. Queensland.  He’s a rather unusual farmer called Stuart and, in the words of Fiona’s best friend, ‘He’s white gold, girlfriend’.

In Fiona’s explanation of why he was referred to as ‘white gold’, we learnt what a considerate farmer Stuart was.  They had even met at a conference on ethics!

The dialogue in the book gives a lot of interesting and easily digested information about the contentious area of cotton farming.

I now have an understanding of the serious effects of drought.  But then too much water can be devastating, so can whitefly, or aphids etc, etc.  Also it appears that Australian farmers typically only have 3 good years in 10!

Whatsmore, the Australian cotton farmers only grow this crop because we, the public,  want to wear it.  Yet it appears that the Australian public give them a lot of flak for growing it due to the excessive amounts of water needed!

Love in the Age of Drought

Love in the Age of Drought

During the interview we learnt more about Fiona herself.  For instance how, and why, she raised $100,000 for humanitarian programs in Indonesia – by cycling 17,000 kilometers around Australia!

She also explained some of the things she had to deal with in her new life on the farm.

For instance being a vegetarian with a thing for lattes and social life after work in the city, proved difficult, if not almost impossible, in rural Queensland.  This was highlighted when they were invited for dinner and the host assumed that a roast chicken would fit the bill.

There were bigger challenges she had to face though, and she read to us about the frogs in the toilet and snakes on the steps.

But eventually farm life got under her skin and she couldn’t wait to get back home from her city business trips.

Fiona Higgins - best selling author

Fiona Higgins – best selling author

To cut a love story short, the couple had their share of downs, but most of the book depicts an upbeat, happy couple coming to grips with living together under very challenging drought conditions.

Conditions which, in the end, result in Fiona and Stuart selling the farm at a time of major change in their lives.

The book ends just as a new character has arrived on the scene – baby Oliver (oh, and by the way, Fiona’s husband, Stuart, was in the audience, and so was Oliver who is now 6 years old).

And this brought us nicely to the next book. 

The Mothers’ Group – published in 2012 by Allen & Unwin

Because the first book ended with the birth of Oliver, I automatically jumped to the conclusion that ‘The Mothers’ Group’ continued where ‘Love in the age of Drought’ left off, but that’s not the case – as this new book is a novel.

The Mothers' Group

The Mothers’ Group

I found ‘The Mothers Group’ scary.  Some pages had me squirming with discomfort.  However, it’s an important book and it reminded me what absolute heroes all mothers are.

Fiona explained why she had written such a ‘warts an all’ description of motherhood.  Also why she had broken, what she refers to as, ‘the code of silence’ about some of the darker realities of motherhood.

For instance, she read a description of the life changing effects, not just of having a baby, but of what can happen if the mother suffers from pelvic floor damage as a result of the birth.

There are 6 chapters in ‘The Mothers Group’ and each chapter is written from the view point of one of the six women in the group.

They’re a mixed bag of characters who probably wouldn’t have become friends if it hadn’t been for their babies.

Five are from Australia and one woman, Made, is from Bali – although, interestingly, at the point of writing the book, Fiona had no idea that she would end up living in Bali.

Interviewing Fiona

Interviewing Fiona

The book contains a tragic event and Fiona explained how emotionally difficult it was to write that part.

I read a quote from the highly regarded newspaper, ‘The Australian’ which said, among many other things, “… it has that capacity that good social novels should have of creating meaning and intensity from what on the surface may appear ordinary”.

We finished the interview with some questions from the audience and learning that Fiona was in the process of writing another book.

So look out for that, as this is a best selling author who not only writes well, but is a joy to interview too – come and see her at the festival in October.

I thanked the staff at Bar Luna, Janet DeNeefe, the Festival 4Play team and the audience for coming out to listen – and, of course, we all gave our thanks to Fiona Higgins.

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