An Interview With Anna George.
Image – Say Heidi Photography.
Loved, loved, loved your book!
Can you tell me a bit about how the book came about, the inspiration for it?
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm for the book and for inviting me onto your blog.
I was inspired to write the book after reading a news article about a woman who’d been murdered by her boyfriend. She was quoted as having said of her boyfriend that he’d been changing, no one understood him as she had, and he wasn’t so bad. Reading those words I’d been shocked as I’d said similar things myself about a previous partner with whom I’d had an unhappy and volatile relationship. I did some research and realised what I’d experienced was emotional abuse. And emotional abuse in most cases precedes physical abuse and always accompanies it. So what I’d gone through was on the same continuum of abuse as what this woman had endured. It made me wonder how much further along that continuum had been the violence she’d suffered. At the same time I read others in the media questioning why women stayed with abusive men. I began exploring those questions and that story, using my own experience as a spring board into it. As I wrote the book, I found the story moved far away from my own and became a richer, cautionary tale.
I note you have a screen writing background, how does this affect your writing process? Do you plan out all the important events, or just write and see where it takes you? Do you write a “bible”, or something similar to what is commonly used in screenwriting for profiling and establishing the identity of your characters?
Studying screenwriting and working on a couple of film scripts really helped my prose writing. So much of screenwriting is about structure and I learned to apply those principles to the craft of novel writing. I read a lot about screenwriting and found many more books on it than I had when I was first studying novel writing.
I do plan my stories and important events but I also write and see where the story takes me. It’s a flexible process. When I’m working through a draft, I go back and apply what I’ve gleaned from script writing; for example, how can I make this scene more dramatic? Are the voices sufficiently distinct? Where are my turning points?! I don’t write a ‘bible’ as such for my characters but I do write endless, more casual notes about my characters, which I am constantly adding to and revising.
I think you have great insight of the nuances of domestic violence, how did you research this aspect of the book?
I read everything I could about domestic violence and in particular emotional abuse – from Australian government reports and domestic violence resource centre literature to text books, pop-psychology books and first person accounts. I also spoke with people, mainly friends and acquaintances, about their experiences with abusive partners. And, as I’ve said, I’ve had that experience myself.
Can you tell me something about your road to being published; how did you get the attention of publishers? How do you transition from screen writing to novel writing? Have we seen any of your work on the big or small screen? I think your writing is very visual and I can see this novel could easily be pitched as the basis for a feature film.
I began the book in 2002, wrote it for a few years then put it away to take stock and reproduce etc. I went back to it in 2008 and retained about ten% of that original draft. In 2011, I finished a draft and decided it was time to send it to publishers. I sent it to two, including Penguin. I received a standard pass from the other publisher but Penguin came back with a pass, coupled with encouragement and even some praise! They offered to reread the book if I rewrote it. Throughout 2012, I rewrote it and sent it off again. I also sent it to two other publishers. And then I got lucky. They all liked it and two of them, including Penguin, made me an offer. The book went through an auction process and I was torn. I ultimately chose to go with Penguin – because I was very grateful to them for having identified that the book had something in the first place.
I actually began studying Professional Writing and Editing, twenty years ago, and wrote prose. I studied first at Holmesglen TAFE in Melbourne and then at RMIT TAFE. While at RMIT, I dallied with screenwriting. But prose writing is my first love and I much prefer it. As a screenwriter, I was funded to write two feature film scripts. The script writing process can take years and many drafts and I ran out of stamina. One of the scripts was commissioned and the other was my own; but I didn’t feel attached enough to either of them to keep at it. I’m glad of that time though, as it has definitely helped my novel writing. And it absolutely crystallised my desire to write a novel and do my best to get it published.
Limerence is such a wonderfully encompassing word for all those feelings of romantic attraction and the desire to have those feelings reciprocated at any expense – a giddy emotional time – I love how you wove this meaning into the book via the film being made by the protagonist, it is so poignant and so accurate a description of the relationship between David and Elle – did you have intend to discuss this emotion when you started writing What Came Before?
I stumbled across limerence when I was researching for the book – and as I was writing it! I wanted Elle to be staying with David because she believed she loved him and that he loved her, and what they had was rare and would improve – despite increasing evidence to the contrary. When I discovered limerence it seemed to fit perfectly to explain Elle’s almost delusional perception of their relationship. It was an ‘Ah ha!’ moment for me. I found Dorothy Tennov’s book Love and Limerence fascinating. Tennov identified limerence as being an involuntary and often irrational state fuelled by uncertainty and imbalance. Limerence gave me another lens through which to look at my characters’ relationship.
Did you intend for this novel to be a vehicle to explore, start a dialogue about domestic violence?
Yes. Part of the motivation for writing the book was to shed more light on domestic violence and, in particular, on emotional abuse. A dialogue about domestic violence is well underway in Australia today and I hope my book can be in the mix. The more we talk about these issues the better, and perhaps the safer we will be.
What sort of novel are you writing now and when can we expect to see it in the bookstores?
My next novel is also a psychological thriller; it’s set on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, today. It is also framed around a crime and is concerned with class, parenting and judgement. But it’s early days so I can’t tell you too much more about it! It could be in bookstores by late 2015 or early 2016!
Again congratulations on writing such a touching and intense novel.