Isabella Colton shares her thoughts on the Great Big Book Club’s contemporary fiction panel featuring Susan Midalia and Emma Young

The Great Big Book Club held by Fremantle Press and the City of Joondalup Libraries provided Perth book lovers and a group of wonderful authors an opportunity to discuss their novels, with delicious food and drink in hand. The second panel began with the announcement of the new restrictions set in place by the Premier due to a case of COVID-19 within the community. All attendees were quick to follow these unfortunate but familiar rules, socially distancing and popping masks on to ensure the safety and continuation of the event. Award-winning and best-selling author Natasha Lester joined authors Emma Young and Susan Midalia to discuss new contemporary fiction and their recently published novels, The Last Bookshop  and Everyday Madness.

We had the pleasure of hearing about the author’s different journeys that led them to write their novels and the lengthy creative process. Emma revealed that her novel took five years before it was published. She began as a bookseller, she thought it would be the ‘sensible thing’ to do while being able to pursue her love for books. It provided her with the perfect lived experience to write a wonderful, authentic novel surrounding the life of an independent bookseller.  Susan pointed out that in The Last Bookshop ‘there is all this detail about work, very few novels write about it even though it takes up most of our lives’.

Susan began as a reader, when her father died, she found herself sitting down to write about their difficult relationship as a form of therapy, a way to ‘get things out’. Touched by the unexpected responses to her writing, she went on to write three short story collections. One of her characters Bernard, a cynical, old vacuum cleaner salesman, kept nudging her, inspiring her to create Everyday Madness. Susan’s novel is from four different points of view, Bernard, his wife Gloria, his ex-daughter-in-law Meg, and granddaughter Ella. The juxtaposition offered by Ella’s point of view as an 11-year-old girl ‘pushes against the bleak’, Susan said. Her innocence, curiosity and humour provide hope and ‘hope is what keeps us going’, she said.

Both novels are set in Perth, enabling readers to identify what they know and love about our city. Rather than creating a visual representation, Susan discussed how her novel relies on an auditory imagination, ‘you don’t see it as much as feel it’. An example I am sure all of us from Perth can relate to are the bad drivers, with one of Susan’s main characters Meg having a rant in her car at a bad driver. Susan also addressed the issues that Western Australian writers face in getting recognition for their work, ‘Fremantle Press is a treasure promoting Perth writers. My place matters’, she said. The attendees were able to delve a little deeper into the connections to Perth that Emma had also created such as the high streets, the cultural changes brought by booms and busts and the sadness of much-loved stores on Hay Street having to close or move.

Image of a woman seated in front a microphone smiling at another woman also seated
Susan Midalia and Emma Young

Emma described her love for books and writing as a form of bibliotherapy. She turned to her bookshelves and mental library, filled with all different types of genres, to compile a list of 78 diverse books to write about within her novel. The diversity reflects her love and appreciation for all genres, ‘It would be sad to have rules about what you read’, she said. Next time I am at my local bookshop I will be choosing something from a genre I tend to ignore, because why have rules when there are so many stories to explore.

The conversation concluded with a few questions from some of the lovely attendees. One that was quite memorable sought advice from Susan on how to assist her husband as he embarked on writing his first novel. She provided us all with some useful tips and words of wisdom, ‘you have to want to do it, write without inhibition, or self-criticism, just get something down on the page. Let it sit, come back to it, fix it up, don’t be too hard on yourself’, she said. She cracked the audience up with her reference to Ernest Hemingway’s  philosophy ‘write drunk, edit sober’. As a young newbie to the craft of creative writing, I found the words of advice, wisdom and insight into the creative process incredibly helpful and inspiring which I will carry with me into the future.

About the author:

Isabella Colton is a first-year student studying a Bachelor of Arts and Commerce at Curtin University. Her love for books and all things creative sparked her interest to pursue the majors of Professional Writing and Publishing, as well as Public Relations. As she continues her degree, she is eager to build her skills as a writer and get involved with all the Perth writing community has to offer.

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