Danielle Wood, now 45, is a Tasmanian journalist, writer and academic. Her first book, The Alphabet of Light and Dark, won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 2002.
At age 26, Wood moved to Western Australia and enrolled in a PhD through Edith Cowan University, and started work on her book. She has since returned to Tasmania where she is a lecturer at University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay.
She has written six books, The Alphabet of Light and Dark, Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls, Housewife Superstar: the very best of Marjorie Bligh, Marjorie Bligh’s HOME: Hints On Managing Everything, Deep South: Stories from Tasmania, Mothers Grimm, Finding Serendipity, and A Week Without Tuesday.
As well as the Vogel she won the Famine Commemorative Literary Prize in 1999 and the Dobbie Literary Award for The Alphabet of Light and Dark in 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist, 2004, and 2007, and she won the Alex Buzo Prize 2012.
Did you set out to be a fiction writer in the literary tradition?
‘Yes, I did.’
If so, did you wish to write full time?
‘Not entirely. For one thing, I always knew that full-time writing would probably be incompatible with other things I wanted to do like own a home and raise children and feed them something other than cockroaches. For another thing, I quite like people, and I might have found only writing to be a little too solitary for my sanity.’
How did you conceive the ‘life of an author’—romantically, if so how? Or were you tough-minded about the challenges of it? Or both at the same time perhaps?
‘The thing I love most is to think up things and make things—this is not limited to writing. I am quite crafty and it seems to me that it all comes from the same place—the desire to think things up and then make them happen. I’ve knitted extremely elaborate tea cosies and made scarecrows for an annual competition, made 150 cupcakes to impersonate Antony Green’s ABC election graphics and weird, peripheral crap like that—things that amuse and distract me.
‘If I was romantic about the life of a writer, I imagined having time to sniff around in dusty archives, and being able to make characters and stories and places and scenes that came to life. I didn’t dream about drinking absinthe or having tortured love affairs or wandering around cold European cities smoking cigarettes, or anything like that. Perhaps I was a bit dull. I suppose where I was dumb was thinking that I would have enough energy to do EVERYTHING I wanted to do—write, teach, have a family, read books, make stupid irrelevant stuff, have friends, read.’
Has it worked out the way you wanted it to?
‘Not really. Or maybe, not yet. I think there’s still time? Unless the publishing industry dies in the arse before I manage to get out all the things I believe are inside of me.’
If not what were the obstacles that interfered with the aspiration?
‘I had children. Full stop.
‘But, to elaborate. I had one child, who amazed me with her awesomeness, and then, despite my original intention to have a single child, I discovered that I was so besotted with her that I wanted a second child. But my second child was twins. They are now eight years old. The first year of their life I went insane. Not joking. So, I have had to recover from that, and also I have had to try to find time to write around the edges of all the quotidian detail of being a mother of three—saxophone lessons, scouts, swimming lessons, birthday presents, mending socks, getting mouthguards fitted, cleaning guinea pig cages, trying not to lose all the family photos in a digital cataclysm, making soup, practicing times tables. I’m awfully middle class really.
‘Perhaps I will have that absinthe…
‘Having children meant I had to have an income, and that meant I had to give over quite a lot of my time to a job teaching writing at a University. All of this adds up to the fact that I have three huge things in my life—my writing, my family, my job (yes, the order I list these is the way I think…)
‘I think the first named item gets the roughest deal—and any one of these things could consume me utterly. I live with the daily reality that I feel like I do three enormous things about as third as well as I’m capable of doing them. Some nights that thought keeps me up, or gives me nightmares.
‘And yet – my children are miracles. Miracles. John and I made new human beings. That’s fucking incredible. Isn’t it?
‘And those children have made me feel things, know things, understand things that are integral to all I want to write, now. It’s a horrible irony that motherhood gives you profound experiences but takes away from you (most of) the time and energy to convert those experiences into creative responses.’
How do you see yourself now ‘as a writer’—or author—academic—or is fiction writing an avocation?
‘‘I’m a writer, not an academic, though I work as one. The academic apparatus that has been put up around writing is often just hoop-jumping, and when it is, I try to help my students side-step it with as much covert grace as possible. The thing is that despite all the crap, universities can still be a space where people read, write, talk about reading and talk about writing. As long as you don’t let the administrivia get you down, it can still be amazing.
‘I’ve had brilliant students, and I’m convinced that there is more talent in the world than there is the concomitant desire/stubbornness to make that talent manifest in words on a page. Or perhaps, for other people as well as for me, there just aren’t enough hours in the day when one is not utterly, utterly knackered.
‘I have managed to keep my publishing life ticking over, though I don’t think my books, so far, reflect what I can really do.
‘I’ve written children’s books with a friend, and while I’m proud of them (and love interactions with young readers—they’re the best), I still have big, grown-up books burning in my heart.’
I don’t want to take up too much of your time. But add anything you feel might contribute to my thinking.
‘The lovely Women of Letters asked me to write a letter on ‘things I wish I’d written:’
‘Dear Thing I Wish I’d Written,
…But what could I have given up? I would never leave my husband for you, though a true artist might… And a true artist might have had no children at all, certainly not the three I had —count them, like a waltz, one, two, three—even though I was warned. Once, women paid for their offspring in teeth. But women writers, I was told, back when I could still have chosen differently, have their own currency. Two novels, you sacrifice, for every babe you hold in your arms…’