© 2014 Sue Parritt

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Q&A: About me and about Sannah


1. Tell us about your new book. What’s it about and why did you write it?

Set in twenty-fourth century apartheid Australia, ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim’ is a tale of courage defiance and deceit as a group of women risk their lives to undermine an oppressive regime. The women gain unexpected support for seditious exploits when Sannah, the village Storyteller, finds a stranger (Kaire, who insists he’s a pilgrim) on her domestep. But when Sannah turns ‘Truth-teller’ even Kaire’s white privilege and advanced technology cannot save her from subsequent retribution.

The rationale for writing the novel arose from personal concerns regarding the present and previous governments’ failure to act on climate change and the detention and inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

2. How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

My parents stressed the importance of education, provided a houseful of books, recordings of Shakespeare’s plays and the opportunity to discuss what I had read or heard. My father, in particular, shared his love of literature with me, often reading aloud excerpts from Shakespeare, poems and the Bible. My interest in drama, public speaking and writing poetry was always encouraged, especially during my teenage years. Most importantly, my parents believed in (and practiced) equality for all, social justice, peace, integrity and care for the environment, values which influence my writing.

3. Can you tell us about your main character?

Age 39, sensuous, emotional and dramatic, Sannah, a descendant of Environmental Refugees from the drowned Pacific Islands, is the Storyteller for Village 10, Brown Zone. An articulate speaker, she employs both voice and body to weave a spell around her audience. She also plays the role of ‘lover’ to numerous white men, in order to gain information useful to the Women’s Line. Intelligent and savvy, Sannah knows what it takes to survive in a harsh world ruled by tyrannical Troopers but would willingly risk her life to ensure truth telling continues.

4. Will you write others in this same genre?

Currently I am halfway through the first draft of a sequel to ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim’ – working title ‘Pia and the Skyman.’ Set in 2401 on the west coast of North Island, Aotearoa and in Australia, this novel sees Pia (Sannah’s daughter) and Kaire (the Skyman) working with others, including some unexpected arrivals, to bring about the overthrow of the brutal Australian government.

5. What are your goals as a writer?

My goals are to continue writing novels that raise issues that concern me. For instance, the novel I have just completed, ‘Safety Zone’ deals with gender equality, pacifism and the problems that can arise within a tight-knit religious community. I also hope to develop my scriptwriting skills and find producers willing to take on my projects, currently a feature film ‘Feed thy Enemy,’ based on my father’s experiences in Italy during and after WWII, and a pilot for a TV series adapted from my novel ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’

6. Are you reading any interesting books at the moment?

I am reading ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Caton, a captivating tale of life on the goldfields of New Zealand in 1866. The novel delves into the psyche of the central characters, giving a fascinating insight into the motives that drive men and women to leave family, friends and country to seek their fortunes in a strange and wild land. I am also reading ‘Summer Lies’ by Bernhard Schlink, a collection of short stories about the many faces of love. Each story presents a microcosm of lives and worlds, providing for me a rich reading tapestry.

7. Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

Whenever I find myself procrastinating for hours over one or two paragraphs or constantly referring to my thesaurus, I realise writer’s block has reared its head once more. Usually, I leave my study and undertake a totally different activity, such as ironing or baking a cake. This helps to clear my mind and breaks the cycle of staring at the screen unable to move forward. I am fortunate to have never had writer’s block that lasted for a lengthy period.

8. What dreams have been realised as a result of your writing?

The dream of becoming a published novelist has been realised with the publication of ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’ Publication of my short stories, poetry and articles always gives me a buzz but is nothing compared to the thrill I experienced when Michelle Lovi of Odyssey Books accepted my manuscript. I took a risk in giving up paid work five years ago to concentrate on writing but have no regrets. Writing is making retirement the best time of my life.

9. How long have you been writing?

Writing has been a passion since my teenage years when I wrote poetry, usually reflecting my feelings about social issues or newly discovered love. During my teens and early twenties I also entered public speaking competitions, often including snippets of my poetry in my speeches on particular subjects, for example: The threat of nuclear war, mental illness, pacifism. University studies (1978-1982) saw me concentrating on assignments and afterwards full-time work and parenting didn’t allow much time for writing. Only when I reduced my working hours some years ago, in order to have a ‘writing’ day, and took early retirement in 2008, have I been able to devote extensive time to creativity.

10. How do you feel about self-publishing?

I feel self-publishing fills an important role in enabling new writer’s to publish their work and thus share their creations. I self-published a small book of poetry ‘New Flowering’ in 2000 and was fortunate to sell all the copies I had printed. However, I was determined not to self-publish ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim, preferring my work to be judged sufficiently well written and interesting to warrant a publisher’s taking it on.

11. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Although my novel is set in the future, I want readers to grasp what I believe is happening in contemporary Australia with regard to climate change and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Words and statements like ‘illegals’ and ‘turn back the boats’ appal me, so I have created a world where Pacific Environmental Refugees are given sanctuary but they and their descendants are treated as third-class citizens, fed incorrect versions of history and led to believe they caused the annihilation of their islands.

12. How do you write: lap top, pen, paper, in bed, at a desk?

I am lucky enough to have in Virginia Woolf’s words, ‘a room of my own,’ a third bedroom, which is large enough to contain a desk, filing cabinet, stationary cupboard and numerous books on writing plus reference tools. I write on a 27inch iMac computer, which is wonderful for displaying two different drafts at once, enabling easy cut and paste. I also have an Apple MacBook Air laptop that I use when away from home.

13. Do you find it hard to share your work?

No, I enjoy sharing my work. In the past I have belonged to writers’ groups, where work in progress was read out and critiqued. I found this most helpful. I am fortunate to have experience in public speaking, so take the opportunity to read extracts from my writing as the opportunity arises.

14. What books did you love growing up?

I loved David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Good Wives, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Moonfleet, a novel set not far from my home. My grandparents loved Dickens and I read most of his works from their nineteenth-century editions. As a sickly child often away from school for weeks at a time, I read voraciously, immersion in fascinating stories enabling me to forget about illness for a while.

15. Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge and thank for their support?

I would like to thank my husband of 44 years, Mark, for his support and encouragement. He does more than his share of the housework, holds me when I get in a state about the progress (or not) of my writing and encourages me when I’m tempted to give up.


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