Author Spotlight: Fiona Higgins
Describe yourself in one word:
What is your background with regard to writing?
I was a keeper of diaries from a young age and I loved creative writing at school. I remember winning a poetry competition aged nine for a poem called ‘Ya Local Truckie’ – a treatise about the hardships of the trucking life – despite the fact that I no personal knowledge of truckers! I never set out to be a writer, but I’ve always been an avid reader – and the two are inextricably linked, I think.
When did you first begin writing with a view of embarking on a career as a published author?
I call myself an accidental author because I really didn’t consider writing for publication until a friend put me up to it. In 2005 I threw in my latte-loving Sydney life to move to rural Queensland – a tiny town called Jandowae, population 700 – after falling in love with a cotton farmer (and yes, he was worth it!) After moving to Jandowae, I started sending lengthy emails to my friends and family describing the culture shock of country living – the snakes in the toilet, frogs in the shower, the power of the ‘bush telegraph’ in a small community – and my friend Virginia (who was a writer herself) contacted me one day and said, ‘You know, these country adventures of yours are pretty interesting… you should consider writing a book.’
So I took her suggestion and did! That resulted in the publication of my memoir ‘Love in the Age of Drought’ (Macmillan, 2009) … after which I thought my writing career was over. But then, after the birth of my second child (who was NOT a good sleeper, unlike my first) I found myself writing vignettes of first-time mothers and their various experiences of motherhood. I was quite sleep-deprived (and probably a bit deranged), but after a while the vignettes started to intersect and I began to suspect I was writing a novel. It turned out I was! ‘The Mothers’ Group’ was published in 2012, and Allen & Unwin signed me for two books… which then lead me to write ‘Wife on the Run’.
Tell us a little more about Wife on the Run:
Wife on the Run is the story of Paula McInnes, a wife of seventeen years and a mother of two teenagers, whose comfortable suburban life is suddenly turned upside down by two technology-related disasters. The first is the public shaming of her 14-year old daughter on Facebook, the second is an appalling discovery on her husband’s mobile phone (and we can all guess what that might involve!) With her world falling apart, Paula does something quite out of character – she runs away from it all. She pulls her kids out of school and takes off around Australia with her ageing father in his caravan. She goes off the grid – banning Ipods, Ipads and social media – in a bid to reclaim family time. For a while it all seems very simple, until the family meets a mysterious Brazilian backpacker – whose accent transforms Paula of Glen Waverley to Pow-la of no fixed her address – and her fantasy of simplicity is blown apart.
A strong theme within Wife on the Run is the ominous role that technology can have on our lives. What sparked this concept for you?
I have three young children of my own, so I was really interested in exploring the complexities of parenting in a digital age and how the landscape of childhood is being altered by technology. Writing ‘Wife on the Run’ was a way for me to wonder aloud about how parents can respond to the reality that technology and teenagers is a potentially explosive mix… I mean, you take a cohort of adolescents with rapidly changing bodies and an intense awareness of their sexuality (but without the maturity necessarily or the experience to handle that wisely) then you give them a smartphone! In the hands of a teenager, or a husband on the hunt, it can so easily become a dumbphone… or worse, a weapon of shame.
We see the central character Paula impose a no-technology ban within her family (what a glorious idea!) as they get back to basics and learn how to be a family again. With many of us now so reliant on technology and the notion of ‘staying connected’ it’s interesting to see that there is currently some backlash on how much technology we do use. Do you think people will make the change to minimise their use of technology?
I don’t think we can ever go back to a time pre-internet (nor do we want to), but I do think it’s useful – as individuals and as families – to take a regular breather from social media now and then, and to consider how we’re using our precious (and fleeting) family time.
What was your biggest challenge in writing Wife on the Run?
The sexual content! One of the themes of the novel is the joys and challenges of long-term monogamy, and you can’t write about that without touching on sex. It was the hardest part of the novel to write; turns out that writing sex is almost as intimate as the real thing – I was very self-conscious at first, awkward and rather clunky, but I gradually got better at it (I think). And once I’d finally done it, I found I needed to workshop it with girlfriends! After writing the sex scene, I asked a handful of female friends to read it and give me feedback. That process in itself was hysterical, and often done over a glass of wine, with girlfriends saying to me things like, ‘Look, the bit where he rubs her nipples, I really think he should be stroking them not rubbing them, because ‘rubbing’ brings to mind cleaning my bathroom mirror.’ It was hilarious!
What kind of research was involved in the planning of Wife on the Run? Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process?
I did have to do some online research regarding internet chat rooms and sex forums. It was a bit of an eye-opener! If you don’t have a family filter in place, you can easily access free sexual content created by real people… the sort of stuff Hamish, Paula’s husband, starts accessing in the novel.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Most of the time I’m not writing! Typically I’m looking after my three kids (aged 7, 5 and 3) and working in philanthropy. I do have a long-held fantasy of going back to university and becoming a doctor, but I suspect I’m getting a bit old for that now.
What’s next for you?
More of the same – parenting, working, writing when I can… and enjoying life to the fullest, because I feel so very fortunate to have family, friends and such a full life.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
Maggie Joel’s ‘Half the World in Winter’ and Kylie Ladd’s ‘Mothers and Daughters’
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
It’ll all be fine.
What do you find easiest to write? And, the hardest?
Easiest – how characters feel emotionally. Hardest – how characters feel physically (especially in the bedroom!)
Favourite travel experience?
Throwing snowballs at my 19-month old son in the Chantilly Woods just outside of Paris at Christmas time in 2009.
Number one thing to do on your bucket list:
Taking my kids to Disneyland.
Milk, dark or white chocolate? Dark, at least 80% cacao.
Red, white, bubbly? Red
Salty or sweet? Sweet
Beach or mountains? Beach (by a hair’s breath)
Give or receive? Give – because that’s a form of receiving too.
About the Author:
Fiona Higgins is an Australian author based in Bali. Her three books are ‘Love in the Age of Drought’ (Macmillan, 2009), ‘The Mothers’ Group’ (Allen & Unwin, 2012) and ‘Wife on the Run’ (Allen & Unwin, 2014). She has worked in the non-profit sector and philanthropy for 15 years and is married with three children.
Wife on the Run
What would you do?
A mother’s greatest fear… A wife’s worst nightmare…
When two technology-related disasters hit within days of each other, Paula McInnes knows her comfortable suburban life has been irrevocably blown apart. One involves the public shaming of her teenage daughter, the other is a discovery about her husband that shocks her to her core. With her world unravelling around her, Paula does the only thing that makes any sense to her: she runs away from it all.
Paula pulls her children out of school and takes off on a trip across Australia with her elderly father and his caravan. The only rule is No Technology – no phones, no Facebook, no Instagram, no tablets, games or computers. It’s time to get back to basics and learn how to be a family again.
It all sounds so simple – and for a while, it is. But along the way Paula will meet new, exciting complications, and realise that running away is only a temporary solution. The past has to be faced before the future can begin.
A thrilling, tender and hugely entertaining story of loss, love and discovery from the bestselling author of The Mothers’ Group.