A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about being the reading doldrums. I simply could not find a book that grabbed me. Then, I stumbled across The Near Miss. Oh, praise you reading-Gods. You always seem to deliver at the right time! The Near Miss was exactly what I was looking for – contemporary fiction, written by an Australian woman writer, kind of in the Liane Moriarty vein.
Set in Melbourne, The Near Miss is the story of three strangers, brought together by a near-tragedy. The marketing describes it as LOVE ACTUALLY meets THE SLAP – a kind of irresistible combination, don’t you think?
It’s the fourth novel from author Fran Cusworth – but the first to be released on Harper Collins digital-only imprint, Impulse, which means that you can buy this novel for the bargain price of only $2.99. Less than the price of a coffee for quality writing and a gripping story line? Kind of crazy-great for readers. Anyway, the whole thing fascinated me, so I tracked down Fran, and she agreed to answer some of my questions.
To me, the crux of this story lies in this particular line – ‘Sometimes the worst moments were portals into whole new worlds.’ What drew you to exploring this idea in ‘The Near Miss’?
I think I like the idea that any moment is a portal into a whole new world, and that we are always sort of ‘lifting the veil’ and discovering the previously unimagined life just beyond. When Lotte runs on the road, with the crazy impulse of a four year old, three adults who were strangers meet and change each other’s lives – but so many tiny moments can change our lives. That’s the great but also scary thing about life.
One of the characters in ‘The Near Miss’ has lived on a commune and emerges from it with mixed feelings about the experience. I understand you also lived on a commune. Was it difficult to write this, without casting a judgement (in either direction) on that way of life? Similarly, I understand your experiences as a ‘kindy’ mum make their way into this book – not all of them being positive. What personal guidelines (or ethics) do you follow when writing from personal experience?
My commune experience, such as it was, was about 25 years ago and with no one individual identified, I am pretty comfortable writing about it in the fairly fleeting way that I do. They always cried out to be put in a book somewhere, those memories, so I’m glad I found a home for them! Kindy is more recent but still six years gone. I guess I’m saying time can make a difference when writing about personal experience, and obviously I try not to identify anybody in a way which could make them look bad to others. I love the people around me, and I don’t want to hurt them, however they are sometimes quite delighted to see hints of themselves or their communities in my novels. But it is something I think about and consider.
What is your writing process? I understand this book was 10 years in the making.
I started this book in 2006, after my first novel The Love Child was published, but it was put aside quite a few times. I wrote Hopetoun Wives and Sisters of Spicefield in the interim, and I thought of The Near Miss as my filler novel; it was there when I finished something and didn’t know what else to do. I sort of can’t believe it’s been ten years, but it’s had periods of intense work on it, and long periods of sitting in a drawer. It is probably my favourite novel; maybe because I started it, and kept returning to it, with very little expectation. It was just something I had fun with.
‘The Near Miss’ has been released under Harper Collins digital imprint, Impulse. What are your thoughts on being an author in the digital age?
Well it is a new experience for me, although early days yet. The publicity seems different for a digital only; The Near Miss hasn’t been reviewed in the newspapers and there’s been a fair bit of blogging instead. I LOVE the fact that it’s so cheap: only three dollars – that to me is a unique and wonderful thing about digital. I think books should be accessible, and ebooks make this possible.
I understand that you have a journalism background but have recently retrained as a nurse. What prompted that change?
From journalism I did a PhD in creative writing, really just so I could spend four years writing on a scholarship and getting paid for it, which was fabulous, and it worked for me when the kids were little. But by the time I’d finished, thousands of journalists in Melbourne had been laid off, and it was the worst time to get back into journalism (and I didn’t really want to be an academic). I did do a year back at Fairfax, but people were spending all day, every day, worried about getting made redundant, and I just thought, this is not how I want to spend the rest of my working life. I have always been fascinated by the life of hospitals, so I started to think about a career change. I considered paramedicine (too stressful) and medicine (too long to study) and finally realised I could get a reg nurse qualification in just two years. I absolutely love it; learning totally new things, helping people, and being part of a hospital. I hope to do nursing and writing, but I’m not sure how I’ll juggle it yet, I’ve only just qualified.
What drives you to write?
Habit now, but also the pleasure of making order out of the chaos of life. All the rituals of writing are associated for me with pleasure or a sort of meditation now: the moving of my fingers on a keyboard, the reading back of my words, the fun of imagining. I’m not a 9-5, five days a week writer: I couldn’t do it full time, and nursing is great because it gets me with people and out into the world. But I have had a lot of enjoyment out of writing.
Which authors have most influenced your work?
Paddy O’Reilly, Kelly Gardiner and Myfanwy Jones. They are writer friends of mine, and they influence me more than anyone, both through their fabulous writing but also their sharing of the journey with me.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Which means, if it seems too big and too overwhelming, you haven’t yet broken it down into little enough pieces yet. (My Dad, who is not a writer but an engineer.)
Thank you Fran! For more information about The Near Miss, visit Harper Collins