At the Australian Writers’ Centre we have an amazing team of inspiring and dedicated teachers. So we thought it was time you learnt more about them! Each week, we’ll feature one of our presenters in a series of profiles so you can learn more about what drives them to write, and why they love to teach.
This week, we talk to Allison Tait. Allison is a feature writer, blogger and soon-to-be author. She’s been teaching the Online Course: Magazine and Newspaper Writing at the Centre since 2011. She has over 20 years’ experience as a journalist, writing for many of Australia’s high profile magazines, including Madison, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Vogue Australia, Spectrum (SMH), the Qantas magazine, and Elle, as well as House & Garden, Belle, Vogue Living, Australian Country Style and many more.
At her blog, Life in a Pink Fibro, she has built a large and dedicated following. Here she reflects on motherhood, writing and life. She’s also active on Twitter and Facebook, where she’s always happy to hear from her readers, fellow writers and students.
In 2013 Allison will publish her first novel through Pan MacMillan (and we’ll be sure to tell you all about it when it hits the bookshelves!).
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and what inspired you?
I’m not sure I ever decided to be a writer – it just became the thing I did. A few times in my life, when I’ve been frustrated, I’ve thought about doing other things. But I could never think of anything else. The thing I love to do is to write, and I’m a lucky person in that I get to do what I love (most days).
I’ve always been a reader, a voracious reader. One of those kids who’d read the cereal box when there was nothing else to hand. That love of words just pushed me naturally into writing, I think. First as a journalist, then, finally, when I felt as though I had something to say, into fiction. I didn’t start writing fiction in any meaningful kind of way until I was nearly 30. I began with short stories, then started writing romance novels because they made sense to me from the perspective of someone who’d always worked with target demographics and relentless deadlines. But I won a mentor in a competition and she kept saying to me ‘Allison, I think you need a larger canvas’, so I thought I’d give a full-length novel a try. She was right!
Which writers or books have inspired you?
I always find this question SO difficult. I am a person who consumes fiction in a hungry, relentless fashion. I love authors and books across a range of genres – and this may be why I have now added a children’s middle-grade fantasy/adventure series to my writing works in progress, along with a picture book, and I also co-author ‘hot’ romance novels with another writer (we have the BEST fun!). So my current list of author inspirations includes, but is not limited to, Kate Atkinson, Kate Forsyth, Philippa Gregory, Ian Rankin, John Flanagan, Emily Rodda, JRR Tolkien, Jane Austen, Caroline Overington, Nora Roberts, Georgette Heyer, Ernest Hemingway, and George R. R. Martin. As for books, all my favourites combine beautiful writing with exquisite plotting. I look for good stories.
What’s the best time of day for you to write? Do you have a daily writing routine?
As a mother of two boys, who has been working around them for nearly 10 years, I have trained myself not to have a ‘best time of day’. Any time I have five minutes is the best time to write. I work from home as a freelance writer, writing feature articles (print and online), websites, blogs, corporate publications, and more, and I try very hard to get as much of that work as possible done while my sons are at school (and contacts and interview subjects are available). That pretty much leaves nights for fiction, and for keeping up my blog Life In A Pink Fibro. Fortunately, I have suffered insomnia my whole life and am most definitely a night owl!
What do you love about teaching writing?
I love sharing what I know. If I can help someone with their writing, and save them some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, then that’s a good day. I also find the enthusiasm of my students really refreshing – it reminds me (on those bad days I mentioned above) just what an adventure writing can be.
After years of blogging, what inspired you to write a novel?
I actually wrote the novel first. I had completed my first full-length novel and was sending it out to agents when a very good friend of mine (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude) suggested I start the blog. At the time, I resisted, mostly because it looked a lot like giving writing away for free. Now I understand that the connections and community you build through blogging are invaluable; it’s also a terrific way to really develop your writing ‘voice’. Since I started Life In A Pink Fibro, I’ve written what I hope will be my second novel, along with the middle-grade and picture books I mentioned above. I love writing fiction. I start with an idea and then begin writing, holding my breath while I wait to see where it will take me. There’s nothing quite like it.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
“Finish the damn book!” In my very early days of writing fiction, I went to a Romance Writers of Australia conference. There was a woman there wearing a T-shirt with this written on the back of it. It is so true. You can talk about writing a book as much as you like. You can start writing a novel as many times as you like. You can build your author platform until the cows come home. But until you finish the damn book, you’ve got nothing. There is no substitute for writing the book.