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Video 1: Anita Heiss's inspiration


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Raymond Ingrey: How do you find inspiration for your writing?

Anita Heiss: Well a lot of my inspiration comes from conversations I have every day and social observations I make.

Obviously those conversations are largely with non-Indigenous people who have a whole range of things to say about Aboriginal identity,

and I guess I'm inspired by those conversations to try and make change in terms of the way we are defined in the greater community

as Aboriginal Australians or as, you know, half-caste or part- Aboriginal Australians.

So, because we don't actually identify as half-caste or part Aboriginal, it's actually a western set of language that's used for us that westerners

don't use for themselves.

They don't say, 'I'm half-caste Australian' or 'I'm part- Australian' because they have some other heritage.

So I'm inspired by this whole language that's been created about us that westerners don't use for themselves.

And so I use that to fuel, you know, story-lines and dialogue in my work as well.

Raymond: You come from a strong Aboriginal family. How does that influence your work?

Anita: I come from a very close-knit family as well and it's interesting, when I was young, my parents didn't, like, sit me down and

instil in us this sense of Aboriginal politics or Aboriginal identity.

It was just sort of a given, you know. We didn't sit around and talk about it.

What they did instil in us was a very strong work ethic. Both my parents had very strong work ethics that drove them almost to exhaustion.

And they instilled in us a sense of always, you know, being strong in your conviction and standing up for what you believe in,

and also teaching us the difference between right and wrong and good and bad.

So the influence of all that in terms of what I do today is, I think, I want to use my work to stand up and make a change for the

things that I believe need to be changed and essentially I think I know the difference between good and bad.

And everthing I do in my personal life, work life, is actually fuelled by who I am as an Aboriginal woman.

And I think the support that I get from my family is probably the most essential element in making that possible for me to do.


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Video 2: Writing processes


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Raymond Ingrey: When did you come to understand yourself as a writer?

Anita Heiss: Well it's interesting because I don't know that I actually think of myself as a writer as such.

Rather than saying I'm a writer I think I'm just a facilitator of a certain, a facilitator through a medium, which is the written word,

of information that the broader Australian community one, needs to read and needs to learn through;

and also, a facilitator of information for our own people to read.

So if I write a book or edit a book that's about life in Sydney, it's as Aboriginal, 'Life in Gadigal Country', it's as much for Aboriginal people

as it is for white fellas because Aboriginal people in other parts of the country need to understand that we have ongoing history

and heritage in the city even though sacred sites are covered with tar and concrete that, you know, there's a lot of socialisation

that happens in the city.

The civil rights movement for Aboriginal Australia began in the city of Sydney in 1937.

Raymond: Is writing always easy for you?

Anita: Is it always easy? Well, I love writing.

I love creative writing but I also love writing book reviews and I think when you love doing something, then it's easy.

And my father always said to me, 'Anita, if you want to sweep the streets and that's what makes you happy that's what you do, because

so many people go to work every day and they hate what they do but they have to, you know, pay bills, school fees, etc.'

So I decided when he told me that, that I was going to leave my job and I was going to be, I was going to write a book

I didn't say I was going to be a writer. I was going to write a book, and I loved doing it.

And I think that's what makes it easy for me because I enjoy doing it.

Sometimes I get paid for it, which is a bonus. But, is it easy? It's easy because I love it.

Raymond: What are your writing habits?

Anita: My writing habits: I write, I write very fast so, 'Not meeting Mr Right' for instance, I probably wrote collectively,

if I added up all the time I spent working on it, I probably wrote that novel in about four months and because I really loved doing it, it was fun.

I purged myself of 15 years of bad dates and had lots of laughs.

And I need to be somewhere where there's no phone and no distractions and no Internet, no fridge full of chocolate Tim Tams.

So, I don't really have a pattern except for the fact that I work in chunks and that I can write fast.


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Video 3: Life experience and stories


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Raymond Ingrey: What do you draw on for your characters and events in your books, especially your latest release,

'Not meeting Mr Right' and 'Yirra and her deadly dog, Demon'?

Anita Heiss: Ok, well, we'll talk about them separately. 'Not meeting Mr Right', I need to preface it with the fact that it is not an autobiography.

It is fictional. However, clearly, someone at the age of 38 will have, you know, a good 15 years of disastrous dates to pull material from,

to channel into that work.

So there is a lot of experiences that I'd had, not only just as an Aboriginal woman trying to find, or negotiate my way through dating

in the eastern suburbs of Sydney - dreadful experience at the time, awful experience, great material for the book.

So there's a lot of things I do draw on from myself, in my own life.

And of course I meet, there's not one woman I have ever met that hasn't had some sort of date from hell that they wanted to share with me.

So if it's not my experience it is the experience of someone else.

'Yirra and her deadly dog, Demon' - well there was really not very much of Anita Heiss in that at all.

The concept was my concept but the kids, students, who were just amazingly creative and enthusiastic, basically created all Yirra's lifestyle.

They really created all of Yirra's history, all her back-story, all her personality, and the personalities of the main characters:

Judy, Mary, Kalalia, Jared and the parents and of course Demon the naughty dog.

And so in that way I was sort of let off the hook except that I had to take all of their ideas and somehow weave them into a story.

'Yirra wakes up on Thursday and springs out of bed as soon as she remembers it's the day of her class excursion to Botany Bay National Park.

She rushes around cleaning up all of her and Kalalia's mess before shoveling down her breakfast.

Yirra's in such a rush to get to school she almost forgets her cap and she doesn't even stop to look for her missing ipod.

She runs all the way to school and gets there early enough to bags a window seat up the back of the excursion bus.

When the old bus finally pulls into the Botany Bay, Rodney, an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger, and David, the Sites Officer

from the local Aboriginal Land Council, are waiting for them.

They show them heaps of important cultural sites.

The kids get pretty excited when Rodney and David show them where the local Kooris used to sharpen their axes.

The boys all jostle each other to get a good view of the axe grinding grooves.

Yirra is more interested in the middens.

On the way back to school, Yirra realises she has been so busy all day learning new things

that she hasn't had time to worry about what to do with Demon.'


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Video 4: Characterisation


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Anita Heiss: I have a new book out also called 'I'm not racist, but' and that's basically a collection of social observations that I've made

over the last 15 years of, you know, it could be from sitting in an airport terminal, it's, you know, hearing people say, 'I'm not racist, but';

'Oh, you're not really an Aborigine are you? Because you've got blue eyes. Oh yeah but you have got a fat nose.'

You know. All these stereotypes that are usually perpetuated by the media.

So I use, most of that entire book is based on conversations or news reports or things. You know I wrote my own version of the national anthem.

It's called 'Advance Australia un-fair'. And so it's actually trying to give non- Indigenous Australia a taste of their own medicine

and saying, well, you know, this is how ridiculous some of your sacred cows and your ways of doing things look to black fellas, or at least to me.

I'm not speaking for the whole of Indigenous Australia, obviously.

Raymond Ingrey: How do you develop a character, and are the characters fully developed before you start your book?

Anita: Ok, well I'm just learning. This is my eighth book and I'm only learning how to do it properly now.

So I'm very excited with 'Not meeting Mr Right' and even with 'Who am I? The diary of Mary Talence'.

I literally just started writing.

I had no idea what the back-story was, I had no idea what the personality was and I didn't even know I had to create these things.

And so you just plod along and then I'd get to a bit of the manuscript and the editor would be saying, 'Well, why did this happen?

What happened to her in the past to lead her to this?' And so I've learned now.

So with the sequel to 'Not meeting Mr Right' I've got all the characters broken down into how old they are, any particular phraseology that they have.

But at the same time there has to be some sort of organic nature to it so they can grow and develop along the way but I think now I'm learning that

it's a really good way to have some foundation for each character before you actually start writing the story.

Raymond: How do you write through the minds of male or female characters?

Anita: My main characters in all my books to date have all been female.

And it's an interesting question because I've never actually thought about writing a character, like a main character, a main narrator, who is a male

and I think it's because I'm really passionate about authenticity of voice and I want my characters to be passionate and I want them to have a soul

and in order for me to write from that, to write that, I need to write from the position of being a woman.

And, you know, I have no idea about how men think. I wished I did.

I wouldn't be writing books about being single if I knew how men thought, you know.

So, it's interesting that you ask that question because I'm thinking well maybe I should give it a go because the male characters that appear,

for instance, in 'Not meeting Mr Right' are largely shallow and, maybe just because they're drawn on characters that I've known in my life.

Yeah, I've never, ever thought about writing a male character and I think if I was to do that I would actually get a lot of input from, you know, men.

You'd have to. It's just like, it would be another form of research.


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Video 5: Advice to students


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Raymond Ingrey: What advice would you give students, especially Aboriginal students, who want to become writers?

Anita Heiss: The two most important things that anybody, regardless of age but particularly it's good to start young, that they need to do,

is first of all they need to read.

They need to read every day. They need to read novels and picture books and poetry and nonfiction books.

And they need to read across cultures and they need to read across geography and genders

Girls need to be reading some boys' stories.

If they're serious about, they really want to write, they need to read because when they read different books and they read different voices and

different styles, it will help them, it will help determine what sort of voice and style they want and voice in their writing.

So they need to be looking, they need to say, 'Yeah, I really like how that's easy to read,' or 'I like the pace of that,

I like how that character's described.'

And they will learn then how to describe characters and how to describe scenes and settings and I didn't do that at school.

I started very late, very, very late at that.

Now I read a lot because I, you know, I read a whole range of books to see what I think works on the page,

to help me learn because I'm still learning as well.

So reading first and foremost. Every day. Have to do it.

The second most important thing is they need to write every day.

And a really good way to just get in the habit of doing it is keeping a journal, and you'll meet a lot of Australian writers

that say they keep journals.

And in the journal they need to talk about, not, 'Oh I got up this morning and I had porridge and then I had a fight with mum because

I didn't want to go to school.'

They need to write about, I mean that's all fine but within that, they need, put the dialogue of the fight you had with mum, you know.

What did you feel when you had that?

Did you feel angry? Did you feel hurt? Did you feel like you weren't listened to?

And use all the senses, you know. What could you smell in the background at the time? Could you smell bacon cooking, you know.

Think of, what could you see?

Describe all the colours when you looked out at the sky in the morning. Was it blue? Was it grey? Was it silver? Was it cloudy?

Describe something that you've actually eaten that day, like, do you know when you're reading a menu in a restaurant sometimes and

you read something and your mouth just waters?

You know, describe that on the page so that when someone reads in your journal, something that you've eaten, something luscious and delicious

that imagine when they read that it's like reading something that's going to make their mouth water like a fruit tingle.

So, they're my two tips. Read every day and write every day. And I would say write for at least 20 minutes.

And if you need to get in a routine, one of these good writing habits that Ms Heiss doesn't have, get up every morning and

either make it every morning when you get up, just write, write, write, write or every night before you go to bed and keep the journal there.

In terms of one writing habit that I've picked up recently and I wished I had've done it years ago because it would have made the development

of my books much easier, and that is I carry a red notebook with me everywhere now.

And this is the notebook for the sequel to 'Not meeting Mr Right'.

And so it's in my bag all the time and when I hear a phrase or I see something

or I'm in a bar, I scribble it on the coaster and I stick in the notebook.

And I've sat down recently to write the chapter outlines and I had like four hours worth of material that I developed over,

like 11 chapters in this book so it was great and so carry, another tip for, you know, aspiring writers is to carry a little notebook in your bags

so when you have an idea you can just jot it down and later on you can turn it into something bigger.

Raymond: What happens when people don't like your ideas?

Anita: I think you just need to value the people you care about and for me my accountability is at a community level.

Like, I care that the elders mentioned in 'Yirra' like it. I care about that. Do I want to sell books?

Yes I want to sell thousands of books, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter if I sell 100,000 books if, particularly like for this book,

everyone in La Pa just doesn't like it and I'm shunned. What is the purpose of that?

Raymond: Thanks Anita for taking the time to be interviewed today.


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