Anna Solding is a fellow shortlistee for the MUBA. I interviewed her about writing, publication and how it feels to be underrated.
Anna Solding’s first novel The Hum of Concrete was published in 2012. It has been shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award and the Most Underrated Book Award as well as being longlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. Anna earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. She works as a writer and publisher at MidnightSun Publishing, always on the lookout for the next literary gem. She lives in Adelaide with her supportive partner and their three children. When she isn’t busy being writerly, she enjoys bush walking, visits to the beach and baking Swedish chocolate balls.
What was the inspiration behind your novel The Hum of Concrete?
There were several things that inspired me to write The Hum of Concrete. First and foremost it was an interest in the way people relate to each other; in friendships, partnerships and sexual relationships. I was, and I still am, interested in how mothers are considered mothers before they are seen as artists, engineers or teachers. How women in literature are seldom independent, strong mothers and how stories are seldom told from their point-of-view. I set out to change that by creating five women characters who all become mothers during the course of my novel. So The Hum of Concrete is about motherhood. I was simultaneously writing an exegesis to accompany the novel as part of my PhD in Creative Writing and that exploration was about the lack of contemporary stories written from a mother’s point of view. Think about it. How many can you think of? I included narratives such as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees about an adoptive mother and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin about a mother whose son has gone on a shooting rampage.
Motherhood was a strong inspiration for me but so was my love for the city of Malmö in Sweden, where I grew up. I wanted to write a love song to the city, where the city would invite the reader in to explore and be enveloped by leafy parks and walls of glass. One of my happiest moments as a writer was when I went back to visit Malmö earlier this year and found The Hum of Concrete on display outside the Malmö Room in the city library. Even though Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden, very few books are set there so to see my book as an example was extremely thrilling.
Surprisingly, inspiration also came from an article in a weekend magazine. It was about Intersex, something I had never encountered before, and I became absolutely engrossed in research about the various conditions during my writing. I sympathised with the struggle of Intersex people and realised that I needed to incorporate Intersex into the book somehow. Hopefully, I have managed to do so in a way that will make more people aware of this issue.
How did The Hum of Concrete come to be published by MidnightSun?
Up to a point, it was the usual story: the manuscript was shortlisted for several awards, including the Best Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Festival, but I still struggled to find a publisher. Everybody loved it but also said it wasn’t for them. In hindsight it’s easy to see why it was rejected; it has too many main characters, five of them, plus the city which is a character in itself; it is set in Sweden; and it’s a novel of connected short stories (a form I decided to call ‘a novel constellation’). How could you possibly market a beast like that?
One day in March 2011, and this is where the story diverges from the norm, I had lunch with a good friend who is an entrepreneur. I was grumbling about not being published and he simply said: ‘Why don’t we start a publishing company?’ I looked at him, incredulous, replying: ‘Because we are not crazy?!’ But we were crazy. After gathering financial support, MidnightSun Publishing was born. We decided to start our publishing experiment with my book, because we knew we would make mistakes with our first attempt and we preferred to make them with my book, rather than with someone else’s. We launched it at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2012. Ultimately we have been very lucky to have such strong support from the writing community, from blurb writers J.M. Coetzee, Brian Castro and Peter Bishop and from our readers. Since The Hum of Concrete was released, MidnightSun has successfully published another two novels and I have been transformed from a writer to a publisher. Unfortunately, my writing has been dormant for a while but I have just started working on a companion novel to The Hum of Concrete, one about fathers.
When did you first start writing? When did you decide that you wanted to ‘be a writer’?
I always knew that I wanted to write. I grew up surrounded by books and for me there was nothing better than lying on the beach reading a thick book. My early writing was well received but it wasn’t until my favourite teacher in grade five, as her comment at the end of an epic 30 page story, wrote ‘Anna Solding, future writer?’ that I felt the truth of it. However, it still took me years to find a path to writing, but since I was accepted into the Creative Writing Masters at The University of Adelaide in the year 2000, there has been no looking back. I have completed a PhD at the same university since and the friendly Adelaide writing community has welcomed me with open arms.
Who would you say are your writing influences?
I absolutely adore Toni Morrison’s writing. Though I can’t emulate her style, I aim to write about the things that really matter in little people’s lives: love, parenthood, friendships, grief. Morrison once said:
If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
I hope that is what I have done with The Hum of Concrete. Other influences are Tim Winton, Barbara Kingsolver, Lionel Shriver and all my friends who are writers. It might seem strange but reading my friends’ books inspires me immensely. This year there has been an abundance of amazing books from my Adelaide writer friends, including Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Underground Road by Sharon Kernot, Pursuing Love and Death by Heather Taylor Johnson and The First Week by Mag Merrilees.
What are your writing habits?
Oh, I wish I had such things. Because I work mainly as a publisher at the moment, I find it very difficult to squeeze in any writing time. Going away on writing retreats seems to work best, when I don’t have to worry about getting my children to school or cooking dinner or tiding up (well, maybe I wasn’t ever too worried about that…). Generally, though, mornings are my best writing time. But when I am in the middle of a project, I can usually push myself to keep going all day with little powernaps and lots of chocolate. I am a firm believer in that you have to turn up, so I’m not really following my own advice at the moment, but I do tend to walk around thinking about the project for months, even years, before I put pen to paper.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? And if so, how do you overcome it?
I used to suffer terribly but that seems to have faded over the years. Staring at a blank page for hours really isn’t much fun. I think my writer’s block started to lift when I had a clear idea of what the novel was about, when I knew the characters and let them guide me rather than trying so hard. Being a perfectionist really doesn’t serve you well as a writer because often the best work comes out of redrafting and refining. I write longhand and I still try desperately to find the right words straight away but these days I am a bit more generous towards myself; instead of thinking ‘is that all?’ or ‘that’s all crap’ and throwing it in the bin when I’ve only written a page or two, I pat myself on the back and think ‘great work’ because being positive about the little things actually protects against the dreaded block. Before I begin, I always read through what I wrote in the previous sitting and that usually helps to get me started.
How did you feel when you discovered your novel had been shortlisted for the MUBA?
Excited and honoured. The other shortlisted titles all look amazing so I was very pleased to be in a group of such talented writers. I think the award is a great opportunity to promote the titles again just in time for Christmas. I remember sitting in the audience at the Independent Publishing Conference last year when the shortlisted entries were announced, thinking ‘that could be my book next year’. The fact that this is actually happening is thrilling beyond words.