The Next Big Thing: Susan Austin

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My last post on this blog recorded my answers to the ‘Next Big Thing’ questions, and over the next week or so I’m going to share the responses from writers I invited to respond, in order to keep the idea rolling. Here, Hobart-based poet Susan Austin talks about her exciting first collection, Undertow. Enjoy…more to come soon!

What is the title of your book?
Undertow
What genre does your book full under?
Poetry.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s a collection of poems inspired by my travels, my relationships, my work and my glimpses into the poignant moments and deep emotional undercurrents of other people’s lives.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
After I filled up a 220-page exercise book with poems written from between the ages of eight and twenty-five and had numerous poems published in journals and other publications, I started to believe that I might be able to see my own poetry book published one day. When I carefully put together a collection of my favourite and most polished poems, and sent them off to the IP Picks competition and received a commendation and some great feedback, I knew it was a project that was worth pursuing.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The poems were mostly written over the last ten years, so I guess you could say it took a long time! And each poem had generally been edited many times by myself, then work-shopped with my poetry group or in a poetry course. Gina Mercer was kind enough to work with me on some final polishing of many of the individual poems as well as refining the collection as a whole. We worked together over a two-month period and Gina was particularly helpful when it came to sequencing the poems so that there was a somewhat cohesive flow throughout the manuscript.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
People. The book is largely about people and how they relate to each other. How they flirt, play, yearn, disappoint, hurt, love, miss and grieve for each other. I’ve always experienced emotions very intensely and found poetry to be an essential way of processing life. The book is inspired by challenges and events in my own life as well as in the lives of others. If you asked me to choose between writing a poem about a blue fairy wren or a poem about how someone feels when they are being driven home by their drunk boyfriend, it’s an easy choice for me. Maybe it’s because I work as a therapist and deal with human emotions and behaviours all the time or maybe I just gravitated towards that work because I find people so fascinating. Even the travel poems in the book are about the ways that the traveler interacts with local inhabitants of the places they visit, rather than being about the places themselves.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Ralph Wessman has kindly taken the plunge and published Undertow as part of his impressive Walleah Press catalogue. Since I moved to Tasmania and started getting involved in the literary scene down here, Ralph has been a great supporter of my work, particularly through his previous project, Famous Reporter. He has helped me bridge the divide between being an ‘emerging’ poet and a published author. Although maybe I’m still ‘emerging’ – I feel like I have a bit of work to do to reach audiences and readers on the other side of the Bass Strait.
What other books would you compare this book to in your genre?
This is a hard question for me to answer! As I have only just had my first book published I don’t feel as though I can compare my book to those of the more established poets whom I admire. What I can say is that I really enjoy the poignancy, fluency and character/ emotional depth in books like Jane Williams’ City of Possibilities, Gina Mercer’s Handfeeding the Crocodile, Louise Oxley’s Sitting with Cezanne and Liz Winfield’s Too Much Happens.
What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?
I think there would need to be a lot of actors as there are a lot of characters in my book! Although I wouldn’t complain if Nicole Kidman and Orlando Bloom turned up on set to play some of the key ones
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I have had stacks of positive feedback from people who have bought and read Undertow, with quite a few contacting me to order another more copies for their friends, so that bodes well … and I was chuffed with the review by Lucy Alexander in Verity La http://verityla.com/deftly-anchored-in-experience-susan-austins-undertow/
People have said that my book is easy to read and makes writing poetry look easy, which suits me just fine as I don’t like clunky, obscure poetry that mystifies the reader. People don’t need to know how many hours were spent slaving over each word, line or stanza to create that impression.

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