Author Interview: Liz Byrski

Monday, July 9, 2018
Fresh after the publication of A Month of Sundays, I was able to ask author Liz Byrski a few questions about the book and her writing. Heartfelt thanks to both Liz and to Lucy Inglis for organising the interview!

I find that location can be almost like another character in the book sometimes, or at the very least that location can be either help or hinder a level of sharing with characters. Did you set the book in the Blue Mountains predominantly because of a special connection you have with the area?

I think the setting is very important because it can help to determine the tone of the novel, but I have no special connection with the Blue Mountains.  I wanted the location to be beautiful and to be close to some small towns, where there would be cafes, bookshops, arts and crafts shops or markets.  And I envisaged the women sitting near a wood fire, reading, talking, listening to music, and going for walks in the sun and the rain.  I also wanted them to be able to wander away from the house and savour the natural environment.  I have never been to the Blue Mountains, but I thought it might work so I watched a film about the area and did some online research.  It felt right and now it sounds so gorgeous I want to go there. 

Ros, Simone, Judy, and Adele are all such complex and unique characters. I know it’s like picking one of your children, but I have to ask: did you find you identified more strongly with one character while you were writing? Or perhaps all of them contain elements of you?

You’re right!  I always feel that there are bits of me that go into all the characters.  But it’s Ros with whom I have the strongest connection in this book. It’s about age I think, and her strong feminist position which stems from the second wave feminism of the 1970s.  Also, she can be irascible, and she loves time alone, being quiet, reading and thinking, and then she often says things she regrets.  I do that -  too often my mouth is ahead of my brain!

Did you find any of your characters wanted to write themselves or take the story off on a tangent that you hadn’t prepared for?

Well my characters always go off on their own tangents!  I don’t have a plan and in this case I just put the characters in that house in the mountains and waited to see what might happen.  Strange things do emerge, but I am just open to experimenting and sometimes characters take me to surprising places.  At other times they drive me mad by seemingly wanting to stay stuck!

I loved the character of Clooney in the story – was he based on any dog in particular, or just a dreamed up companion?

Clooney was based on my late beloved dog Toby whom I sadly had to have put to sleep last year.  Clooney is a spaniel, but Toby was a smaller dog, a shaggy black and white Maltese/Schnauzer cross.  Clooney’s character is based on Toby – especially the part where he is sneakily getting treats from everyone, and hassling people to take him for walks.

This story revolves so perfectly around the friendship and support networks women have (or need to have) when dealing with the ups and downs that life inevitably throws out. What got you started on the desire to write a story about a book club meeting for the first time?

I wanted to write a book about women, books and reading, and I wanted it to demonstrate and celebrate women’s relationship with books.  Most book clubs are women’s clubs, we buy, borrow and read more books than men, and I do believe that to some extent we learn about the sort of women we want to be by reading books by and about women.  We also loan our books to our friends, talk about them and re-read them.  I think this is a special relationship -  women + books + women friends.  It’s valuable to so many of us.  Books are a comfort and a challenge, they teach us lessons in life, and help us to understand ourselves and each other.  So, a book group or club seemed to be a good way to go.

Yoga seems to pop into the story pretty regularly, particularly with Simone: is yoga something you have seen benefits with yourself? (I love yoga for multiple reasons, so it was wonderful to see it included in the story.) 
I used to practice yoga but sadly let it slip some years ago.  I am considering going back to it but am also attracted by the idea of learning Tai Chi -  not sure which it will be yet.  I think yoga has enormous benefits for body and soul and I do think it is really valuable for older people -  like me!

And finally, some quick questions!

What are your current favourites:
... reading?
Best book so far this year The Only Story by Julian Barnes, currently reading a non fiction book Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939  by Virginia Nicholson.  Loving it!
...drinking? I don’t drink alcohol, but I do love my coffee!
...eating? I am on a new eating regime - predominantly vegetables, and vegetable proteins, with occasional egg or fish.  Nothing processed and no bread. I feel really well on it and it has helped to kill off my cravings for bread and sugar.
...loving about the current season?  Not much!  Although in Sydney last week wend it was lovely to have a walk on a cold but very sunny day.  We walked to the Opera House and back and It was glorious.  Since I got back to Perth it hasn’t stopped raining.   I’m a spring and Autumn person really.

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