A Writer’s Life- interview with Mallee author Fleur Ferris

Rewind eight months and here we were – another fellow mother and I – childless, enthused, liberated and flying solo. But to the discerning eye we resembled a pair of dull groupies as we shyly hid behind the bookshelf in the Bendigo Writer’s Festival book shop while eyeing off our prey, who at the time, was browsing the adjacent stand of books.

To our disbelief, in one of the opening sessions of the Festival the previous day (a panel of four authors speaking about how they make the writing life work), none other than ex-Patchewollock girl Fleur Ferris was in our midst, promoting her new book Risk upon the stage of the dreamy theatrette.

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The opening session of the Bendigo Writer’s Festival where we first saw Fleur. Left to right: Emily Sexton, Luke Cameron, Alicia Sometimes, Fleur Ferris & Alli Sinclair. Photo taken by Helen Konstan.

Both Mallee girls at heart (growing up in towns just down the road from her), she instantly became our new idol, and right there in the bookshop, as we both anxiously fumbled with our copies of her new book in our hands, we were keen to make her acquaintance. Call it juvenile or bordering on stalkerish, but after changing nappies, endless cleaning and playing imaginary games all day, the prospect of holding a stimulating adult conversation with an author of a ‘real’ book (who just so happens to be a mother of young children herself!) was much too enticing.

And Fleur did not disappoint with her warm and amicable manner. After our initial emergence from behind the bookshelf with a quick book signing request, we delved into everything from our Mallee connection and life on the farm, to teaching, children, writing and most importantly- her memorable words, ‘just keep on writing; don’t give up.’

And when my friend brazenly announced that I write a blog, in true Fleur Ferris style she instantly snapped her phone open, accessed her Twitter account and, even though my profile picture was still an an egg head and my only follower was the loyal friend standing beside me, she never faltered as her finger eagerly tapped ‘follow.’ Author Fleur Ferris was my second follower on Twitter.

As we stood, stupefied by her capabilities, self-effacingly she interjected, ‘I’m exactly the same as both of you, except I’ve written a book.’

In fact, she wrote several books before she had the confidence to submit one to a publisher. But this gutsy girl from the Mallee bush did find the courage to submit her book Risk (a teenage narrative exploring the real dangers of meeting people online), and mind the pun, but this risk paid off.

Now with many copies of the book translated through numerous countries including France, Germany, New Zealand and some of Asia (not to mention in audio throughout the world), number two best selling debut novel in Australia in 2015 and a place in the Penguin Teen top ten for eight weeks in a row; Fleur is certainly a ‘Young Adult’ force to be reckoned with.

So when I eagerly contacted Fleur to see if she’d chat to us at 3585livestayplay ahead of her appearance at the opening of her friend Wendy McDonald’s art exhibit at the Swan Hill Art Gallery this Friday night, it was no surprise that she happily obliged.

After living in the small Mallee town of Patchewollock for 17 years, and life as a police officer and paramedic that had her move 20 times in 20 years, Fleur has now settled on a grain farm in Bunaloo in Southern New South Wales with her three young kids and husband.

When it comes to children, many hands make more work, so while I mull over the impracticality of writing my blog entries in the presence of lively kids, this super mum of three is a driving force behind their farm operations, while still managing to churn out several novels on the kitchen table from 4am each day.  Most mums are just pleased to have folded a load of washing and prevented the kids from killing one another, but from the moment her kids were born, Fleur has managed to make a writing life work.

However, her passion for writing ignited well before the arrival of her children. From as young as eight, Fleur can remember writing journals. And her proud mother – who we were fortunate enough to meet as well – claimed that she has ‘always been able to tell a good story.’ Although she enjoyed writing, Fleur was quick to tell us she ‘wasn’t always a bookworm though.’ Her mum, a devoted reader in comparison, started to pass her thriller books on to Fleur as a teenager and that is where her love for reading blossomed.

It hasn’t been an effortless road for Fleur. After several moves across the country as a casual ambulance employee, she was offered the chance to gain her qualification as a Paramedic and started an Applied Science Degree at Flinder’s University in Adelaide. Not one to do things in halves, Fleur also elected to follow her heart and simultaneously enrolled herself in a Bachelor of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of South Australia.

When asked why she decided to write fiction for teenagers, she explained that it was a writing competition that swayed her writing path. Already having written three unpublished adult novels and one young adult book, surprisingly it was the latter book that secured her winning success.

Nevertheless, her lucky break came when she managed to secure one of five valuable 30 minute time slots with agent Curtis Brown at a Writer’s Festival. They liked what they saw and helped Fleur submit one of her novels to five different publishers who all rejected it. However, they wanted to see more of her writing and that’s when Risk was accepted by Penguin Random House Australia.

Fleur was inspired to write Risk when a teenage girl in Fleur’s local community fell in love with a guy online and wanted to meet him. When her mother became wary of his age and proceeded to contact him, he disappeared without a trace. Delving a little deeper, Fleur discovered more cases in the area of a similar nature, and purely out of concern for her own growing children, she did some research on other frightening cases and how these predators remained invisible online. What she found was astounding; it was far more common than she had realised.

What was initially a study for her own family’s safety and protection, evolved into the creation of her first published novel Risk. Based on many ‘real’ cases and a clever narration conveying the diverse relationships between teenagers and their families, Risk is an insightful story into what can happen when meeting someone online and how vulnerable our children are to online predators.

However, it is not just our children. In a world where technology is inescapable, Fleur believes ‘we are all at risk.’ And as an ex-police officer she knows it all too well. The danger is real, but Fleur says, ‘it’s no one’s fault, anyone could find themselves in this situation.’ However, creating an awareness is important.

Fleur describes the publishing process as one of angst. ‘Suddenly,’ she says, ‘my book is going to be in the shop. Anyone can get it.’ But she has a lot of faith in her publisher and editor and trusts the whole process. Besides, ‘you just have to let it go,’ she explains.

She also explains that as a writer you are giving so much of yourself to your audience that you would ‘hate to be misinterpreted, or hate to think people would say, “Fleur Ferris believes this…” ’ For her, it is not about putting a message out there, but simply showing people what can happen.

When writing a book, the hard work doesn’t conclude on the shelf. Fleur spends a large proportion of her time speaking and promoting her book at various events around the country, something she was not aware of before she published Risk. In addition to that, she must manage her social media accounts such as Facebook and in particular, Twitter; a useful way to stay connected with others in the same industry.

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On panel with Linsay Knight, David Burton & Trinity Doyle at the recent Newcastle Writer’s Festival, discussing “loss, love & everything in between”

For any aspiring Mallee writers, Fleur believes you should ‘keep writing’ above all else. A skill is only acquired through practice. The best bit of advice she was given was to ‘break the story down into scenes and link them together,’ a much more achievable goal. Not only that, but she emphasises the importance of reading. To better your craft, you need to ‘read within your genre, away from it, and over a range of age categories.’

Fleur recommends that writers ‘step away from their book when finished before submitting it.’ Don’t make any rash decisions and take a break from it. She also highlights the importance of researching potential publishers for the appropriate genre when submitting your work.

I’m pleased to say, that not unlike my stalker friend and I at the Writer’s Festival last year, my 3585livestayplay co-contributor now has an author crush on Fleur too. Her fans are growing by the day. With such a passionate and talented writer in our Mallee midst, how could you not?

So where is this inspiring Mallee girl’s writing career headed? With three more books set to be released over the coming two years, and her latest novel  Black (a teenage thriller), due to be released on the 1st of July this year, we at 3585livestayplay know where we are headed- straight to the book shop in three months time. After a sneak peek of this intriguing novel yesterday, trust us; this one is worth the wait. And according to her biggest fan (her mum), this one is her best yet!

Black is now available for sale in all good bookstores.

You can follow Fleur on Twitter @FleurFerris or Facebook. Otherwise, check out her website http://www.fleurferris.com/ for more information.

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