Q&A: Claire Christian

Ahead of the launch of her Text Prize-winning novel, Beautiful Mess, Hot Chicks with Big Brains caught up with Claire Christian to find out more about her career, the authors who inspire her, and how her debut novel came to be.

Please can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Lately I’ve been calling myself a ‘storyteller’ to see if that sticks. I think that best encapsulates me and this point in my life right now; what I’m passionate about, what I do, and how I pay my bills, because I’m an author, playwright, theatre director and maker, and a youth arts facilitator.

Stories are what are at the heart of all of these things, though. Telling stories is my first love, it’s just that the medium for telling those stories is in constant flux, and I’m so okay with that.

Have you always known you wanted to be an author? If so, how did you pursue that career, and were you encouraged to do so? If not, what changed?

I have always, always written. I just think words are glorious and I love them.

Being an author was the first legitimate dream I had as a kid… Which is why I put off pursuing it for so long, because it freaked me out so much.

So, I’ve danced around the idea – writing plays and making theatre and working a lot with young people. When I had the idea for Beautiful Mess it began as a play – until I realised it wasn’t a play at all and was in fact a novel. I kept it a secret for a long time. Until I had about 10,000 words and then I showed it to a dear writer friend of mine and asked them, “Is this is a novel? Is that what I’m doing here?” They agreed and told me to get on with it… So I did.

Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of your own way.

What’s been the greatest challenge you’ve faced throughout your career to date, and how did you overcome it? 

I am a multi-passionate person with many loves and ideas and projects — it’s taken me a lot of time to think of this as a good thing.

We’re taught to do one thing and do it well, or to have a path worked out that we’re meant to pursue for a grand goal — but I just don’t have that.

My goals are constantly changing depending on the thing I’m most curious about in the moment. I think it’s okay to have a diverse career. I think it’s okay to pursue numerous different things at once. I think each thing builds to the next.

Can you tell us about Beautiful Mess and how it came to be?

A few years ago I was living and working in regional Queensland when a young person in our community lost their battle with depression. That’s the language that their family used to describe what had happened. It was the first time that I’d ever heard suicide spoken about like this. I watched parts of my community navigate this time and their grief beautifully, and other parts handle it, well, messily.

I watched the young people in my sphere support each other, and ask questions and articulate their feelings with very little or adequate input from the adults around them.

I was once again reminded that the way we talk to young people in this country about the important things is so backward — for the simple fact that we don’t; we don’t talk about mental health, we don’t talk about sex, we don’t talk about the complexities of adolescence, and we should. We owe it to the young people In our lives, and also retrospectively to the young person in all of us.

I’ve spent my whole career talking and writing about these things with the young people that I have worked with. But I had always worked in collaboration WITH them, I’d never written anything FOR them — until now.

I desperately wanted to talk about adolescence and mental health in a way that I knew my young people would appreciate; that they’d find real and honest and compelling.

So I did what I normally do and waited for characters and a story to arrive so that I could then write a play. Gideon and Ava, the central protagonists in Beautiful Mess, arrived with such force into my brain that they were unavoidable. This lanky, awkward, anxious, poet with lesbian mums named Gideon, and this fierce, funny, confident, and desperately sad girl named Ava.

We meet Ava six months after her best friend Kelly lost her battle with depression. Gideon and Ava do not know each other until Gideon starts working at Magic Kebab. Gideon has had a long history of his own mental health struggles. Their relationship has profound impacts on the two them — the ways they think about death, but also about living; about living their beautifully messy lives.

Who are some of your favourite Australian writers at the moment and why?

I love Lindy West — I think she’s an incredible writer and activist. Her memoir, Shrill, was just sublime. I think Rosie Waterland is brilliant. I’m reading Krissy Kneen‘s memoir, Affection, right now, and it’s so, so good. Plus, Australia has so many incredible young adult fiction writers. There’s a whole loving community, and if you follow the #loveozya hash tag you’ll discover some real treats.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write. Write every day. Write because you love it. Worry about editing later.

Don’t show your writing to just anyone — find people you trust and love and be specific about the feedback you wish to receive from them.

Ask them the specific thing you want to know. Too many writers hide their talent because they got shitty, unnecessary feedback too soon.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a new novel at the moment, a romantic, sex-filled, lady loving pleasure quest tale about a woman in her mid-thirties who is craving more from her life. Plus, I’ve got two new plays in the works; Bookclub, a story about six young diverse men who start a book club to pick up girls, and another new work which is a contemporary feminist riff on a Greek classic. Lots of writing, and lots of making. Life is pretty bloody grand.

RSVP to the launch of Beautiful Mess at Avid Reader this Tuesday 29th August at 6pm!

Beautiful Mess is available for pre-order at $19.99 from Text Publishing and Avid Reader


Answers and Images by Claire Christian

Featured Image via Facebook

Questions and Edits by Emma Kate Lewis

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