Irma Gold is an award-winning author and editor. Irma’s debut novel, The Breaking, won the NSW Writers Centre Varuna Fellowship and was awarded development grants by artsACT and CAPO. Her debut collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward (Affirm Press) was critically acclaimed and was shortlisted for or won a number of awards. Her short fiction has also been widely published in journals, including Meanjin, Island, Westerly, Review of Australian Fiction and Going Down Swinging, and in anthologies, including the tenth anniversary edition of Award Winning Australian Stories and Australian Love Stories, edited by Cate Kennedy. Irma is also the author of three picture books for children, most recently Megumi and the Bear (Walker Books), with two more forthcoming, Seree’s Story (Walker Books) and Where the Heart Is (EK Books). Irma works as a freelance book editor and was until recently was Convener of Editing at the University of Canberra for a decade. Irma is Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, Ambassador for the Save Elephant Foundation and Co-host of the writing podcast, Secrets from the Green Room.
THE STREET TALKED TO IRMA AS HER DEBUT NOVEL IS SET TO LAUNCH ONTO THE LITERARY STAGE.
I’ve always loved words. I can’t really say why. It’s one of those things that just is. My mum taught me to read before I started school and I just never stopped. As a kid I was always making books for fun. Then when I was a teenager I read the dictionary cover to cover, recording words that felt good in my mouth. I used to offer to edit my brothers’ school assignments because I enjoyed it! As you can tell, I was not a nerd at all.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALISE YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing. And yet I never knew it was possible to actually be a writer. That was something other more lofty beings did. So it took me a very long time to realise that it was something I could actually do.
When I was living in England in my early twenties I stopped writing for the first time in my life. I was too busy working and travelling and partying. But after a few years of this the need to write was a hunger in me. I wasn’t truly me without writing. That was the point when I came back to Australia and began studying creative writing. I suppose that was when I gave myself permission to imagine that I could actually become a writer.
YOUR FIRST NOVEL THE BREAKING IS ABOUT TO BE PUBLISHED. YOUR STORY IS LOCATED IN THAILAND AND EXPLORES THE BOND BETWEEN TWO WOMEN AND THE COST OF ANIMAL EXPLOITATION. HOW DOES IT SIT WITH CONTEMPORARY LIFE?
The Breaking arose from my work with rescued elephants in Thailand, so it engages with the complexities of elephant tourism in a way that no other novel does. But at its heart it is the story of two women, Hannah and Deven. I love these characters, and Deven especially was so much fun to write because she is full of fire and grit. The plight of elephants is part of the landscape through which they move. I hope the characters (both human and animal) capture people’s hearts and minds, and stay with them long after the final page has been read.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? DOES BEING AN EDITOR INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
Because I work full time as an editor and have three children, my writing has to fit in around everything else. That means I’ve never had one set writing routine. My process has to bend and change according to my other life circumstances.
For The Breaking I wrote the first draft quite quickly (for me, at least). I set aside two mornings a week of three or four hours and aimed to write 1000 words in each sitting. Sometimes I would only manage 500 words, other times I’d write 1500 words. After eight months I had a first draft.
I always looked forward to the days when I could write. It was such a joy. And that first draft just flowed out of me. I can’t imagine I’ll ever have such an easy writing process again. Certainly the novel that I am working on now has not been the same. In contrast, that first draft was very hard won.
YOU HAVE MANY PASSIONS FROM CHILDREN’S LITERARCY TO SAVING ELEPHANTS. WHAT FUELS YOUR PASSIONS.
Growing up my dad always impressed upon us that we should find the things we loved and pursue them, hard. That has always resonated with me, and it’s something I live by.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE BOOKS?
I always find it so difficult to single out books. I’ve read so many incredible novels over the years and they have all fed me in different ways. I know that’s a cop out, but it’s like asking me to name a favourite child! Also, I rarely re-read books. There are just not enough hours in a life to cram in all the books that I want to read.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD STORY?
The books that I most love to read are beautifully written and transport me in some way. Be that to another place or time, or just into the life of a character whose experience is not mine. One of the great pleasures of reading is that it opens up your world view. I have learnt so much from fiction, possibly more than from anything else. Art can provoke us, and change us. I really do believe that. Novels help us see the world from different angles. And I really hope The Breaking does that for its readers.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS?
Write about the thing that won’t let you go. If you’re writing about something that you feel strongly about, the work will contain a spark that will draw others in. Write with that heat in you, and take risks. If you can do that, you’ve got a real chance of creating something special.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
At the moment I’m in the throes of publicity for The Breaking, so all my creative work is on hold. But I’m well into working on my next novel. I’ve finished the second draft and I’ve received feedback from the marvellous Tegan Bennett Daylight. So once I’ve finished my book tour I’m hoping to get stuck back into it.
WHAT ARE YOU READING/WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I’ve recently read and loved Ocean Vuong’s On Earth we are Briefly Gorgeous and Jessie Tu’s A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing. I don’t have time to watch much (books always take priority) but when I do it’s something trashy on Netflix at the end of a long day. GLOW is my current guilty pleasure.
THE LAST WORD IS YOURS. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY ABOUT YOUR DEBUT NOVEL?
I hope that readers enjoy The Breaking, first and foremost. I keep being told that it’s a page-turner, which I never imagined I’d write! But I also really hope that The Breaking starts conversations around animal tourism. Given that the pandemic is preventing us from traveling right now, there couldn’t be a more serendipitous moment for this book. This is a time for reflection where we can reassess how we travel, and the choices we make.