Q&A with Allee Richards by Aisling Grey
Pretty good, I actually just got my first dose of AstraZeneca today!
That’s so exciting! Small Joys of Real Life is your first full length novel – what was that writing process like?
I really enjoyed it, I came up with the idea in 2017 and wrote a little bit of it. In 2019 when I came back to it I had most of it mapped out in my head and I wrote it in about 7 months. I set out to write a story about someone who gets an abortion and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her, which is not what the book ended up being about at all. The first thing I got was the one of the earliest scenes in the book – two girls are in the car driving, one of them is getting an abortion. And the process from there was like, well, how could I up the stakes? What if the other one is pregnant as well, but doesn’t realise; and then how can I up the stakes again? The father has died. And once I got that really intense premise, I sort of knew that it would be a novel.
One of my favourite writers is the author Lorrie Moore, she’s best known for her short stories and she has this quote that writing short stories is like having love affairs and writing novels is like a marriages and I think she’s right. You do really need to keep faith in believing that what you’re working on is worthwhile long after the shining excitement of getting the idea has worn off. So the long process of returning back to it is definitely right.
Did COVID-19 have an impact on your writing?
I had written most of the book in 2019, so by the time we were doing the edits of the novel with the publisher, we were in stage four lockdown. I actually found it really comforting because I kind of got to go out and live in this free world in my head while we were living through a really awful period of time. It’s obviously not something I ever intended but the book almost can give people that escape into a sort of pre-COVID Melbourne.
I was really lucky that I had the book because it gave me some focus and something to work towards in that time when we were just away from work for so long. Obviously, like anyone, I have my moments and days when I just stared at the ceiling. I had quite a long time to get through the structural edit and I had absolutely nothing else on so I had lots of time to do a couple of hours of writing in the morning and then to spend the afternoon freaking out and doing jigsaw puzzles.
The character of Eva – she’s not always that likeable of a protagonist – was that a deliberate choice?
I set out for her to be a really obnoxious, like almost Holden Caulfield esque character, and she actually got toned down a lot in the editorial, which I think was good. There’s a lot of political novels now written by young women about young women. In those novels, there’s a lot of really shy, awkward, self-effacing young women, and I kind of liked going in there and being like, no, I’m going to write someone who’s quite confident.
Which 3 people – dead or alive – would you have over for dinner?
I’d probably go for really fun guests, because I recently have really enjoyed listening to Sentimental Garbage, the podcast with Dolly Alderton and Caroline O’Donohue. I’d invite them and then one of my other good friends.
What are you reading, listening to or watching at the moment?
I’m reading the new Sally Rooney novel because I’m reviewing it, I’m also reading a short story collection by Paige Clark called She is Haunted which is really brilliant, and I’m just about to purchase Muddy People by Sara al Sayed who is a brilliant Egyptian Australian writer. I’ve been watching Never Have I Ever and the new Gossip Girl. I’ve been listening to all my old favourite bands – Sharon van Etten, Sufjan Stevens, Sampa the Great, Cash Savage – all of the bands that get mentioned in the book!
Thanks so much for your time – what’s next for you?
I’ve started work on my second novel, and that’s going well. It’s similar in thematic content, again it’s about two women, more in a rivalry than a friendship, spanning about a decade.
If you could talk to the readers of Small Joys of Real Life what would you like the take away to be?
I guess the idea that came out when I was writing it was about this mentality in life where you go to school and it’s all kind of leading towards the end of school and then your real life will start. And then if you go to uni, it resets that process again where it’s like this is leading towards something, and then that’ll be the thing. I noticed in my own friendship group, there’s a period after uni where everyone’s really unhappy because they can’t find a job and get their foot in the door of their industry, and then everyone finds something. And then after that, I just noticed so many people get really, really unhappy because suddenly you’re not looking forward to anything anymore and you’re like, oh is this going to be it? And everyone has to find a way to just enjoy life, I think, finding meaning and maybe it’s a hobby, maybe it’s the people in your life, or maybe it’s listening to music or maybe it’s gardening or whatever that thing is. You need to have something that is going to constantly be there. That will be your small joy that will help you in life.