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Little Treats with Diana Reid

Interview of Diana Reid by Freya Bennett

Hi Diana, how are you?

Hi! I’m well thanks 🙂

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a Sydney-based writer and the author of the novels Love & Virtue and Seeing Other People.

Congratulations on your two successful novels, can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

Thank you! Every novel has its own challenges. For example, for my first, I literally googled “How long is a book,” which is obviously not a question I need to keep asking every time (about 80,000 words is the answer).

But then some aspects of the process are the same each time. I always start with a moral question that I want to explore. Usually, by the time I’ve finished the novel, I don’t feel that I’ve answered it, but maybe I’ve arrived at a better articulation of the complexities. And while I’m writing each novel, I’m always very particular about what I read. I find I’m super influenced by the style of whatever I’m reading for pleasure, so I can only read books that are either about the topic I’m exploring, or written in a style I’d like to emulate. I procrastinate a lot, so it also helps to have a relevant book on hand. That way if I don’t feel like writing, I can at least tell myself I’m “researching”.

Where do your ideas come from?

Usually the core idea of the book is something I’ve experienced or observed that I’m trying to understand. For example, I wrote my first book (Love & Virtue) after graduating university, and I was interested in the way people performed moral outrage on campus, and what that meant for how we defined being a ‘good’ person. With Seeing Other People, we’d just been through Covid and people my age (mid-twenties) were having really open, productive conversations about mental health and boundary-setting, which made me think about how we draw the line between ‘putting your needs first’ and just being selfish.

We live in a society of stolen focus, how do you stay focused enough to write a book? (asking for a friend, the friend is me)

Not without considerable effort! I think for me, one of the most helpful things has been to just acknowledge that I’m addicted to my phone. I don’t feel any particular embarrassment about this (I’ve had a smartphone since I was 16… what’s a girl to do?) but I do take it very seriously as a problem and take active steps to mitigate it. I use an app called Self Control to block access to the internet on my laptop. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and leave it in another room, or sometimes go to the library without it.

Do you plan your books out before writing them or is it more of a free process?

I try to do a bit of both. Once I have the central idea and the characters, I do a very rough draft of what I think of as “free writing”, which is where I write down every scene I can imagine with those characters. Then I read it back, chuck out anything that makes me cringe (usually, about half of it) and work up a plan from the scenes I’ve decided to keep. I’m sure planning at the outset would save a lot of time, but I find that initial unplanned phase really worthwhile. I learn a lot about my characters when I give them space to behave in unusual ways. I worry that if I just marched them through a pre-ordained plot, they might read less like real people with their own thoughts and inner lives, and more like mouthpieces for my personal musings.

How long does it take you to write a book?

My first two took about a year each. For the third I’m taking longer. I wanted more time to toy with different ideas (to go down a rabbit hole and then crawl back out again), but once I’ve committed to an idea, I find that the actual writing takes about six to nine months.

Do we have another Diana Reid novel to look forward to in the not too distant future?

Yes! And if I don’t crawl back out of this current rabbit hole, then hopefully it won’t be too long.

Have you always been a reader?

I’ve always loved novels, but my reading pace has varied. I was very lucky to have two parents who were both big readers and we always had books in the house. When I was in school I was insufferable and read all the time (often, I now realise looking back, without understanding what I was reading). When I was at university I barely read at all, maybe like three to five books a year. Now that it’s part –perhaps my favourite part–of my job, I’m reading much more.

What is your favourite novel?

I’ll give you three, because they all mean a huge amount to me, but they each  mean something very different. The Secret History (Donna Tartt) has probably been the most influential book in my life, because it was the novel that most explicitly inspired me to try to write at all, and to write Love & Virtue in particular (they’re both campus novels). Middlemarch (George Eliot) is the book I can see myself returning to the most over my life. And On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan) is the most moving book I’ve ever read. As unhinged as it sounds, I’m really not exaggerating when I say I can bring myself to tears just by thinking about one particular paragraph.

What snacks keep you going when you’re writing?

Sugar, sugar, sugar. Or “little treats” as my generation seems to call them.

Do you listen to music while you write and if so, what?

Music isn’t really part of my life in general. I actually don’t think I know anyone as musically unevolved as I am. I listen to podcasts when I exercise, AM radio in the car, and if it weren’t played in public venues, I could probably go for months without hearing music at all. But sometimes if I’m in the library and people are being loud I’ll put something on like Philip Glass or Taylor Swift.

If you weren’t writing, what would be your backup dream career?

When I was younger I was consumed by a desire to be an actress. I thought I’d never be happy if I wasn’t. Now I couldn’t be more grateful for the career I’ve found. I also think it’s probably healthy and humbling to move through life lugging a few failed dreams around.

You can find Diana Reid’s books online or at all good bookstores.

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