2016 / Saturday

Women should make the choices that suit them

Pascale Freer

Debra Adelaide. Photograph by Philip Klaunzer

Debra Adelaide. Photograph by Philip Klaunzer

Debra Adelaide likes green and she has given herself permission to surround herself with it. From her green pants to her green painted toe nails to her office with its green typewriter, green tea cups and green stationary. Although at one time she would not let herself purchase more than one green cardigan until she saw Dale Spender’s immersion in purple; only then did she allow herself to be surrounded with the colour she loves. Purple, green and white are the colours of the women’s movement which Debra Adelaide says was “fortuitously coincidental”.

The author of 14 books, a mother of three children and a full-time position at UTS as Associate Professor of Creative Writing, Debra Adelaide points out that the question of whether women can have it all is sexist; after all it is never asked of men. It is just assumed that men can have it all. She says “I’d love to be alive when that phrase isn’t applied to women. We get totally sucked into this way of thinking. It’s important to remember you have a choice. I don’t think women should have to choose between a career and children.”

In her latest novel, The Women’s Pages, Debra Adelaide creates a character, Ellis, who does have to choose between family and career and, as the editor of a magazine, The Women’s Pages, she chooses career. Debra Adelaide says Ellis knows she is on the cusp of change and “the only way for her to save herself personally and emotionally is to be ruthless and make those decisions”.

However, Debra Adelaide never made such a choice. “Having children has been the one thing that has taught me discipline as a writer because before I could muck around all day pretending to work or psyching myself up into a condition where I could write but when you have children you realise just how limited your personal time is. You just get really focused. So I learnt a long time ago if my baby went to sleep for an hour, then I went straight to the desk, work for an hour, just do it.”

She says she has fantasised about writing full-time. “I was lucky enough for a year and a half I took leave without pay because of the success of a previous novel, The Household Guide to Dying. So I was actually in the position of being a full-time writer and it was interesting that the novel I wrote then didn’t work. I never had it published.”

Debra Adelaide talks about the possibility that it may not be beneficial to be a full-time writer. She says its important, especially as a young writer, to have a part-ime job, to get out and interact with people. Interestingly, she goes on to say, “Actually my fantasy life is working two or three days in a book shop and then writing. I’ve never worked in a book shop. The real fantasy job would be to run my own book shop, and not worry about having to sell anything, just be surrounded by books. Have the door open, cash register ready, and take it from there.”

She writes in her study at her home in Undercliff. “Its not exactly typing all day,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a lot of getting up and looking in the fridge and thinking will I eat now? No, I won’t. I will reward myself in an hour. Making a coffee. Or the phone ringing endlessly. Because somehow the world seems to know when you have one day at home to write, and they all ring you.” And when she is interrupted, she has to ensure she doesn’t lose her train of thought. “I’ve also learnt to trust that what I’m about to write is worth writing, it will stay in my head long enough so that I can come back after a phone call or some other interruption. Although I have been known to yell into the phone ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go’, and ‘I can’t talk, I can’t talk’.”

Debra Adelaide says that as long as you are receptive, there are ideas for writing everywhere and anywhere. “If you are a creative person you are receptive to ideas and store them up in all sorts of ways. You only have to walk down the road to buy a carton of milk for a potential for a story to happen.” She also says that all writers draw on their own personal experiences. When asked about her son’s leukaemia, and her book The Household Guide to Dying, she says, “I obviously drew on my experience of his treatment and a familiarity with the hospital world, to write about this character, a 40-year-old woman who is dying of cancer. In that sense it is autobiographical, but that doesn’t mean it’s based on my children or my life or anything in my life.”

Her next project will be another collection of short fiction. She says “short fiction is doable, a novel is a big thing to wrangle whereas a short story that is only a few thousand words and and you can look at it and say done, add that to the pile, and you can get a real sense of achievement building up a collection of short fiction.”