Wendy Harmer, author of Friends Like These, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |March 24, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Wendy Harmer

author of Friends Like These, The Pearlie Series, Farewell My Ovaries and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

For me it’s a very long-winded answer! I was born in Yarram, then raised in five little towns, schooled in five schools. All of them were in country Victoria.

My father, as a rural school headmaster, relocated every three years. At the age of 17, I began my independent life in Geelong then went on to live in Melbourne for 20 years. Now I live in Sydney.

If I were to answer what do I identify myself as? I would say, a very proud Victorian. Good public schools, wonderful teachers gave me a great start in life. I am also a proud advocate of State schools.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I wanted to be a hairdresser, a florist, a novelist or a journalist.

At eighteen I was a journalist and wanted to be a cabaret singer.

At thirty I was a cabaret singer, stand up comedian and wanted to be a radio broadcaster and a mum.

At forty (2), I was a mum and a radio broadcaster and I wanted to be a novelist.

At 50 I was a novelist and I wanted to be…

So it’s all going pretty well, thus far.

I’ll let you work out what’s the common thread between all these ambitions!

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Perhaps it’s the opposite!! I don’t think I’ve been disabused of much since then. Except the idea that life is a much shorter journey than I had perceived it to be.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I was impressed by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for its clear-eyed reportage, its deep humanity and understanding of cause and effect. I have read it many times.

Diego Velázquez’ little paintings of the valour and humanity of the underclass as compared with the royalty upstairs have always inspired. He brings his compassion to every subject.

Music? Well, where do I begin? From Monteverdi to Metallica. Any music made with passion and verve can catch my attention!

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

If you love writing, then having the privilege of writing a novel is the ultimate. It’s the pinnacle of pure expression. Something that is entirely “you”. I am always seeking a place where I can be free with my words. Funnily enough, it seems like stand up comedy and writing a novel might be two such places. Standing on a soap box in the street might be another one… and I haven’t ruled it out just yet.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel… Friends Like These

It’s set in the fictional Darling Point Ladies College, Sydney in present day. The protagonists are Jo Blanchard, former deputy head mistress, turned marriage celebrant and her best friend Suze, feng shui florist. It’s a comedy of modern manners. A bit of a satire of the wealthy and self-satisfied. It’s also about finding something to believe in – beyond all manner of institutions, friendships, duties and associations. (Order your copy now – click here)

7.What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they found it a great escape from the daily grind. An absorbing story. I hope they had a few laughs, even a few tears and perhaps thought: “I’ve never quite seen it that way before”. I like to write about contemporary life and make a few tart observations along the way.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Well of course, JK Rowling is to be admired for her complete creation of an original world and cracker story-telling skills.

I always adored Ruth Park’s books for their honesty, warmth and vivid characters. The “Dickens of Sydney” is how she has been described.

I’m always keen to pick up anything Helen Garner has written because I know I am going to learn more about her along the way and she is a fascinating and utterly admirable human.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To keep writing and be read. To become a better writer. What else is there?

10 . What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Make time to write – whatever it takes. That’s one thing you need, time, and, if you’re lucky enough, a partner who brings you snacks.

Wendy, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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