Sandra Leigh Price
author of The Bird’s Child
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Canberra, but moved to Sydney 20 years ago.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I was very caught up in my imagination, lost in a dream. I probably wanted to be a character in a story, possibly an Elf from Lord of the Rings. When I was eighteen, I was very focused on performing in plays, falling in love with the stage, reading poetry and more dreaming. And when I was thirty, I finally committed that lifetime of dreaming to writing.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That men and women were intrinsically the same. Sorry 18 year old me, the world isn’t as fair as you hoped.
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?
Oh my, only three, that is a terrifying question right there. Wuthering Heights really blew my mind and spun me around (and made me want to be Emily Bronte – I wore a cape for a while in hope of channelling her!) – the writing so rich and strange, particular to time and place, yet universal. Re-reading it a little while back it was only richer than I remembered, the cruelty more marked, but a brilliantly written and structured novel.
The work of the Pre-Raphaelites and associates I’ve found particularly intriguing from a young girl. The best ones are full of details that if read, add up to a wonderful story like Millais’ Ophelia and Brown’s Last of England. A screenplay that I’ve written and had been optioned is about chief PRB artists, Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal, hope it gets made one day as their lives are as passionate as their paintings.
And lastly the novel Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. Sentences like jewels. Nights at the Circus just filled up with my heart so much that it soared like an aerialist – Sophie Fevers a heroine after my own heart. A life affirming book. Since then I’ve discovered a Circus artiste in the family tree, so that explains a lot!
Sometimes I think it was inevitable. I’ve been writing a long time. When I was a about 8 years of age I wrote a very long story about a Leopard, about 18 A4 pages long in my loopy handwriting. My father kindly typed up with a borrowed typewriter. Since then I’ve kept writing more stories, journals, poems, to plays and screenplays and then novels. My handwriting more notoriously loopy.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Bird’s Child is the story of three characters that find themselves washed up on the shores of a once grand home, now a boarding house in 1929. One is a young man with dreams of being a magician, a refugee from the pogroms of Europe, another is a drifter, a returned and damaged soldier from the War. The other is a runaway girl desperate to reconcile her grief. When their lives intersect they are propelled to find their own ‘promised lands’, whether they be a person, place or thing.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope readers enjoy The Bird’s Child, that they fall a little bit in love with the characters, just as I did when I was writing. To feel that they are the source of magic in their own lives. To feel optimistic.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
(Glad there is no numbered limit to this one!) Aside from Emily Bronte, a writer I’ve always admired is Peter Carey, his language and storytelling, his writing holding up a metaphoric mirror to Australia, always inspires me – Oscar and Lucinda, Illywacker, True History of the Kelly Gang – just shimmer with wonder for me.
Another writer that I adore is American writer Louise Erdrich. Her novels echo and loop around her indigenous Chippewa and European culture in an entirely enchanting way, with ripples of the past intersecting with the present, the power of story in her character’s lives. Angela Carter’s work I admire immensely and also Kate Atkinson. I love a world in a book, a story and a secret to fall into, all wrapped up in the bow of beautiful writing.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To keep going, to not get put off by small setbacks. I try to write every day and those days I can’t, spend some time thinking about the story to keep the flame of it alive or reading. Anything to keep the words bubbling away.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Do it even when you don’t feel like it. There is no perfect time to write except the times you do. Keep going and never give up.
If you get the whiff of a story, follow it, don’t let it out of your sight, coax it, tend to it, don’t talk to anyone about it, it grows in secret. Follow it and don’t try to lead it. If you are lucky it will reveal itself to you and you can catch it on paper.
Sandra, thank you for playing.
by Sandra Leigh Price
She was the glimmering girl of his abracadabra heart…
A unique, rich and evocative of novel of love, birds, magic and revenge.
Sydney, 1929: Three people find themselves washed up on the steps of Miss Du Maurier’s bohemian boarding house in a once grand terrace in Newtown. Ari is a young Jewish man, a pogrom orphan, who lives under the stern rule of his rabbi uncle, but dreams his father is Houdini. Upon his hand he bears a forbidden mark – a tattoo – and has a secret ambition to be a magician. Finding an injured parrot one day on the street, Ari is unsure of how to care for it, until he meets young runaway Lily, a glimmering girl after his own abracadabra heart. Together they form a magical act, but their lives take a strange twist when wild card Billy, a charming and dangerous drifter twisted by the war, can no longer harbour secret desires of his own.
The Bird’s Child is a feat of sleight-of-hand. Birds speak, keys appear from nowhere, boxes spill secrets and the dead talk. This is a magical, stunningly original, irresistible novel – both an achingly beautiful love story and a slowly unfurling mystery of belonging.
About the Author
Sandra Leigh Price lives in Sydney. She graduated from the Australian National University, Canberra, with a Double Major in English Literature and Drama, and co-established a small theatre company before moving to Sydney to pursue a career as an actor, then turning to writing. Wet Ink magazine published an early chapter of The Bird’s Child, her debut novel.