ELIZA HENRY-JONES: ‘There is so much value in setting things aside’

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Eliza Henry-Jones is an author based in the Yarra Valley of Victoria. Her debut novel In the Quiet is out  in Australia through Fourth Estate and is also available in the US and the UK.  

Eliza’s work has been published widely, appearing in places such as The Guardian, Southerly, Island, The Big Issue and Daily Life. Her second novel Ache has just been released.

Tell us about Ache

is the story of a family after a bushfire. I wanted to explore bushfire trauma, which I think is something with impacts massively on many members of the population but is not something that’s been widely explored in adult fiction. Much of the story centres on four generations of women – a grandmother who has recently passed away through to a young great-grandchild. I wanted to explore how women at different points in their life might respond to the trauma.

When you’re writing, do you draw inspirations from your surroundings?

Massively, particularly for Ache. Although Ache is based in a fictional place, in my head the landscape is that of the eastern flank of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria – the tree ferns and mountain ash and mosses and mist, right close to where I live.

Has your work in community services influenced your writing?

I started working in community services when I was quite young. I have worked as a support worker, case manager and equine assisted therapist in the drug and alcohol sector. Being at the coalface of such huge trauma and grief every day is something that really changed me. I think it opened my eyes to a lot of systemic, societal failures that impacts on so many people. It also made me appreciate the safety of my own upbringing and recognise how much nuance there is in response to grief and trauma. It also made me realise how uncertain people are about those responses. There’s a lot of pressure to grieve or cope in a certain way and I didn’t really realise that until I started this sort of work.

We read that you’ve written a novel a year since you were fourteen. What motivated you to keep going?

I had a lot of things to work through growing up (like most people!) and for me, that processing happened when I wrote. Looking back on all the stories I’ve written over that huge developmental period is like a sort of diary – little bits and pieces that I’d forgotten from my everyday life and huge, sweeping ideas that I was preoccupied with and wrote about, obsessively, to try to understand. I wrote 60,000 words about a little girl finding her half sister shortly after finding out I had one, myself. I wrote another 60,000 trying to work out how to construct the idea of a parent when they were mentally ill.

I always liked the idea of being published, but I always thought it would happen when I was much older. I wrote because I loved writing; because it helped me cope; because I wanted my writing to get better.

I wrote because I loved writing; because it helped me cope; because I wanted my writing to get better.

How did you start out writing? Were you always writing novels, or did you start out writing short stories?

I started out writing novels and finished my first one at fourteen. Fourteen was the same year I won my first writing prize for a short story, but it had been one I’d had to write in English class, not by choice. I realised somewhere in my late teens that a literary CV with short story publications and prizes is probably going to be helpful in getting the attention of an agent or a publisher, so I began to focus seriously on trying to get short stories and poems published. I struggled a lot with short stories, at first. I didn’t understand how the pacing and structure needed to be very different from a novel. Novels where pretty much all I read so writing shorter pieces involved a lot of unlearning. Short stories also didn’t give me the same cathartic experience that writing novels did. I write both now, but for me there’s something very special about the immersive quality of writing novels.

What advice would you give to people who are just starting to write?

To read everything you can – both within and outside the genre you’re focused on.

How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working? How do you know when it is?

I can never really tell if something is working. Sometimes I’ll enjoy the writing a lot more than other times, but upon rereading these sections do not necessarily flow any better. I want to enjoy what I’ve written, but after the hundredth time reading a certain paragraph, even that isn’t a reliable gauge. I think there is so much value in setting things aside, which often feels so counterintuitive.

Before you were published, did you ever go through periods where you weren’t happy with what you were writing? If so, how did you overcome that?

I still do! My third book is currently on its fourth rewrite and I’m still not happy with something around the tone and the pace. I like having lots of different projects on the go – setting something aside and working on something else generally helps me work out problems a lot more quickly than if I push really hard on one piece.

What is a genre of writing that you’ve never tried before but would love to?

I’d love to try writing a picture book one day!

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I have just started LaRose by Louise Erdrich and it is stunning.

You can follow Eliza Henry-Jones on Twitter. In the Quiet and Ache are available where all good books are sold. 



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