Allison Tait is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years’ experience writing for many of Australia’s major magazine titles. She is the author of Careers Mums, the blog, Life in a Pink Fibro, and a novel to be published in 2013. She speaks here about her time at Vogue, her fledgling fiction career, and how she found time to write as a full-time working mum.
You’re a very diverse writer in that you write about a lot of different subjects, in a lot of different forms and for a lot of different titles and audiences. What’s your favourite thing to write- your special area of interest?
Well, my favourite thing to write is the fiction work that I do. I have my first novel coming out in July, and I’ve been doing that sort of thing as a hobby for about 10 years now, but now it’s starting to become my day work, too, which is exciting! As for other work that I do- my magazine writing work, I’ve worked for some of Australia’s biggest titles in that part of my career- what I really like to write about is the “why” of things, why people do things they do, why things happen the way they happen and so on. So I suppose I’m particularly interested in the psychological elements of people’s behaviour and so on.
You’ve worked extensively in the women’s magazine industry- is it as bitchy and competitive and full of underweight women as The Devil Wears Prada might have us believe?
Look, it’s a funny,funny world. I’ll admit that when that movie first came out I didn’t even bother to see it because I knew that the world it portrayed would look nothing like the world I knew. But as for the world I do know as a magazine writer? Thereare lots of very creative people, lots of people who’ve gotten into it because they’re very opinionated and have something to say, so you get a lot of different types of people, and of course there are some archetypal bitchy types. But I have had the most amazing life, and I consider myself to have been very lucky to have worked at all of those titles and to have met all the people I did. But I did finally see that movie last year, which is about Vogue, of course. And personally, I’m not a particularly fashionable person-I mean, I’m just sitting here now in jeans- but I worked at Vogue for 2 years. And, yes, there was a pretty constant parade of incredibleshoes and clothes and handbags, but there was no one who struck me as being particularly like Miranda. Of course there’s Anna Wintour [in the USA], but I’ve never worked under her, so I really wouldn’t know!
Your first novel is going to be published next year. Do you think that a long career of writing non-fiction helped or hindered the process of writing it?
The interesting thing about writing for magazines and those sorts of things is that you develop very early on an awareness that you’re writing for an audience and not just for yourself. Of course, writing fiction is inevitably much more personal, but I don’t think I could ever have written anything other than commercial fiction. I don’t think I could have written a literary novel, something really abstract, something just about itself. When I first started writing fiction as a hobby I started writing romance novels. And I think that I did that because I had quite a strong understanding of niche audiences, and an awareness that if you turned out three or four novels a year for an audience like that, you could probably make a living out of it without too many problems. But, as it turns out, I wasn’t very good at writing romance novels. I was working with a mentor at that time, and that was something that they kept telling me, saying that I needed a broader pallet, that I needed to start working on something bigger. And when I did come to do that, I think my career as a journalist helped me in that I was already good at sticking to deadlines, and that I had a strong work ethic when it came to writing. I started writing the novel that’s currently being published when my husband and I were discussing moving back to my hometown, so it became a way for me to work through the issues and misconceptions surrounding the idea of moving back to a regional area. The novel itself is about three women who are all from a regional centre, two of whom stayed there, and one of whom moved away and is now coming back. So it’s about the repercussions of her moving back to that town.
One of the main excuses for people not writing the novel they’ve always wanted to write is “I don’t have enough time”. What is your advice to these people?
Well, I think what I’d say to that is simply: you will never, ever find the time. You have to make the time. It’s just not going to suddenly appear, so you really just have to prioritise your writing at some point. In my case, I wrote at night when everyone had gone to bed- and I’m talking seriously midnight, which actually works well for me because I’m a bit of an insomniac anyway. But if you’re an early riser, get up at 5 and write for an hour, because in that hour you’ll get 500 words done that you didn’t have yesterday. And it doesn’t have to be every day- I know there are some people who say you have to write every day, but I don’t believe that. It’s just about making that progress regularly and steadily. So, when you get time, don’t clean the fridge, or sweep the floor, or go on Facebook, or tweet your best friends, “Hey, starting to write my novel now!” Sit down and just write 500 words. And people say, “Oh, it’s easy for you, you’re a writer,” but it’s not easy for me! I work full time, I have two small children and a husband and a house and the same things that everyone else has, but at the end of the day, I always wrote fiction as a hobby, which is something that’s particularly hard when you’re already writing 10, 000 words a week for your job. So I would just say that you just have to make the time.
Allison Tait will be presenting the panel, Pre-Publication Matters, with Alice Grundy and Chris Summers at the Emerging Writers’ Festival.