Author Interview: Peggy Frew

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The shortlist has been announced for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2016, the winner will be announced at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and we have interviews with some of the lucky finalists.

Today we talk to Peggy Frew, author of Hope Farm.

Hi Peggy, welcome to Beauty and Lace and thanks for talking to us.
Can you tell us a little about how you came to be a novelist?
I have always loved reading and was a total bookworm as a child, but it took me a while to get around to writing myself. I always wrote bits and pieces, letters, attempts at short stories, some very bad poetry, but I never took it seriously. Then I got into playing music, and did that for most of my 20s, but during that time I began work on a story that grew and grew until one day I realised it was turning into a novel. Nothing ever came of that one – it was my ‘practice novel’ – but I learned some things from writing it, and once I’d finished it I discovered there was another one waiting behind it, and that turned out to be my first book, House of Sticks.

Your latest novel is Hope Farm, can you tell us about it?
Hope Farm is the story of Silver, who has spent her early childhood moving around Queensland and northern New South Wales with her single mother, living in hippie communes, ashrams and group houses. In 1985, when Silver is 13, her mother Ishtar falls for a new man, Miller, and the three of them move south to Hope Farm, a run-down commune in rural Victoria. At Hope Silver unexpectedly discovers a sense of home, but she is also pushed to a tipping point by her growing awareness of her own place in the world and the ways in which her unconventional upbringing and Ishtar’s limitations as a mother continue to work against her. When Silver is finally forced into acting out, the consequences are devastating.

Peggy Frew

How much research was required to create Hope Farm?
There was a bit of research in imagining the background of the 1970s Australian hippie dream – I looked at lots of old photos and watched some excellent Youtube film clips of things like the 1973 Aquarius festival in Nimbin. I also read some first-person accounts of what it was like to be a member of organisations such as the Hare Krishnas and Ananda Marga, to get a sense of ashram life in ’70s Australia.
I also did some research into forced adoption in Australia. I still can’t believe this was common practice until the mid-seventies! There was a government inquiry into forced adoption and there’s plenty of info online from that and also from support services for those affected by the practice. I read many heartbreaking accounts from women who had their babies taken away from them. Since Ishtar, the mother character in Hope Farm, finds herself young, pregnant and single in the early ’70s all of this became a part of her story.

Where does your inspiration come from?
Real life. Not that I grew up in a commune or anything like that. But I do draw from my own emotional experience. Hope Farm is at heart a story about a mother-daughter relationship where there is a deep and profound love but very little in terms of actual relationship skills. I am a daughter and also a mother so I was able to take elements of my experience of both and magnify them and extrapolate from them to construct the relationship between Silver and Ishtar. I think my fascination with hippies has come out of my interest in parent-child relationships and what happens when these relationships take place in an unconventional setting.

Hope Farm was shortlisted for The Miles Franklin Literary Award, do you remember what you were doing and how you felt when you found out?
I was working in the little office where I go sometimes to try to write and I missed a call from my publisher. All day I kept thinking ‘I wonder what that was about?’ and I did have a little bit of an excited feeling because he hadn’t left a message and I thought that might mean something! And then he didn’t call back again all day and I had convinced myself he must have called by accident in the first place, but then he did call right at the end of the day and we were both very excited but we also couldn’t tell anyone because it wasn’t official yet.

 PFrew_HOPE FARM_Cover 300dpi

Will you be at the Melbourne Writers Festival in August when the winner is announced?
Yes I will, and I am looking forward to celebrating with the other shortlisted authors, who are a lovely bunch of people.

Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
I am working on another book but it’s very early days and too early to talk about sorry – it’s still a bit of a mystery to me, which is nice.

What do you love to read?
Some books I’ve really enjoyed recently include Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six Bedrooms, Joan London’s The Golden Age, Miles Allinson’s Fever of Animals, Jennifer Down’s Our Golden Hour and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Am I allowed to ask who you think is the hot favourite to take home the award?
I have never been good at picking winners, and it’s always impossible to judge one’s own work against others’ so no, I’m sorry I can’t even hazard a guess!
(Michelle: That’s completely fine, it was one of those questions probably best left unasked.)

Good luck and thanks for chatting with us!
My pleasure.

Peggy Frew can be found on Facebook.

Hope Farm is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

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