Working with Words: Anna Snoekstra

Melbourne-based writer Anna Snoekstra's debut novel, Only Daughter, will be published in Australia later this month. A tense psychological thriller, it tells the story of a missing girl … and a desperate imposter who assumes her identity, only to slowly discover the truth of her disappearance. The book has been optioned for a film by Universal Pictures.

In this week’s edition of Working With Words, Anna talks to us about rejection and resilience.

Anna Snoekstra's letter to the editor, published in the Canberra Times

Anna Snoekstra's letter to the editor, published in the Canberra Times

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

[A letter to the editor describing] a day in a dog's life, in the Canberra Times.

What’s the best part of your job?

The moment when a problem with a story that has felt completely impossible finally clicks into place.

What’s the worst part of your job?

When that moment never comes. 

Anna Snoekstra

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Probably when I got a literary agent. Up until then I’d become so used to dealing with rejection and setbacks it was what I expected. My novel had been passed by so many Australian agents, that sending it to some of the big ones in the US seemed like more of a bit of fun rather than a viable possibility.

Within 24 hours of sending it, an agent responded to my email saying she wanted to give me a call. Being based in the States, it meant I had to wait until midnight to talk to her. I was so nervous all day that by the time I actually spoke to her my voice was shaking.

After the call, in which she offered to represent me, I opened a bottle of champagne at one in the morning, woke up my boyfriend and made him drink it with me. 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

You will be rejected.

This is both the best and worst advice and I’ve been told it countless times in the last ten years. It’s entirely true and a necessary thing to know as you bare your soul for people to judge. Sometimes, it’s liberating to know rejection is just part of the game and it’s not personal.

Sometimes, it’s liberating to know rejection is just part of the game and it’s not personal.’

On the other hand, if you are told this too early a lot of people just give up. Being a good writer and having a thick skin often don’t go together. There are so many brilliant novels that exist in drawers or on desktops that may never be read.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

I once had an interested party in the publishing industry tell me she would accept Only Daughter if I further expanded all the incest scenes. There is no incest in the book. 

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’ve always been interested in being a jeweller. I love creating tiny things with intricate details. Psychology has always been fascinating to me as well, but I don’t think I’m cut out to counsel anyone apart from friends and family. If someone cries in front of me I always start crying too, which wouldn’t be very professional.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I think writing combines both art and craft, and that both are equally important. The craft of writing can be taught, the art cannot.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Write what you want to read.

Anna Snoekstra's book, Only Daughter

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

I buy most of my books in used bookstores. There are a few of them I’ll always scour before I try bookstores. Then online is just a last resort.

Used bookstores are always much more fun to browse in – the books often have their original covers, plus there is something great about knowing someone has read the same words on the exact same page and experienced it in a different way to the way I have.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I’d like to go out to dinner with the main characters from my book, so I could apologise for all the horrible things I put them through. 

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

There are so many. The one that comes to mind right now is Callie Khouri’s screenplay of Thelma and Louise. It was the first feature script I’d read and I just had a print-off from the internet. I read it so many times I had to re-bind it twice. I never watched a film the same way again after that.

Portrait of Anna Snoekstra

Anna Snoekstra is Melbourne-based novelist, and the author of Only Daughter – her debut book, published by Harlequin MIRA and optioned for film by Universal Pictures.

After finishing university, Anna wrote for independent films and fringe theatre, and directed music videos. During this time, she worked as a cheesemonger, a waitress, a barista, a nanny, a receptionist, a cinema attendant and a film reviewer.

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