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Working with Words: Diana Reid

Read Monday, 15 Nov 2021

Diana Reid is a Sydney-based writer. Her debut novel, Love & Virtue, is a complex and contemporary exploration of consent and power. We spoke to her about writing authentic fiction and the experience as a debut author.

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Image credit: Daniel Boud

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I was working as a clerk in a law firm, and I wrote a case summary that got printed in a legal publication. A few weeks later, a friend sent it to me to congratulate me, and I had no recollection of writing it. I had written it (I checked my saved documents) but my soul had so thoroughly left my body that I just felt no connection to the writing whatsoever. I thought, ‘You’re in the wrong career.’ In contrast, when I found out my novel was getting published, I felt more joy than I knew I was capable of.

What’s the best part of your job?

The autonomy. Being able to write about what I want, and choose when and how to work makes even the less-good (there are no bad!) aspects easier. If I work late, or on the weekends, it’s because I choose to, which is a huge privilege.

What’s the worst part of your job?

I’m honestly still at the stage where every aspect is a novelty and a delight. Even doing the millionth proof-read! The only persistent irritation is my inability to judge how long anything will take/how capable I am – every single day, I write fewer words than I’d like.

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

Getting an agent (Curtis Brown), and getting signed by a publishing house (Ultimo Press) completely changed my career. When I say changed I mean, brought into existence. I’d never had any fiction published before, and they read this random unsolicited manuscript and decided to back it to the hilt. It really doesn’t get more life-changing than that.

My book was only published last month, so I sometimes still get surprised by things I say in interviews. People will read them back to me and ask me to elaborate, and I’m like: ‘Gosh, did I say that? I can’t imagine why.’

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

I think the worst advice is anything that romanticises writing or being a writer. Similarly, the best advice is practical: turn up to the desk.

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

My book was only published last month, so I sometimes still get surprised by things I say in interviews. People will read them back to me and ask me to elaborate, and I’m like: ‘Gosh, did I say that? I can’t imagine why.’

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

Per Question 1, I’d be a (terrible) lawyer.

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

I have never taken a creative writing class, so all I can say is that formal teaching isn’t necessary. But that’s not to suggest it can’t help.

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

Writing fiction – devising a plot and characters and putting them in words – is not a performance. You get into trouble as soon as you imagine an audience. I think readers just want authenticity, and authenticity means writing the book you want to write. So, somewhat paradoxically, the only way to give readers what they want, is to not worry about what they want.

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

The pandemic forced me to do both, but my preference is for a physical bookshop. In a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, I always leave with more than I came for. I find it much harder to browse and make those discoveries online.

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

I’d go out to dinner with Patrick Melrose for the witty one-liners, but I’d like the option to leave as soon as the conversation got too sincere. We’d probably race each other out.

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

Probably The Secret History (Donna Tartt), which inspired me to write at all, and to write Love & Virtue in particular. I drew a lot on the genre and structure of The Secret History, which made the whole process of writing a novel less daunting.

Diana’s novel, Love & Virtue, is out now through Ultimo Press. 

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