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Working with Words: Sophie Verass

Read Thursday, 16 Nov 2017

Sophie Verass is a Canberra-born, Sydney-based writer and online producer, whose work has been published online at SBS, NITV, VICE and Junkee. Here she spruiks her trivia skills, frets over the influence of Carrie Bradshaw and sings the praises of the ebook dimmable light function.

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What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

Photograph of Sophie Verass

I wrote advertorials for DarwinLife (a local free publication) during my work experience in first-year uni. Somewhere between herbal tea, snakeskin stilettos and laser hair-removal, I found a love of alliteration along the way. My next internship was at Vogue, so I must have been doing something right with all that alliteration and animal print.  

What’s the best part of your job?

I love having the opportunity to explore a topic of interest, whether I’m writing something myself or editing someone’s work. Every week I become a low-key expert on a random or niche subject. Jaywalking, left-handed athletes, interracial couple laws – if you ever need a teammate for trivia, I’m sure I’ll have at least one category covered.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The comment section regularly reminds me that racism, sexism and bigotry are very much alive and unapologetic in this country.

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

My partner (photographer, Stuart Miller) and I collaborated on a photo essay for NITV called ‘Muslim, Aboriginal and Outspoken‘; a portrait series and short feature about Indigenous Australian who practice Islam. Its aim was to challenge ideas of race and identity, but also to address Australia’s multicultural history beyond European invasion.

What beats ‘that smell’ of a brand new paperback? I’ll tell you what: a dimmable light function …

Stuart and I were invited into the homes of some really wonderful people and it was a total privilege to hear their unique stories. I would never have imagined I’d be spending a Sunday evening looking at family history documents with a Malay-Torres Strait elder over tea, but writing allows for some pretty inspiring experiences.  

What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing?

  1. A former editor told me that just because you’re writing an op-ed or comment piece doesn’t give you a free pass to ‘editorialise’. A little referencing goes a long way when constructing an argument.

  2. A former uni lecturer told me to avoid using the word ‘majorly’.

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

The Canberra Times recently labelled me a ‘Passionate Canberran’ after I came to the defence of the city in the wake of the Lonely Planet Top Cities ranking. I thought that was an understatement really …

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

Probably regretting having ever auditioned for The X-Factor.    

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

There’s a whole industry dedicated to learning and improving creative writing skills and I’ve never thought of it being a hoax, like fortune-telling or fabric softener. That said, I’m not convinced that aspects like humour or wit in creative writing can be taught.

I couldn’t help but wonder: is Carrie’s influence why so many Gen Ys write solely of their own opinions and experience, without including any facts, references or research?

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

  1. Editors’ feedback will, for the most part, make you feel like you should give up. But it’s actually making you a stronger writer. 

  2. Twitter for emerging writers feels like high school for new students.

  3. As much as we love Sex and the City – like we can taste the Cosmopolitans or feel the purple fluff on those ugly-ass shoes – Carrie Bradshaw is fiction. Aside from the very obvious logistics (one weekly newspaper column can in no way cover rent) her writing isn’t adequate. I couldn’t help but wonder: is Carrie’s influence why so many Gen Ys write solely of their own opinions and experience, without including any facts, references or research?  

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

Both! I tend to keep non-fiction books as paperbacks because I’m a serial offender in terms of writing in books. I underline well-written passages or interesting facts and like to flick back and re-read pages I’ve marked. Ebooks are so convenient, though. Anyone stuck in the times of yore, unwilling to give ebooks a go, is doing themselves a massive literary disservice in my opinion. What beats ‘that smell’ of a brand new paperback? I’ll tell you what: a dimmable light function that allows you to read in bed without waking up your partner.

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

I’d love to host a dinner party for the entire Babysitters Club as a ‘where are they now’ type event. We’d talk about career successes, failed marriages and who they voted for in the last election.

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

You never forget baby’s first feminist discourse. The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard is an engaging, yet depressing read, about the status of women in the 21st Century. I remember my ex-boyfriend having a tough time with my new obsession, saying, ‘You’ve read one page of that book and you think you’re some feminist now!’ Well, I haven’t stopped thinking I’m a feminist since.

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