Inga Simpson is the author of Mr Wigg and Nest. She has been shortlisted for an Indie Award and longlisted for the Dobbie Award. (Update: Nest has also just been longlisted for The Stella Prize!) Simpson holds a PHD in Creative Writing and a Masters in English Literature. She is currently researching Australian nature writing for a PhD in English Literature, and lives among trees in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Her official website is http://www.ingasimpson.com.au/
Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?
My parents were both big readers and my mother read to me from an early age. Blinky Bill is the first book I remember and I still have it. My mother later studied teacher-librarianship and gave me a lot of Australian books, like I Can Jump Puddles and The Nargun and the Stars, and collections of all the classic writers, like Lousia May Alcott and Mark Twain, which were all formative. My father brought home The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, when I was nine or ten, which opened up a whole other world. As an only child, I read a lot, and at night we tended to read rather than watch TV. By my teens I was reading Russian novels.
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
I had a career setback in my mid-thirties and was quite burnt out. I browsed a university handbook intending to choose some sort of administrative law post graduate course, to further my advancement, but ended up enrolling in a creative writing degree, which was a roundabout way of trying to find out if I had any talent. I had only written a few short stories since primary school. It was the third time I had enrolled in a writing course – but this time I showed up.
How did your debut novel Mr Wigg come to be written and published?
I had written a detective novel and a speculative fiction novel and had come close to breaking through but hadn’t found a publisher. I decided that my best chance was to write a realist novel, and to set it where I grew up, in Central West NSW. I had the title, Mr Wigg, and the character, and knew it would centre around an orchard. In some ways, I wanted it to be counter to the gothic representations of rural Australia that I had read so many of, because they bore little relation to my own experiences. The book didn’t end up quite as realist as I had intended, but I entered it in the 2011 QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program and it was one of the manuscripts chosen. I had the opportunity to work with a very experienced publisher, Bernadette Foley, to develop the manuscript further, which Hachette published in 2013.
What was the inspiration behind your latest novel Nest?
I read a lot of ‘cabin in the woods’ books these days, but they are usually men surrounded by snow. I wanted to see if I could pull off that premise but with a woman protagonist and a sub-tropical Australian setting. I also live in the area where Daniel Morecombe went missing, and had observed some of the impacts of a child’s disappearance (and the time taken to find out what had happened to them) on the community – on those left behind. I put these two ideas together, hoping to come up with some sort of plot, and Nest was the result.
What are your writing habits?
I do most of my writing in a studio separate to my house. It is surrounded by bushland. When drafting, I tend to write only for an hour or two in the morning, before nine, Monday to Friday. Once I have a draft, I spend a few weeks to a month working more intensively, to get the manuscript to the stage where I am ready to show my first reader – and get some initial feedback. Then I’ll repeat that process until I feel comfortable sending the manuscript off to my publisher.
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I stop trying. I go on with other work, and just read good books, and walk and swim until I’m refreshed and the ideas start coming again. Then I’ll approach it side on, just writing passages in a notebook, or sticking in pictures and copying out quotes – somewhere other than my usual workspace, too. When I feel like a have a lot to get down, I go back to the desk, back to the laptop.
What are you working on now?
Another novel. It is set partly in the Lachlan Valley and partly in Canberra. It’s the coming of age story of a group of children, and the course of action one of them takes, as an adult, to try and put something right. It’s art crime, in a way, but with an Australian twist.
What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?
It’s hard to name just one! Gillian Mears’ The Grass Sister is a beautiful book that got me hankering to write myself.
Reviews of Inga’s books
Mr Wigg, reviewed by John at Musings of a Literary Dilettante
Nest, reviewed by Lisa Walker
Nest, reviewed by The Opal Octopus
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Thanks for sharing this. I read and reviewed Nest last year after hearing Inga speak at the Hervey Bay Mary Ryan’s.
Inga really inspired me to think again about writing (something other than blog posts) and also got me thinking about the idea of a mentor – which was something I’d never considered.
I’m yet to do anything about that… but the idea continues to marinate in my little mind!
I’m glad the interview’s given you some food for thought. I’m looking forward to hearing Inga speak this weekend at Perth Writers Festival.
A mentor can be a wonderful thing.
Nice to see this – she’s on my reading list. And funny she mentioned The Grass Sister as I’ve been dying to try that book too but haven’t had the chance to dive in yet. 🙂
I’m yet to read anything by Gillian Mears which is a major gap in my Australian women’s fiction reading – but I must confess to being a little put off by her dark subject matter.
Absolutely LOVED “Nest” when I first read it. Will do so again, because my daughter has just been accepted for a three month writing mentorship with this most interesting author.
I envy your daughter, Renee. I hope she gets a lot out of it – I’m sure she will!