Judy Nunn - Author Q & A

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5 minutes with Judy Nunn

Judy Nunn’s career has been long, illustrious and multifaceted. After combining her internationally successful acting career with scriptwriting for television and radio, Judy decided in the 90s to turn her hand to prose.

Interview courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia

Many of your recent books, such as Spirits of the Ghan, Tiger Men, and Maralinga, are finely crafted examples of Australian historical fiction. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from and how do you approach your research?

My imagination is all I can offer. I’m a storyteller, I think and dream and the stories become my reality.  Then I choose a suitable time and place in which to tell the tale.  The fact that I’m a bit of a tragic when it comes to Australian history makes the search for the time and place to set the narrative a little more finite.

Can you give us a brief outline about what your latest book is about?

It is about the tribulations of a group of refugees adrift in a tiny boat on the Indian Ocean.  With reference to question 1, this time my imagination has led me to the current day with its appalling state of international affairs concerning politics, religion and ethnic division.  I am a writer of fiction, I offer no answers and take no sides, I am simply fascinated by what goes on within the human mind that causes people to act in the way they do. Immigration is the perfect subject for a writer to examine humanity, because it contains every possible combination of emotions with which to paint your fictional characters.  We are all painted with the same brush, it is just a matter of which colours we reveal.

What made you decide to make the move from acting to writing? How has your background as an actor informed your writing?

My Mother Margaret “Nancy” Nunn was an actress and children’s radio producer, hence I was exposed as a show off very early on and by the time I was twelve I appeared on stage in my first professional production. It started a love affair with acting that has lasted to this day. By the time I’d entered my twenties I was working full-time in England in fortnightly repertory theatre, the toughest “school of hard knocks” any actor can experience. I performed plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekov and Shaw to name but a few and I absorbed the rules of drama, comedy and farce like a hungry child. Great writers leave indelible marks upon those who interpret their works and I can only assume that writing composition, narrative and dialogue were left as marks upon me. Not, I hasten to add, to the same standard as those I’ve named, but I believe all the years of hard work and application made the transition to writing easier for me.

Who is another Australian author that you admire and why?

My husband Bruce Venables has a vivid imagination and can spin a great yarn (He’s watching over my shoulder as I write this) and he insists I mention his latest book Eureka Run set in Ballarat during the Gold Rush years. Now that threat is out of the way I must say great books appear regularly in Australian literature and hence their writers become household names, and deservedly so. Richard Flanagan, Tim Winton, Patrick White, Miles Franklin, Kate Grenville, Helen Garner, Thomas Keneally, Ruth Park, Peter Carey, David Malouf, Marcus Clarke, Alexis Wright, Frank Hardy, Xavier Herbert and the list goes on ad infinitum. Our country is blessed with an abundance of literary talent.

What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Firstly develop an ego the size of Uluru in order to ignore rejection, then turn on your computer and start at Page 1 Chapter 1.

Okay, all joking aside: Writing is pleasurable.  Do it for your own enjoyment.  Don’t even think of being a “published author”, just do it!  The sheer wonder of writing about another place or time and inventing characters to abide therein can become a very enjoyable obsession. I have found myself completely carried away when writing historically, to the point whereby I’ve had to pull back and take a deep breath to re-establish my whereabouts.

Want to read more about Sanctuary?

On a barren island off the coast of Western Australia, a rickety wooden dinghy runs aground. Aboard are nine people who have no idea where they are. Strangers before the violent storm that tore their vessel apart, the instinct to survive has seen them bond during their days adrift on a vast and merciless ocean.

Fate has cast them ashore with only one thing in common... fear. Rassen the doctor, Massoud the student, the child Hamid and the others all fear for their lives. But in their midst is Jalila, who appears to fear nothing. The beautiful young Yazidi woman is a mystery to them all.

While they remain undiscovered on the deserted island, they dare to dream of a new life.

But forty kilometres away on the mainland lies the tiny fishing port of Shoalhaven. Here everyone knows everyone, and everyone has their place. In Shoalhaven things never change.

Until now...

Sanctuary is available now from Penguin Random House Australia