What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Meredith Jaffé

It's really such an honour to welcome well-known book critic and former literary editor of The Hoopla, Meredith Jaffé to my blog today to celebrate the recent release of her debut novel, The Fence, which was published on 30 August.

Meredith became a writer via the scenic route. As a schoolgirl she wrote stories and poetry almost exclusively on the topic of horses (her poem The Brumbies was published in the annual school magazine!). When not writing about or riding horses, she channeled her energies into drama classes earning bit parts in the annual school plays. In Year 12, she scored one of the two leading roles in the school's production of Pride and Prejudice. Playing the part of Darcy remains the pinnacle of her acting career!

Meandering off to university, Meredith majored in English Literature and Sociology and upon graduating she announced that she was going to be a writer. Her parents told her not to be silly and to get a real job, which she did. For 9 years, she worked at an insurance company and later became quite successful as a recruiter, possibly because it allowed her to collect other people’s life stories.

Facing the impending birth of her third child, she decided it was time to write or die wondering. Her early writing caught the eyes of one of the founders of the online women’s magazine The Hoopla and Meredith joined the magazine when it launched in July 2011. In March the following year, Meredith stepped into the role of Editor, Books and enjoyed three blissful years reviewing books and interviewing writers before the magazine closed its doors in March 2015.

Along the way, she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards and chaired panels, presented workshops and interviewed fellow writers for various literary festivals. She volunteers at The Footpath Library where she is the Ambassador Program Coordinator enlisting writers to share the joy of reading with homeless people. She also runs their national EPIC! writing competition for school children.

Everybody has a story, so please feel free to pull up a stump and hear Meredith's.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Pan Macmillan, for making this interview possible.

Meredith, it’s really great to have you here, so welcome.

Marcia, it’s so nice of you to have me. I’ve been riding already this morning and it’s the perfect time to sit down for a chat and a cuppa.

Please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.

When I started interviewing authors for The Hoopla, one of the things that surprised me was how many women had made the same decision as me. Write a book or die wondering. Even though babies are incredibly time consuming, it seems to be a common catalyst for saying, ‘right, it’s now or never.’ Mind you, because I did have four children at home at the time, including a new born, that novel took me six and a half years to write! The Fence, written last year, was contracted before I had written a word. So that novel was written in one month. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

I recently finished reading The Fence but for those who haven't yet gotten their hands on a copy, would you mind telling us about it?

The Fence centres around a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Gwen Hill has lived there all her married life and when her neighbour Babs dies, she worries who will move in next door. Francesca, with her house husband and four kids, sees a move to the leafy suburbs as a cure for her unstable marriage. When she wants to build a fence, Francesca is outraged that Gwen has very different ideas about containing children and protecting boundaries. Fighting over building a fence brings out the worst in both of them. The relationship sours to such an extent that even after the fence is built, the battle between these two women is far from over.

I’m just a little intrigued at the subject matter you chose – what made you want to write about neighbourly squabbles? Could it possibly stem from first-hand experience or is it a way of illuminating some of the challenges in human social relationships?

When we lived in Sydney, we had new neighbours move in next door. They wanted a fence where one had never existed before. It astounded me how emotionally charged the issue became. And that got me wondering why. What better way to answer the question than to explore the issue via a novel.

I didn’t particularly like Frankie (from my own personal observations of her character) but could you tell us how you felt writing her? I’m sure there must have been times you just wanted to strangle her!

Poor Frankie. I’m very mean to her and she does some really stupid and shocking things. However, I think anyone who is juggling full time work and a young family can find themselves under immense emotional pressure. Stress does not always bring out the best in us. A lot of Frankie’s issues are because she feels out of control so her way of coping with that is to try and control everyone and everything. Of course, that just makes the situation worse.

Considering that Gwen is a keen gardener, you’ve included information regarding gardening, so what kind of research did you need to do? Or are you just a natural green-thumb with a penchant for gardening and plants?

I wish I was a green thumb, but sadly I am not. I read mountains of gardening magazines and dipped into gardening books. Now we live on a farm, we have a massive garden. I’m really hoping some of this newly acquired knowledge sticks!

How did you feel when you submitted the final draft of your book baby to the publishers, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before it would wing its way into readers’ hands?

Anxious. By the time I handed in the manuscript, I’d  already read it ten, twenty or more times. It held no surprises and even though I had four lovely first readers, would my publisher like it too? Then, of course, there is the whole editing process. So much more work goes into getting every tiny detail right. So it has felt like ages until publication day. Now I get to be anxious all over again as I hope readers love it.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging in writing The Fence?

Nothing extraordinary. Just the usual writing issues around pacing and holding the tension in balance. But I started writing The Fence with a very clear structure and voice in mind so it really flew onto the page.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Finish it. Creating perfect sentences, paragraphs and chapters comes with the editing not the first draft.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t wait for the muse. She is a fickle wench who turns up in her own sweet time and never when you desperately need her. You must plod on regardless.

Where to next?

I’ve just finished the first draft of novel number three. So I am about to plunge into editing mode with that and I have some lovely events where I hope to meet many readers and hear their fence stories.

Now that we have the official interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

Oh golly. I don’t have a clue. Maybe we can make up a fantasy question, such as, how does it feel to have Cate Blanchet buy the film rights to The Fence? I don’t even know if Cate has a production company but she is marvelous. 

Pizza or Pasta?

Well it was homemade pizzas last night, so I guess I’ll have to go with pizza.

Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?

Umm, there’s a cold glass of champagne at the finish line?

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

I like books that raise passions and create a conversation. I’m thinking of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin or Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. For pure reading pleasure, right now it would be the new Suzanne Rindell, Three-Martini Lunch, because her first novel, The Other Typist was simply wonderful.

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!

I love Scrabble and play online every day with a group of friends. I regularly lose. Note to self, don’t play Scrabble with word nerds!

I am not frightened of snakes but that doesn’t mean I have any urge to hold one.

I am terrified of sailing boats and once avoided a corporate team bonding day aboard the tall ships for that very reason. My boss was very unimpressed but you know what? There was no way I was taking my life in my hands by being on something that could tip over at any minute and end up drowning.

Meredith, it’s been a real treat having you here today and I wish you all the best of luck with the release of your debut which I have no doubt will be well received. Before you go though, would you mind sharing with us an excerpt from The Fence?

"If Babs were here, she’d laugh at Gwen hovering in the front garden waiting for the new neighbours to arrive. Gwen can almost hear her saying, ‘Look at you, Gwennie, raking up the leaves from beneath the plane trees, pretending you’re busy.’
   ‘That’s not entirely fair,’ Gwen replies in her head, surveying the soft mounds of leaves heaped under several of the trees along Green Valley Avenue. ‘I do this every year.’
  They used to burn the leaves but the council never lets you do such things anymore. ‘No, now we live in the nanny state,’ Gwen mutters to herself. No besser block incinerators, no smoking piles sending up their woody aroma. Mind you, even before the council’s interference, Gwen had changed her tune on the issue of burning leaves. Leaves are valuable organic matter better suited to mulching and keeping the soil warm in winter.
  Gwen hears the crunch of tyres on the road before she sees the white four-wheel drive heave into the driveway of 18 Green Valley Avenue. She continues raking the leaves whilst sending out waves of disapproval beneath the shadows of her widebrimmed hat. The large European model car has a ‘Baby on Board’ sign suctioned to a side window and a stick family in the bottom left corner of the rear window. It provides advance warning that the dad plays a guitar, that the mother is a perky sort with a mobile phone glued to her ear and a laptop in her hand, and the children are a superhero, a ballerina and a gymnast. The baby appears to have angel wings and a halo. Nauseating, Gwen thinks, raking so hard that she bends a tine on her favourite rake. Squinting, she sees what appears to be two sheep. Sheep? ‘Well I hope you’re satisfied, Babs Mody,’ Gwen accidentally says aloud, almost hearing Babs’ low chuckle in reply.
   Gwen hasn’t met the new neighbours. When the open for inspections were on, she was at the studio in Chatswood doing her gardening talkback show. She’s had to rely on Eric’s somewhat ambiguous descriptions and, being Eric, he tended to confuse the details of which couple were which. Scurrying along to the next tree, Gwen reflects on her conversations with Eric but no matter how she sifts and sieves the information, she is adamant he never mentioned children – and so many!
   The woman, she of the mobile phone and laptop, has brown hair tied up in a high ponytail. She’s wearing those oversized sunglasses in fashion these days. Her skirt flares around her boots and a long cardigan flaps over the whole ensemble. It is an unfortunate look on a woman barely scraping five foot four. The proportions emphasise that she is a shorty, or as Eric likes to call them, ‘a duck’s arse’.
   The kids are released one by one. First comes a little boy with blond hair past his shoulders so it is only the snowman t-shirt that makes Gwen certain he is a he. Next comes a little girl identical in looks and dress. The pair scamper straight into the garden, trampling the native violets under the camellias as they go.
  The father holds a fat toddler with remarkable ginger hair wearing the same outfit as her siblings but Gwen is more interested in how the man is dressed. Pretending to rake some leaves from under the buddleja in the front border, she sneaks closer, bending to peer through its branches.
    He wears black jeans and a bulky fisherman’s jumper with a pea coat over the top. It’s Rosedale not Russia, thinks Gwen. But it’s the hat that annoys her most. More of a giant tea-cosy than a hat. A beanie, she supposes, but not the kind that a real fisherman might wear to protect himself from the bitter winds of the Black Sea, no, this beanie sort of sags at the back. When Jonno was in his teens he used to like that Bob Marley who wore a not dissimilar beanie over his dreadlocks. On a handsome black man like Bob Marley, a baggie beanie looked stylish, but on a weedy white man, it looks pretentious."
          'Extracted from The Fence by Meredith Jaffé, published by Macmillan Australia and
           out now'

About the Book

"I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won't keep your children in. Life's not that simple."

Gwen Hill adores Green Valley Avenue. Here she has built friendships, raised her children and nurtured a thriving garden. So when the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will settle into this cosy community.

Francesca Desmarchelliers has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than a new home, it's a clean slate for Frankie, who has moved her brood in a bid to save her marriage.

To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between the properties, destroying Gwen's picture-perfect front yard.

To Gwen, this is an act of war.

Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle about more than just council approvals, where boundaries aren't the only things at stake.

ISBN: 9781743540152
Pub date: 30/08/2016
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 368
RRP: AU$32.99

The Fence is available from all good bookstores now! Or grab a copy at one of the following links:


Popular Posts