Features / Fiction / In Their Own Words / Nonfiction

IN HER OWN WORDS: Barbara Anderson

In Monday’s feature piece on Barbara Anderson, Sue Dickman describes the writer’s fierce talent and dry wit, the universal appeal of her work, and her keen perspectives on the evolving lives of women over decades of social change. All this is represented in the quotes below, taken from Anderson’s interviews, as well as her fiction.


“If you’ve always wanted to write, then for goodness sake, do.” —from a 1994 interview with Marianne Brace

“[O]ur self-fulfillment has got to come from within us. We can’t wait until the magic day dawns when we are going to write a book or a poem or a symphony or do enormously successful research. We have to start and do it. I learnt that very late.” —from a 1994 interview collected in Spiritcarvers: Interviews with Eighteen Writers from New Zealand (1998)

Damien Wilkins: One of the reactions to anyone who starts late in writing, I suppose, besides marvel, is a sort of pity—“She missed out on writing for so long; think of all those lost works”—do you consider there are lost books?

Barbara Anderson: No. One of the things I’ve had to do because I’m working on my own autobiography is go back and read some of my books, which is not something I do normally. And with one or two of them, I think “How did I do that?” And I think how lucky I have been. I don’t think “woe, woe” in any way.

—from an interview with Damien Wilkins for Sport (2008)

“[N]o, it doesn’t get any easier. I think you become more conscious of the process, so that instead of just writing you’re sort of watching yourself do it. I do so agree with Virginia Woolf where she says the most difficult thing about writing is getting your character from one room to the other. It’s so difficult. What are you going to say—she hopped, she moved, she crawled? You get sick of it, you just want to tip them through the wall without having to go into it. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it gets any easier.” —from an interview with Nigel Cox for Quote Unquote (1993)

“‘Who makes the rules? Who says? Who? I’ve only met one man in my whole life who ever left room for doubt, for differences. The essential differences. Who realised that we’re all hopeless. Incomplete. That we don’t know. And that’s the man I’m going to sleep with and I wouldn’t go inside your house if you paid me and I never will again and it was stupid of me to suggest it and…’ Tears, dumb infuriating tears, swam in her eyes. Her sniff was long and disgusting. She turned on the ignition, a small sound in the sparking silence.” —All the Nice Girls (1994)

“Elspeth knew she had tried to shatter the cool mother tradition she had been born to. Had tried to break the mould, which unless smashed, sets each daughter in her mother’s attitudes. As soon as she pushed each daughter out to scream its arrival into the world, she tried. She cuddled each newborn, as emaciated as a Christ child in a fifteenth century Dutch painting. She suckled each grabbing mouth. She smiled and cooed at each set of grey eyes which stared unblinkingly at the centre of her forehead. And she gave up.” —“The Girls,” from I think we should go into the jungle (1989)

“We can be tempted by the thought that there is not much point in the world continuing to roll once we have, as it were, shoved off, but this is a solipsistic thought and should not be mentioned except when we sit with friends in what my father used to call unbuttoned ease. When we talk the sun down, thrash out the things that matter, the eternal verities of life and death and how to cope with both or either.” —Change of Heart (2003)

“Mrs. Carew thought about this, gave it her attention. ‘I agree. Truth is best, yes, as a general rule of thumb, so long as you don’t tell someone what a disaster their nose is or something equally offensive. Whether unasked-for truths are always a good idea I’m not so sure. Think what it would be like if we could read each other’s thoughts.’”—The Swing Around (2001)

“One of the reasons I’m so interested in tolerance, trying to accept other people, is that I think we will never really understand other people. This is, of course, one of the strangest thoughts that can occur to us. There’s a wonderful line by T.S. Eliot—in The Cocktail Party, I think—about people living together and ‘breeding children whom they do not understand / And who will never understand them.’ A lot of people find that phrase quite shocking, but I don’t find it so. You can love somebody deeply, but to think that you can get inside their head is a recipe for disaster. In a sense, I disagree with John Donne—we are all islands, and if we ever bang into each other, any sort of communication is a tremendous bonus, in the same way as children growing and going away and returning as their parents’ best friends is a bonus. I can’t understand why—it’s the priority of TV advertisements, I guess, telling us about these marvelous happy families, the father, mother, sons and curly-topped daughters…. Relationships—life—is not like that…” —from the Spiritcarvers interview

Click here to read Sue Dickman’s feature piece on Barbara Anderson.

Bloom Post End

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