Hello fellow book lovers!
I am excited to be bringing you another book club wrap up and author interview. I know it comes right after the September one I posted last night but I wanted to get this out to you all before we meet on Saturday.
Last month the Cosy Reading Book Club met on the 12th of October to once again discuss their book of the month. The book for October was The Breeding Season by Amanda Niehaus.
This was a very intense and emotional book which definitely made us think and even sometimes made you uncomfortable in the way that confronting art often does.
Our group was fairly mixed on this one but it definitely provided lots of material for a good discussion! And I personally enjoyed the confronting and bleak nature of this novel.
Thanks to the amazing people over at Allen & Unwin we were able to interview the author, Amanda Niehaus, and ask her some questions about the book and her inspiration behind it.
with Amanda Niehaus
Where did your inspiration for The Breeding Season come from?
In 2008, when my daughter Nelle was 8 months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Reproduction and death seemed so terribly intertwined then: the estrogen that helped my baby grow inside me had also encouraged deadly cells to grow in my breast. I thought a lot about that connection as I went through treatment, and I wanted to know more.
In 2013 I was awarded a fellowship to study the connection between reproduction and death in northern quolls and antechinuses, two species of marsupials that invest so much energy into breeding that they die soon after. For antechinuses, both sexes die–the males after a crazy short breeding season, and the females after their babies are weaned. For northern quolls, only the males die–the females live and breed over 3 years.
I wrote The Breeding Season to understand what it means to give yourself to someone or something, at the expense of all others, and what it means to hold back.
There are a lot of intense themes and controversial issues that are dealt with in this novel. Did any of this come from your own personal experience or history?Definitely. Though I didn’t have a stillborn child, cancer took away my ability to have any more children, and I grieved that loss for a long time. Maybe I still do. I’m still getting used to life being different from what I planned–and that’s Elise inside me. That’s her way of seeing the world.
But other themes are just things I needed to explore to understand more deeply. I think this is what pulled me from science into art–the subjectivity of art, the way that perspective is encouraged rather than shuttered.
I’m curious, for example, about the way we see each other and see ourselves–men seeing women, women feeling men seeing them, women seeing women, imagining being seen. All these gazes shaping behaviour, shaping art, shaping the way we visualise fertilisation.
I’m curious how a woman might use her body to heal, or to punish, what a woman carries in her body or on it, what her agency is when she is young or pregnant or grieving.
I’m interested in what’s “allowed” to be said or performed, and what isn’t, and who makes the rules.
What made you want to write about grief and the differences between art and science?
I think I just answered this one, oops. 🙂
The Breeding Season is written in a unique and poetic writing style. What made you choose to write the story this way?
I hear every word as I write it, and I like to play with the shape of phrases and sentences on the page to help others experience them that way, too.
This is an emotional story, was it difficult to write?
It was! But I think that’s a very good thing. For a long time after my cancer diagnosis in 2008, I felt my mortality so intensely–and it changed the way I wanted to live my life. But after awhile, you start to forget again, take things for granted, play it safe. Writing opens the wounds just enough to remember.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
I have lived in Iowa, done fieldwork on birds in Alaska, driven through Joshua Tree, worked with antechinuses in Queensland and quolls in NT, spent an exhilarating (mind-blowing) day in MONA. So much of this book is my life, yet not my life. Twisted slightly.
How long did it take you to write The Breeding Season?
I started thinking about it in 2013, but it was only when wrote a story called Breeding Season in 2016 (you can read that here) and met Elise that I knew this was her book. Except that it wasn’t just her book, but Dan’s too. I finished it in January 2018 and my agent sold it to Allen & Unwin that June.
The cover is very powerful, especially once you know the context, how much say did you have over the cover design?
No say at all! I was so nervous when I opened the email from my publisher, and clicked on the pdf she’d attached. But then I saw this cover and burst into tears. It’s perfect. It’s so many things at once.
What made you want to be a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
As a scientist, I never imagined I’d write a novel. But I love the truth that fiction tells.
What is your writing process? Do you need to stick to a strict schedule, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
I now write a lot of the time for work–grant writing, mostly–so I have to make creative time completely separate. Ideas or images do strike me randomly, and I write them down in a notebook or text them to myself. But most writing happens in binge-y sessions on short retreats (4 -14 days) away from home and regular life, where I can sleep, eat, bathe, walk what I’m working on.
What are your top five favourite books you’ve read this year?
- Beauty, by Bri Lee. It’s intelligent and insightful and brutally honest. And about so much more than beauty.
- Night Fishing, by Vicki Hastrich. The way she writes natural places, and her experience of them.
- Hearing Maud, by Jessica White. This hybrid memoir/biography is so beautifully written and Maud’s story breaks your heart. How far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.
- Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton. It’s everywhere, and I didn’t want to love it … but I did. Beginning to end. How to tell a story 101.
I just read a novel that is coming out next year that I loved sooooooo much but I don’t know what I can tell you yet!! Stay tuned, I’ll be plugging it for sure. All I can say is that it’s one of the most honest books I’ve ever read about what we give to our children from our hearts, bodies, and possible futures.
Do you have any future projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I’ve started my next novel, and it’s another complicated love story. I just can’t help myself. This time the science is related to ageing, so there’ll probably be a lot fewer references to genitalia. Maybe. 🙂
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
Thank you sooooo much for supporting my first book! I hope you have connected with some part of Dan and Elise’s lives. And please come say hello sometime 🙂
BOOKS WE ARE LOVING
Each month at book club we talk about and share with the group what books we have read in the last month and loved!
Here are the books the Cosy Reading Book Club attendees have been enjoying in the lead up to our September book club:
- 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
- The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
- Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
- The Terror by Dan Simmons
- A Chip Shop in Poznań by Ben Aitken
- The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
Keep tuned for the next wrap up as we discuss our November book: The Sea & Us by Catherine de Saint Phalle.