Anika Donnison: What are you currently reading and why? What drew your attention to it?
Nadia Heisler: I have the terrible habit of reading more than one book at once. At the moment, I’m reading Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos, and Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane, although I must say I’m also listening to an audio version of Last Night and not only reading it. I’m a big fan of audio books because I drive quite a lot and I can’t help but to think I’m wasting my precious life by only driving and getting stuck in traffic.
So, since I discovered audio books, my life has improved quite drastically. I started reading Lucky’s because my mentor, Bindy Pritchard, recommended it to me. I love stories about immigrants and how different cultures have established and developed themselves here in Australia, and I must say this book is perfect. Pippos is such a talented writer. Last Night is actually a romantic comedy and I’m an unashamed reader of these types of books too. I’m a big fan of McFarlane’s writing – it’s clever, witty, and touching all at once. Besides, I love the accents in this book’s audio version, I can listen to it for hours and hours non-stop.
AD: That’s amazing, especially to find someone who is proud of openly reading romance, I know there is a bit of a stigma surrounding it. Are these kinds of genres what you enjoy writing as well? Or is it simply just what you enjoy escaping into?
NH: Yes, there definitely is a stigma around it, which I find a bit sad to be honest. I think everyone can learn a bit from romances too. Some love stories are extremely interesting and complex, just like our own interpersonal relationships. Besides, they’re indeed a wonderful escape – and these days we’re all looking for some sort of escape, aren’t we? All of my writing has romantic elements in it, but I don’t consider it to be pure romance. At the moment, I’m writing a novel – a modern fiction story with lots of romance in it, but also lots of comedy, and a bit of drama too, because I’m Brazilian and I feel like being dramatic is in my DNA. I’m having so much fun writing this novel, so I can’t be ashamed of it
AD: When you’re not writing what do you do?
NH: When I’m not writing, I’m procrastinating [laughs]. That’s a terribly honest thing to say. Well, I do read lots and I love going for walks. I work part-time for the Red Cross too, which keeps me very busy. When I get home from work, I play with my dog and my cats – my friends joke around calling my house the ‘Gosnells Cat Haven’, but the truth is I only have two cats. I’d love to have more, but my husband would probably leave me if I adopted as much as half a cat. I also love annoying my husband when he plays video games, which he does very, very often. This may sound silly, but I get so much pleasure from distracting him. He hates it, of course, but this has become a tradition in our family.
AD: That sounds adorable. How long have you been married? And how old are your pets?
NH: I’ve been married for two years this November, still in the honeymoon phase they say, but we started living together after three months of dating. Crazy! Our sausage dog and one of our cats are five and our baby cat is turning three in November.
AD: What is a book that changed your life?
NH: This is such a hard question! I’ll have to give you two books (sorry!), they were the first ones that came to my mind. The first one is Blink from Malcolm Gladwell. I read it when I was studying journalism back in Brazil and it was mind-blowing. It’s a book about first impressions, quick decisions, and how we’re constantly making small judgments without even noticing it. The book talks about racism, prejudices, stereotypes, and day to day forms of unconscious bias we perform. It’s an amazing book, an eye-opener, and I think every single person would benefit from reading Blink.
The second one is Pachinko by Min Jee Lee. I read this book while on my honeymoon, so maybe the atmosphere helped a little in making me love it so much. Pachinko tells the story of four generations of a Korean family who immigrated to Japan in times of colonisation and war. This book also brings strong themes such as racism and stereotypes and goes through what this family needed to endure to survive in such a hostile environment. Even though this is a fictional book, the historical events in it are real and I took it almost like a history class. I learned so much with Pachinko, it still gives me goosebumps.
AD: You’ve worked a range of different jobs throughout your life, but what inspired you to pursue writing and why do you write?
NH: Yes, I have. Way too many! Well, but that’s what you do when you move overseas on a student visa and need to learn a whole new language from scratch. I had no choice but to work doing all sorts of things, but I have no regrets. I think I’ve gained so much experience from doing this and a different view about the world. In saying this, my very first job was as a journalist, back in Brazil. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but once I moved to Australia, I felt like I had to learn English first.
AD: What inspired you to join the program?
NH: It’s amazing that Centre for Stories goes above and beyond to support people like me, from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. I wanted to join the program because I wanted to make the most of this unique opportunity. I was getting a bit lost in the process of becoming a writer, and I knew having an established writer as my mentor would help me. I needed guidance. Besides, I worked with Centre for Stories on a few other occasions, and I knew how much they’d be able to help me, as long as I had the passion and the perseverance to keep writing.
AD: What are the unexpected things that have come up in the early stages of your mentorship and how have you navigated it?
NH: My mentor, Bindy Pritchard, is very career focused and since our very first meeting she made me see my writing not only as a hobby, but as a career possibility. She believes in me and in my writing and I think it’s safe to say she’s my biggest supporter (sorry Mum!). This has made a massive difference in the way I approach my writing. Apart from that, Bindy made me see that the fact I come from a different culture is actually my biggest asset. I think I’ve been trying to blend in for too long and sometimes I forget where I come from. In all honesty, I never considered myself to be 100% Brazilian as my family comes from all parts of the world, we have Spanish, Hungarian, Austrian, Italian, and Jewish heritage, so sometimes it’s hard for me to write about Brazil and Brazil only. People often have trouble believing I’m from Brazil, because they reckon I don’t fit the stereotype of a typical Brazilian. This drives me nuts too. So, it’s been amazing to take a few steps back into my past and navigate through this territory (exploring where we are really from, where we really belong). There’s so much richness in the Brazilian culture, and I was lucky enough to experience it for myself for twenty-three years, so it’s nice to be able to explore this in my writing and bring some of this to Australia.
AD: How has having another person working on your piece shape your own style so far?
NH: Bindy is a short story writer and I think that’s where her biggest strength is. Her stories are so different, and they always have a surprise element in them. I think she helped me in crafting my stories so the element of surprise is there too. Bindy is very fond of my voice and even when she edits my work, she’s careful to not jump in too much, so that my style is completely changed. She definitely helped me in seeing this voice and how use it in my favour.
AD: When you began, you mentioned you wanted to explore themes of womanhood, motherhood – including abortion and pregnancy loss – and transformation of relationships throughout your life. How has this developed so far?
NH: All my stories have some element of loss in them. That’s a fact, as I think most of our life lessons and of who we are comes from what we lost. Themes linked to abortion and pregnancy loss touch me like no others, as I’ve experienced them for myself, and when I write about them, a very hidden part of me is exposed. I wanted to explore that, to connect with women like me, to normalise these taboos even though this sometimes can be painful to me. Bindy and I worked on a story that explores all these themes, including the transformation of a relationship between two close friends. I loved writing this story, especially given what I was going through in my personal life at the time. I was able to use my personal experiences and feelings and fictionalise them on the page.
AD: Best writing advice you could give or that you have received?
NH: The best writing advice I’ve received was given by Bindy, during the program. She taught me how to fictionalise my personal experiences – so that I can detach myself enough from them and from my values, enabling room for creativity. This is an amazing advice for a person like me, as I tend to write what I know of, but not in a memoir sense. I like to create characters that may be similar to me in a few aspects, but that are not me; to create situations similar to what I have been through, but not exactly like they happened.
AD: Who is your dream collaborator?
NH: That’s too hard. Can I skip this question? Just joking [laughs]. I’m laughing at my own jokes here, and my partner always says that is concerning. Bindy is a godsend to be honest, even though she’s a mentor and not necessarily a collaborator. We have so much in common and I love that she’s not afraid to give me honest feedback. I don’t like when people just say how amazing my writing is. Come on, I know my writing is not amazing. Coming from a journalist background I’m used to people criticising my work, so I’m glad Bindy is honest, and I love this about her.
Apart from that, one day, I’d love to have the possibility of creating a novel with another writer right from the beginning. As I may have mentioned before, my stories do have elements of romance in them, so I’d love to write this story with someone who has the same passions as I do. I’m not sure if I have someone in mind at this stage, please let me know if you do [laughs].
AD: What are you working on in the program? Or briefly describe a piece of writing that you are working on during your mentorship that you are particularly excited about?
NH: Bindy and I have worked on a couple of short stories that I honestly love so much. They all explore elements of the Brazilian culture, and I was able to write these using characters that share the same background as me. Bindy helped me in fictionalising quite a lot of my own experiences in these stories and the transformation from reality to fiction was mind blowing. Apart from that, we’ve been working on a novel too, and this has been a massive challenge. This was an idea I had about two years ago and for some reason I could never abandon it. I just need to write it. I think I’m now too attached to the characters and want to offer them some closure. This is a contemporary fiction novel full of romance and comedic and absurd scenes – maybe something like a romantic comedy. I’m a plotter, so the whole plot is created, and I have a few chapters written, but nothing is set in stone. I just need to keep writing and see where this will take me.
Nadia Heisler is originally from Brazil and has been living in Perth since 2011. Originally a journalist in her home country, she had countless jobs in Australia (including serving drinks in a bikini) before gaining sufficient English skills to go back to doing what she loves the most: writing. Nadia currently works for a not-for-profit organisation and lives with two rescue cats, a sausage dog, and the love of her life.
Anika Donnison studied Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University. She has appeared in GROK and COZE. She currently works as a Social Media Coordinator for Pegasus Professional Accounting.
Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2023. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Centre for Stories Founders Circle, this writing program features mentoring, hot desk, and publication opportunities for emerging writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and/or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.