Canberra-born (now Melbourne-based) author Anna Snoekstra is headed back to the capital next week, for the launch of her new novel Little Secrets. Anna took the time to give us an insight into her process and practice, and set the scene for the book…
Tell us about the inspiration for your new book Little Secrets.
Little Secrets has a lot of extreme and bizarre elements: creepy dolls, morally corrupt characters, gangs of children in paper plate masks and anonymous confessions. Maybe the strangest part is that the two main elements of this story came from real life.
The first was an article that I read back in 2014. It was about the peculiar occurrence of porcelain dolls left on doorsteps in a small community. The oddest part being that the dolls bared an uncanny resemblance to the daughters that lived in each house. It turned out that the reason for all this was totally innocent, but it struck me how intense the reactions of people was to it. Before the truth behind the incident came out people were paranoid and really quite scared by the dolls, jumping to the worst possible conclusions.
The other element that brought this book together came from my own life. For years I tried to make it as a screenwriter, and then as a novelist. I would write all day and work at a cinema at night. I was incredibly ambitious during this time, and there were moments were my own drive was consuming. It could sometimes feel ugly how desperate I was to succeed. Instead of trying to deny this about myself, I thought it was interesting to spotlight it and really dig deep into the mechanisms and potential consequences of obsessive ambition.
These elements came together in the story through the protagonist, Rose Blakey. She works in a sticky pub in a forgotten town and dreams of being a journalist. When the dolls begin appearing in her own neighborhood, including one given to her little sister, she seizes the opportunity. Feeding the budding paranoia, she writes a sensationalized article about the occurrence and gets published in a major newspaper. Things only get worse when the people of the town believe her exaggerations, and the situation quickly spins out of control.
How do you know which ideas to follow?
The ones that stick. I usually have at least a million ideas jangling around in my head at all times. The ones that don’t go away, that keep me awake at two in the morning and continually distract me from everything else I’m doing, are the ones I know I need to follow to conclusion.
Your debut novel Only Daughter is in the process of being made into a film. You’ve studied screenwriting and cinema yourself – what is the relationship between film and the written word in your practice, and how does this impact upon your work?
It’s had a huge impact on the way I write. I approach novels with the major elements of screenwriting in my head, which I find really helpful. Structure is everything to me, so I am always breaking down the story to it’s smallest parts.
I’m also a very visual person. When I’m editing, I use coloured cards for each chapter and make a huge pinboard so that I can see the whole story. I often like to have multiple timelines and points of view, which can get overwhelming unless I can see it all in front of me.
My film background has probably also contributed to me really needing to see the characters and settings in order to write. I used to pin images all around my writing desk but, since I write crime, this would sometimes freak out visitors. I now keep a visual diary on tumblr for each project. (Take a look here!)
With two books now under your belt, what have you learnt about the process that you could pass on to aspiring novelists?
There are so many things I’ve learnt over the last ten years that I could probably fill a whole book! The two major things are probably the simplest. The first is to understand that rejection is, unfortunately, part of the process. I remember writing a novella about five years ago and being told that I had a one in a hundred chance to get a literary agent for it. So I decided that I would query one hundred agents. I got well into the fifties when I gave up! It was incredibly hard to be rejected that many times, but I forced myself to keep going. I then wrote Only Daughter, which had its own fair share of rejections too in the beginning.
The other is the most important: write every day. It’s a hard one to stick to, but it makes all the difference.
You’re invited to Muse Canberra, 5:30pm on Tuesday 31 October to join Anna for the launch of Little Secrets. Find the event page HERE.
BIO: Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia in 1988. After finishing university, Anna wrote for independent films and fringe theatre, and directed music videos. During this time, she worked as a cheesemonger, a waitress, a Christmas elf, a nanny, a receptionist, a cinema attendant and a film reviewer.
Anna now lives with her husband and tabby cat and works full time writing. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Guardian, Filmme Fatales and she is a regular contributor to Lindsay Online. Her first novel Only Daughter was released in 2016, and her second, Little Secrets, is out now.