It is a pleasure to welcome Meg Bignell to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, an author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Welcome to Nowhere River we sat down for a chat. Thanks Meg!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
Are we sitting down after five? If so, maybe a glass of chilled Riesling. If it’s before five, a cup of tea is perfect. Sweet with lots of milk please.
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
In my twenties I applied for and received a mentorship grant to complete my first novel, an experienced which was a bit tainted because my mentor turned out to be a bit of a sleaze and it became clear he wasn’t all that interested in my work! I continued to write as a copywriter and producer for my local television station, then later as a medical advisor and researcher for the television drama All Saints (I also have a degree in Nursing). Once I had children, I began writing regularly on a slightly irreverent blog which really helped me find my voice. I was also writing screen plays and making short films. It took me a while before I was brave enough to commit to another novel, but it was worth it because The Sparkle Pages landed me a two book deal with Penguin Random House. Welcome to Nowhere River is book two, so it’s still early doors for me as a novelist. If I’m building a body of work, I’m about up to the ankles.
How different was the experience of writing Welcome To Nowhere River, compared to your previous release, The Sparkle Pages?
My work had more permission with WTNR because it was under contract and came with a deadline. The Sparkle Pages was mostly written in my spare time, between child rearing and corporate work. This time around I felt more validated as a novelist, and as a mother not so guilty about missing swimming carnivals and things. On the other hand, there was more pressure because I felt I had to deliver something that can help build my audience and keep my career going. I had more self-doubt. I’m still learning how to navigate that.
Can you tell us what inspired the creation of your new book, Welcome To Nowhere River?
It started life as a few scenes of a screenplay years ago, so the pictures I had in my mind of the setting and some of the characters were very strong. It was a really easy book to start because I felt I knew the terrain. And then I simply got lost in Nowhere River! It draws partially on my experiences growing up in a small country town on a river, and now living in another country town on the coast, with an agricultural show. I’m so inspired by what communities can do together — build traditions and lingos, rebuild after catastrophe, find one another, save one another, laugh. In the days after my children’s school burnt down, along with much of the town, good humour and kindness and resilience were in abundance. I never set out to write about that, but that experience was profound and it was bound to creep into my work.
What are the main themes present in Welcome To Nowhere River?
Community, friendship, laughter, paying attention and the idea that everyone deserves a chance to be their best. I hope that doesn’t sound too earnest. There’s a fart in the book and a lot of swearing so maybe that balances out any gravity.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you have a set outline of Welcome To Nowhere River before you sat down to write this novel, or did you allow this book to take shape during the writing process?
A total pantser. I had an idea of where I wanted the book to go but no outline. In fact what I delivered to my publisher was more like two books in one. So then there was the challenge of extricating one from the other. During that process my characters (of which there are many) ran about all over the place so in the end it was like herding cats. I have tried plotting but I overthink things and agonise and my time is better spent just getting words on the page.
Did you have an affinity with a particular character in Welcome To Nowhere River and why?
I realise that the characters of Lucie and Len appeared in my first novel as well, just with different names and situations, and I have a hunch that Lucie might be me in about 20 years. I just know precisely how she will react and what she is thinking without having to work at it. I have a very soft spot for Abigail as well. She just aches with empathy.
Can you tell us more about the setting of your book, Nowhere River?
It’s a fictional town on an imagined tributary of the river I grew up on in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley. Its economic downturn is inspired very much by that of my childhood town, New Norfolk, which has survived a few decades of crippling change. I lived right on the river bank and I still sometimes stand there and marvel at how unrecognisable some parts of the town are while others — including the river — are utterly the same.
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Welcome To Nowhere River?
Don’t get too swept up in your own world. Look outwards, be a citizen, get involved, do your bit. Even if you don’t feel you have the energy, everyone else’s is contagious.
When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Reading. Seeing friends. Walking. Skiing. Gardening. Being with my family and my dog.
What book is next on your reading pile?
I think it’ll be The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin, because it’s described as ‘full of wisdom and kindness’, which sounds right up my alley. I have Bill Gate’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster on my list as well, for obvious reasons and Stravinsky’s Lunch by Drusilla Modjeska because I was too busy being a twitty twenty-four year old when that came out.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
I’m working on another novel, which is in draft zero stage and proving difficult to bring to a conclusion. This is where my lack of planning takes me into labyrinths and I have to write my way out! It’s called The Angry Women’s Choir, which kind of says it all. It has a soundtrack too, which I’m composing in collaboration with some wonderful Tasmanian musicians.
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Meg. Congratulations on the release of your new book, Welcome To Nowhere River.
Thank you for having me, Mrs B. From another Mrs B.
The highly original and heartfelt new novel from the author of The Sparkle Pages.
Long past its heyday and deep in drought, the riverside hamlet of Nowhere River is slowly fading into a ghost town. It’s a place populated by those who are beholden to it, those who were born to it and those who took a wrong turn while trying to go somewhere else.
City-born Carra married into Nowhere River, Lucie was brought to it by tragedy, Josie is root-bound and Florence knows nowhere else. All of them, though familiar with every inch of their tiny hometown, are as lost as the place itself.
The town’s social cornerstone — St Margery’s Ladies’ Club — launches a rescue plan that turns everything around and upside down, then shakes it until all sorts of things come floating to the surface. And none of its inhabitants will ever be the same again.
This is the highly original and heartfelt story of a place where everybody knows everything, but no one really knows anyone at all. Brimming with heart and humour, this is a delightful novel that celebrates the country people and towns of Australia.
Welcome to Nowhere River by Meg Bignell was published on 2nd March 2021 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Meg here: