It is a pleasure to welcome Marion Frith 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 Here in the After we sat down for a chat. Thanks Marion!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
With lots of strong black coffee already under my belt to kick off the day, I’m now slowing things down with ginger tea, made with fresh ginger.
How did you make the transition from a journalist and speechwriter to a published author?
Like so many people who make a living from wrangling words, I always wanted to write a novel and and plotlines and conversations were always tumbling around inside my head. I’m older than a lot of debut novelists, and one day I had this lightbulb moment of “Oh, I see, if I want to have written a novel … I have to, well, write a novel!” Years of procrastination dissolved in an instant and instead of just thinking about it, I actually sat down and got to work. That said, all that preliminary thinking meant I had pretty much already developed the story I wanted to tell and the characters I wanted to inhabit it.
Can you tell us what inspired the creation of your new book, Here in the After?
Short answer: the world we live in. Every day the news cycle pans the faces of people who have experienced something horrific … and then it moves on. Another day, another montage of misery. What happens to those people after the news cameras stop rolling and they disappear from our screens? How do they even begin to start over?
I had been toying with this idea of trauma’s aftermath for a while, unsure how to develop it, when one day I found myself standing beside a stranger at a pedestrian crossing – a man with shocking laceration scars on his face and hands. He appeared fractured and nervous, separate … a thousand-yard stare … clutching a Coles bag and waiting patiently for the lights to change. He had clearly been through something terrible – I presumed he was a refugee – and I wondered what it had taken for him to get to this point that he was able to re-engage in benign activities like grocery shopping and obeying the traffic lights, appearing outwardly calm. That fleeting image, combined with all the other countless victims of great trauma tumbling through the TV news on high rotation made me want to explore the ideas in the book.
As I was writing, each scene I was working on seemed to be playing itself out in the media in front of me in real-time. Military actions in Afghanistan were gaining more and more attention … there were frequent, random terrorist attacks across Europe … and as I was reconsidering one very difficult scene, wondering how far I could take the narrative, something chillingly similar happened. There was nothing in Anna and Nat’s story that could not be real.
What is the significance of the title to the book?
Trauma changes life irrevocably. It draws a line between what life was and what it has become. Survivors find themselves in a completely new and unfamiliar place. This is where they are now. They are here. In the after of all that went before.
What are the main themes in Here in the After?
It explores how an individual who has experienced the very worst humanity can unleash upon itself begins to find their place in the world again, so the underlying theme is one of trauma. But it is countered by the very best that humanity can unleash upon itself; love, hope and empathy … and it is the collision of these two themes that is the nexus of the story.
Where did the inspiration for the characters of Anna and Nat come from?
A lot of fiction at the moment is about young women and their struggles with life, work and motherhood. I wanted to portray strong woman with all of that long behind her; an older woman who has life sorted – until it isn’t — who has a wisdom and certainty born of life experience to draw upon. Anna is complex character in her 60s and even though she loses sight of it, the foundations and structures of her life are rock solid, cemented hard by time. She is tough and wise and gritty and kind and brave … and was inspired by so many older women I know.
Nat is in his mid-thirties, an Australian Army veteran broken by his time fighting in Afghanistan. I have a long interest in the cost of war of the young men and women we send to fight it, or mop up its carnage. Again, he is inspired by current events; by all that footage we have seen of the past two decades of war; of the flag-draped coffins; of the domestic battlefield that is PTSD. In some ways, I wanted to say to those veterans, we see you.
Did you need to undertake any research for Here in the After?
I did extensive research, but it never once felt like research; it was so humbling. Contrary to my background as a journalist I made the deliberate decision not to do one-on-one interviews. The PTSD story is such a big and personal one I didn’t want to take on the responsibility of holding an individual’s story in my hands, and potentially upsetting – or worse, triggering – them by not portraying it verbatim or as they would have liked. Instead, I used the countless open-source interviews with veterans and other trauma survivors that are out there, audio and written, and distilled and amalgamated those into Nat and Anna.
I also spoke with psychologists, including those specialising with veteran PTSD.
Did you find it challenging to capture the trauma experienced by the characters in your novel?
At first, yes. For almost a year I immersed myself in the first-hand accounts of trauma and PTSD — reading, watching, listening. Once I felt I understood not only what it was, but how it felt, I let myself collapse completely into it and then it came more easily. I worked hard to pull up a semblance of those feelings within myself, sat with them, felt them gnaw at my gut, and wrote from there.
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Here in the After?
Empathy. I hope it reminds readers that we have no idea what is going on for those who walk amongst us; the demons they might be fighting. If we knew, we might be less quick to judge.
What writers have inspired you along the way to publication?
Every writer I have read. Even those I haven’t loved have taught me something .. about myself and about the craft. I let every word I have ever read wash around in there in the creative space in my brain … and let the really beautiful ones sing.
What book or books do you recommend that I add to my reading pile?
Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, for its reminder to hold on to the wonder of life.
The Yield by Tara June Winch, because every Australian should.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, for its fantastic and exhilarating storytelling.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, because to walk in another’s shoes is to understand.
The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, because I’ve just started it and I’m in.
When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m a hands-on arty-crafty person. I’m always making something. I had a children’s picture book published a few years ago… it couldn’t be more different to Here in the After; it was a photographic collection of little things I collect, An ABC of Treasures. So, when the world is not in lockdown I’m hunting and gathering in op shops, creating. And walking.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
I’ve moulded a character I love, and now I’m trying to write a story line to do her justice.
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Marion. Congratulations on the release of your new book Here in the After.
Two damaged people, one unlikely friendship and a way to find hope in the darkness.
Anna has survived the worst. So has Nat. Two broken souls, struggling to find a place in a world they no longer fit.
Anna, 62, is the victim of a terrorist attack in which eleven others were murdered. Nat, 35, is an Army veteran who fought in Afghanistan. They have so little in common. And so much.
A friendship stirs between them, tentative and unlikely, its foundation the violence they have seen and the memories that stalk them. Together, they begin to search for a way back home.
But when Nat’s wife falls unexpectedly pregnant, terrible ghosts from his wartime past rise up and much more than a friendship is at stake.
Here in the After is a poignant and uplifting exploration of the legacy of trauma and the healing power of connection.
Here in the After by Marion Frith was published on 1st September 2021 by HarperCollins AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
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