There’s something about Sophie Macdonald.
One of several writers to burst onto the scene as part of our Major Contest in 2016, Sophie debuted with The Meaning Of Love (By Court Order), a Douglas Adams-ish jaunt about relationship counselling for a diverse group of (rather love-lorn and clueless) aliens.
Since impressing in the Major Contest, Sophie has gone on to compete in a half dozen or so contests, notching up several wins and staking a claim as one of the in form writers in 2016. She’s also working on short stories for several of our collaborations due out later this year, and manages to raise kids and run the family business, all from the sunny confines of her Queensland home.
We reached out to Sophie to find out a little more about this exciting and talented writer.
SOPHIE MACDONALD FEATURE AUTHOR
Hi Sophie, thanks for joining us. Let’s kick off with the basics. Who are you, where are you from, and what’s an everyday week like for you?
I’m originally from Hampshire, England, but currently live on the outskirts of Brisbane. I’m not sure there is such a thing as an everyday week! I juggle three hats (four if you include mixing metaphors): contributing to the business that I started with my husband ten years ago, looking after two little people, and writing as much as time allows. A typical week includes running around like a headless chicken trying to get to places on time and hit deadlines, and wine. Always wine.
Sounds like you keep a pretty full card. Have you got any tips for finding time to write in a busy schedule?
This one is hard to answer, as I don’t have a strict schedule but wish I did. If I’m working on a novel then I set myself a weekly word target of around 3500 words. Sometimes I might not write anything, and other weeks I might write 7000 or 10,000. Having that target seems manageable, as I don’t get many opportunities to write during the week. I did finish Nanowrimo one year, doing 2000 words a day, but it almost killed me. The main thing is to maximise the time you do have. Once I start writing I don’t veer off course, and words will be flying for a couple of hours without pause. They’re not necessarily great words, but the important thing is getting them down, finishing the story, and editing afterwards. So my somewhat dubious and highly personal advice would be to set goals, and write in a frenzy when you have the chance!
Who are some writers that you admire? Some of your favourite books?
I love Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, Angela Carter, and Gillian Flynn. Angela Carter’s Magic Toyshop is one of my favourite books of all time, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a nasty dark fairytale. I grew up involved in theatre, and enjoy reading plays as well as novels. Chekhov is my favourite (to the extent that I named my daughter after one of his characters), and I also love Beckett and Ibsen. I enjoy things that are a bit off-kilter, dark, and uneasy. There are undoubtedly hundreds more I will kick myself for not mentioning, but those are the first ones that come to mind.
I’m about to start reading More Fool Me (Fry). What is is about the British wit that is so endearing to readers?
Well, being British, I can only assume it is because we are hilarious. No really.
I think the British and Australian senses of humour are similar. Our sympathies are with the underdog and the anti hero. Not for us the white toothed square jawed hero. We like the misfits and unlikely protagonists, who use their intellect and ability to raise an eyebrow at the world in order to triumph. Or something like that.
On a personal level, Stephen Fry is uncannily similar to my father in voice, wit, and interests! He (both Stephen Fry and my father) has a great curiosity about the world, as well as a propensity for pausing and saying “Oh really?” before taking anything too embarrassingly seriously.
Well seeing as we’re getting personal, what do you think are your top three stories at NiTH?
It feels slightly egotistical to name my own stories, but I most enjoyed writing both parts of The Pact (Links 1 & 2) the Old Ones series to date, and Annabelle’s Feast because I got to collaborate with my niece for the first time. The Pact was an emotional story to write. Fortunately I have not been in the situation my protagonists were in, but I connected strongly with their feelings of loss and grief. The Old Ones is a fun series for me, as it falls within one of my favourite genres to write and I get to explore creepiness, which I love.
Arianna Carrington is your niece? That’s awesome! What was it like working in a partnership, how did you approach it? What were some of the challenges?
I’m not used to working in a partnership for writing, but it went very smoothly. The biggest hurdle was that we are in different countries! I live in Australia, and Ari is in England, where she’s studying for her English Lit degree. Our time zones are topsy turvy, and Ari had to juggle the story around uni assignments. The good thing about her being a student, however, is that she is often awake at crazy times in the middle of the night, which lined up with when I was awake and trying to contact her!
Ari is a great writer, who has published several pieces of nonfiction, as well as writing creatively. She was the first person I thought of when I saw the brief, and I asked her if she wanted to collaborate. It may be genetics, but both our minds immediately went to a dark twisty place when briefed with writing a story about dolls and outdoor cooking (of course the dolls are cooking and eating humans – what else could it be about?) and we agreed on the premise and who would take which part. We wrote our sections separately, with breaks where we hoped to mesh them, and they went together very easily. I was very excited to write with Ari, and I liked how our styles and ideas went along similar tracks.
So while we’re on other authors, what’s your favourite story at NiTH that you didn’t write?
Ah just one? Very hard to pick, as there are some great stories and writers at NiTH. From 2016, which is pretty much when I started reading and contributing, my favourite story is Ian Harrison’s Big C. It’s written very naturally, and I can hear the narrator’s voice in my head as I read it. The ending is poignant, but it never goes too far over the edge into pathos. I think it’s a beautiful touching story, with a great voice.
If I may, I’d like to mention two others that immediately pop into my head when thinking about stories I like. Chinthaka Nanayakkara’s AEA Triangle felt rich in its colours and environment. The descriptions left me picturing the scenery, and wanting to read more. I also enjoyed Lydia Trethewey’s Black Ice (Link 1 & 2) series. It had a touch of Cronenberg about it, and a feeling of dystopian horror. I could keep going, as there have been lots I’ve enjoyed!