Monday, July 31, 2023

Q&A with Sophie Overett




Sophie Overett is the author of the novel The Rabbits. Also an editor, podcaster, and cultural producer, she is based in Melbourne, Australia. 


Q: What inspired you to write The Rabbits?


A: There’s a smell the air gets in my hometown of Brisbane right before a storm hits. Something fresh and earthy and impossible to really describe. It worms up your nose though and licks at your skin, the humidity synonymous with a sub-tropical city making it somehow tangible, and it’s a smell, a feeling, I’ve always really loved.


Brisbane spent a lot of my adolescence in pretty intense droughts, so that feeling meant a break, it meant relief, even if only for a day or two.


It's a feeling that I found The Rabbits in, both literally and figuratively, as Brisbane’s relentless summers are the stage for this family story, but it’s also that sense of the emotional drought that happens with a fractured family in the long tail of grief. The past, and all the feelings held within that past, can’t be held off forever. The storm’ll hit, and despite yourself, you’ll feel it coming.


Q: In a review in The Guardian, Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote that “what makes the novel surprising, and different, is the magical realism that unexpectedly appears in this otherwise ordinary setting a third of the way in – and largely drives the narrative from that point forward. The result is a whirring, breathless tangle of reality and unreality, forcing the reader to question the truth, then question it again.” What do you think of that description?


A: It's a really lovely one! I adore magical realism. Isabel Allende, Kelly Link, and Ruth Ozeki are three of my favourite authors, and I love the way that they interweave moments of magic to reveal and conceal in equal measure. It’s what I hoped to try and emulate with The Rabbits.


Genre writing can sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, which is always a shame to me. I think there’s a real thrill to writing that utilises fantasy or science fiction or crime or romance to explore themes in different ways, and a deliberate and purposeful ambiguity is something that appeals to me a lot as a reader and was fun to experiment with as a writer. The fact that it’s resonated with people feels like its own sort of magic.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Yeah, the ending was pretty set in my head, but I did make a few changes in terms of how I got there. I’m something between a plotter and a pantser. I do outline fairly extensively before I write, but I’m also really willing to let the story and the characters lead me too.


Some of my favourite scenes I’ve ever written have been ones I haven’t planned for at all, and so being open to pivoting from the plot (while also giving myself space after to work out what that means for the story) has been an important part of my creative process for a while, and was definitely something utilised with The Rabbits.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I don’t know if there’s anything I hope they take away, actually. One of the things I love about reading is that I can give a book to a friend and when we talk about it, we’ll have taken completely different things away from it.


If anything, I do hope that readers might feel a part of this family, for better and for worse, and feel the loneliness and exhaustion and hope at the heart of each of them. Most of all though, I hope they might feel that very human need to be understood and seen by those closest to you, even when those relationships are tangled.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently I’m elbow deep in writing an historical fiction novel which is set during Harry Houdini’s 1910 tour of Australia’s vaudeville circuit.


In a lot of ways, it feels like the polar opposite of The Rabbits, which is letting me cut my teeth on a whole new genre and set of themes, but in others, it sort of feels like it’s in conversation with it. After all, if The Rabbits is about finding magic where you least expect it, this new project is all about finding none where you’d expect to find it the most.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope you enjoy this story of magic and Brisbane and family secrets as much as I enjoyed writing it!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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