Heather Rose wears many hats: award-winning writer, loving mother, successful businesswoman, dedicated mentor. But underneath it all sits her love of language and her devotion to the art of writing. Heather Rose will be our Long Table Dinner guest at the 30th Storyfest Writers’ Festival in March, and we had the pleasure of chatting to her about her writing practices, her share of Angelica Banks, and her next adventure. 

Heather Rose is the author of 2017 Stella Prize winner The Museum of Modern Love, and Best General Fiction winner in the 2020 Australian Book Industry Awards Bruny, among other novels. She is also one half of Angelica Banks, a children’s author pseudonym that she shares with writer Danielle Wood. At Storyfest’s Long Table Dinner, she will be in conversation about her latest book, a powerful memoir titled Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here. 

Rose has made writing her life. She has been a copywriter and a professional writer most of her working life, and by her own admission, it’s what’s made everything work out. She believes writing to be a great discipline, one that’s as much a sacred ritual deserving of candlelight as it is a chance to make her co-writer laugh.

To commemorate Rose’s second time attending the festival, we had the chance to talk to her about her involvement with Storyfest and the many ways in which a love of writing has influenced her life. 

Storyfest: We are excited to have you join our 30th anniversary festival in a month’s time. We hope you’re just as excited!

Heather Rose: Of course! I love Storyfest, I love the festival, it’s such a beautiful celebration of literature where literature really takes place, and that’s in the hearts of children. I love that Storyfest gives children a passion for literature that will stand them in such wonderful stead all their lives. It gives young readers and writers the opportunity to be engaged in reading, to be inspired by that immersion in another world, completely concocted by their imagination. To understand both the complexity and the simplicity of language, to meet all their favourite characters. 

Especially growing into their teenage years, that transition to what’s going to hold their interest first as teenage readers and then as young adult readers, it’s a great opportunity to explore how books will serve them in how they might think about the world and how they might respond to the world. That’s the wonder of language. It really takes something to create a festival with as much spirit and joy as Storyfest does. 

S: You talk about the importance of literature in the lives of children, but you started out writing books for adults. What made you take the leap from adult to children's fiction after three novels? 

HR: The reason Danielle and I joined together to become Angelica Banks was because we had six children between us and we knew how much they loved hearing our stories – but often they’d say, ‘could you write us a book?’ 

Having children, you do a lot of reading of children’s literature, and we both loved it. We were acutely aware that when a child gets past picture books, there is a really hard leap to books that are just text. We lose young readers there. So we wanted to write into that particular age group. We asked ourselves, ‘what could we do to fill that space, to help children be delighted by literature there?’

Writing books with Danielle just worked. Danielle is a doctor of literature, she knows how books work. She is the scientist and I’m the alchemist. She says that I will leap off the cliff with the plot, and she will remember to pack the parachute. [laughs]

Over the years we have learnt so much from one another. I learnt pace from her, and I’ve evened out my process. I’m not as terrified by the complexity of writing anymore. Writing with Danielle has taught me a great deal of joy and freedom, and writing for children has taught me to be braver and to take bigger leaps of imagination. 

S: Working on a book with someone would bring a real sense of community to an otherwise rather solitary art too. 

HR: Exactly! When you write on your own, you might start getting really possessive of your ideas. But I have discovered that if you’re in a willing and trusted group, it fertilises your ideas. 

Every Wednesday Danielle and I would get together, have cups of tea, and read what the other person had written. We had this very genuine, instant audience response, and it was such a great opportunity to really build on our writing together and to practise writing for entertainment. 

S: You say you started writing books for your children as a way of creating stories for them. But this is true of your other works too – for example, you have said that you started writing parts of Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here as a way of preserving your history for your children. 

HR: That’s right! Storytelling and creativity are very vital parts of my life. 

S: A resounding message in Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here is finding joy in and consciously living every moment. How does that translate to when you're writing a book? What practices bring you back into the moment?

HR: I light a candle every time I write. I think of writing as something sacred in my life and I love the ritual of lighting a candle. For me, it’s an invitation for something else to come into the space. Creativity, joy, or assistance for my writing. [laughs]

It’s a way of saying, here I am, this is the moment, I’m going to work now. And at the end of the day when I’ve done my word count, I can blow out the candle, and go back to ordinary life. 

S: Which is, for those who don’t know, in Tasmania. Now, Tasmania is central to many of your books. It's often a rich and tangible omnipresent character in itself – however, you move with just as much familiarity in any country you visit, travel to, or set your books in. How do you think place affects your writing? 

HR: I do a lot of research. Imagination is spectacular, but if you base it on research, you can go so much further. I do write what I see out the window, but I also look into what’s out the window. When I wrote The Museum of Modern Love, I spent a lot of time in New York, I spoke to New Yorkers, I got New Yorkers to read sections of the manuscript. 

In Tasmania, I’m always looking for new ways to see and consider the landscape. I never wanted to rest on any tropes, I wanted it to be seen through the eyes of each particular character, not just me. As the books go on – and I seem to keep writing books set in Tasmania – it’s such a wonderful challenge to have to keep rethinking the world. It’s an invitation into time, perspective, and lineage. A lot of knowledge of character comes from how they see the world. So the creation of the world and the creation of the character are fused together. 

S: Will your next book be set in Tasmania?

HR: Yes, a couple of hundred years ago. It’s such a powerful challenge to imagine the mind of someone from the 1820s, but also how they would see the world. Researching for a project like this, there are so many gaps. So few women recorded their knowledge or history of living in Tasmania at that time. I believe that the best historical novels are written in those gaps, and that’s what I’m trying to do next. 

There’s still time to join Heather Rose at the Storyfest Long Table Dinner on 30 March. Click here to book your spot!