Friday, 11 November 2011

Literary love: Nikki Gemmell

Hello Lovelies! How has your week been? Looking forward to the weekend? We hope to spend some more time in the garden if this glorious sunshine persists – our strawberries are ripening and the pixies are enthralled. I’m also eagerly anticipating seeing my lovely friend, Sarah of Molly's Maison, have her first stall at Hobart’s the market – peek at her post here to see the pretties she has in store for us!
Meeting Nikki Gemmell

Anyway, finally I have a moment to post about something *really exciting* which happened to me about a fortnight ago. I had the absolute thrill of attending the Hobart book launch of Australian author Nikki Gemmel’s latest novel ‘With My Body’ at Fullers Bookshop (one of my favourite haunts here). Are any of you fans of hers? Ah, I can see a few hands waving! Well, let me share the occasion with you.
'The Bride Stripped Bare'

Some of you, like me, may have read her earlier novel, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’. It caused such a storm in literary circles as she published it under the moniker ‘Anonymous’, only to be outed immediately before the novel’s release (hmm, is anyone thinking phone hacking? Maybe…). It was a stunning read, a real page-turner-once-you-should-really-have-switched-off-the-light. I found its exploration of modern notions of femininity both revelatory and exciting. Here’s Andrew Denton’s interview about the book with Nikki if you’re intrigued.

Why I stopped reading

Then we arrived on Planet Baby and I, through sheer exhaustion and lack of personal time, stopped reading novels. Alas.

Snatches of a magazine have been all I have managed over the past 6 years of raising the pixies.

But I’ve always longed to read more of Nikki’s novels, particularly ‘Why you are Australian - a letter to my children’, her acclaimed exploration of her identity as a expat Australian living in London with her husband and young family. Ann’s post about it further piqued my interest.

Nikki comes to Hobart

And then I discovered she was coming to Hobart to launch her latest book, a follow-up-but-not sequel to ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’. Ooh, the excitement! Mr PB gave me an extended leave pass from Planet Baby to attend. I arrived early and nabbed a seat only a metre away from where Nikki was to sit! Oh, the excitement (hmm, I think I need to get out more often!)

The interview

Nikki appeared, sipping on a cafĂ© latte, resplendent in so-on-trend colour blocked clothes. *Sigh*. Then the extremely articulate Sarah Kanowski, the editor of Island magazine, started a fascinating and insightful discussion with Nikki about the furore surrounding The Bride Stripped Bare’, the repercussions for Nikki once she was ‘outed’ as its author and what motivated her to write ‘With My Body’. Here’s Nikki chatting to Sarah and all 30 of us, hanging off her every word.
Especially me.

As an aside, it was only afterwards that she realised she had spent the entire hour talking with her prescription sunglasses on – she was mortified!

The central elements of ‘With My Body’ really resonate with me as I, too, am struggling to define my identity whilst raising the pixies. I am yet to read the book so I can’t offer any critique of it but I am dying to.

And the bonus? The chapters are so short - only a few pages or so - that I can fit in reading it around our lifestyle on Planet Baby!

Nikki the person

Nikki spoke so engagingly, right from the heart and I was just *so thrilled* to be present in such an intimate setting with her. She sparkled, radiantly, as she spoke of her husband and young family of four children. She was just captivating, entirely unaffected by her fame and eager to interact with us. 
I was particularly intrigued by her reference to Gabriel Marcia Marquez’s concept of the three lives we all lead – the public, the private and the secret. The latter is the focus of ‘With My Body’.

My questions to Nikki

After her fascinating discussion with Sarah, the floor was thrown open to questions. A couple of older women thanked her profusely for writing ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ as they felt it touched upon areas so common to women but so rarely talked about. Then I, strangely emboldened, asked her, as a fellow mother of littlies, how she managed juggling writing with raising her 4 young children, one of whom is only an infant. 

She was so self-deprecating and honest in her reply that it really warmed my heart. I will never forget the imagery she painted of typing on her laptop whilst rocking the baby’s bassinette vigorously with her foot – she proclaimed to have developed very strong calf muscles in that leg!

Having read her recent article in The Australian here, I then asked her how her children had adapted to their recent return to Australia after years in the UK. She giggled as she spoke of her oldest son who arrived in Sydney as a pasty, wan-coloured and English-raised child and struggled with the gregarious rough-and-tumble playground antics of his Australian classmates. She was pleased to report that after a couple of school terms, he had become ‘one of them’, just as she had hoped.

Given my interest in Virginia Woolf’s concept of ‘a room of one’s own’ and my version of it, I asked her whether she had her own room in which to write. She then disarmingly explained that no, she sat in an armchair with a plank of wood atop the arms upon which her laptop sat. With the baby at her feet in his bassinette. Sydney real estate prices hadn’t extended themselves to affording her a ‘room of her own’!

So, sweet Planetarians, there may be hope for us bloggers yet if Nikki can still produce such fine works of fiction under such circumstances!

Chatting to Nikki

The interview then over, we lined up to have her sign our copies of ‘With My Body’. I took my chance and introduced myself as the mother of the pixies and a huge fan of hers. We had an interesting chat about my PND, the pressures mothers face nowadays and the creative outlet and balm to my soul this blog has become.

Then she signed my book.
My heart melted. Me - a 'heart-lifter'?!

Then I asked if she’d mind having a photo with me and she accepted the invitation without hesitation. Here’s the ‘money shot’!
I was just thrilled. I gave her my blog business card – who knows, she might just be reading this! And then, my friends, my leave pass from Planet Baby having expired, I returned home. With my signed book. And now I want to devour it, page by page!

I’d love to know if any of you are also fans of Nikki and if so, which of her books you’ve read and what you thought about them. I was so inspired by this experience, I think I might start a little ‘Literary love’ series of interviewing Australian authors.  Are you up for it?


  1. Oh Jane! I think I experienced as much of a thrill in reading about your meeting as you may have experienced yourself! Major fan of Nikki - MAJOR! The Bride striped bare was my book club's first book and let's just say I'm not sure if any other book has ever come close in terms of discussion (oh the discussion!). I am emailing your post to my book club now and off to buy With My Body tomorrow.

  2. How exciting for you! I loved her book when I read it years ago, but am ashamed to say I never realised she was Australian! I'm so glad I now know. I'm looking forward to reading her new book - it looks great. Thanks for the review :)

  3. Tis the perfect page-turner for those on 'planet baby' or with any kind of equally busy life as is marked by micro-chapters that enable you to dive into the world of With My Body in stolen minutes of the day/night. I have at least 5 books currently on the go but this is the first have actually read through due to format and the urgency with with it is written matching my own propelling of time! An easy read with references to much deeper worlds if you want to go there.

    Loving Nikki's addition to The Weekend Australian. Missing Hobart and Fullers Bookshop ;)

  4. I must admit I have not read any of those books. Will be buying them this week-end and hopefully finding time to read them. I am so glad you were able to go and meet her and have some time out for yourself.
    Thank you for such a great review. When I have my book published maybe you could review it for me (sigh...)

  5. Jane I am so utterly JEALOUS. I could not put 'The Bride Stripped Bare' down!!! You got to see her, listen to her, 'touch' her AND get and autograph!!!!

    I could not live without reading a book of any sort. If I really think about it, my love of stationery and all things paper goes hand in glove with my love of books.

    My first contact with Nikki Gemmell was when she worked for Triple J, eons ago. She is a very talented writer and journo. You've encouraged me to 'go forth and purchase', although I need to finish Billy Connolly's 'Route 66' story first!...T

  6. You lucky thing!
    Ann told me about "Why you are Australian" a few months ago after I wrote a post about my feelings about my Welsh versus Australian identity and once I got hold of a copy I just couldn't turn the pages fast enough!
    I haven't yet got around to getting her latest book, but next time I see it I'll be buying. I always thought that she would be a nice person as her writing in The Australian strikes me as very natural and understanding. I'm glad your meeting experience confirms this.

  7. hello dear one - what a lovely adventure for you ... no I loved the birde till about 3/4 the way thru then it lost me or I lost the plot or something ... I got annoyed with the main character or something such like .... it was a long time ago ... she is a great writer none the less and this was an amazing insight into a creative soul - best le ps we got the house ya :) xox

  8. HI Jane, what a lovely thing to have done. I thought I was well and truly "booked out" having spent the day organising and manning our school book fair. However,you have reminded me I really enjoyed the Bride Stripped Bare and now I will look out for Nikkis new book.

  9. I love Nikki too, have read all of her books and can't wait to get this new one. My favourite for years was Shiver. Soooo jealous that you got to meet and speak to her, you lucky duck!
    x Rhi

  10. What a fabulous account of your day. You have made me so curious about these books - never heard of them - and now I am going to dig out what I can about them with a view to purchasing them.


  11. How fabulous Jane, it sounds like a real thrill. I read Cleave and Shiver years ago (they're still on my bookshelf) but for some reason never got around to Bride. I will now - it's on my library list.

  12. Hi Jane
    Have just found your blog and love it.
    I, too, am a fan of Nikki Gemmell. As a journalist and author, I really admired her for writing 'The Bride Stripped Bare'. It must have taken a lot of courage. Have you seen her book 'Pleasure: An Almanac for the Heart'? It's full of lovely insights and advice about life.
    Do start a 'Literary Love' series. It's always intriguing to see how others write. Maggie Alderson would be a great one to do.
    Looking forward to reading more of your lovely posts!
    Janelle McCulloch

  13. Oh gosh I *wish* I had known she was here as I would have LOVED to have come with you Jane!
    I have just finished (last week) reading "With My Body" and I have read all of her books, except maybe one.
    Too true about trying to find time to read, I seem to do it in 5 min bursts - a bit at brekkie, a bit at lunch and maybe a bit before bedtime. (nothing like a disjointed read!)
    Luckily Nikki's books are easy to read and you will find that particulary true of "With My Body."
    She actually inspires and reminds me that I always wanted to be an author.
    Maybe one day in amongst the chaos of 4 children I will find time to start that novel.
    Would love to catch up and chat about Nikki's books sometime.
    Enjoy and lets have a chat when you have finished reading it.
    There were certainly some bits I could relate to.
    Ps I am also inspired that she has recently had another baby at 45. Did she say how old her other children are now?

  14. Oh my stars! I loved reading every single comment here. Nikki really has some huge adherents here - fabulous.

    @Teresa Thanks for that compliment - I hope your Book Club members enjoy her latest beauty.

    @Kate So happy to give you the hot tip ☺. Enjoy!

    @Jo I totally agree with you about the length of the chapters - I edited the post to emphasise that! She was just the most delightful, down-to-earth person you could hope to meet. I came away starry-eyed. So are you an old Hobartian? Fullers is such a treasure, isn't it?

    @Terese You make me giggle. Sorry to make you jealous ☺.

    @Beth I thought you followed through on Ann's recommendation - my copy of that one is on order and I'm looking forward to it. Enjoy the latest!

    @Le I want to re-read 'Bride' - I wonder whether I'll feel different now I have the pixies. And I'm delighted about the auction result ☺.

    @ Deb, Rhi, Wendz and Sarah Go for it!

    @Janelle Lovely to meet you and thanks for hopping aboard. 'Pleasure' is on my wishlist, as in fact are all her other books. Thanks for the support for the 'Literary love' segment idea.

    @Kat Oh Lovely, if only I had known you were a fan, we could have gone together. Boo! I am so impressed that you've read all her books - that's my dream. And yes, I'd love to have a chat but let's not wait for me to finish the book as it may still take a while, short chapters notwithstanding ☺.

    J x

  15. Oh and Kat, no, she was a bit coy about the ages of her children so I didn't ask. J x

  16. This is a fabulous post Jane! What a wonderful opportunity!

  17. OMG- I am gonna stalk that gorgeous intelligent amazing woman and mamma of 4!!

    I 'm hitting Amazon now!!

    I am a huuuuge reader Janey- Gorgeous Simone (Bottom of the Washing Basket) and I swap and share books often- so I am going to be in heaven here!!

    Thanks honey for the great tale of your meeting her- she is seriously cool- block colours and all!!!

    Melissa xx

  18. So glad you enjoyed this post, Claire and Miss Melissa.

    Let me know what you think of 'Why I am Australian', Melissa - I'm looking forward to reading it myself. J x

  19. 'Why I Am Australian' is on my 'to read' list so will have to add Nikki's latest book to my list too. Her description of her writing set up hit home with me too as I sit here typing one handed whilst nursing Sophie :)

  20. Amanda, I think you are incredible even finding the time to blog with a newborn and a toddler. Bravo, my friend! J x

  21. Am so thrilled for you, I loved The Bride Stripped Bare! Was one of the first books I read with my book club! Love the sound of Why I am an Australian. x

  22. Oh Emma, we have so much in common, don't we? J x

  23. Hello, I saw Fullers Bookshop has tweeted your post and so I followed. I also love Nikki's writing. You must read her book Why you are Australian. She writes so beautifully of motherhood. I also enjoy her regular weekend columns in the Australian. If you do start your regular series, my current book which is being released by Pan Macmillan in May 2012 is a murder mystery set in Tasmania. It's called Poet's Cottage.
    Thanks for your lovely post. Its a great pic of the two of you.

  24. Hi Jane,
    I wandered over here from Laura's blog, and so glad I did! You have completely sold me on the books, I cannot wait to read them. I am really interested in the modern sociology/ psychology of women and identity, and how our bodies carry our perceived cultural burdens. I blog about living unconventionally, but my "professional" identity is as a body worker specializing in women's health, helping women to heal from difficult experiences in this world that are specific to gender. Anyway, just thought I'd say hello, now to go read more...

  25. I'm so glad you submitted this to POTM Club, for I have never heard of her or her books. Sounds like great reads, based on your and all the commenters enthusiasm! She sounds like a great inspiration. Must. Seek. Out. XOL

  26. I hopped over here from POTM Club and I'm so glad you linked. I enjoyed your snippets of Planet Baby and I chuckled at several references. Also, I was delighted to "meet" Nikki Gemmel. She sounds lovely in all sorts of ways.

    Have a fabulous day!

  27. My goodness, I'm so delighted to see so many of Laura's POTM friends here - so glad you enjoyed this and feel inspired to seek out her books.

    And lovely to meet you, Josephine - I'll pop over to yours now. Best of luck with the book and I'd love to hear from you when you release it. J x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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