I’m welcoming an Australian author, Sophie Overett, today to chat about her novel The Rabbits. The book had its UK publication date just a few days ago. Hello Sophie! First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Hello! My name is Sophie Overett and I am a writer from Brisbane, Australia, although I moved to Melbourne in 2019 (not great timing there, haha). It probably sounds like a schtick – like I’m playing the stereotypical, introverted writer – but I’m never quite sure where to start when asked to introduce myself. It can almost make me feel a little shy, which, well, look. Shy’s not often a word used to describe me. I’ve been known to talk ears off when it comes to certain topics – my cat, ocean swimming, trashy tv, bats, depictions of women in storytelling, storytelling in general, music history, horror movie tropes, Succession, the list goes on! – but ask me about myself? Whole other kettle of fish.
I guess I’d introduce myself as a writer (hell, I already did), but also an avid reader, watcher, listener, all around story-consumer. I love to cook and swim, go to the cinema, and get out into nature.
What inspired you to start writing?
I grew up around storytelling, albeit not exactly the traditional sort. My dad was one of the creators of a modestly successful gameshow format which sold through Europe and it meant a big chunk of my childhood was spent with my brother and sister playing on gameshow sets across the continent. We got pretty creative as a result, the three of us, and I think that sort of creative play is really what sparked the storyteller in me. It just became a language that I spoke and something for me to share with the people I loved. By the time I was in high school, I was writing short stories for my friends, and while I didn’t study creative writing at university (I studied Literature and History), I got a job straight after at Queensland Writers Centre which really gave me the push to pursue writing more seriously.
Tell me about your journey to publication
My journey is actually fairly traditional as far as pathways to publication go. I started with short stories and had a number published in journals and anthologies before I wrote a first manuscript that will never see the light of day (I really think Stephen King was right when he said your first manuscript is you learning how to write a manuscript).
I got to work on The Rabbits afterwards and finished a first draft of mostly at home, but I also did get a Young Writers Residency at the amazing Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Western Australia which gave me the space and some time to edit and start on my second draft. After that, I was awarded a Queensland Literary Awards fellowship which allowed me to take the manuscript to the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop in Portland, Oregon in 2015, which was an incredible development experience and really helped me to level it up.
I then submit the manuscript to a major award and to a couple of agents the following year, and while it was shortlisted for the award (very exciting!), my good luck otherwise seemed to run out. There was a bit of a slump then where it didn’t seem to really get over the line with anyone, and I reworked a few parts, but otherwise felt I’d done as much as I could with it and that it was the story that I wanted it to be. I ended up putting it in my bottom drawer while I worked on other things, only to on a whim in 2018 send it into the Penguin Literary Prize, where it not only got shortlisted, but then won! I worked with an amazing editorial team at Penguin Random House Australia, and then my book was published in Australia in July 2020, and now is seeing it’s international debut with Gallic Books.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
The Rabbits is an intergenerational family novel with a heady dash of magical realism. We follow the story of the Rabbit family, in particular the mother, Delia, her twenty-year-old daughter, Olive, and eleven-year-old son, Benjamin in the aftermath of Delia’s eldest son, the sixteen-year-old Charlie, going missing. His disappearance sparks reconnection in a disconnected family – although perhaps not always in the way that they’d like – and as finding him starts to feel futile, they’re confronted with the fact that not everything is quite as it seems.
The Rabbits explores themes of loneliness and connection and the long tail of family secrets, as well as the importance of being seen and understood by those you love the most.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The family surname is Rabbit, and I don’t really have a story for how I came up with that! Charlie Rabbit just showed up fully formed in my head one day. It still feels like he just told me his name.
How did you celebrate publication day?
For my Australian release, I went bookshop-hopping with my mum and brother, which was a lot of fun! That’ll be a bit harder with this UK release, but I’m planning a night out to celebrate. There’s a fairytale-themed bar in Melbourne called Storyville that feels like it’ll be just the ticket…
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I do! I’m elbows deep in a new book at the moment which is set against the backdrop of Harry Houdini’s 1910 tour of Australia. It plays around with the very real and very colourful vaudeville circuit that travelled between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and funnily enough, the story I’ve been writing actually feels like it’s in conversation with The Rabbits. After all, if The Rabbits is about finding magic where you least expect it, this new story is about not finding it where you’d expect it the most.
What one book would you recommend to a friend and why?
It would depend on the friend and what they’d like to read! I actually did recommend a book just last week to a friend though – it’s true crime, which I know isn’t everyone’s bag, but the book’s a really incisive piece of forensic journalism, compassionately told. It’s The Good Girls by Sonia Faleiro and it follows the death of Padma and Lalli Shakya in rural India, and the subsequent mishandled investigation. It feels like really urgent reading, and Faleiro does such an incredible job of using the case to explore issues such as rape and honour killings, police and political corruption, and colourism / caste-based racism in India. I learnt a lot, and was really gripped the whole way through.
What are you reading just now?
Right now, I’m reading two (much) lighter books! I’m reading Nora Ephron’s Heartburn which I’m loving, and I’m also reading the 1964 autobiography of The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, A Cellarful of Noise, which has also been a wonderful read and a really cool look at a moment in time when Beatlemania was still so fresh (and yet to hit its peak!) Awesome read as both a music fan and a history fan.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
This is such a hard question, but I think I’d say Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. It just completely and utterly transported me when I read it the first time, and I revisit it a lot. That sort of sprawling, magical family epic speaks to me so deeply, and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of it.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
I was utterly obsessed a few years ago with Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy, and while I love the adaptation of the first book, Annihilation, I was super bummed to find out they were never planning on adapting the other two books in the series, Acceptance and Authority. I’d love to see those made one day.
I also read Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King last year which is set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. It’s such an epic it probably would be better served as a tv-series than a movie, but it’s definitely something I think would be amazing to see on the screen.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’m not on much social media these days, but you can definitely find me over on Instagram, Facebook and on tumblr.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
This is such a hard one too! There are so many characters I love, but not many I’d want to swap lives with, haha. I was reading Alison Lester’s The Magic Beach to one of my nephews recently though, and I think I’d love to be any of the kids in that book. The ocean’s always been something that’s spoken to me, and to be able to ride waves like horses to islands where no one has been sounds like a pretty magical way to spend a life.
The Rabbits is published by Gallic Books and
available now in paperback and for e-readers