Diana Reid On The Firsts And Lasts Moments That Have Helped Shaped Her Life
From her debut book alone, Diana Reid’s writing has been compared to that of Sally Rooney’s.
The Australian author’s first book Love & Virtue has had somewhat of an impact on Australian millennials and Gen Z’s, thanks to its exploration of consent through the eyes of university students at Australian colleges.
Just a week before the release of her second novel Seeing Other People, Junkee sat down to chat with the Australian writer about all the first and last moments that have helped shape her writing.
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Warning: This interview has some minor spoilers!
When was the first time Diana, you knew you wanted to write?
Diana: I think for me it’s always just been so closely related to reading.
What I enjoy when I read a book is that sense of like, if a book really speaks to me I feel a kind of sense of awe that is sort of difficult to extricate from a feeling of ‘I want to know how they did that and I wonder if I could do something like that myself?’.
I certainly didn’t have any kind of explicit career goals to be a writer and it wasn’t something I actively pursued until I wrote Love and Virtue. But I think whenever I read a book that I really love, I do get that sort of rush of ‘gosh, what a worthwhile thing to put out into the world’ and wouldn’t that be amazing if I could do something like that?
“What a worthwhile thing to put out into the world? Wouldn’t that be amazing if I could do something like that?”
What was the last thing you wrote in your iPhone notes?
Diana: Oh yeah, I’ve been travelling and I was reading Alan Rickman’s Diaries, which just got published by The Guardian.
He has these scathing episodes about everyone he’s ever worked with for 40 years, and I wrote one of them down because I thought it was so well expressed.
He said that “someone took egomania to utterly charming heights…he just loves being him” and I just liked that turn of phrase, so I wrote it in my notes.
Who was the first character you thought of for your new book ‘Seeing Other People’?
Diana: The first character I thought of was Eleanor.
It’s a book about two sisters and they were always kind of conceived as a pair of contrasts, but the first one I tried to write is the elder one, Eleanor. The first scene of the book I wrote happens about a third of the way through, where Eleanor goes to her younger sister’s party and she feels kind of equally impressed and alienated by how cool her sister is.
How do you start writing a book?
Diana: For me it starts with a moral dilemma or a sort of a particular dramatic situation that has a moral quandary at the centre of it.
So with my first book Love and Virtue, I just had this idea about what if someone’s consent was violated? And then my sort of core of Love and Virtue was what if someone had their consent violated twice: the first time in a sexual context and then the second time when their story was taken from them. And that was kind of all I had.
With this one (Seeing Other People) I had an idea of what if pursuing your own happiness and your own self fulfilment comes at the expense of someone you love? What if you have to sacrifice being a good person in order to be happy?
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When was the last time you found yourself in that kind of sticky situation, of putting yourself first over others?
It’s the kind of thing that I think everyone has to navigate all the time in their social life. And I think in modern discourse we often just talk about it in terms of boundaries and I think that it’s good that we have a terminology around that now and there’s like a whole discourse around it.
But yeah, it’s interesting to think that at the end of the day that whole concept of boundaries is like essentially about what you keep for yourself rather than like what you can give to other people.
I still struggle because it’s sort of this paradox that sometimes what’s best for you can be to, for example like be there for other people or like give a lot of yourself for others.
So it’s interesting because the whole concept of boundaries is about doing the best thing for you, but then counterintuitively sometimes what’s best is like more about giving them withholding.
How did you decide the ending of ‘Seeing Other People’?
I knew sort of the arrangement that I wanted the characters to end up in that I knew who I wanted to end up with whom, and I knew that I wanted like certain relationships to be reconciled, but I didn’t have like a way to dramatise that or sort of a moment that would get them there.
And then this sounds so lame, but I read this essay by a philosopher called Martha Nussbaumand and she made a point that in order to commit to loving one other person, often that requires closing yourself off from other people. Because she was sort of like the nature of committed relationships is that you prioritise that in your life and that kind of wholehearted commitment can involve severing other connections.
When I read that I was just like oh that’s it. I need some kind of moment where a character has to make a choice and she has to exercise a preference and commit to the person that she loves. And she physically has to leave one behind and go to the other.
Diana Reid’s novel ‘Seeing Other People’ is out now.
Claire Keenan is a Senior Producer for The Junkee Takeaway.