Interview with Peggy Frew
It is the winter of 1985.
Hope Farm sticks out of the ragged landscape like a decaying tooth, its weatherboard walls sagging into the undergrowth.
Silver’s mother, Ishtar, has fallen for the charismatic Miller, and the three of them have moved to the rural hippie commune to make a new start. At Hope, Silver finds unexpected friendship and, at last, a place to call home. But it is also here that, at just thirteen, she is thrust into an unrelenting adult world – and the walls begin to come tumbling down, with deadly consequences.
Hope Farm is a devastatingly beautiful story about the broken bonds of childhood, and the enduring cost of holding back the truth.
Recently Scribe UK got in contact with me and asked if I would like to receive a review copy of Hope Farm by Peggy Frew. I was completely drawn in by the cover and the concept of the book so said a big yes please. This is such a dark, beautiful little twisty book and the author of Hope Farm, Peggy Frew, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions:
R: Hello, Peggy! It is a pleasure to virtually meet you. I’m very excited to read your new novel, Hope Farm, and I am honoured to be part of your promotional tour. How is it all going?
Hello Rose, nice to virtually meet you too. It’s all going very well thank you. The book has gotten a really – surprisingly – good response here in Australia. I say surprisingly because the writing of it was a long and sometimes difficult process and there were times I doubted it would ever even get published, let alone be well received.
R: Hope Farm is your second novel and we often hear writers talking about how difficult it is to write a second book, how did you find it?
It actually wasn’t hard at first – the setting, characters and basic plot came very easily. But there were some difficulties along the way to do with coming up with a structure and finding the best way to tell the story, and when you get stuck on that stuff you can sometimes lose your connection with what the original spark was, what’s at the heart of the story, and you have to find your way back to it somehow. Also I got a vote of no-confidence from a trusted reader early on, which was, frankly, devastating, and that took a while to recover from.
R: Hope Farm is set in 1985, what was it like to write a book set in a period that some readers will remember and some readers will consider ‘before their time’? Was there a reason that you set it in this period?
I was nine years old in 1985, so I can remember it, so it wasn’t too hard to get the details right. The time setting just came naturally out of what was happening to the characters – the character of the mother needed to be 17 years old during the early ‘70s for a very specific plot-related reason, and so then because I wanted the main story, which is the story of her daughter, Silver, to happen when Silver was 13 that (if my maths is correct!) takes us to the mid-‘80s. It’s funny for me to think of the ‘80s as being before some people’s time – I guess I’m older than I feel!
R: Where did the idea for Hope Farm originate?
The setting, which is rural Victoria, one of Australia’s southern states – cold in winter, windblown, but sometimes sunny, so I think of it as a glittering landscape – and the characters of Silver and her mother Ishtar all came to me pretty much as one package. I knew I had this mother-daughter relationship that was fraught, and on the verge of some kind of big transformation, and I knew they were arriving at this very run-down commune that’s on its last legs, full of lost souls, left-behind hippies, and I knew Ishtar, the mother, had just gotten together with a new bloke, Miller, and he was going to be the catalyst for what was coming … Then I had to start writing and see what would happen.
R: What was Silver like as a character to write about?
I love Silver. She is so tough and sad. There’s a line somewhere that describes her as ‘thirteen, scrawny and suddenly tall, angry and sad and full of shame and reluctance — but changing, coming into something, waking up to a power of [her] own. I related very strongly to her, but at times I also felt a kind of tender, parental love for her too. I can remember so well what it was like to be that age, with one foot in childhood and one just on the edge of the world of adults.
R: And then what was it like to writer from Ishtar’s point of view too?
Ishtar took longer for me to figure out. For most of the first draft I only wrote from Silver’s perspective, so I only saw Ishtar through Silver’s eyes – and Ishtar’s fairly inscrutable from the outside. Then eventually I realised that Ishtar’s story needed to be told with her own voice, and once I started writing in that voice it just took off, and I learned so much more about her, and developed real compassion for her. Which I hope is what happens for the reader too.
R: What does a typical ‘writing day’ look like to you?
Once my kids have gone to school and I have tidied up at home, put on some laundry and so on, I walk to my writing ‘space’, which is in an old factory. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk, and I usually take our family dog with me. I sometimes stop and get take-away coffee on the way. The place where I write inside the factory is a small ‘office’, with a door I can close. It is dingy and ugly and full of boxes of records and CDs (my partner’s stuff – he’s a musician and painter). It’s not what you’d call inspiring, but it works for me. I couldn’t work from home because I’d end up doing housework. I leave my phone in the other room and the computer I work on doesn’t have an internet connection, so I really don’t have any distractions. I often have lunch with my partner, who is also there in the factory, doing his stuff. We are pretty good at leaving each other alone, but it’s nice to eat together and chat about what we’re working on (or other things). The dog lies on the couch all day. I finish up around 2 pm and walk home again, via the supermarket where I get dinner supplies, and then I go to collect the kids from school. The walking to and from the factory is quite important to me – I find ideas tend to float up into my brain while I’m walking.
So my writing day is only from 10 am-ish until 2, but I actually am not good for much more than that. I’ve done writers’ retreats where I’m free to write all day and all night if I want to, and I’ve found that I’m really only productive for a couple of hours at a time. (Not that I would ever turn down a retreat! Non-writing time can be very productive too in other ways, like reading, going for walks, talking with other writers etc, this is when the ideas can drift around and compost).
R: Any great books that you could recommend to us?
A few books I think influenced me at various stages and in various ways while I was writing Hope Farm are Breath by Tim Winton, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Gilgamesh by Joan London, and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.
R: And, the most important question of all, what’s your favourite cake?
The ‘special occasion’ cake in our family is Persian love cake. Here’s a recipe, although the measurements are Australian, sorry. It’s delicious, and best of all it’s very, very easy to make, in fact pretty much foolproof, and that’s coming from a lover of food who is sadly profoundly lacking in the cooking-skill department.