I hope you enjoy this feature on THE SHAPE OF US and learning more about my dear friend Lisa. Keep your eye out on my Facebook page because I have a signed copy for you to win in May!
"A wonderful story, full of emotional depth and heart." Rachael Johns
FOUR DIFFERENT WOMEN. THE SAME BIG PROBLEM. ONE MAGICAL SOLUTION?
Mezz is overweight and overworked: she's convinced it's only a matter of time until her husband starts to stray.
Jewels is fat and fabulous, but if she wants the baby she craves, the Tim Tams have to go.
Ellie's life looks perfect to her London friends on Facebook: she keeps her waistline out of the photos and her loneliness to herself.
Kat will do anything to keep her daughter Ami happy and safe. If she can just lose that baby weight, she's sure Ami's dad will stick around.
In this heartwarming, heartbreaking story, four women who meet online in a weight loss forum learn that losing weight might not be the key to happiness, but believing in the ones you live - and yourself - just might be.
MORE PRAISE FOR THE SHAPE OF US
'Lisa Ireland gets right to the heart of female friendship, exploring topics every woman can relate to.' Rachael Johns, author of The Art of Keeping Secrets
You won't find another Australian novel that captures the relationships women have with one another, their partners, their families and their own bodies with such raw truth as The Shape of Us. Equal parts heart breaking and inspiring, the inward struggle behind the outward struggle to lose weight and the toll it takes is beautifully explored. Lisa Ireland's writing is sensitive, bold, smart and so very courageous and her characters are utterly believable - not only that but they are also totally relatable. I could see parts of myself in all of these women. The ties that bind females together are strong complex and Lisa Ireland goes deep in exploring them. It's a confronting story for anyone who has ever stood on a scale and felt worse about themselves than they did before they hopped on but it's also a triumphant one of love and loss in its many forms. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. Hands down the most convincing story I've read in years - nothing has hit as close to home for me as The Shape of Us has for as long as I can remember. Huge congratulations on a magnificent novel.
Her novel, Feels Like Home, is an Australian Bestseller. In 2015 Lisa was one of the Top Ten Debut Fiction Authors in Australia. She has three novels published to date, and her fourth novel, THE SHAPE OF US, was released in APRIL 2017.
Lisa is passionate about art and travel and has a strong interest in human rights: she is an active supporter of several human rights organisations including the Combined Refugee Action Group, which provides assistance for refugees in her local region. When she’s not writing, Lisa loves to read, run, and drink copious amounts of coffee with friends. She can often be found wandering along the beach near her home with her extremely disobedient but totally loveable dogs, Millie and Lulu.
An interview with Lisa Ireland:
Can you tell us the briefly about your book?
THE SHAPE OF US follows the story of four women, Mezz, Jewels, Ellie and Kat, who meet in an online weight loss forum. They are all quite different but bond over their desire to lose a large amount of weight. The friendship bonds are tested as they each try different methods with varying results.
The story centres around the strength the women draw from their friendship. It’s a body positive book that explores the struggles of overweight people, and hopefully promotes the idea that weight loss is not the be all and end all!
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
Although the book is fiction, the inspiration actually came from my own life. I’ve made several close friends through online groups I’ve belonged to. Some of my online friends know me better than my real life friends! I wanted to explore the intimacy that can develop amongst strangers in online groups. Like many women I have spent much of my adult life trying (and failing!) to lose weight so a weight loss forum seemed like a great choice for the book’s setting.
What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
Doing the research for this story helped me to change the relationship I have with my own body. I am happy to say for the first time in a long time I feel comfortable in my own skin. I hope that readers will come away from the book feeling better about themselves. We are all so much more than numbers on a scale.
How have your family/friends/workmates reacted to your book? Does anybody think it’s about them?
This is actually a funny question. As I said earlier I took my inspiration from various forums I’ve belonged to and one of those was a weight loss forum. I’m still friends with some of the women I met there and many of those women have read the book. A couple of them nearly turned themselves inside out trying to work out who I’d based my characters on, despite me repeatedly insisting they weren’t based on anyone! Now most of them have finished the book and they finally believe me.
How did you go about researching the settings and scenarios in your book?
For some reason I thought I wouldn’t need to do much research for this book because it’s a contemporary novel set in an online forum, a setting I’m quite familiar with. Turns out I was very wrong!
The women all live in different parts of Australia, so there was quite a bit of research involved firstly choosing the right setting for each character and then getting to know the intimate details of each town so I could describe them. Two of the towns in the book are fictitious, but I did loosely base them on existing places. Almost all of the other settings in the book are places I have spent some time in, so I used my own knowledge and photos combined with internet searches for photos of the areas and of course Google maps. I also asked for first hand accounts from people who live in each of the areas.
One of the characters, Kat, is a Bosnian Muslim woman, who came to Australia as a refugee when she was a child. I spent a long time researching her backstory. I used the internet and also books and journal articles to research what it was like to be living in Bosnia at the time of the war. I also reread Amra Pajalic’s The Good Daughter to help me understand what Kat’s teenage years in Australia might have been like. I am fortunate to have Bosnian friends who were able to give me advice about writing Kat.
I had to research all the women’s career choices – one is a country GP, one owns a bakery (and I hate cooking!), one works in childcare and another character is an art curator. This involved interviewing people working in these fields, reading websites devoted to each career and also baking!
I was very fortunate with this book to be assisted by many people who shared their weight loss experiences with me. I’ll always be grateful for the candour of women I have met (both recently and not-so-recently) in online forums and on other forms of social media, as well as the many people who told me their stories in person.
How did you come up with the title? Did you have alternative titles?
I am totally hopeless at coming up with titles. Mine never end up being used and this book is no exception. This book originally had a working title of FAT CHAT. Of course I knew that wouldn’t be the final title, but it was name the women gave to their private blog and I even though I knew it wouldn’t stick, I kind of liked it.
When I submitted to my publisher, I sent it under the title THROUGH THICK AND THIN, but (understandably!) the publisher didn’t think this was the best we could do. However despite weeks of brainstorming none of us could come up with “the one”. Eventually I was talking to my friend Chris Weston and she asked me what the title was. When I told her I didn’t know she offered to help. An hour later she’d come up with THE SHAPE OF US. I owe her big time!
What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?
The absolute best feeling for me is when a reader messages me and tells me I have touched them in some way. I have had the most beautiful messages from readers over the past couple of years. Sometimes it’s to tell me I’ve brought them joy or comfort during a difficult period in their life, other times it’s to say that my characters resonated with them and made them feel as if someone understood them. I never grow tired of hearing from readers. I feel privileged to play a small part in their lives.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have received?
One word. Read.
This advice was given to me by a writing teacher in the Professional Writing and Editing Course I studied at TAFE. She told the class that if we didn’t have time to read then we shouldn’t be writing.
Personally I’d add that I think it’s important to read both in the genre you write in and outside it. When I read a book I love I try to think about what it is the author has done to engage me, to keep me eagerly turning the pages. Reading widely is the single most important thing a writer can do.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Outside of writing I’m not a particularly creative person. All the women in my family are good knitters and sewers. My mum was particularly gifted in this area, but somehow I missed out on the ‘craft gene’. (I honestly can’t even sew on a button!) Last year I decided to do something about this and I taught myself to crochet via YouTube tutorials. I’m in the middle of making myself a rug and I’m ridiculously proud of it!
I love reading (of course!) and I also love to watch TV when I get the chance, which is not really that often. At the moment I’m really enjoying watching This Is Us. I find watching really well-written TV drama helps me in my own story crafting.
I try to make spending time with my family a priority. I’m a mum of three boys (well, two are pretty much men now!) and I love spending time with them. My eldest son doesn’t live at home any more but we try to make sure we have a family dinner all together at least once a week. Later this year all five of us are hoping to take a family holiday together, which is something we haven’t done in a few years.
I’m a mad Geelong Cats (AFL) supporter and I spend a lot of my time in the winter watching football. My husband and I go to all the home games we can, and we watch all the others on TV. To our despair, none of our boys like footy!
I think the thing I most like to do when I’m not writing is to spend time with my friends. I’m lucky to have a couple of really close girlfriends who live nearby, but many of my friends live interstate. As a result I spend a ridiculous amount of time on the phone – texting, calling and leaving long voice messages for my friends. (Something you might know a thing or two about, Tess?)
What do you know now that you wish you knew before you were published?
Although being a full time writer is my dream job, and one I’m extremely grateful to be doing, it’s actually a lot different to how I imagined it.
Before I was published I didn’t fully understand that getting published is really just the start of the work. Once you are picked up by a publisher things begin to move at a cracking pace. Authors need to keep a lot of balls in the air at once. For instance right now I’m in the middle of writing the draft for my next book while spending an enormous amount of time promoting my new release, and I’m also writing proposals for further books because as soon as I hand the next book in I’ll be out of contract. What I’m trying to say is that there is no longer time to fuss over the writing or be precious about it. To remain published you need to be able to produce work quickly and consistently, and you need to be able to multi task!
To be successful in the current market you need to be prepared to market yourself and your books, even if you are traditionally published. I don’t think I realized how much of my time I would need to devote to marketing. Fortunately I enjoy social media, so I don’t find that a huge chore, and I don’t mind public speaking, so that’s not really a problem for me either. But the time factor is an issue, because all the promotional activities do take up time that could be used for writing.
I think the main thing I didn’t understand was how the goal posts would keep moving for me. I once thought all I ever wanted was to be published and if I could achieve that I would be satisfied, but once that happened I set a new goal. Each time I achieve a writing goal I find there is something else I am desperate to achieve. I guess that’s not a bad thing!