Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.
As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.
The two sisters are reunited as Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.
Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.
Over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. ‘The Sisters’ Song’ speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.
If you want to buy THE SISTERS’ SONG, which I strongly think you should, click this link:
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Louise grew up in Tasmania, Australia, but now lives in Perth, Western Australia. Her first career was as a doctor, but in 2010 she ceased practising medicine and took up writing. She has had several short stories, essays and articles published in literary anthologies and medical journals.
Apart from writing, Louise also enjoys music, photography, walking and nature.
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An interview with Louise Allan:
Can you tell us briefly about your book?
My book is about two sisters who are very different—one yearns for a family of her own and the other wants to be an opera singer. Neither sister realises her dream, and the story is about how each of the sisters copes with the cards life has dealt them.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
Inspiration came from a number of places: my personal experiences of motherhood, both as a daughter and a mother. When I became a mother, I felt an overwhelming love for my children and wanted to satisfy their needs. At the same time, I still have my own dreams and a desire to achieve something for myself. Sometimes, the two are in conflict, and I feel as if there’s a constant internal battle between prioritising my family or myself.
How long did it take you to write your book?
It has taken me six years, but that’s not counting the short story I wrote in 2010 from where the story came.
How did you come up with the title? Did you have alternative titles?
My working title was ‘Ida’s Children’, which I loved and still miss—for me, this book will always be Ida’s story. My publisher came up with the new title, ‘The Sisters’ Song’. I actually love it, too, because it incorporates both the relationship between the sisters as well as music.
Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
I set the book in Tasmania because that’s where I grew up. I think when you grow up in a place it becomes a part of you. That’s how I think of Tasmania. At the time, I started writing my novel, there was no other place I could think of setting my book, but I feel as if I’ve got it out of my system now!
How do you come up with character names?
The characters of Ida and Nora are based on my grandmothers, whose names were Olive and Edna. I wanted names that were similar and from that era. I named the rest of the cast similarly, except for Grace’s middle name, Cecilia—I named her after the patron saint of music.
Tell us about your favorite scene in your book.
My favourite scene in my novel is barely even a scene. The thing I love about it is that it hints at sex. I know this will sound really weird to Tess and readers of this newsletter, but this is the closest I’ve come to writing a sex scene. I plan to get closer in my next book—just easing my way into it!
Here’s the scene:
That night, I lay on the couch and Len lay in the camp stretcher alongside. I rolled towards him in the dark.
‘That’s exactly what we would’ve done if our boys had lived,’ I said.
I rolled back. A moment later, I felt his hand fumbling for mine. I took it and slid out from under the blankets and lay alongside him in the camp stretcher. By the tender glow of the dying embers, I showed him how much I loved him.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have received?
‘All writing is rewriting.’ It means that if your writing is crappy to start with, don’t worry—all the best writing starts off that way, too. It can be polished! I can’t emphasise this enough.
What was your road to publication like?
I have to say my road to publication was, in the end, relatively smooth—my book was accepted by the first agent I sent it to, and then by the first publisher who read it. It took four-and-a-half years to get to that point, though, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing and my first twenty or so drafts were rather crappy. (See my answer to the above question!)
What tricks do you have to beat writer’s block?
If I need to write and I don’t feel like it, first of all I switch off the internet. Sometimes if I’m stuck, writing by hand helps, or reading a novel. Other times, it’s a matter of getting out of the house and going for a walk around the lake with the dogs. I find pursuing another creative outlet, like taking photos, helps rejuvenate the creative juices.
There are times I get so caught up inside my own head I feel as if I’m losing touch with the rest of the world, and then it’s nice to get out to meet with others, and ground myself in some reality again.
There are other times I just have to give into it and call it quits on writing for a while. Like when something’s worrying me or when there’s a lot going on with the rest of the family. That’s not writer’s block, as such, it’s just my brain saying it’s needed elsewhere and I won’t be able to write until the problem is sorted.
Do you write with a plan or do you see where the story takes you?
I never plan. I’ve tried and I can only come up with really boring, snooze-worthy plans. I’m a pantser through and through. I love following tangents and going down rabbit-holes—that’s where my best stuff comes from. The voice of Ida in my novel was a tangent I tried, once I accepted her offer to tell the story, it really took off.
Where is your favourite place to write?
My gorgeous attic—it has loads of desk space and bookshelves, and looks out over vibrant greenery.
I love both! If push came to shove, probably cheese—less sugar!
Your most epic fashion fail (include photos)!
Apparently, I dressed myself this day: