Author Anita Heiss’s book Tiddas is not just an unflinching look at female friendships; it’s also a love letter to the city of Brisbane.
During her career Anita Heiss has penned nonfiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles but when it came to writing Tiddas she knew it was the time to put Brisbane under the spotlight.
In order to put her money where her pen was, Heiss moved to Brisbane for six months.
“Every time I come to Brisbane I have this enormous sense of peace,” she says.
“I just think it’s undervalued nationally. I wanted to write about a city with a strong writing community and that’s one of the reasons the story features a book club.
“I’d already set novels in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney and I really needed to write about this city and I just think it’s undervalued nationally.
“For someone who is not from here every trip on the ferry was exciting for me.”
In order to capture the true essence of Brisbane in her novel Heiss set up camp in the river city, exploring and making the city her own.
Her characters now walk the very same paths that Heiss once trod and as a result the city is just as vibrant a character as the five women who inhabit the novel.
“The characters are fiction but the experiences are all from people around me,” she says.
“I’m a method writer, so all the places the characters went to I also went to. So I lived in The Gap for a week, I walked the streets and saw the bush turkeys and I lived in West End which then became the character Izzy’s home.
“I think readers really value that because they think ‘if you’re going to write about my town get it right’. And readers can be brutal; if you get it wrong they’ll let you know.”
Tiddas, an aboriginal word meaning sisters, tells the story of five women who have been best friends for decades and explores a gamut of experiences including unexpected pregnancy, alcoholism, divorce, career and infertility.
“My previous books were all about girls in their 30s and I’m now 45 so it was a natural progression to start writing about issues my generation are going through,” Heiss says.
“Friendship is cemented in your 40s and I wanted to write about what that means.”
Tiddas came together in Heiss’s office in the State Library of Queensland, where she mapped the entire story out on a whiteboard.
While she says the characters are an eclectic mix of other people’s experiences and her own imagination, Heiss admits she sees a tiny part of herself in each one.
“I’m a little bit in all of them, well I don’t think I have a drinking problem like Nadine but I’m a writer just like her and Ellen is so straight down the line,” she says.
“I also had to look to my own family for inspiration; I’m a non-breeder like Ellen, so when I wrote the scene about Izzy finding out she was pregnant and telling her mother I had to think ‘this is what a mum would say’ and I knew she’d be supportive. So I use the wisdom of my mum and my aunts in my writing.
“It’s funny because my mother never reads my books all the way to the end but she read this one!
“I don’t know if I could ever write a book like this again, with so many characters, but it’s done now so it’s off the bucket list.”
Tiddas is out now.