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INTERVIEW: Gabbie Stroud

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


This week I welcome Gabbie Stroud, author of Teacher, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes!! I am forever imagining. I am particularly curious about people. I could watch people all day and I find myself trying to imagine where they’ve just come from, or where they’re hurrying off to. I wonder what secrets they’re keeping, when they last laughed and how their face might look when they cry. Sometimes I find I’m so busy imagining I forget that I am present in the world myself!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yup! Ever since I could reach the pen and notepad on the telephone table in our family home. My mum, who keeps everything, still finds notepads I filled with my pre-writing scribbles.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Cooma hospital on the 4th of July in 1977. I came along ten years after my closest sister and twenty years after my eldest. Skip forward forty one years and I live 90 minutes drive from Cooma in a beautiful coastal town on the far south of New South Wales. I am a mother to two beautiful young girls named Olivia and Sophie. Together we love to read and write and dance and sing. It’s a very vocal household with lots of laughter and theatrics!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I struggled to understand how I was going to write a book about my life without making it sound dull and linear. Beautiful Kate Forsyth listened patiently as I lamented over this problem with her and then suggested that I might try exploring the opening of the story from an unexpected place! She drew my life as a narrative arc and then touched her pen to the graph, right before the climax. “If you imagined your life at this point of the story, what would be happening here?” I thought for a moment and said – that’s probably when I had been teaching for ten years and this little boy named Grayson threw his shoe at me and I felt something snap inside me and I threw the shoe out the door. Kate smiled at me and said, “That sounds like an interesting story to begin with. Why don’t you try starting there and then take us back to your childhood?” And so I did… and it worked.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I have discovered that I cannot plan my novels too much. The characters and the plot seem to find a life of their own. I sit at the key board panicking most of time and wishing I could control things, but I am beginning to resign myself to the fact that – for me – writing is as much about making discoveries as it is about making choices.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I tend to use my subconscious more so than dreams. If I am struggling with something creatively I will journal the problem before sleeping and actively ask my ‘back brain’ to work on it while I am sleeping. Then, either just as I’m falling asleep or on waking, the answer or solution will come to me… often like a blinding flash of the obvious. It can be exhilarating because occasionally the response is surprising. I marvel at the ability of our brains to work for us, even while we sleep!

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Yes – every day! ‘Teacher’ is the creative non-fiction memoir of my life, so you would think it would be fairly familiar material to me. But what I discovered was that I had great power in making choices as to how I would tell my story. I was able to choose where I would shine light and what things I would keep in shadow. I was also able to thread different episodes together and make connections between different points in my life. I discovered things about myself as a person, a teacher and a writer. But jeepers – it was a grueling process!

Where do you write, and when?
I wrote much of ‘Teacher’ at the local Library. I would arrive and set up my work space (always aiming to be there at 9:30 but never managing anything earlier than 10). I would plug in my headphones and click into my “white noise” website. Some kind of pavlovian response would kick in and the words would usually tumble onto the page.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Reading back the words I’ve put on the page at the end of the day. I am amazed that I can stir feelings within myself; I can delight myself, amuse myself and entertain myself. I am often surprised by the quality of my writing.

What do you do when you get blocked?

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read.
I observe people and the world around me.
I exercise.
I eat well.
I talk with my children – and really listen to them!
I think a lot.
I ask questions and remain curious.
I seek beauty.
I listen to music and take note of the lyrics.
I attend galleries, museums, festivals, concerts, shows, workshops, markets… whatever I can whenever I can.
I talk to other writers and nurture my friendships with them.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I use a white noise website to help me block out the world when I’m writing in a Library or café. I use sticky notes relentlessly once I start editing!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Sue Townsend – who introduced me to Adrian Mole, a character who made me laugh and laugh and laugh!
Mem Fox – who has helped me keep many a Kindergarten class entertained.
Kate Forsyth – who has taught me so much through my reading of her writing.
Liane Moriarty – who examines the human condition every time she writes.
John Marsden – who wrote the books I devoured during high school and beyond.
Helen Garner – who is gritty and unflinching and yet so easy for me to relate to.
Sofie Laguna – who gently takes your hand and says ‘come look at this ugly thing I have found’.
Jesse Blackadder – who creates beauty with her words and scenes I cannot forget.
Judy Blume - who I read and read and read and now my daughter reads and reads and reads.
Marcus Zusack – who gave us all The Book Thief.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Good writing stays with me. It moves something within me. I know I’ve read a good book when I turn the final page and realise I am not the same person that I was when I started the book.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Writers write.

What are you working on now?
I am developing a contemporary fiction for adults. It’s still without a title, but it is set in a primary school. I’m hoping it will be a book about the real work that teachers do and the impact that teachers have on their students. The book explores the lives of six teachers and their shared journey through the academic year. When a tragedy befalls the school community, each of the teachers are called to question the work they do, their failings and their truth.

You can read my review of Teacher here.

BOOK REVIEW: Teacher by Gabbie Stroud

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In 2014, Gabrielle Stroud was a very dedicated teacher with over a decade of experience. Months later, she resigned in frustration and despair when she realised that the Naplan-test education model was stopping her from doing the very thing she was best at: teaching individual children according to their needs and talents. Her ground-breaking essay 'Teaching Australia' in the Feb 2016 Griffith Review outlined her experiences and provoked a huge response from former and current teachers around the world. That essay lifted the lid on a scandal that is yet to properly break - that our education system is unfair to our children and destroying their teachers.

In a powerful memoir inspired by her original essay, Gabrielle tells the full story: how she came to teaching, what makes a great teacher, what our kids need from their teachers, and what it was that finally broke her. A brilliant and heart-breaking memoir that cuts to the heart of a vital matter of national importance.

My Thoughts:

I first met Gabbie Stroud when we were on tour together with the Byron Writers Festival. She had written a personal essay for Griffith Review about her decision to quit teaching, which had always been her life vocation. Her essay stirred up a lot of controversy, as more and more teachers began to criticise Australia’s education system. Allen & Unwin asked her if she’d be interested in extending her essay into a book-length memoir, and Teacher is the poignant and powerful result.

All Gabbie Stroud ever wanted to do was teach our children, and inspire them with her own big-hearted warmth, generosity and love of learning.

Instead she found herself broken by a system that cares more for data and demographies than young minds and spirits.

Interweaving her own personal journey towards being a teacher with anecdotes from the classroom, Teacher illuminates the enormous difficulties our teachers face today. Sometimes their students are hungry, bruised, or afraid. Sometimes they are sick, angry, or struggling. Their teacher needs to keep them and their classmates safe and calm, while still trying to instil learning. Teachers are burdened by administrative tasks, curriculum demands, difficult parents, and large numbers of students. They end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed, and often completely burned-out.

Gabbie Stroud shines a penetrating light on all that is wrong with the Australian education system and how it fails both our children and our teachers. Impossible to read without choking up, this is an eloquent rallying cry for change and should be mandatory reading for all politicians and policy-makers. Luminous and heart-rending.

I was lucky enough to interview Gabbie Stroud for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment!

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