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Today Sally Piper stops by for a natter. Sally’s new release The Geography of Friendship is out now in paperback, Kindle and MP3 Audio CD.
💫 The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper
-Back of the Book
When three women set off on a hike through the wilderness they are anticipating the adventure of a lifetime. Over the next five days, as they face up to the challenging terrain, it soon becomes clear they are not alone.
Lisa, Samantha and Nicole have known each other since school. Lisa is a fighter, Samantha a peacekeeper and Nicole a rule follower. United they bring out the best in one another.
Only once it is too late for them to turn back do they appreciate the danger they are in. Their friendship is tested, and each of them must make a choice that will change their lives forever.
About the Author
Sally Piper’s debut novel, Grace’s Table (2014), was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – Emerging Queensland Author category and she was awarded a Varuna Publishing Fellowship for her manuscript. Sally holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Queensland University of Technology. She has had short fiction and non- fiction published in various print and online publications, including the firstOne Book Many Brisbanes anthology, The Weekend Australian, WQ plus other literary magazines and journals in the UK. She currently mentors other writers on the Queensland Writers Centre ‘Writer’s Surgery’ program.
Can you tell us a little about your book?
The Geography of Friendship is the story of three young women who are seeking adventure and independence so set off on a 5-day hike in the remote Australian bush. At the trailhead car park they have an altercation with a man who is also hiking in the region. Over the next five days, as the freedom they feel quickly turns to fear, their friendship is tested and each girl makes an irrevocable choice that will haunt them for years to come. Twenty-four years later they agree to return to the region to undertake the hike once again. While there they are forced to come to terms with the past and the true value of friendship.
Who would your book be perfect for?
I expect mostly women will select The Geography of Friendship because of the subject matter, but I always hoped that men would read it too. For female readers, the story will help them understand why women are sometimes made to feel they don’t belong in certain public places, as well as highlight the indoctrination girls receive from a very young age that teaches them that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe while in those places. If men were to read the book, it is my hope they would gain a greater understanding, and empathy for, the daily threats women face or feel as they move through the world. It is also a story for anyone who loves the natural world and bushwalking as I do. The landscape where the hike is set is a character within itself in the story – a challenging and changeable terrain, but also a beautiful and healing one.
Did you have a favourite character to write?
All three of the female characters in the story are very special to me, so maybe I’ll answer this question by talking about the one who gave me the least trouble to create, which was Lisa. Nicole was always very elusive to me as a character and eventually I realised this was who she needed to be in the story so I allowed her to remain so in some ways. Samantha was a complex character to create because there are so many layers to her interiority – family roles, body image, confidence – and she took a great deal of crafting over a long period of time to fully realise her character both emotionally and physically. But Lisa came to me quickly and almost fully formed. She is the angry, feisty one, a firebrand who shows little restraint in comments or actions. Historically, we don’t often see these traits expressed by women (although I think with the #MeToo movement we’re seeing a shift in this now) and those who do express their anger are deemed hysterical or classed as radical feminists, not just as women who are fed up with, and railing against, the status quo. I like to write characters that challenge stereotypes and Lisa certainly does this, which is probably why she came to me more easily than the other two. I had a clean slate with her, which enabled me to make her who or whatever I wanted her to be and not someone who had to conform, as Nicole and Samantha do in certain ways. Equally, I think through Lisa I was given licence to express some of the anger I feel as a mostly solo woman bushwalker and the fear I sometimes feel while doing this loved activity.
What inspired you to write the book?
The Geography of Friendship was in many ways a selfish pursuit of working out if the fear I sometimes feel in certain places is justified or imagined. I had begun questioning how much of it was conditioning, of being told over many years that there were certain places I shouldn’t go, certain things I shouldn’t do, solo bushwalking being one of them. Australian writer Robyn Davidson describes it like this in her memoir Tracks (made into a movie of the same name in 2013): “[Women] have used cowardice for so long to protect themselves that it has become habit.” Writing this novel allowed me to see just how true this is. It also helped me to break down some of those habits of mind and to push back against the invisible boundaries I’d set up about where I could and couldn’t go and to reclaim those places that society, my upbringing and the media said I had no right to be in. I became increasingly angered as I researched for this story by just how much women self limit their free movement and how we risked living smaller lives as a consequence. I think it was this anger that became Lisa’s in the story.
Can you share a photo that meant something to you from 2018?
This is a small cheat because these two photos were actually taken 50 years apart but they are ones I put together and posted on social media in 2018 to coincide with the book’s release in Australia. They are taken in the same location – on Kersops Peak, the highest point of Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, Australia, which is where The Geography of Friendship is very loosely set. I’m on the right and my mother is on the left. I grew up in Victoria and my family holidayed on Wilsons Promontory regularly. It was here that my love of bushwalking first began. Nostalgia for this area made me want to set the story there, plus I felt I could imagine the place in its less trammelled state compared with what it would look like now, which would fit with the timeline of the two hikes in the novel. But when it came to recreating a sense of place for the novel my childhood memories only allowed me to picture the region as idyllic and safe and not the isolating and menacing place it needed to be in the story. So I returned to Wilsons Promontory, which I hadn’t visited for many years, and did a 5-day solo hike as research for the book. This hike became the hike the characters undertake and many of their stumbles, falls and anxieties were my own.
What has been your proudest bookish moment?
I can’t go past that feeling I get when I finally hold a physical copy of my book in my hand. Up until that point the novel’s existence never really seems quite real.
Do you have any questions for your readers?
Of Lisa, Samantha and Nicole, who most reflects your own personality?
What action would you have taken if placed in the same situation as the girls?
What is your favourite read of your whole life and why?
I’m one of those people who just can’t pick a favourite read. For me, certain books leave greater marks on me than others depending on what is happening in my life, or the greater world, at the time. For example, not long ago I finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. I think this book is a masterpiece, certainly in how it’s written, but also because it speaks to a subject matter that is very important to me: how the environment is being exploited and destroyed for current human gain with little thought or concern for the well being of future generations. It is a story I doubt will ever leave me. But I could name other, different stories I’ve read before it that have affected me as deeply and I don’t doubt there will be many after it. If I was to go way back to the first book to leave its mark though it would be to the Australian children’s book Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. But that’s more about this book representing my earliest memories of being read to as a child than the derring-do of the cheeky koala at the heart of the story.
What are you working in now?
I’m currently working on my third novel, which is still a terrifyingly ugly mess of ideas! In it I want to look at how people remain living on land that has been the site of a trauma, how they memorialise that ground, how they reconcile living alongside such a history. So all big picture ideas at the moment, but I’m gradually finding my way into the characters who I want to tell the story.
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