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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Josie Shapiro talks about Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts

Josie Shapiro has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland, where she was awarded a Wallace Arts Scholarship for her work. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies and she is winner of the Allen & Unwin Commercial Fiction Prize. Josie talks to NZ Booklovers about her debut novel, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts.

Can you tell us a little about the book?

Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts is about a young woman named Mickey Bloom, who grows up feeling as though she’s never good enough – she’s very short, she’s dyslexic, and she has a strained relationship with her father. But she discovers she has a talent for running, and this book is a coming-of-age exploration of bodily autonomy and freedom to choose our destinies.

How difficult was it writing this, your first book, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts?

It was tough! Many time as a wrote this novel about marathon running, I considered the parallels between writing a novel and covering the great distance of 42.2 kilometres. I was lucky to have some guidance during the earlier drafts from Lawrence Patchett, who did an assessment of the work, and then, once it was chosen as the winner of the Fiction Prize, I worked with an incredible editor, Jane Parkin, so hopefully I’ve learned some lessons that will make book number two slightly less difficult!

What research was involved?

I’ve never run competitively in an athletics club, so there was a lot to figure out. Of course, people who have lived immersed in that world will probably notice errors in Mickey’s life, and I hope they can forgive me, as I went to great pains to understand and replicate the nuance of a runner’s life. I also did a lot of research into New Zealand’s astonishing running history – most people know Lydiard and Peter Snell, they’re household names. But in my research, I learned more about some of the fantastic female runners like Anne Audain and Millie Sampson. I wanted to honour these women and their triumphs in my book.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I was writing all the time. I woke early to get in some time before the kids and the dog woke, and then I would sneak to my computer any spare moment I had. We went camping one summer when I was deep in the second draft, and I printed out the manuscript and worked while we sat around the tent or at the beach. I found the story so compelling I didn’t want to leave it.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany the new book, name a song or two you would include.

When I write, I listen to a lot of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Hania Rani, but I wouldn’t put them on a soundtrack for this novel. I’d include You Learn, by Alanis Morissette. Some of the lyrics just really resonate for Mickey – though in truth, any song from Alanis’s album Jagged Little Pill would be a good soundtrack.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts?

The relationship and dynamic between Mickey and a woman she meets later in the novel, Philippa, was my favourite part to write. Philippa felt so real to me – her dialogue, the way she treated Mickey, her family – it was such a joy to write her scenes. I was sad I couldn’t make the novel longer and include more between those two strong female characters.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

There’s been a few bottles of champagne! I tried to make sure I celebrated every time there was even a small goal achieved – first draft, final draft, winning the prize, finishing the edit, seeing the cover for the first time. There’s a lot of hard work in writing a novel, and a lot of rejection and sadness in the life of being a creative, so to keep spirits high I made sure I truly enjoyed each moment of success, no matter how small.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

So far this year I’ve enjoyed Fight Night by Miriam Toews, a fantastic Canadian writer, and also two astonishing New Zealand books: Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, W̱SÁNEĆ) and Ruin by Emma Hislop (Kāi Tahu).

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m deep into novel number two now. There’s some quiet exhilaration at being back at the keyboard and notebook again, finding my way into the thoughts and lives of these new characters, and it’s a nice balance to the high-octane energy of having Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts exploding into the world. I’m very excited for everyone to meet Mickey, of course, but in my heart I’m starting to fall into the world of my next novel and very little beats that feeling of doing something you love.

Allen & Unwin


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