Roanna McClelland - author, academic researcher, political adviser - has just published her first book, The Comforting Weight of Water. As the 2022 Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award winner at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature (AFAL), we caught up with Roanna to hear what this meant to her, more about her book and her writing process.
When asked how it feels to have her first book published, Roanna says,
“It’s incredible. Writing is often such a solitary task, so seeing my work in the hands of friends, family and strangers alike and hearing their responses to my writing is such a joy.”
Seeing the excitement and pride in her children as she showed them her published book in bookstores was one of Roanna’s biggest thrills.
The judges of the AFAL Unpublished Manuscript category praised Roanna for her highly memorable and bold work. Winning the Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award was life changing for Roanna. It gave her a financial boost, a publishing contract, and instant validation for her writing. She shares that,
“As someone juggling kids, life and career, it gave me the encouragement to persevere and maintain the belief that I am a writer.”
The Comforting Weight of Water, is set in the near future where it never stops raining and a young adolescent runs wild. The story explores coming of age when society - and all its cues - has been washed away. For the few survivors, questions of identity, nature, love, and fear are explored through the eyes of a child, against a backdrop of encroaching water.
Roanna has worked across environmental law, policy and politics, and like many people has been grappling with issues around humans’ relationships with nature. The idea for the book came to Roanna on a very wet day as she trailed behind her children in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. She was watching their unbridled joy as they played wild in the rain, and she wondered at how differently they related to the weather that adults shirk and hide from. As she watched, a little voice and story came into her head. She felt compelled to start writing, and as the months went by, she realised she was writing a book. That book became The Comforting Weight of Water.
The most challenging parts of writing the book for Roanna were time, money and confidence. Normally being made redundant from a job would have been devastating for Roanna but instead of rushing into the next job, she took a brief pause. She says,
“I would never have written my book without this unexpected period which allowed me the time and space to think and write. By the time I went back to work I had written a large chunk of my manuscript.
“To work past the barriers of time and money requires a huge amount of passion for and/or confidence in your writing. I had the former and not the latter, but, along with supportive friends and family, the Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award gave my confidence the boost to persevere with my writing.”
So, what’s next for Roanna? She is currently completing her PhD in environment and water law. Although this is a very different writing style, her research is pursuing the same project as her book but in a different way.
“I believe a really dynamic spectrum of action is required to bring about change, so addressing something like climate change needs art, academia, science and a whole raft of other really unique contributions. I’ll keep bringing together my writing and research interests and have started foraying into nature writing,” Roanna comments.
Roanna’s next fiction book is very different from her first book and is set in the world of politics where she worked for a long time. She has also started researching and documenting her family history for a novel based around the life of her great-grandmother, who was born in South Australia’s Destitute Asylum.
The literature awards will be back in 2024 and we are finalising processes and timelines now.
Nominations will open later in 2023, so keep an eye on our literature award webpage and socials for the latest updates.
The Comforting Weight of Water by Roanna McClelland, 2023, Wakefield Press.
Article written by Tracey Parnis, Marketing and Communications Officer. Thanks to Roanna McClelland for taking the time to answer questions for this article.