Sewing, jails and treating your writing as a business with Meredith Jaffe
I loved the premise of The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison as soon as I heard about it, and even if that hadn’t been enough to sway me, the beautiful cover sealed the deal. As well as a hand-stitched cover, the smashing premise of prisoners coming together to make a wedding dress for a bride on the outside, Jaffe’s story had humour, gritty home truths about the prison system and a whole lot of heart. I enjoyed reading the patchwork of character perspectives and couldn’t help but cheer for the felons as they sought friendship and forgiveness. Perfect for readers who love libraries, sewing and Scrabble.
Do you have a good luck charm or a special token that sits on your desk?
My desk is more a conglomeration of stuff. There is a scented candle that I sometimes light when the mood strikes. But looking around now as I write this, it’s mostly receipts, a multitude of coloured Artline 200 pens, hand cream, post it notes, my diary, my journal, half a cup of cold coffee and, bizarrely, a pecan nut from our tree. Really, there is barely any room for my laptop! Every now and then I have to clear out my studio because the clutter invades my brain space but mostly it is just semi-organised chaos.
Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?
I set the timer on the phone for 45 minutes. Then I try and spend ten minutes on my feet moving around. Maybe make a cup of coffee or hang out a load of washing, check the cattle/ horses water, check for eggs, maybe pull out a weed or two. Around 3pm, I like to go to the gym or go for a run, by which I mean a huffy puffy jog—I’m no Sporty Spice!
What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?
Cooking is my way to unwind. I try and plan three meals ahead so I don’t have to waste brain power deciding on what’s for dinner. Plus, it is handy with a teenage boy in the house to be able to trot out an immediate answer when at 7.30 in the morning he asks, ‘what’s for dinner?’ I usually revolve through a curry, a stir fry, a grill, fish on Thursday nights and pizza or burritos on Friday nights with at least one night a week dedicated to clearing the leftovers out of the fridge. Sunday is a roast. Very structured in my world!
Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?
Hmm, that’s tough. I can’t imagine not writing but when I think about what else I would like to do, it comes down to lack of talent rather than lack of money. I’d really like to be able to draw and paint. I am super envious of those botanic artists and wish I had the skills to recreate a flower or leaf or whatever with complete exactitude. Either that or I would like to be able to paint like Margaret Preston.
Freshly cut grass, my favourite rose, freshly baked bread.
Chocolate, potato chips or cheese?
Have you done anything special with any of your advances?
Not particularly. I try to treat my writing as a business. That means income is used to defray expenses such as website, social media, research, printing and postage. It’s not glamorous but it is essential.
Do you have a writing ‘uniform’?
Jeggings for sure. I am also a massive cardigan fan (rather than a fan of massive cardigans!) Sneakers, clogs or ugg boots depending on the season and weather.
Spot where you seem to get the best bursts of writing inspiration?
Sitting at my desk working through a problem. I can spend all day wading through treacle, then, in the last half hour, the idea comes together and I pour out a couple of thousand words. I confess, I am not a fan of the muse. She’s like that fickle girlfriend who is your best friend one minute then bitching behind your back the next. Completely unreliable! The only way a book gets written is bum glue on the writing chair, a good night’s sleep and plenty of caffeine.
Worst writing/book related injury?
I do suffer from a little bit of RSI in the fingers and shoulders. It’s hardly worth mentioning.
Aussie novel you’re most looking forward to in 2021?
Ooh, that is really tough. There’s a few. I’m about to read Alice Pung’s One Hundred Days. I loved Laurinda and can’t wait to read her first adult novel. Michael Robotham’s newbie When You Are Mine is in the pile too. And in September there will be a new Liane Moriarty, Apples Never Fall, and a new Natasha Lester, The Riviera House.
Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?
Just one? I love all my reviews and emails from readers. Anyone who takes the time to read my book then write to me about how it made them feel is a very lovely person. And it is endlessly fascinating to see how books impact people differently. I recently received an email in relation to The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison where she said ‘It was like having a warm hug with hot chocolate,’ and a bookseller described it as ‘uproariously funny.’
Share a quirky habit or something readers might be surprised to discover about you.
Surely, my habits aren’t quirky, isn’t it everybody else’s???
Find Meredith online
@meredithjaffeathor Instagram and Facebook
The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison
Can a wedding dress save a bunch of hardened crims? The Full Monty meets Orange is the New Black in a poignantly comic story about a men's prison sewing circle.
'This is a deft and unlikely story in an uncommon setting about an estranged daughter, her jailed father and a very bad idea about a dress. It all makes for a warm, funny union of foes and a lovely encounter with what matters.' Rosalie Ham
Derek's daughter, Debbie, is getting married. He's desperate to be there, but he's banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn't spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture - to show her how much he loves her. But what?
Inspiration strikes while he's embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle - he'll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of crims is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons.
But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers ...
A funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.
'Overflowing with humour and heart. If you like a story about misfits making good, but with the added lustre of silk and satin, then this book is for you.' Natasha Lester
'This deliciously original, immersive and darkly funny novel is full of hope and heart. A refreshing take on the theme of redemption and second chances from an assured writer.' Joanna Nell
'Funny and moving' Sun-Herald
'Funny, heartfelt, and gorgeously written, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a highly original and extremely enjoyable read' Better Reading
About the author
Meredith Jaffé is the author of three novels for adults: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison (May 2021), The Making of Christina (2017) and The Fence (2016). Horse Warrior, the first in a children’s series, was published in 2019. She also contributed a short story, ‘Emergency Undies’, to the 2019 anthology Funny Bones. She is the Festival Director of StoryFest, held on the NSW South Coast, and regularly facilitates at other writers’ festivals and author events. Previously, she wrote the weekly literary column for the online women’s magazine The Hoopla. Her feature articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have also appeared in The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia.
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For your chance to win a copy of Meredith's new novel, simply read the interview and answer the questions on the WIN page. Entries open August 1. The winner will be drawn Sunday, August 8 at 5 pm. Newsletter subscribers and Aussie addresses only, please. Thanks to Harper Collins for the review and giveaway copies.