Robyn Mundy is a Tasmanian author and until July 2023, we had never met. When an opportunity arose to meet Robyn, at a book launch in Hobart, I jumped at the chance. To be honest, I went a bit fan-girl on her, and I can’t tell you how excited I was when she agreed to do this interview with me.
Robyn Mundy is everything I imagined her to be – poised, articulate, generous, and gracious. Just like her novels. I love her books. They’re pure works of art.
I hope you enjoy this interview.
Robyn Mundy is author of the novels Cold Coast, Wildlight and The Nature of Ice, and co-author of the young readers’ Epic Adventure: Epic Voyages. She works seasonally as an Assistant Expedition Leader for Aurora Expeditions. Robyn currently lives in Hobart where she teaches writing and is at work on a new novel.
For more on Robyn, I encourage you to check out this interview with THE HOBART.
Here’s my interview with Robyn:
1. Why do you write – and why did you decide to write a book?
I have always been a keen reader but I fell in to writing as an adult after a year of doing a speech pathology degree as a mature age student, realising it wasn’t for me, then switching to an Arts degree with no clear vision of where that would lead. In that first year of study I had a terrific creative writing tutor who read my stories and encouraged me to keep writing. (Doesn’t it often come down to an encouraging teacher, no matter the subject.)
2. What genres do you enjoy reading?
Novels, short stories, YA. There are many wonderful books that straddle the genres of literary fiction and commercial fiction. There are many YA books that speak to readers of all ages. So long as I connect with the characters and their voice, with a story that takes me on a compelling, unexpected journey, I’m in.
3. How long did it take you to write your first book from first word to publish? Given you’ve written multiple books, how long does it take you now to write and publish a book?
My first novel was The Nature of Ice which I completed as the creative component of a PhD thesis. The research was a big component, and I am a glacially slow writer. From first word to final: close to two years.
My subsequent novels have also involved extensive research. Alas, I’m no quicker at writing than I was, so about two years of writing, then submission, acceptance, and a year after that to publication. I have recently begun on a new novel project and given myself a good talking to: I WILL WRITE THIS STORY in 12 months. Watch this space.
4. What’s the most challenging part of being an author for you?
You will have heard it before. Self-doubt. That doesn’t seem to diminish. Another is how easy it is to regard other life needs as more important, to deny that writing is as valid an undertaking as any career.
5. What do you love the most about being an author?
Readers. One of the most heart-warming and affirming moments of being an author is to have a reader say to me (or review on Goodreads) that what I have written has meant something to them.
6. If you could give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?
An invaluable way to grow as a writer is to workshop regularly with a small group of trusted writers who believe in one another, who are willing to identify shortcomings in each other’s work, and who never forget to praise its strengths.
7. What’s the shortest time you’ve ever written a story?
I wrote an 8,000-word draft for a short story in a single sitting; I’ve never done so since. I then spent weeks, no, months, revising that story.
8. What was the hardest lesson you learned in the writing process, and what did you take from that?
With my first novel, the developmental editing process was at times a brutal learning experience. One remark from the editor: ‘Robyn wears her knowledge on her sleeve.’ That criticism ultimately did me a great service in shaping the way I approached and managed research. Author Delia Falconer sums it up perfectly in her article The Writer’s Reader: A Guide to Writing Fiction & Poetry: “The great amount of detail that one labours to acquire has, in a sense, also to be ‘forgotten’ until it ‘slinks back into some nether region from where it will feel almost as shadowy and elusive as aspects of one’s own childhood experience’. The more you research, the easier it is to overwhelmed by a sense of ‘debt’ to the past, the fear of getting history ‘wrong’”.
9. What is the best book you’ve found on the writing process?
Hmm. Despite having been both a student and teacher of creative writing, I confess to still being in the dark as to how we actually learn to write. If it is a combination of practice, reading, and some mystical process of osmosis, then every book on writing craft holds gems of value. However, in my own flawed experience, it isn’t until I’ve successfully overcome a particular writing hurdle, that the advice offered in writing guides fully resonates.
10. Are you self-published, traditionally, or hybrid-published, and why did you take that publishing route? Would you choose that route for your next book?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have my novels published traditionally. I am also keenly aware that the process of an author submitting a novel to a publisher can be utterly dispiriting, in how long it takes for the work to be seen, if at all. A sobering realisation for any writer is that whichever publishing route we take, the likelihood of earning a viable income from writing royalties is slim. Like many writers, I do other work (which I love) to earn a living.
11. What drew you to the subject of your latest book, Cold Coast?
My novel Cold Coast is set in 1932 and tells the story of Wanny Woldstad (pronounced Vonny Voldstad), the first female hunter and trapper to work up in Svalbard in the high Arctic when Arctic fox and polar bear were exploited for their pelts. My ‘other work’ is as a ship-based guide, mostly in the polar regions. I first came across Wanny’s story after visiting her trapper’s hut during a working voyage. I felt driven to know how she got the gig in the first place—a woman breaking into a fiercely guarded male domain—and what the experience would have been for her.
12. What did your discovery path look like, in choosing the genre to write in?
My writing career began with writing short fiction, stories often set in contemporary, urban settings. With the dream to attempt a novel, I found that story ideas set in extremes of nature and based on actual history, offered characters and themes that sustained the longer form.
13. What does your typical day look like, when you are working on a book?
I average 30 hours of writing, sometimes more, Monday through Friday. I keep at it on the many, many bad days as well as the good. Every day involves an hour or more of walking our high energy, ball-obsessed blue heeler, during which time I like to believe that subconscious creativity and problem solving happens.
14. How much of your own life, and your own experiences, have affected your storylines?
My novels are set in remote places of nature. I could not have written these novels without having personally spent time in those places, and without those places offering me story ideas. I admire writers who create fantastical worlds, a genre that would be completely beyond me.
15. What’s the most interesting book you’ve read in the last year? Or at least, one that kept you thinking about long after?
Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant by New Zealand author Cristina Sanders (The Cuba Press). I read this book as research and absolutely loved it. It is the true story of a young woman who, in 1866, was the only female to survive a ship wreck and be cast away for eighteen months with 14 other survivors on a wild sub-Antarctic coastline. The research is rigorous, the characterisation sensitive and insightful, the narrative driven by a mounting tension amongst a desperate group of survivors with little chance of rescue.
16. What’s the best book you feel you’ve written?
My ardent hope as an author is to become a stronger, braver writer with each new work. I do feel proud of Cold Coast, at the distance I’ve come so far. I am still very much on a writer’s journey of growing and developing.
You can find Robyn here:
Podcast Interview: ‘Imagining the Past’ podcast from HNSA (Historical Novel Association of Australasia) – Robyn Mundy in Conversation with Greg Johnston
Click here for a link to Robyn’s latest book.
PLEASE NOTE: Affiliate links were used in this post. I do not promote anything I have not used or experienced myself or had recommended highly to me. All opinions are my own. Please follow our advice at your own risk. By clicking these links allows this website to continue running. For that, I thank you.