Sahar Mourad


5 minutes with author Sally Piper

5 minutes with author Sally Piper

In the Over60 “5 Minutes With” series, we ask book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next up is Sally Piper who is debuting her third book, Bone Memories.

Piper worked as a nurse and nurse educator, specialising in neurosurgical critical care and decided to use her experience in people’s vulnerabilities to write her books.

With Bone Memories, Piper explores grief, family, murder and media representation of female victims of crime. 

Bone Memories is out now and can be purchased here and enjoy the book club notes with your friends.

What inspired you to write Bone Memories?

The story grew first from questions I had about how victims and survivors of a crime might memorialise the site where their trauma had occurred. I wondered whether being close to this ground brought people comfort or if proximity to it harmed them further. I wondered what it made their grief look and feel like when they moved across that ground and how that relationship might affect them or change over time.

Through the story, I hoped to explore how trauma lives in the body and for some people how it also lives in the land where that trauma occurred; how history and geography for some are inextricably linked. And I wanted to explore how people reconcile this link or what happens if they are unable to.

Equally, I often think about the effect that witnessing violence has on children, even if they have little or no memory or understanding of the event. Would they have some innate sense that they had witnessed something terrible? If so, how might this play out as they matured?

In writing Bone Memories, I hoped to answer these questions. But as is often the case with any writing project, once you get into it, doors open to other thinking as well. With this story I was once again drawn into what forces impact upon women's safe and free movement through the world (something I explored in my previous novel, The Geography of Friendship), but this time I looked at it in the way that the media represents female victims of crime; how some crimes against women are reported with a sympathetic narrative, one that elicits intense social empathy, and at other times women are essentially blamed for their own deaths.

 Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

I read widely and often around obscure topics, which inevitably takes me down rabbit holes of thinking, so ideas I hadn’t previously considered important suddenly become so. This is the best kind of information gathering, because it is unexpected. It is also one of the reasons I never plan my stories, allowing them to evolve organically. And neither do I allow myself to know the ending of a novel. Because if I get surprises along the way, then it is my hope that readers will too.   

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Writer’s block is a phrase I won’t use in relation to my writing practise. It sounds too much like a disease that I’m at risk of ‘catching’. When I’m struggling to start or progress a work it is usually because I haven’t thought enough about what it is I want to say. Or as Jonathan Franzen puts it: ‘the blank page in the mind has to be filled before you have the courage to face the actual blank page.’ Which is to say, think first, write later. If I get stuck, I go back to the original questions I began the story with: What do I want this story to say? What are the themes and issues I want it to address? Who are the stakeholders? Not being able to find the words is often because I have lost sight of the answers, or I need to ask myself new or better questions.

There is also something else that can stop a work in its tracks, which masquerades as writer’s block: procrastination. But procrastination is a defence mechanism, another word for fear or a lack of self-belief. It protects us from criticism. It keeps us safe from failure. It saves us digging deeply into the personal stuff of what we’re writing about, which is often the place where the gold is found. The solution then is to find courage, trust yourself and persevere.  

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

When working on a new project, I write most days, mainly in the morning. The afternoon is usually spent editing that morning’s work, often after a bushwalk, an activity I call writing away from the desk. Once away from the work, I see it through a different lens: an editorial one. I find the rhythm of walking allows for clearer thinking, helped in no small part by fresh air and the calming beauty of the bush. With this clarity I can usually work out what isn’t working in the story, and often why as well, so that I come back with a solution. Sometimes I cut the walk short because I’m excited to get back and make the changes.

Do you expect Bone Memories to become a TV series?

I think every writer has a secret dream that their story will be reimagined for the screen, and there certainly is more scope for these opportunities now with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Stan. When this dream came true for my second novel, The Geography of Friendship, which is to be made into a 6-part TV series by Aquarius Films and Rose Byrne’s Dollhouse Pictures, I was absolutely thrilled to think that the characters in that story would be reimagined in this way. So, it is hard not to hope for the same thing for my third novel, Bone Memories. It is a deeply human, family-centric story with strongly realised characters and a sharp eye for the Australian landscape, so I think it would make an excellent adaptation. But of course, I’m not at all biased!

Images: Fiona Muirhead/Supplied


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