Crone, Mother, Child by Niamh Moriarty

Crone, Mother, Child by Niamh Moriarty

The Hag, the Crone, the Crazy Cat Lady

I have a confession to make. For the past few years now, I’ve been stocking up on cat food. I’ve driven past billboards of dream homes and thought ‘Yeah, I’d like to live there’ only to realise they were retirement villages. I’ve pulled money out of my superannuation to pay for age-defying creams with serum technology. I see my endgame and it is grim.

And yet, many of my older women friends are smashing creative goals. They’re finding their voices now that their kids no longer demand all their attention, they’ve paid off their mortgage, they no longer juggle with the same intensity the demands of careers and domestic mongering.

Comedian Ali Wong talked about managing a creative career and family in her stand-up work Hard Knock Wife (the answer is: She has a nanny. That’s it.) The conversation of motherhood versus art has been happening for decades. Lauren Sandler (2013) wrote that there is a secret to being a successful writer – just have one kid like Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker. What a lot of these conversations neglect is that this struggle between balancing motherhood and art is a transient period in a woman’s life. The idea that women have a finite time limit on being creative is tied up with their reproduction. It ignores that women live rich lives well into their forties, fifties and beyond child rearing age. 

Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s debut The Erratics won the Stella prize in 2019 — an accomplishment that is inevitably coupled with her age (Laveau-Harvie is in her 70s). Booker prize winner Penelope Fitzgerald published her first work at 58. These are the shoot-for-the-stars stories, the anomalies, the aspiring women who achieved their bucket list.

The truth is creative women become invisible past their prime (the ‘prime’ being a magic number which drops proportionally to your boobs … so possibly 21 or 22 years old at this point). Greying artists trading estrogen patches in the alleyway is not marketable. As someone who has always been called out for not acting my age (sometimes as a compliment, most often not), I’m relishing the perspective of older women writers. The plan for my blog series Fictional Forties, Fifties and Beyond to cast the spotlight on women artists who emerged ‘past their prime’.

To celebrate the creativity of older women, I asked an artist from the other end of the timeline to create an artwork for the series. The beautiful digital painting Crone, Mother, Child in the header is by the talented 14 year old artist, Niamh Moriarty. You can follow her Instagram here:

My first interview is with author Sharita Russell. Born in Malaysia, Sharita has been making up stories since she was a young girl but it wasn’t until she’d tried careers as an investment banker in London and a naturopath in Singapore that she finally found the courage to be an author in Australia.

Sharita has just published her first speculative fiction novel Original Sinner, a story about the woman who started it all with a bite of an apple. This is the woman we know only from the male gaze – the one blamed for all that ails humankind. Original Sinner gives us Eve’s perspective on what it’s like to be tempted by the devil.. 

Sharita and I are in the same writer’s group and we caught up to talk about the recent launch of Original Sinner

M: It’s a standard approach for fantasy writers to borrow mythology from various ancient cultures for world-building, such as Norse or Greece. Your story is quite unusual in that it uses Christianity as the inspiration. Can you talk a little about why you chose to use the Christian origin story?

S: I was educated in the Catholic system as a child, and I remember hearing the Old Testament stories as a child, so this is a rich vein for me. From a literary perspective the Bible is one of the greatest sources of reference, and writers have been dipping into its pages for inspiration for centuries, from Dante and Milton to Tóibín. Perhaps it is less common in speculative fiction, but many people have been brought up in a Christian tradition and understand the references.

M: I know that several publishers were interested in this manuscript but ultimately, they had issues marketing the work. It has been described as Christian romance, women’s literature and even allegory fiction. How would you describe your work in terms of genre?

S: I think it has elements of all of the above, but the most accurate way to describe it is as speculative fiction. Speculative fiction in the sense that it poses the question to the reader; What if Eve isn’t a sinner? What if she did exactly as she was supposed to? What if the test in the Garden of Eden isn’t what we assume it to be? Our perspectives on religion are very different today from those that prevailed fifty years ago, let alone two thousand years ago. I wanted to re-examine Eve’s story from a modern viewpoint.

The themes of the book  come from re-examining our view of Eve, and how those views translate into how women are perceived in society.. The narrative touches on the struggle of women through the ages to be acknowledged – to not be the chattel of fathers and husbands, to have the right to work and to vote, to own property. The fight to be allowed to voice opinions and be credited for their achievements. Eve is Everywoman searching for her identity.

M: I’m pretty sure that both Lucifer and Adam must feature in the Top Ten Hottest men in the Bible. It reads like you had a lot of fun writing these characters. Can you talk briefly about the development of Lucifer’s character? (And also Adam’s). 

S: It was wonderful to write these characters! Lucifer is often portrayed in such negative terms, but I always wondered why God would send all those souls into the care of someone he didn’t trust. I wrote Lucifer from Eve’s perspective, and for him to tempt her so easily, she had to be attracted to him. Whatever she had going on with Adam, it wasn’t strong enough to keep her from Lucifer. That was my starting point to fleshing out the men in Eve’s life. But as I wrote and rewrote, the characters changed, Lucifer became less predictable and Adam more relevant. It was fascinating to watch the transformations.

M: Coming from a Catholic highschool, I have some familiarity with the Bible so I really enjoyed picking up characters that popped up. Were there any other characters from the bible that got a nod in Original Sinner?

S: The lovely thing about using religious characters is that people are familiar with them. Although she only appears in the Bible once, as a demon, I took the character of Lilith, and the Jewish story of her being the first wife of Adam, and incorporated her into the novel. She is much maligned in religious texts, but it was because she was seen as a woman who was uncontrollable, who spoke her own mind, and refused to be cowed. From a modern perspective she sounds fabulous.

M: The book cover for Original SInner is stunning. I know that you contracted artist Andi Spark for the design. Can you talk about the visual elements that she used for the cover?

S: Andi and I wanted to incorporate a lot of imagery into the cover. We looked at illuminated manuscripts, to give it that religious feel. We discussed using snakes and apples and swords but didn’t want the cliched images. We wanted to combine the ancient and the modern, to encompass Eve’s life from Eden to the present day. It was hard to trim it back! Andi did such a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the story with a few details: the ouroboros that frames Eve in Venice, the abundant vines that wither at the bottom, and the luscious fruit, of course, begging to be plucked.

M: The blog series I’m writing is called Fictional Forties, Fifties and Beyond. I want to start a conversation about what it is like to publish for the first time in your forties. Can you talk a little about your publishing journey? Has it been difficult balancing your personal life with your professional writing? Do you think your journey would have been much different if it was your younger self that was being published for the first time?

S: I think it has been harder to publish at a later stage in life. Like any career there are the stages that one has to go through, getting to know the industry, making connections, honing your craft. Starting all over again from the bottom in your forties is harder than starting out in your twenties. There is greater self-doubt as well with age. Having said that though, I’d done this twice before – in investment banking and alternative health, so I was a little wiser. And being a writer makes you a master at patience!

M: Thank you for your time Sharita. You can follow Sharita’s writing on her website:

Original Sinner can be purchased from the following book vendors: