Alumnae Spotlight: Adriane Howell (2003)

Alumnae Spotlight: Adriane Howell (2003)

As a writer, Adriane Howell loves nothing more than getting lost in words or closing her notebook after a productive evening.   

The Class of 2003 graduate was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Stella Prize for her debut novel ‘Hydra’. Hydra is a novel of dark suspense and mental disquiet, struck through with black humour. Adriane explores notions of moral culpability, revenge, memory, and narrative – all through the female lens of freedom and constraint.   

In 2013, Adriane graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing and has gone on to co-found the literary journal Gargouille 

Adriane talks us through what her day-to-day entails, when she knew she wanted to be a writer, and reveals how Hydra turned from an idea into her debut novel.  

Adriane with a copy of her debut novel ‘Hydra’.

You co-founded the literary journal Gargouille and released your debut novel, ‘Hydra’, in 2022. What does your day-to-day entail?  

Much of Hydra was written before my son was born. When not at work, those luxurious hours would stretch out in front of me, and I’d write in an extra-large moleskin, up to 1200 words a day. This may have extended into the night or wrapped in a matter of hours, but I wasn’t allowed to finish until those pages were complete. These days, time is scarce, and I find writing is best done in the early morning when it’s still dark outside, and my partner and child are asleep.   

Words seem to fail me in the afternoon. So, I typically use this time to work on structural elements, freelance jobs or admin. Gargouille is currently in hibernation (we published 10 issues between 2014-19), and there were a lot of late nights when we had those deadlines to meet – I can’t say that I miss eating dinner in front of the computer.   

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?  

As a child, I loved storytelling and was always lost in worlds I had created. As a teenager, I was self-conscious of my poor spelling and grammar. Because of this, I sublimated my love for writing into an obsession with boys – that period of my life was possibly my least creative, and when it was over, I felt a little lost. It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I began studying film, that I returned to books and writing. I eventually undertook a Masters at the University of Melbourne, where I tackled classes in editing, spelling and grammar – I learned about language and syntax as I never had before – and for the first time, everything slotted into place. I was also introduced to various writers, literary movements, styles and genres, and I came to understand that one day I wanted to write a novel.   

What do you love most about what you do?   

When I’m lost in words and, failing that, when I close my notebook for the evening.  

Adriane’s advice for the writers in the community is to “Read, read, read!”

What advice do you have for alumnae or students working towards a career in writing?   

Read, read, read! Listen. Travel. Experiment in life and in your writing. Lastly, consider whom you allow to read your work-in-progress; not all opinions are created equal.  

What was the inspiration for your debut novel? How long did it take you to turn it from an idea into your first novel?  

The manuscript was written over three years on Hydra and Crete and in Melbourne and Johannesburg. I’d wanted to write a novel for some time and had gathered a few thousand words but ultimately discarded them.   

There was an image I kept returning to; a tale told around campfires across the country. I was interested in not only what was spoken but why, though I didn’t know how to address this mythology in a manner that wasn’t fanciful.   

There was also my fascination with antiques. I’d grown up with collectors as parents and had strong memories from the 90s of exploring the labyrinth-like antique stores along High Street Armadale.   

Then in 2018, when I attended a Rick Amor art exhibition at Niagara Galleries, something sparked, and the manuscript began to take form. Amor’s Mornington Peninsula paintings – his twisted moonah trees, haunted beachscapes and looming cargo ships – had me transfixed. I went online and discovered more of his work. His painting House by the Sea (2011) was my computer’s background for four years whilst I wrote and edited the book.    

I see Hydra then as a collage of concepts, and my role as a writer is to tie them together in a meaningful manner.   

What are your plans for 2023 and beyond?  

I’m moving to France in April, and hopefully, another book will materialise.