Conversation with Bronwyn Birdsall (Class of 1999)

We sat down with Bronwyn Birdsall (Class of 1999) to hear about her experience of writing her new novel 'Time and Tide in Sarajevo'.

Caption: Bronwyn Birdsall’s (1999) whose debut novel Time and Tide in Sarajevo will be available in July 2022

1. What inspired the story of your new novel?

Time and Time in Sarajevo is inspired by the years I lived in Sarajevo—a place rich in beauty and history. I was 24 when I moved there in 2007, eleven years after the end of the long and brutal siege of the city. After returning to Australia in 2011, I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I’d seen and heard, asking myself—how do we find hope in a world that can feel beyond repair? What does it mean to have given up on a future?

My novel follows a young Australian teacher in Sarajevo who gets caught up in a crisis. Set over a few days, it’s about friendship, loyalty and finding your place in the world. I hope it captures the city’s humour, resilience and atmosphere. The protagonist is similar in age and background to me, but responds to life very differently than I do. Through her, I got to experience the city again with a fresh perspective. I think it’s deepened my understanding of Sarajevo, and maybe even given me some answers to those questions.

2. What is your writing process?

For me, the process is quite mysterious. I liken it to something Michelangelo apparently said: that a sculpture is already complete within the marble block, and the sculptor’s job is simply to remove everything unnecessary to reveal the work. It takes patience. I wrote the whole first draft of Time and Tide by hand and then I just kept working on it. A lot of the process was me learning how to write a novel.

Eventually, my publisher and I worked through several edits and I’m so happy with the final result. It’s like I’ve been doing a puzzle in my mind for six years
and it’s now solved! I’m working on my second novel now, about three generations of women in Sydney. It’s completely different from the first, but the basic process is the same: write, edit, write, put it aside, write some more.

3. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I think a general curiosity about life shows up on the page. Being interested in people and ideas, and seeking out different experiences, is not just good for you as a writer, but good for you as a person. Also, never be discouraged by your messy first draft; that’s just you telling yourself the story. You’ll shape it for a reader when you edit.

Finally, have people around you who believe in you. I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to do this without those formative years with Ms Deidre Coleman as my English teacher. I still remember her telling me that my sensitivity was a gift, not something to be squished down. I’ve held onto that my whole life.

Time and Tide in Sarajevo will be published on 26 July 2022 in Australia by Affirm Press. Pre‐orders are already available online and through local booksellers.