I recent read Australian author Sara Foster’s third novel Shallow Breath after Random House Australia so kindly sent me a copy of the book to review. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel that explored themes of animal cruelty. You can read my review here. I was also given the opportunity to interview Sara, something I was very excited about (it’s always fun to interview authors after reading their work) and Sara was so lovely in her responses. Hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!
Did you grow up around animals?
We had cats and a grumpy budgie when I was a child!
Have you always felt impassioned to the cause of ending animal cruelty?
It’s something I’ve felt increasingly passionate about as I’ve got older, and become more aware of the many different ways in which animals are treated horrifically. Too often animals are seen as products and resources when it is apparent to anyone who spends time around them that they are living beings just as we are, with different bodies and instincts but with the same capacity for suffering.
Are there any aspects of Shallow Breath that mirror experiences you have had?
Some of my experiences are in there – swimming with dolphins and whale sharks, the diving scenes, and some of the things I experienced visiting the Galapagos (including a sea lion sleeping on a bench in the early hours like the town drunk!) However, many others are researched or made up as part of the story.
What inspired you to write the story from so many different perspectives?
The themes of the book, and the places featured, are so wide-ranging that I felt it would be too limiting to tell this story from one person’s point of view. In addition, I hope the reader comes to understand the miscommunications and differing perceptions of each character by being able to get close to each one of them.
Did you have a favourite perspective to write from?
That’s a good question – I really enjoyed writing them all, but it was always special to get to a Desi scene because Desi’s story is central to the novel.
Whose voice did you hear most clearly?
I could hear them all – I was totally connected with whoever I was writing about at the time.
How much did watching The Cove affect you?
It took me a long time to watch the Cove because I knew it would deeply affect me. I wasn’t wrong. That image of the injured dolphin trying in vain to reach the shore, just to escape its own suffering body, before thrashing and drowning as the crew watched, is one of the most haunting things I’ve ever seen.
What was it like when you visited “the cove”?
Taiji is a scary, depressing, strange place. I went all around the town, to see the different places the dolphins were kept in captivity, and I watched the boats go out dolphin hunting, thankfully returning empty-handed. The Cove itself was quiet when I visited – without any captured dolphins milling around or being killed it is surprisingly ordinary – if I remember rightly there’s even a bench and public toilet facilities as though people might head down there for a barbecue at the weekend. I felt extremely on edge the whole time I was there, and I was sickened at seeing some of the conditions the dolphins were being kept in. All these dolphins have been taken from their pod – they have often witnessed their family being killed, and will have swum in the blood of their relatives. Their ongoing distress is evident in the way they hang limply in the water, with nowhere to go or nothing to do. One dolphin I saw had gone psychotic and was endlessly spy-hopping up and down (raising eyes above the water). This dolphin was slowly starving as the trainers had given up on it and so stopped feeding it. The activists had named it Jiyu, which means freedom in Japanese. It disappeared a couple of days after I left – either died or was killed.
Shallow Breath ended with a few things left hanging in the balance, was this intentional? Are you planning a sequel or did you want the reader to decide what happens?
Yes, the ending of the book was intentional. I’m aware that a sequel is possible, but I feel Shallow Breath stands on its own without a sequel. After dealing with some distressing, true-to-life material I felt it would be wrong to neatly wrap up the story. I wanted to leave the reader thinking.
Is environmental activism something that you are involved in?
Yes, I am. I don’t like the word activism as I feel it often has negative (and grossly unfair) connotations – implying violence or recklessness or aggression, none of which represent the actions of anyone I know who is trying to make a difference in the state of the natural world. I will go to rallies – particularly those against the Kimberley gas hub or protesting the Taiji dolphin slaughter. I follow conservation causes and donate money or time or signatures on petitions whenever I can. I’d love to do more, I think it’s really important to speak out about whatever is important to you.
I saw that you are donating ten per cent of the royalties to charitable conservation projects, how important is this to you?
I’m happy if I can give some funds to some of the causes I learned about while writing the book. These charities often need all the help they can get – they are usually fighting large corporate machines who have heaps of money and therefore hold much greater influence with governments.
Which author has inspired you the most in your writing career?
Perhaps Maggie O’Farrell – I love the risks she takes with her writing and that she chooses really different topics every time. I can’t wait to read Instructions for a Heatwave.
What are some of your favourite books?
So many books, so little time – they vary from Winnie the Pooh and Pride and Prejudice to The Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved, My Sister’s Keeper, After You’d Gone (Maggie O’Farrell), and so many more. This year I’ve loved reading The Secret River by Kate Grenville and When a Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – and I’ve got a ridiculously high ‘to read’ pile with so many great new books coming out all the time.
Thanks for having me, Monique!
No Sara, thank you for talking to me!
Image from Sara’s website