Interview - Roni Askey-Doran

Roni Askey-Doran, author : 3rd February 2005

What's your background?

After lying about my age, I got my first job at fourteen at Radio 4KZ in Innisfail, Queensland, working in the record library. At fifteen, I began a career as a chef, and worked in hotel kitchens around the world, including Ireland, Germany, and Indonesia, for thirteen years before retiring my knives permanently in Brighton, England. I then moved to Istanbul, Turkey, exchanged my blades for quills, and became a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines across Europe. It was a career I fell into and have never looked back. Two years later, I established my own monthly magazine, Istanbullshit, and ran a successful publishing business for three years. These days I reside in North Queensland, Australia and work as a full-time novelist, preferring to research and write books. I travel often, and I'm still looking for a permanent home. Occasionally I get a stint with a newspaper and sell the odd article to an international magazine. I'm also a public speaker, about to launch a tour of Australia raising awareness and talking about Sexual Abuse, with a focus on reporting it, achieving justice, and staying sane throughout the process. I've written two books on the subject of sexual abuse; Pendulum and Chasing Unicorns, and will be promoting both novels on The Naked Book Tour.

Why do you write?

Writing is like oxygen. I can't live without it. When I write I feel alive, as if my being present on earth has some meaning, some purpose. I've been writing ever since I was able to hold a pen. At four, I wrote bedtime stories to read to my teddy bear. While I wandered around the world as a chef, I kept journals, wrote stories about my travels, and kept in touch with my inner-author. I also write because I feel I have something to share with the world. It's something that comes naturally to me, coupled with perpetual inspiration. My literary skills aren't limited to drama either, I also write comedy, short stories, and pen the occasional poem.

What inspires you?

Life itself inspires me. My friends joke that they are afraid to speak in my presence in case their words end up in a page in one of my books. They're right, and their words do end up in my books, as well as their actions, thoughts and feelings and even their personalities. I'm inspired by everything; a passing comment, the head of froth on a beer, a leaf falling from a tree, the smell of the sea, a baby's cry, a crime against nature. I'm quite passionate about many things and often feel inspired to write about them. All five of my books were inspired by events that took place in my own life.

Why is it so important that your story is told to the masses?

Sexual Abuse is a subject that has long been swept under the carpet. I think it's time to shake that carpet, and show the public the real story behind the brief news stories. Instances of sexual abuse are reported in the news almost daily. We see and hear about paedophiles who have been caught and convicted, then sentenced to a few years in prison, often many years after the offences took place. We also hear of some predators who are released without charge, or of those released from prison and then thrown out of the communities they settle in. What we don't hear about are their victims; the survivors of sexual abuse. The general public knows very little of the ordeal taking place in real time behind the scenes. Even in this age of information, sexual abuse still appears to be a taboo subject. Nobody really wants to talk about it. The victims, however, are real people, and continue to struggle through life unacknowledged, and with little hope of justice. I'm one of those survivors and I really feel that it's time this story was told. My own story, though painful, ended in success and sharing it is important.

What's the most interesting thing about you?

All of me is windswept and interesting. I guess the fact that I survived a horrific childhood with my sense of humour firmly in tact makes me an unsual person. And my perception of fun intrigues a lot of people. I've roamed all over the world for over two decades, risked my neck in various life-threatening activities, almost died countless times, and am still here to tell the hair-raising tales [in books entitled Phew! and Aargh!] of my adventures. I'm driven by my passions and believe in living my dreams; what's the point of life otherwise?

Where do you get your strength from?

That's an interesting question. There are times in my life I haven't felt strong at all. On more than one occasion, I've been known to lock my doors, turn off my phones, climb into bed with a bottle of tequila and a chocolate cake, and not emerge for several days. For the most part, though, I look around and see that everyone has their troubles, big and small. This helps me gain strength; knowing that I'm not alone on this planet. I'm also aware that in being strong, I can help others find their strength too. There is an old saying: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I've been through a lot in thirty-nine years, and surviving it in one piece has made me strong. There are those who reckon I'm a bit like those old King Gee overalls; 'If she was any tougher, she'd rust,' they sometimes say.

Given what you have been through, does anything still scare you?

I don't scare easily, and I often challenge myself to do things I think might scare me. I get a good adrenaline rush from doing crazy stuff, and my heart has threatened to stop from time to time, but I've never done anything I'd be too frightened to try again. I guess if there is one thing that does scare me, it's intimacy with men. Don't get me wrong, I adore men, but they frighten the hell out of me. They're so... I don't know... enigmatic. On the other hand, some of my best friends are men. Guys can be such great pals to have; and my friends aren't scary at all. When it comes to scary events, I've experienced some terrible things; had guns shoved in my face, seen car bombs go off, been stabbed in a restaurant, was beaten and raped in a city street, just to name a few, but I don't recall feeling much fear at the time, just the initial disbelief, a deep sense of injustice, and then a burning anger. Fear is something I never think about until the moment something happens, and then it passes after a fleeting second and the feeling changes into something else. I'm not fond of heights, despite some of the things I've done, and still find the idea of bungy jumping very scary...

Who has been most supportive in your endeavors to date?

As a writer, there are countless people who have supported my work, praised my efforts, egged me on, encouraged me to keep going despite the growing pile of rejections, all the while sure that I will one day be successful. They are too numerous to name individually, but they know who they are, and they all know that without them, I might have given up and become a dope dealer many years ago. Fortunately, they're all still there, cheering me on, and I'm eternally grateful to them.

As a survivor of abuse, 'SUPPORT' was such a problematic word, with so many different meanings, that my family were quite confused about it. As a result, I didn't get much family support as I went through that process. Had they known a simple hug and a few words of encouragement were all I needed, I think things would have been very different. There were other sources of support though, mostly professional services, some wonderful counsellors and psychologists, and those people that helped me find my way through the labyrinthine justice system were amazing. Now, my family are very supportive about my efforts to publish my books and tour with my talk about abuse.

What's the best compliment you have even been given?

"You are amazing." It's something that has been said to me many times since the court case last year. I haven't got used to hearing it yet, and I still find it a bit strange that other people would look at me and say that. I just did what I needed to do, and don't feel there is anything amazing about it, but it's nice to be told that people think I've done something wonderful.

Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to?

Colleen McCullough is someone I deeply admire as a writer. If I can manage to attain half the success she has had, I will be pleased with that. The way she uses words inspires me. Her methodical research into a vast range of subjects intrigues me, particularly as I'm a very lazy researcher and prefer to plod along and do it as I'm writing. Another favourite author is Amin Malouf. His descriptions leave me breathless, and ready to pack my bags and travel to wherever he's writing about. Other people I admire include people who overcome adversity against all odds. We can learn something valuable from them.

What is success to you?

I have this dream of sitting on a city bus one day, somewhere in the world, and hearing the two people sitting behind me talking about my latest book.

"Have you read Roni Askey-Doran's last novel yet?"
"Yes, I have. Just finished it a few days ago."
"Really? I haven't read it yet. What did you think?"
"Oh, it's a great read. You'll love it. Would you like to borrow my copy?"
I'd sit there and smile, knowing I've succeeded as an author, but probably wouldn't tell them who I was. Seeing my books on those front shelves in bookshops, reading positive newspaper reviews, hearing people talk with enthusiasm about my work, that's success.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book tour?

The Naked Book Tour is about revealing all; bearing my soul, and sharing one of the most painful experiences of my life. I'll be touring with the two novels I've written; Pendulum - about coming to terms with abuse, and Chasing Unicorns - about how four women achieve justice, and telling my own story along the way. My talk is about growing up as an abused child, the effects and the aftermath, how I barely survived, and then went on to report the abuse. I'll be speaking about how I took on an entire goverment department, forcing them to change their minds, and the laws, so that my abuser could be charged and convicted. I hope to inspire and encourage survivors of abuse to report it. I'll also be reaching out to partners, parents, siblings, friends, and workmates of survivors to help define the various ways in which they can be supportive. I'm also targeting counsellors, social workers, psychologists, police, justice department workers, and other government departments so that they may learn from my experiences and help smooth the path for the victims and survivors of abuse. The first leg will take in Queensland, travelling from Cairns to Brisbane, and west to Mt Isa and Toowoomba, and then I'll be heading south through New South Wales to Victoria and hopefully around Tasmania before moving across to South Australia, Western Australia and finally to the Northern Territory. Of course, the length of the tour and the stops I make enroute will depend on funding.

How does the world perceive you?

That often depends on what mood I'm in, and what I'm doing when people see me. Someone once said, 'She's magnificent in her fury' and I've also been described as 'driven to the edge of the precipice, but not quite over the ledge' and also 'completely nuts but entirely adorable' so I really think there are myriad ways to perceive who I am and what I do. Not to be taken simply at face value, I think many people see me as some kind of enigma. Realistically, I should not have survived many of the things I've lived through, and yet here I am, large as life, driven by my ambition to succeed. Publishers and editors have said I have a 'wonderful turn of phrase, an incredible vocabulary, a fresh and interesting writing style' and the judge that sentenced my abuser said I was 'impressive'. And, of course, a few people recently said I was 'amazing'.

How have you successfully promoted yourself and your work?

I'm still working on that. I've recently become 'partners in crime' with Media Man's Greg Tingle to get my name, my face, and my work out there and noticed by the people who matter. We plan to blitz the local media wherever I go and get The Naked Book Tour on television, radio and in the press. Hopefully, the national media will also sit up and take some notice of the whirlwind I plan to become. I'm currently still in the process of editing material and organising the publishing of books for the nationwide tour as well as soliciting support and sponsors from government departments and also the corporate sector. When I eventually kick off, it will be in a large noisy cloud of publicity.

What did you most enjoy about your journalist endeavors?

As a magazine journalist, particularly working as the Editor-in-Chief of Istanbullshit, I travelled all over Turkey to explore and discover the country, and wrote countless stories relating my experiences to thousands of ex-pat readers. Travel was one of the best perks of that job. As the cultural editor, I also received a lot of free tickets to some of the best music and film festivals, jazz soirees, and rock concerts on the planet and was constantly invited to social gatherings to rub elbows with the rich and famous. So, bottomline, I guess while the hard work had its benefits, the bonuses were great too. I also had the opportunity to meet many incredible people, and learned something valuable from almost everyone I met during the course of my career as an editor.

How will you know when you have accomplished all that you wish to?

Hundreds of thousands of women, all over the world, will recognise my name when they see it or hear it. A fair few men will probably recognise my moniker too. I'll be able to think about writing, rather than wonder where my next meal is coming from, I'll probably have a car that has insurance, and won't have to choose between flying to Brisbane for business and buying a few new clothes; I'll be able to do both. I'll have also helped someone report their abuse, and encouraged them to battle on, regardless of how tough it looks on the surface.

Does the internet assist you in your work, and if so, how?

Honestly, I could kiss the toes of the person who invented the internet. I do a lot of research on the net. Much of the 'little stuff' I need can be found on the net; clarification of a point, word meanings, thesauruses, and world news are amongst the many things I look at online. I also find people and organisations that can assist me in what I do, or people who could use my assistance. The information highway is one of the most interesting roads I've ever been on, but I have to say I'm not a junkie, and a few hours is enough. I get braindead and have to come back to the real world. My primary method of communication is email and I don't know how I ever traversed the globe without it.

Why is it so important to keep a sense of humour, and describe yours?

Life is too short to be neck-deep in stress all the time, and having something to laugh at takes the pressure off. I find lots of things funny, and tend not to take myself too seriously most of the time. Even in the middle of a crisis, there's always something that will amuse me. Some people don't understand my fairly dry sense of humour and my casual approach to life, but I think if you can't laugh, particularly at yourself, then you are lost. There are so many different types of humour, and I think I have a touch of all of them within me. Reading my comedy; Annus Horribilis: Diary of a Nobody, gives people a good taste of my sense of humour. I guess it could best be described as: a large dry-martini served with a maraschino cherry and a long curly straw.

Are you true to your star sign?

A double Gemini with a Pisces rising is a complex star sign to have to live up to. Fortunately, I rise to the occasion by being excessively creative, often taking on a workload that four people would normally do in the same time, particularly when I'm writing. I wrote Chasing Unicorns in 28 days. I wear many caps, being a businesswoman and a writer, as well as being a public speaker and a typically fun chick, and have been known to wear all four caps simultaneously. The influence of Pisces keeps me calm and focused while my rampant twins are galivanting around getting up to all kinds of shenanigans that are likely to cause me trouble. I'm very lucky that they have the gift of the gab and are able to talk their way out of - or into - just about anything. I'm versatile and quick-witted, and aware that my role is to convey knowledge wherever I go. I'm also easily distracted, but I like to put on a good show. My Pisces is a little pedantic and is into perfection, occasionally becoming very fussy about details when the pressure is on. Overall, myselves get along reasonably well together and there is little inner-conflict. In fact, I consider us all a very nice bunch of girls.

What else should we know about you?

Well, if you've read this far, you might be feeling quite alarmed at the thought of running across someone like me. In reality, I'm quite casual, easy-going, very flexible and easy to talk to, and I never bitten anyone who didn't really deserve it.

Since the court case, several magazines, newspapers, radio and television stations have discovered that they can't use my real name while interviewing me or writing articles about my story without tackling some complicated legal issues. I've also been finding it difficult to use my own name when submitting articles for publication. To solve this problem and smooth the road for my public speaking career, I've created an alter-ego called Ruby Lee Smithers who is available to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, about her (my) experiences of sexual abuse, reporting it and going through the justice mill. By fortunate chance, Ruby is also a character in one of my books and will be easily recognised by all those who read Chasing Unicorns.


Editors note: That's what I call someone making a difference.


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