Giovanna (Gigi) Fenster grew up in South Africa in what she describes as a “lively, entertaining, emotionally very generous household”. It was, she says, the perfect home for a storyteller, filled with intellectual discussion and lively debate.
Fenster and her four siblings were brought up with a strong sense of their Jewish identity, knowing that no matter what happened in life, they would always, undeniably remain Jewish.
Now, she’s a published author, after walking away with the Michael Gifkins Prize, for a manuscript she had long turned her back on. The winner of the prize receives a contract for world rights from Text Publishing, together with an advance. It’s something that Fenster said was very important for her writing.
“This was a book that I set aside some years ago because it refused to go where I wanted it to go,” Fenster told The AJN.
“I hadn’t looked at A Good Winter for years. And then came a time when I was feeling miserable about the writing, because I wasn’t doing any. And a friend, who is a poet, said to me, ‘You have to keep submitting work. You have to keep throwing mud at the wall. Eventually something will stick’. So, I pulled A Good Winter from the bottom drawer and entered it.”
For Fenster, the prize made her shift how she viewed her work, to being less judgemental with it and more open to where it wants to go.
With A Good Winter, Fenster said while she wanted it to be tender, gentle and sad, her protagonist had different ideas. “She is considerably less malleable than I am.” Which is how the book developed into such a tense, powerful psychological portrait of an obsessed and troubled mind.
“I hope people feel worried, anxious, incredibly tense,” Fenster said when asked how she wants audiences to react as they read it.
“I want them to both dread and look forward to the end. To feel that they must get there, even though it might not be pleasant.”
A Good Winter is published by Text Publishing, $32.99 (rrp)