All about ‘Eve’: Rochelle Siemienowicz on ‘Fallen’
Rochelle Siemienowicz is the author of Fallen (Affirm Press, May), a ‘thought-provoking memoir about religion, marriage and sexuality’ that juxtaposes Siemienowicz’s ‘burgeoning sexuality with her strict Seventh Day Adventist upbringing’. Reviewer Jennifer Peterson-Ward spoke to the author. Read Peterson-Ward’s review here.
Coming from a background predominantly in film-writing, what made you decide to write a memoir?
Books and writing were always my first love—I didn’t even go to the cinema until I was a teenager. From the time I was little, I had my nose stuck in books and made up stories in my head. I always wanted to write a novel and, to be honest, Fallen was written as an autobiographical novel rather than as memoir. I wanted it to read like a story, almost mythical and dreamlike, but as the project progressed it became clear it was stronger and would connect better with readers if I owned it as my own experience instead of trying to pass it off as fiction.
You’re very open and honest in your representation of your younger self. Did you ever struggle to write about your weaknesses and pain?
Part of the way I dealt with this was to write the book as a novel with a first-person narrator who calls herself ‘Eve’. She is me, but also a character telling a story, ‘with parts made up and fragments rearranged’. That tiny bit of distance, a kind of ‘modesty veil’, made it easier for me to write about very intimate details of my earlier life. Although I enjoyed using this narrative device, my natural inclination is to be open and honest—even with people I’ve only just. Some people call it brave. Perhaps it’s just reckless. But I do believe that telling the truth is a radical act, especially when it’s about the variety and detail of female sexual desire. This subject is still so taboo, even in our highly sexualised and supposedly liberated culture.
As much as this book is about your own experiences, other people play important roles. At what point did you approach these people to tell them you were writing the book, and were they all accepting of your decision?
I’m fortunate enough to remain in close contact with almost all the friends and lovers who feature in the story. They understood my need to write about this, even if they have differing versions of events. They’ve read and enjoyed the book and they’re grateful for the fictional veneer I give them. In the epilogue, I describe the conversation I had with my ex-husband telling him about publication. Hopefully this chapter conveys the complexity of his response and also the deep love and nostalgia that underpin my story. As for telling my parents, that was something I dreaded. I made myself quite sick about it and needed to wait until the book was finished to raise it with them. I love them very much and have encouraged them not to read it because they’d find it confronting and disturbing. On a lighter note, I laughed at Irish American writer J P Donleavy’s words: ‘The purpose of writing is to make your mother and father drop dead with shame,’ which, of course, is not how I really feel!
Did you read any other memoirs or autobiographies that changed how you approached writing this book?
Not really. I began the project as a work of fiction and was most inspired by frank and confessional autobiographical novels. I love books with an arrestingly candid narrator: Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (Penguin), Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded (Random House), Andrew McGahan’s Praise (A&U), Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn (HarperCollins) and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (Penguin). Having said that, I am grateful to be in a writers’ group with two wonderful young memoirists: Jo Case (Boomer & Me, Hardie Grant Books) and Rebecca Starford (Bad Behaviour, A&U). Their generous advice and encouragement helped me shape my work as a memoir.
What was the last book you read and loved?
A Literate Passion: The Letters of Anais Nin & Henry Miller 1932-1953 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). These letters chart the intriguing relationship between two very different writers who were, over their lifetimes, lovers, friends and champions of each other’s writing. I love the idea of unconventional relationships that grow and deepen as we age.