“Writing is just something I’ve always done – instinctively and tenaciously. Since the day I learned to string a sentence together with a pen I was off, filling notebook after notebook with stories, characters, musings, some version of poetry, driven by an urge I can’t quite explain.” Nothing induces a mild panic attack quite like being asked to write about a writer. It’s worse when you personally know them. Excruciating if you admire them. But the fear generally subsides when you remember that said writer is very generous with her time and her spirit, is an excellent guest to have at a party – the kind you’d happily get stuck in a corner with for the duration of the night – and happens to be Sydney-based wordsmith Anna Harrison.
Harrison credits her family for their part in influencing her current career path. "My parent’s fostered my creativity in an indirect sort of way, which I think was kind of great – they simply allowed me the space to explore my imagination. They gave me my notebooks and my pencils and left the room. They loved books, music and theatre, so they exposed me to all these things from an early age and encouraged me to dream." A graduate of Sydney's Macquarie University, Harrison "didn't realise it might be feasible to make a living out of [writing] until my mid to late 20s," she tells us from her sunlit apartment in Bondi Beach. "Then began the slow process of building my confidence and putting myself out there.” As a freelance writer, editor, and now Contributing Editor at RUSSH Magazine, Harrison has interviewed some of the most dynamic and creative people across the world, including philosopher Alain de Botton, musicians Pharrell Williams, Joan Baez and Lou Doillon, artist Bill Henson, and countless more, immortalising them in print with her signature nuance, emotional depth and sense of humour. "Like Sylvia Plath said, “every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.” Which makes it sounds kind of clinical and detached but it’s not like that, at least for me. It’s more a deep abiding fascination with the nuances of humans and human relationships. People fascinate me. I love us. We are such a wildly diverse, idiosyncratic and complex bunch, and yet so adorably simple and fundamentally similar. In the absence of human connection the writer’s words are funded by mere intellectual assumptions about what it means to be alive. And I don’t know about you but I think that would be incredible dull to read."
"I’ve often thought [my need to write] was born out of a need to make sense of a world that always seemed foreign to me, almost un-real."
When she's not fashioning her own prose, Harrison's busy cultivating a business that celebrates the humble greeting card. "Words of Note is a passion project I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. My aim is to create super simple, timeless, text-based greeting cards using beautiful paper stock sourced from sustainable, eco-friendly mills. The idea was born out of my own frustration as writer with the stale, clichéd platitudes or dad humour you so often find on greeting cards (no offence dad)," she explains. "Unlike the Words of Note Instagram, which is a collection of some of my favourite words by writers across all genres, the cards will be original sentiments of my own design - some light-hearted and some more sincere, but hopefully they will all say something a little different from the norm and be the kind of thing you keep forever rather than toss in the recycling. Ultimately with Words of Note I’d like to explore a number of different projects and collaborations related to the written word."
"There has to be a balance ... The fuel for my creative process is found in human connection, but the work itself has to be done in total solitude. And I mean total solitude."
Harrison's personal creative idols feel fittingly masochistic: "All the writers who make me feel completely useless and talentless. All those great writers who say so perfectly the thing I had no idea I wanted to say until I just read it. But not only writers, any and all artists who feel deeply and, in turn, make me feel deeply about the thing they feel deeply about. Musicians are particularly good at this. And musicians who can write are on a whole other level of greatness. That’s why someone like Leonard Cohen, for example, will always have my heart." And those times when the right words seem so hard to grasp? "I throw a mild toddler tantrum, followed by a self-loathing spiral, followed by a bout of escapism (the beach, cooking shows, wine…), before finally ending up back at the desk and forcing my fingers to hit some keys because deadline’s a time bomb that cares not for my lack of 'inspiration'." She adds, "If anyone has a better way of counteracting creative blocks, please let me know."
"The simplest form of joy is a really electric, dynamic interaction with another human. The kind where you both feel instantly elevated by the exchange, even if it’s just a look, and walk away from it with your feet barely touching the ground."
For Harrison, the things that bring her joy in life are the same as what fuel her creative process: connection. "Genuine, raw, soulful connection. The fact that it’s uncommon just makes it all the more thrilling when you find it," she says. "Joy is alive. It’s charged with thrill, ecstasy, euphoria, but it’s beyond hedonistic pleasure or common happiness. Joy is a feeling that explodes outward from the centre of your chest and radiates. Intense joy is transformative and highly contagious. You don’t need to try and spread joy, you just feel it strongly enough and anyone near you will catch alight." As for the words she lives by, they come in the "soothing simplicity of these words by Walt Whitman ... That you are here / That life exists … / That the powerful play goes on / And you will contribute a verse."
PHOTOGRAPHY Kelly Geddes @ Vivien’s Creative
FASHION Billie Iveson
TALENT Anna Harrison
HAIR & MAKEUP Teneille Sorgiovanni @ Lion Management using Dior Backstage