I grew up in South Africa, the middle sister of three girls. Words were my friends, I grabbed them early and loved the shape they made on the page and the way they escorted me up a faraway tree and through space.
At six, I wrote and illustrated my first story, Goodbye Kitchen, which was thin on plot, but big on food – a theme that seems to have followed me into adulthood.
During a particularly lovelorn state, my dad (one of the pre-eminent political cartoonists in South Africa) painted me this poster of Superman, setting the bar high on my romantic expectations.
As a teenager my dad gave me a copy of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, a play for voices which made me giddy with longing. I knew I wanted to do that with words too.
But it seemed as if the only way to fix the broken world was for me to become a judge or politician. I got side tracked in studying law and went on to do a masters in law at Yale (where I went on hunger strike and posed nude for a photographer – not at the same time).
After that I spent years fighting for women’s rights, counselling abused women and set up a not-for-profit advocacy centre to end violence against women.
In 2004, Hustler magazine made me ‘Asshole of the Month,’ for my view that violent pornography wasn’t so fabulous for women’s equality. And that, let me tell you, was a great honour.
But even as life was taking me down the bleak path of litigation and leading witnesses, I never stopped craving a life shaped by words – long before I knew what an advance or a character arc was.
I didn’t know anyone who was a published author.
It seemed as ludicrous as wanting to be a superhero.
But I knew if I didn’t grab my longing and run like hell, part of me would forever be lost in the ‘what-if’ haze of regret.
So after I had babies and moved countries, I ditched my Yale law degree and I aimed my heart. I committed everything to writing.
That’s when life met me halfway.
I finally finished the novel I’d been working on for ten years. My first novel The Dreamcloth was published in 2005. I then went on to write another nine books some of which have been published in the UK, Australia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Croatia and South Africa. In Germany, Weiberabend (Secret Mothers’ Business) made it onto Der Spiegel’s bestseller list in 2008, the sort of lucky break you always think will never happen to you.
My books have been translated into different languages and have sold over 650,000 copies worldwide.
I’ve been teaching writing for ten years now.
In 2014 I enrolled in a business course because I realised the publishing industry was changing so rapidly and I needed to understand how to survive. The idea of the starving artist has truthfully never appealed to me.
Each year I take groups of aspiring women authors on writing retreats (to Fiji, Bali and Tuscany) to help them find their voices. Everyone has something they want to say, a legend about who they are. Writing helps us belong – to ourselves, our life’s purpose and to this beautiful, battered world.
I now run free 7 day writing challenges, an 8 week online writing programme The Author Awakening Adventure and have many other courses in development. Alumnae of my retreats become part of my Author Liftoff programme where I nurture aspiring authors towards publication.
I’ve just set up my own publishing company Joanne Fedler Media to bring books into the world that have WINGS (words that inspire, nourish and grow the spirit).
My latest book Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it is published by Hay House.
I live in Sydney, close to a beach, with my husband Zed and two teenage kids. I spend a lot of time mentoring writers, walking along the beach, drinking coffee, looking at my toes in downward dog and talking to my cats, Tanaka and Archie.
I dream of travelling across Australia in a campervan with Zed (we just have to figure out what to do with the cats).