Anita Heiss will be at the Paperchain Bookstore, Franklin Street, Manuka on Thursday, April 10. Photo: Amanda James
I'm not sure how Anita Heiss is going to take it when I tell her during our interview that the thing I love about her books is that the colour of the main characters is never an issue. Right after I say it I'm thinking that Heiss, a proud Aboriginal woman, might take it as an insult, be offended that I haven't recognised the importance of the fact that she is writing about indigenous people and their place in the modern world.
"If colour's not an issue that means I've done my job," Heiss says, to my relief.
"I'm going up to Queensland later in the week to talk to some women at a mining company about how we need to celebrate our diversity, but we need to acknowledge what makes us the same.
Tiddas, by Anita Heiss. (Simon and Schuster, $29.99.)
"And as women what makes us the same is that we value our friendships, we treasure the relationships with our mothers and our sisters, and so forth. We go through the same lifecycles as other women.
"Regardless of where we live and what we earn we feel the same emotions like love and infatuation, and it has got nothing to do with whether we're black or white or we live in Canberra or Kakadu.
"It's about being human beings. When we think about it, we've got more in common than we haven't.
"Rather than look at each other and think what makes us different, let's think about what we have in common."
Heiss is a little over women being critical of each other, of judging each other for whatever path a woman has chosen to take.
"I like to stay right out of the whole debate about what makes a woman a 'better' feminist," Heiss says.
"Women should pull that right back, be kinder to ourselves and kinder to each other, because sisterhood isn't about judging and defining each other.
"It's about we're on the journey together, how can we help each other, even when we don't have the same views.
"It's not about ripping each other apart.
"Women have different ways of dealing with different things and in the hard times the best ones are there for each other through thick and thin."
And this is exactly what her latest book, Tiddas, is about. Tiddas is a generic Aboriginal term on the east coast for women who are like sisters, a word given some credence, Heiss says, during the 1990s via the three-piece, all-women indigenous folk band of the same name.
"It is about a sense of sisterhood, not just with Aboriginal women but women generally.
"Part of me wanted to revive the currency of that word, thinking what are we talking about when we talk about female support."
The novel is about five women, best friends for decades, and dissecting each other's lives seems the most natural thing in the world. What sets this book apart from Heiss' previous four novels is that the women, in their 40s, are well-established in careers and relationships. The context is different, with the dialogue and the women more prone to honesty and truth.
"The conversations, the value of friendship does shift as you get older," says Heiss, 45.
"Sometimes your circle of friends gets smaller, but you recognise the strengths and challenges of it all over a period of time.
"I've got people in my life who have been around for 20 years. In my age group we all know someone who's desperate to have children and can't, friends and colleagues who never want to have children, friends having issues with smoking or drinking or abuse.
"As we get older the holy grail of finding Mr Right is probably less important, than dealing with the idea of getting older and coping with a midlife crisis.''
Heiss jokes she had a ''mini mid-life crisis'' of sorts last year. Life was hectic and more than anything she wanted to slow down, to reconnect with things that were important. She moved to Brisbane, lived by the river, took up running and caught up with friends.
She says the crisis had nothing to do with the court case she won against conservative columnist Andrew Bolt. In 2011, the Federal Court ruled that Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act by implying light-skinned Aborigines chose to be black for personal gain and that Heiss, in particular, had won ''plum jobs'' reserved for Aborigines.
''Following the case I was emotionally exhausted, drained and suspicious of a lot of people,'' Heiss says, ''but my move to Brisbane was actually for different reasons altogether.''
Heiss grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Her mother was from Cowra, Wiradjuri country, and her father Austrian. She studied for a PhD in communications and media at the University of Western Sydney and was the first Aboriginal student to do so.
She spent some time working in Canberra in the early 1990s as a graduate with the then Australian International Development Assistance Bureau.
"I've still got lots of friends there and family. I've never had a bad time in Canberra, I love it there. It even featured in one of my books, Manhattan Dreaming."
She is passionate about promoting literacy issues in indigenous communities and promoting indigenous authors.
"I like to tell people I could find an Indigenous author on any subject," she says.
"We're storytellers, there's more than 5000 of us across every genre.
"I want people to read, I want the resources so brown kids can see brown kids on the page."
She says there's a great group of young Aboriginal women writing fiction at the moment, listing Melissa Lucashenko, Nicole Watson and Larissa Behrendt as three women who write about "contemporary, often very hard-core issues in their stories but at the same time weaving their own stories into their books."
■ Tiddas, by Anita Heiss. (Simon and Schuster, $29.99.)
■ Join Anita Heiss at Paperchain Bookstore, Franklin Street, Manuka on Thursday, April 10, for a 6pm start. RSVP for catering purposes to info@paperchain bookstore.com.au or 6295 6723.