The Anchoress has been published across Australia, the UK and US, and translated into French. I remember being in Sydney airport shortly after the book came out and seeing a huge billboard with Robyn’s soaring swallow and thinking, ‘Wow, she’s entered blockbuster territory.’ Marie Claire described The Anchoress as ‘the book that the whole literary world can’t stop talking about,’ and yet when I asked Robyn about how she has navigated the book’s success she spoke of her ‘self-doubt’ and how easy it is to focus on the criticisms, rather than the compliments. She described it as being like ‘walking into a head wind, you just have to keep on going’.
We touched on Imposter Syndrome, so prevalent in writers, particularly female writers, who fear that they are going to be found out as a fraud. That their success has not come about by virtue of their ability, but through luck or error. The first time I came across this idea was in a TED talk by another historical fiction sensation, Hannah Kent. Her debut novel, Burial Rites, was sold in a million-dollar two-book deal. The stuff of dreams. And yet in this talk she opens by saying, ‘I spend most of my time deeply terrified that I don’t know what it is that I’m doing.’ She goes on to say, ‘I’m convinced that I’m not as capable as other people think that I am, and that it’s only a matter of time before everyone works out that I can’t write to save myself.’
In another Ted talk, Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame (who incidentally loved The Anchoress) speaks about how great failure and great success can be equally disorientating. Both catapult you so far from yourself that ‘there’s a real danger of getting lost’ and having to find your way back home. In Elizabeth’s case her ‘home’ was writing.