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North Melbourne Books: Your new book, Any Ordinary Day, asks the question: how would we cope if some random, catastrophic event befell us? To find out the answer you interview ordinary Australians who have been put through extraordinary events. People like Walter Mikac, who lost his family to the Port Arthur massacre and Stuart Diver, Thredbo landslide survivor. The book also balances these human voices with the latest scientific literature on how we cope when disaster falls.
What made you want to delve into such a confronting topic?
Leigh Sales: It was a combination of things. My job anchoring 7.30 means that every day I see people living the worst days of their lives but I rarely see what happens next. I wanted to believe that life wasn't as cruel and random and hopeless as the news sometimes makes it look. In 2014, I also had a very rough year personally suffering a number of big blindsides and I felt really rattled and vulnerable. I was looking for answers about how to go on when life has knocked you off your feet.
NMB: The interview subjects of the book have faced some horrific ordeals. You describe some of the anxieties you had meeting these people and asking such personal questions. What did you take away from the experience?
LS: I was scared that maybe I would find it depressing to talk to people who had been through some of the worst things I could ever imagine happening to me or my family. But it was the opposite - it filled me with hope. The things that people survive and adapt to are absolutely extraordinary. It made me see how resilient human beings are. I know this sounds cliched but the whole process has been so life-affirming. Writing this book has changed me so much.
NMB: Any Ordinary Day is quite interesting from a journalistic point of view. The book discusses the ethical shortcomings of journalism and you are quite candid about mistakes you have made in the past that you regret. During some of the interviews you describe steeling yourself , trying to hold back the tears. The self-portrait you paint is quite different from that of the confident 7.30 presenter we see on television. Why did you want to show this more human, vulnerable side of a journalist’s working life?
LS: That's interesting that you say that because I rarely feel as if I'm confident or "together", I always feel like everybody else, just chugging along and doing the best I can. I put a big premium on authenticity and I felt that I could not write an authentic book, or ask people to tell me about some of the most intimate details of their lives, unless I was honest and authentic myself.
NMB: Any Ordinary Day is a very humane, empathetic and consoling book. Despite the heart wrenching subject matter, the reader is left feeling uplifted and positive. It affirms that there is much kindness and decency in the world, even when things go horribly wrong. When you started writing and researching the book, did you have any idea where the writing process would lead you?
LS: I was really scared about where it would lead me actually. I felt at a low point in my own life and I was worried that walking towards things that filled me with fear would perhaps send me into a deep depression or spiraling into hopelessness. I felt compelled to do it though, I felt that I had to confront what I was afraid of. I think what I'm afraid of is pain and loss and not knowing what is going to happen to me in the future. Writing this book made me less afraid. I still dread the sad things in life, like the inevitable loss of my parents or other forms of grief or setback, but I am less scared of it now because I know that all of us are far more resilient than we can ever imagine.
NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?
LS: I was a bit late to the party but I recently adored The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose. I'm also enjoying The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell.
Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life, by Leigh Sales. Published by Hamish Hamilton. $34.99