Psychiatrist Anne Buist is the chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and for the past 25 years has worked in perinatal psychiatry. She also works with protective services and the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. In her spare time she writes, and has recently published her first thriller, Medea’s Curse.
Buist is married to Graeme Simsion, an IT consultant and author of bestsellers The Rosie Project and its sequel, The Rosie Effect. But where Simsion’s The Rosie Project tells the story of the likable yet quirky Don Tillman, a professor of genetics who finds everyday social interactions a little more than challenging, Buist’s Medea’s Curse is a psychological thriller about mothers who kill. No surprise, then, that the media is finding them “more interesting as a couple than as individuals”.
“We knew there would be positives and negatives in this, such as being compared to each other plus all sorts of things that we might not like,” says Simsion as he and Buist sit in the airy home in Fitzroy, Melbourne, they share with their two adult children. “But the underlying truth is that we do work well together.”
The couple also own a cottage in Lancefield where they can escape to focus on writing. “We actually write together in the same room,” Simsion says. “I would read scenes out to Anne whilst she would be more likely to use me as a thesaurus.”
Graeme Simsion. Picture: James Penlidis
Buist laughs. “It was Graeme who suggested that my protagonist Natalie had bipolar disorder,” she says. “I was tossing around all sorts of ideas like her being an amputee but I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. I don’t have bipolar but I have heard so many stories from my patients and seen the impact that it has on their lives.”
Their solid working relationship reflects their marriage. “Someone read an article about us recently and asked whether our marriage was really that good and I had to say ‘Yes it is!’ We really are good for each other,” Buist says. “We have the same passion and enthusiasm for things, whether it is his idea or mine. I must say that I am genuinely so excited for Graeme with The Rosie Project.”
“And I would not be having any success as a writer if it weren’t for Anne,” Simsion adds. “We are a very good team.”
The couple’s respective books are rollicking reads. But there are serious messages for readers to take on board.
Buist sees her writing as a vehicle for highlighting things that are really important to her in her work as a psychiatrist. “I want my writing to be the voice for some of my patients and their tragedies and dilemmas and the things they struggle to understand,” she says.
Taking care of your partnership is the underlying discourse for Simsion. “When you have kids you must not neglect the original relationship. For some couples, having a child becomes an excuse not to work on each other any more and not to recognise that the relationship still exists.
“If there is something in your life you do together and if you have joint plans I think that’s the foundation of what makes a marriage work. That’s what has worked for us.”
Anne Buist and Graeme Simsion will be appearing at the 2015 Perth Writers Festival. See perthfestival.com.au.