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BOOK REVIEW: Butterfly on A Pin by Alannah Hill

Friday, October 19, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Unflinching, funny, shocking, inspiring and tender: this is a story like no other.

Alannah Hill, one of Australia’s most successful fashion designers, created an international fashion brand that defied trends with ornamental, sophisticated elegance, beads, bows and vintage florals. But growing up in a milk bar in Tasmania, Alannah’s childhood was one of hardship, fear and abuse. At an early age she ran away from home with eight suitcases of costumes and a fierce determination to succeed, haunted by her mother’s refrain of ‘You’ll never amount to anything, you can’t sew, nobody likes you and you’re going to end up in a shallow grave, dear!’

At the height of her success, Alannah walked the razor’s edge between two identities – the ‘good’ Alannah and the ‘mongrel bastard’ Alannah. Who was the real Alannah Hill? Reprieve came in the form of a baby boy and the realisation that becoming a mother not only changes your life, but completely refurbishes it, forever.

Yet 'having it all' turned out to be another illusion. In 2013 Alannah walked away from her eponymous brand, a departure that left her coming apart at the seams. She slowly came to understand the only way she could move forward was to go back. At the heart of it all was her mother, whose loveless marriage and disappointment in life had a powerful and long-lasting effect on her daughter. It was finally time to call a truce with the past.


My Thoughts:

I always loved Alannah Hill’s clothes. Gorgeous velvets, silks and lace, embroidered and embellished with flowers, put together with humour and whimsy and bravado. As a young journalist and writer, I could rarely afford these alluring, fantastical creations, but I used to rummage in the sales bins or buy second-hand, and throw them together with other op-shop finds and a pair of red dancing shoes.

I have a fine collection of vintage Alannah now, most of which I can’t fit into anymore. I’m hoping my daughter will inherit them and create her own unique look (probably with jeans and sneakers). I still like to hunt through the Alannah Hill sales rack for a pink silk cami, a red lace dress, or a flamboyant rose hairpin. A dash of Alannah can make any woman feel glamorous.

I met Alannah Hill a few times, when I worked in fashion magazines, and she was always funny, raucous, and dressed to the nines. She made every other woman look drab and dull. And then, about five years ago, Alannah walked away from the fashion industry, leaving her brand to be designed and managed by Factory X, the name behind such brands as Dangerfied, Gorman and Princess Highway. There were rumours of bitter infighting, but neither Alannah or Factory X has revealed what really went on behind the scenes.

When I saw Alannah had written a memoir and was a guest at the Sydney Writers Festival, I went along to hear her speak and then bought the book and asked her to sign it for me. Her story, Butterfly On A Pin: A Memoir of Love, Despair and Reinvention, tells the story of her poverty-stricken abusive childhood, her wild adolescence, her search for love and meaning, and the creation and loss of the iconic Alannah Hill brand. The writing is raw, honest, heartfelt, and poignant. I was deeply moved at times, discovering the hurt and heartbreak behind her manic energy and edgy flamboyance. It really is an astonishing story of survival and transformation, and makes my vintage fashion collection so much more meaningful to me now.

For another great memoir, check out Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved he Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette by Deborah Cadbury

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

  

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In 1793, when Marie-Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting the throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared the young Louis XVII dead, prompting rumors of murder. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Soon thereafter, the theory circulated that the prince had in fact escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been killed, his heart preserved as a relic. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century when, thanks to DNA testing, a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery.

A fascinating blend of royalist plots, palace intrigue, and modern science, The Lost King of France is a moving and dramatic tale that interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story.


My Thoughts:

I have spent the last two years reading every book I could find on the French Revolution, as that is the setting of my novel-in-progress, The Blue Rose. It is such a fascinating period of history, I’ve really loved being deeply immersed in it.

Most people know the broad outlines of the story: the opulent royal court at Versailles, the uprising of the starving peasants, the storming of the Bastille, and the tragic deaths of King Louis XVI and his flamboyant queen Marie-Antoinette under the merciless blade of the guillotine.

Many people do not know that the royal prince, known as the Dauphin in France, automatically inherited the throne of his father upon his execution. Only eight years old, Louis XVII was kept imprisoned in a dank old medieval prison called the Temple tower. Two years later, he was declared dead. Some believed he had been murdered, others that he had died from abuse and neglect. Still others whispered that he had been rescued, smuggled out from his prison and a dying beggar-boy left in his place.

As time passed, it was these whispers that began to grow. There was no grave, no monument. And when the monarchy was restored in France, several young men stepped forward and claimed to be the true heir. The reigning monarch, Louis XVIII, the brother of the guillotined king, dismissed such claims but pretenders to the throne continued to win supporters. Almost one hundred years after the Dauphin is said to have died, Mark Twain has a con-man in Huckleberry Finn claiming he is the missing ‘dolphin’.

And two hundred years later, scientists have tested an old mummified heart – said to have been cut from the Dauphin’s chest by the doctor conducting the autopsy in the Temple tower – to try and prove, once and for all, if the boy-king died in his filthy prison or escaped, as so many people believed.

It’s an utterly intriguing account of a tempestuous period in human history, and how modern-day science can be used to solve ancient mysteries. I loved it. 

You might also be interested in my review of Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, you can read it here. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!


BOOK REVIEW: Verity Sparks, Lost and Found by Susan Green

Friday, October 12, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Melbourne. 1879. Verity Sparks has found her father. But she has lost her gift - the ability to find lost things. Papa Savinov, eager for Verity to become a proper lady, sends her to the exclusive boarding school Hilltop House. But Verity is more interested in solving the case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. As the investigation deepens, danger and intrigue grow closer. Will Verity's gift return before it's too late?


My Thoughts:


I have had this lovely book on my shelves for quite some time, but had never managed to find the time to read it. Being on a panel with Susan Green at the Bendigo Writers Festival gave me the impetus I needed (I always like to read the novels of people I share a stage with).

It is clear from the opening pages that I had begun reading the second in a series, which I never like to do. Susan Green does a great job of explaining back story without losing pace, however, and so I soon discovered that Verity Sparks had been abandoned as a baby on the steps of a church in London, had survived the mean streets of Victoiran London, and had a special pyschic gift called teleagtivism (the ability to find lost things) which had helped her find her father.

I was soon transported to Melbourne in 1879, where Verity Sparks is sent to a boarding school so that she can learn to become a lady. But her gift has deserted her, and some of the girls at the school are unkind to her. She misses her father, and the school has hidden secrets that Verity must uncover, not to mention the intriguing case of the missing Ecclethorpe heiress. Murders and mysteries abound, but luckily Verity’s gifts of observation and deduction are as sharp as ever.

This is a charming tale, a kind of psychic-detective-historical-melodrama mashup for younger readers, with a really engaging heroine.

You might also be interested in my review of A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

John Flanagan returns to the world of Ranger’s Apprentice to find out what happens when Ranger apprentice Maddie returns home to Castle Araluen. The Kingdom may have been at peace for a number of years, but there are always those who would commit treason to take power for themselves. Could there be a plot against the crown?


My Thoughts:

For a long time, John Flanagan was one of my son’s favourite authors and I read him book after book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series each night at bedtime. I enjoyed them as much as he did (which was not at all generally true of all our bedtime read-a-thons). Often I’d find myself choked up at the end as Will, the small but indomitable hero, once again triumphed against the bad guys. An irresistible mix of action, adventure, and humour, the Ranger’s Apprentice series has sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide which makes John Flanagan one of Australia’s most successful children’s authors.

The Royal Ranger is the first in a new series which begins when Will must take on a new apprentice of his own, and train them in the mysterious skills of a ranger. His new apprentice is going to be a challenge, however. Not only is she rebellious and spoiled, but she’s a princess! The first girl to ever be apprenticed as a Ranger, Maddie has a lot to learn, and a lot to prove.

I was on a panel with John Flanagan at the Bendigo Writers Festival, and so read this latest offering in preparation to sharing a stage with him. I loved revisiting the word of Araluen, and particularly loved seeing a girl in the role of a Ranger. She was tough, determined, and made a great sidekick to Will. Long may the Rangers rule!


Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, October 05, 2018

 


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past...until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.


My Thoughts:

When Julia Beckett was a little girl, she pointed at an old house in an English village and said, with great conviction, ‘that’s my house.’ Twenty-five years later, she buys the house and moves to live there. Almost immediately, she finds herself slipping back in time and into the life of Mariana, a young woman in the Restoration era. The slippages are involuntary, astoundingly vivid, and dangerous. Julia is not aware of what her body is doing in her own time, and her life as Mariana becomes increasingly urgent and important to her. She falls in love with the 16th century lord of the manor, Richard de Mornay, and is haunted by the conviction that something terrible happened to him. Gradually, her two lives begin to mesh and Julia discovers why she was drawn to live her past life over again.

A gentle and beguiling story of romance, betrayal, and reincarnation, Mariana has an old-fashioned feeling to it. At one point, a character says, ‘What rot!’ which is what characters always say in my beloved old schoolgirl books from the 1930s. Julia’s brother is a vicar, which somehow adds to the Agatha-Christie-type atmosphere of this small English village, and the only sex scene happens offstage. The book was published in 1994, which is after the invention of the internet, but Julia’s brother must go to the library to dig up tales of reincarnation and past life flashbacks. So it’s difficult to pinpoint when the modern-day sections are set. I don’t mind this at all. I love books written in, or set during, the 1930s and 40s, and the book reminds me of time travel books I loved as a child, like Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pierce and A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley.

In a way, the timelessness of the story makes it even more enjoyable. And I can’t help wishing I could buy an old house in an English village, and discover I once lived there before …

You might also be interested in my review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 





BOOK REVIEW: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Set in a fading family estate nestled within the Chiltern Hills, this is the story of two summers, sixty years apart, woven together to reveal one dramatic family story.


My Thoughts:

I’ve been waiting for a new novel from Hannah Richell for a long time, having absolutely adored her two earlier novels, The Shadow Year and Secrets of the Tides. I got a real stomach flip of excitement when I saw this book with its gorgeous cover and intriguing title.

Like her earlier books, The Peacock Summer is a parallel narrative that moves between the stories of two women. It begins in Sydney in contemporary times, when Maggie learns of the illness of her beloved grandmother Lillian. Maggie goes back home to Cloudesley, her grandmother’s home in the Chiltern Hills, only to find the old manor house falling into ruin. Lillian is not strong, and there is no money left for the upkeep of the estate. To make matters worse, Maggie needs to face up to the consequences of actions in her past which have made her an outcast in the village.

Hannah Richell’s writing is swift and elegant and a pleasure to read, and she is masterful at lacing the narrative with atmosphere and suspense:

“She runs a hand over the huge, faded tapestry hanging across the wall – then turns to climb the curved staircase to her own room. Halfway up she stops and listens. There is no scrabble of dog paws on the tiled floor, no shuffle of newspaper pages from the library, no distant murmur from her grandmother’s radio. There is nothing; not even the glug of water moving through old pipes. This house, that has witnessed so much throughout the years – dinner parties and laughter, conversation and arguments, dancing and music – a house that had seen so much life, had so many people pass through its doors, stands utterly silent. It is unnerving to be its only occupant. What echoes would she hear – what stirrings from the past – if she only knew what to listen for?

Her eyes fall upon the grandfather clock in the hall and she turns and heads back down the stairs, blowing dust from the cabinet to wind it the way Lillian once showed her. She watches with a certain satisfaction as the pendulum begins to sway, a steady tick rising up out of the old clock like a resuscitated heart beating in a chest. One small thing corrected.
She doesn’t want to think yet of all the the wrongs she still needs to set right.”

The story then moves to her grandmother’s point-of-view. Lillian is in her mid-20s and married to the lord of the manor, a handsome powerful man named Charles Oberon. Yet she feels stifled and unhappy. One day her husband hires a talented young artist to paint the walls of a room in Cloudesley. His name is Jack, and he and Lillian fall in love. Yet it’s an impossible dream. Lillian is tapped by duty and obligation, and Charles is not a man to let go of what he holds.

Back and forth the two stories weave, touching lightly across the decades as Maggie begins to learn her grandmother’s long-held secrets as she struggles to save the house she loves. It’s a story of Maggie’s personal growth and change, as well as a story of mysteries and revelations, and I adored it just as much as I had hoped.

I was lucky enough to interview Hannah Richell back in 2012, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Saturday, September 22, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.


My Thoughts:

I really loved Katherine Arden’s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, an historical fantasy set in medieval Russia, and was keen to see Vasya’s adventures continue. This is my favourite kind of fantasy –a proud, courageous, and sympathetic heroine, a setting rich in sensuous detail, drenched in the magic of its time, and a storyline that is both suspenseful and yet believable.

In the first book, we saw Vasya grow from a child to a young woman, and face accusations of witchcraft because of her uncanny ability to see magical creatures hidden to most human eyes. One of those creatures is the frost demon Morozko, and Vasya has an ambivalent and troubling relationship with him.

In this sequel, this relationship – which is not quite a romance – takes centre stage, as Vasya struggles to find a place for herself in the world. Offered two choices – marriage or a convent – she disguises herself as a boy and sets out to find adventure instead. The depiction of medieval Russia – vast, snowbound, and dangerous – is marvellously done. Vasya and her horse struggle to survive, and yet she spurns the help of Morozko, afraid of its hidden cost.

"You are immortal, and perhaps I seem small to you," she said at last fiercely. "But my life is not your game.”

It is not easy maintaining her boyish disguise, as Vasya battles with outlaws who are burning villages and stealing children, and deals with family tensions and the unwanted attentions of a mysterious stranger. A compulsively readable and beautifully written mix of Russian history and folklore.

You can read my review of Katherine Arden's earlier book, The Bear and the Nightingale, here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.




BOOK REVIEW: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities, or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

My Thoughts:


Caleb Zelic has discovered his best friend lying in a pool of blood, his throat cut. Gary was a policeman with a young family. Caleb is a private investigator who had asked for his help on a case. Caleb is also profoundly deaf.

This is a high-octane thriller, thrumming with pace and tension. The style is curt and intense: ‘It had been an hour before he’d read the message, another two in the car, stuck behind every double-B and ageing Volvo. He should have run the red lights. Broken the speed limits. The law of physics.’

Characters are drawn in swift, deft strokes. ‘Tedesco was watching him: a face hewn from stone, with all the warmth to match.’ ‘Frankie … was wearing her usual jeans and battered leather jacket; her short, grey hair purple-tipped and scarecrow-wild.’

Yet there is poetry in the writing too. Caleb’s deafness makes his voice arresting and unpredictable. The word ‘executed’ is described as ‘a happy-looking word: a little smile for the first syllable, a soft pucker for the third.’ Scott is ‘a soft name, just sibilance and air.’ I loved the freshness of this voice for a hard-boiled detective; it’s bold and confident writing. I also loved the vulnerability of a man in search of a murderer who cannot hear his enemy coming.

Caleb has a love interest – his ex-wife, Kat, a blue-eyed Koori who draws and sculpts. She became one of my favourite characters, being feisty and yet kind and loving. The tension between Caleb and Kat added another element to the story, and helped the story hurtle on towards its surprising ending.

Resurrection Bay is razor-sharp contemporary crime, ramped up with witty dialogue, wry humour, and a dark, deftly handled plot that had the pages whizzing past.

You can read my recent interview with Emma Viskic here, and my review of And Fire Came Down here.

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

Friday, September 14, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It's 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.


My Thoughts:

I’m a big fan of Pamela Hart’s vivid and intelligent historical romances. They give me everything I want in a book – drama, heartache, struggle, triumph, and an enthralling glimpse into the past that teaches me sometSuhing I did not know. The Desert Nurse is set mainly in Egypt during the First World War, and tells the story of a young woman named Evelyn Northey who is determined to become a doctor, despite all the obstacles in her way. Her father is a doctor himself, but does not believe that women should be anything but wives and mothers. He refuses to allow Evelyn the money to go to university to study medicine, and withholds her mother’s inheritance until she turns thirty or is married.

When war breaks out, Evelyn disobeys her father and enlists as a nurse bound for Egypt. She makes friends with the other nurses and doctors, and works herself to exhaustion caring for the wounded soldiers of the disastrous Gallipoli conflict.

The romantic hero of this story is Dr William Brent, who survived polio but was left with a weak leg. Unable to fight, he too works tirelessly to save lives and mend shattered bodies. He and Evelyn are strongly drawn to each other, sharing high ideals of compassion, sympathy and determination. Evelyn has sworn never to marry, however, knowing that a husband and children would prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a doctor. William, meanwhile, fears being a burden. Besides, there is no time for love. Men are fighting and dying in horrible numbers, and at times it seems as if the war would never end.

Evelyn and William’s love story is engaging and heart-warming, as they struggle to find a way to be together, but for me the real strength of this novel is how it illuminates the lives of the nurses and doctors during the Anzac campaign. It is clear that Pamela Hart has done massive amounts of research, but it is woven so lightly and deftly all though the book that the cracking pace is never compromised. I truly felt as if I was hearing the story of a young nurse in the Egyptian war zone, struggling to help in any way she could, and trying to find a way to make her dreams come true. It’s the kind of book that leaves you with a big lump in the throat, helped by having one of the best last lines I’ve ever read.

I was lucky enough to interview Pamela Hart for the blog this week, you can read it here.

You might also be interested in my review of Pamela Hart's earlier book, A Letter From Italy. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

INTERVIEW: Pamela Hart

Friday, September 14, 2018

  

Today I welcome Pamela Hart, author of The Desert Nurse, among other books, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Not so much since I became a mum! Mostly, I’m a night-dreamer… the time just before I fall asleep is when my imagination takes off. Which makes getting to sleep a bit tricky, some nights.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I guess I figured out when I was about 12 that being a writer was a far-off possibility, but I thought at the time that only people who’d lead ‘interesting’ lives could be writers, and my life seemed far too boring to allow me that privilege - so when I was 15 I decided to work in television. Apart from being fun in itself, that seemed to me to be ‘interesting’ enough to qualify me as a writer-in-potential. And, of course, that was what happened - I was working at ABC Kids when I began to write children’s stories (as Pamela Freeman).

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Sydney - in Parramatta, in the Western Suburbs. Now I live in the inner west, quite close to the city. As for what I like to do: well, read, mostly. And wander up to the café on the corner to have a nice bacon and egg roll for brunch. I also love theatre, live music, opera, jazz… we make a lot of music in our house, and I do spend some time practicing the drums and playing my guitar. Also cooking. I like to make things from scratch - today I made cumquat marmalade!

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The inspiration for The Desert Nurse came quite a few years ago, when I was writing The Soldier’s Wife. That book was based in part on my grandfather’s experience of being wounded at Gallipoli and coming home having to cope with the consequences of the injury. The focus of the book was on the relationship between that soldier and his wife, and was based in Sydney. But I knew that my grandfather’s life had been saved by good nursing, since he developed a very dangerous fever after he was operated on in Cairo. Without anti-biotics, it was only dedicated nursing that saved him and thousands like him. So as I was writing The Soldier’s Wife, I knew one day I wanted to write a story honouring those extraordinary women.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
That varies enormously from book to book. In some, I know exactly what’s going to happen. In others, I have no idea at all! I’ve found it’s best not to get too attached to any one way of working. Each book has its own challenge.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Only once - and it turned into a not-very-good story, so… but I am not much of a dreamer. I very rarely remember my dreams (I’m assured I have them by science, but sometimes I have my doubts!)

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
No… I think a lot of my discoveries were made during the research for The Soldier’s Wife, which I’ve written about here.


Where do you write, and when?
At the moment, since we’ve just renovated, I am setting up my office. In the meantime, I’m writing as I have done for some time, sitting crosslegged in an armchair in the living room! As for when - I write best in the afternoons.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The playing with ideas at the start. So many possibilities - it’s like trying on clothes in a fabulous store, where everything fits but some things just feel better than others. I try on lots of ideas about my characters and story before I begin to write, and it’s the best game ever!

What do you do when you get blocked?
I write something else. As Pamela Freeman, I write children’s books, and I usually have some work I need to do on one of those, so I switch across - and vice versa. It’s a great way of getting some perspective on the current problem. During the writing of The Desert Nurse, my kids’ book was Amazing Australian Women, and that gave me lots of impetus to write about wonderful women.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Research! Writing historical fiction is fantastic because, every time I do the research for one book, I find half a dozen stories I might like to tell. There are so many great, true stories out there, I doubt I’ll ever run out.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Nope. I began to write seriously while I was a consultant in organisational communication, and I ran the writing parallel to the consulting work. I had very little time to devote to writing, and I learnt to ‘flip th switch’ in my head whenever I had the time to spare. ‘Flipping the switch’ for me means changing the way my mind works, from the very logical and presciptive way it had to for my consulting work, to the imaginative way I needed for fiction. That’s my only ritual, I guess. It took some time to develop, but it became quite reliable. Of course, it doesn’t work if you haven’t been thinking about the story in your downtime moments, getting ready for the moment when you have time at the keyboard.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Well, you, Katie, of course! (And you know that’s true!)

I have very wide tastes. I started as a Shakespeare girl, and he’s still right up there. I also read a lot of poetry. For fiction, though, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart - and, recently, George Saunders, Ben Aaronovitch, Sue Whiting, Anita Heiss.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I guess I look for three things. Any one of these will keep me reading, but a great book has all three:

A story to keep me interested,
Characters I can and do care about
A style which reinforces the theme and feeling of the book.

So that might be Austen at one end of the literary spectrum, and Matthew Reilly at the other. They are both very good at what they do, and in the right mood, I can like either one. John Banville’s detective fiction, for example, is basically a series of tone poems. I love it - but I’m just as keen on Val McDermid’s darker and grittier style, because it fits her stories. I try not to be a snob about writing - in the end, if a story keeps the reader’s interest and engages her emotions, that’s what counts.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Just do it.

Seriously. Just start. It doesn’t matter what you start with - the main thing is that you need practice in creating characters and stories, so start practicing! I teach writing, and it’s so satisfying to take absolute beginners, who’ve never written anything before, all the way through to publication. It’s possible. It’s very possible - but it won’t happen if you don’t write, and rewrite, and write again.

What are you working on now?
My current book is Dancing with the Prince of Wales. It takes two minor characters from The War Bride, Jane and Jonesy, and follows them to London where they go on to be stars on the English stage in the 1920s. It’s inspired by two Australian actors who did just that - Cyril Ritchard and Marge Eliot. I’m having to do a HUGE amount of research for this, because so many real people are characters - Noel Coward and Fred Astaire, Gertie Lawrence and Ivor Novello - and of course the Prince of Wales (the one who later abdicated). It’s a lot of fun, but rather nerve-wracking. The only one I feel really comfortable writing is Fred Astaire, because I’ve been an Astaire tragic my whole life! It will be out in 2020.

You can read my review of Pamela Hart's latest book, The Desert Nurse, here.




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