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INTERVIEW: Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018


Today I welcome Josephine Moon, author of Three Gold Coins, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Of course! I'm forever burning the rice or leaving the tap running in the horse's trough because I've been whisked away somewhere inside my mind. (And the latter is particularly bad because we're on tank water. I did once actually drain the entire tank!)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first book at aged nine. It was called Starlight the Brumby. I was obsessed with The Silver Brumby series and I acted the whole thing out in the backyard before writing it down. My dad took it to work and asked his secretary to type it up, which was such a thrill. I was always a writer of some sort but throughout school I wanted to a vet because animals are a huge part of my life and I wanted to help them. But when I got to Year 11 Physics it was abundantly clear that Physics and I were never going to get along, which dashed my hopes right there. It took me quite a few false starts before I had the 'full body moment' of realising I wanted to be a career author. The wonderful thing about writing is that I can write about whatever passion I want, which includes animals.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Brisbane and lived there most of my life but now live in Noosa's hinterland. As a child, I holidayed in Noosa each year with family, which cemented my love for the northern beaches of the Sunshine Coast and it was always my dream to live here. Because I always had horses, I thought I'd end up in Eumundi, but when we finally bought some acreage here in 2012 it was in Cooroy, where we still live. We just love it here. It feels like my 'true' home.

My son is still young (just turning six) so he is still tremendous fun and we love our family time together with him. We also have twenty animals, so a lot of my time is spent caring for, playing with, nursing and loving our animal crew. I'm a foodie in as much as I am passionate about food and I spend a lot of time reading about it, researching it, following foodies online, growing it and eating it, though I tend to read and drool over recipe books more than I actually cook from them.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

In 2016, I went to Italy to attend a writing retreat. My sister came with me and we started our time in Rome. On the very first day, as we were walking the cobblestone streets towards the Trevi Fountain, I saw a stooped, elderly man ahead of me, struggling to stay on his feet, leaning on his cane, with a young woman next to him. I had such a strong feeling of concern for him and instantly had so many questions. I wanted to know his story. I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of photos and a week later, sitting under the trees next to a seventeenth century villa in Tuscany, the image of that man came back to me and that's exactly where the story of Three Gold Coins starts.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I wish I was a hard core plotter! I am sure that would save me so much time in rewrites but it just never seems to pan out that way, despite my best intentions for every book. I have a mud map of where I'm going, but as for breaking down scenes and chapters, it doesn't work for me. My characters very much lead the story and inevitably I have one idea of what I want the story to do but my characters want to do very different things. Still, I will keep trying to improve my plotting with each new book.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I have wild, crazy, technicolour dreams every single night but so far they haven't resulted in any particular narrative.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Not one specific thing, but I had a moment between the second and third versions of Three Gold Coins when the story told me it wanted to go in a certain direction and I was resisting it. Once I committed to take it in that direction, for the next two weeks, at least every second day, someone or something turned up unexpectedly that was directly related to that new direction. It was astonishing and felt like a real sign from the universe that I was on the right track.

Where do you write, and when?
I have a writing room in our house and now that my son is at school I write there more often than not these days. I used to have to leave the house because if he was home I'd get nothing done. What I would really like is a glamorous 'She Shed' in the backyard, though I think I'd spend a terrible amount of time styling it and dressing it up and then changing my mind and wanting to change the theme, from French country, to gypsy caravan, to colourful Indian or fairy garden.

I also have about three cafes that I write from, all of them laid back, with lost of space and earthy, family friendly atmospheres and they don't feel the need to hurry me on.

I mostly write during school hours, though sometimes I will write in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, or at four o'clock in the morning, and on weekends too.

What is your favourite part of writing?
That moment when I don't have to 'conjure' up words and actions for my characters but instead just have them fully alive in my mind and all I have to do is type fast enough to get down everything they're saying. That is magic.

Other than that, I do a lot of research for my books and I am very much in my happy place when researching. I love learning new things and I am free to follow rabbit trails of interest all over the place before I'm boxed in by the limitations of the story. Research time is such a free, optimistic stage of writing.

What do you do when you get blocked?
If it's a small block, I take a walk outside in the sunshine and water my plants or do something with the horses. If it's a bigger block, I might have to go for a drive to a different location, go see a movie for some visual input, or bake (baking is remarkably good for breaking through blocks). Sometimes, I just need to wait it out. If I can sit with the discomfort long enough, something usually gives and it often gives in a big way and all sorts of wonders are on the other side. If I'm really in a tizzy about something, I will make a bargain with myself that I only have to sit there for ten minutes. I don't think I've ever gotten up after ten minutes. It just breaks the psychological pressure to perform. You can't expect much in ten minutes, right? Works like a charm.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I've recently started going to the movies again. I didn't go for years after my son was born but now I see it as an essential part of narrative and visual input. I'll always book tickets to a few theatre performances a year as well. I love live theatre and find it so invigorating. I try to go out on 'artist's dates' by myself, often with no plan except to just see where life takes me. (A small warning on that one, though. One day I did this and came home with a kitten.)

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Masala chai brewed on almond milk accompanies me to each writing session (or coffee if I'm really tired). I also like to put on a really energising song that I know all the words to and sing it out loud and preferably do a bit of crazy dancing to shrug off whatever domestic scene has been playing out a minute before. This gets the blood pumping, the oxygen flowing and raises my optimism. After that, I have to switch to some sort of calming, instrumental music, otherwise I just keep singing instead of writing.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Monica McInerney, JoJo Moyes, Marian Keyes, Enid Blyton, James Herriot, John Marsden, Kimberley Freeman, Mem Fox, Jane Austen, Glennon Doyle.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I love writing that is clever, original, thought provoking, entertaining and transportive all at once.

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

You wouldn't go and pick up a hammer and start building a house if you had no idea how to build a cubby house, right? Same goes for writing. My advice is to invest effort into writing short stories. Putting together a story of a couple of thousand words is not a big investment of time but it will give you a lot of valuable feedback. Take those opportunities to write in a variety to styles and across many genres. This will help you to find your voice, your strengths and your passions. You'll be stuck in a full length manuscript for years so you want to have some idea that you can carry it through to the end before you get bogged down in it. Short stories will help you work that out.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on my fifth contemporary fiction novel, which is due out in April 2019. It is set in Melbourne and follows the story of a woman who has had a heart transplant and the wife of the organ donor of that heart. Together they are trying to solve a mystery. My food theme is coffee (because there's always a food theme in my books).

You can read my review of Three Gold Coins here.
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