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INTERVIEW: Belinda Jeffrey, author of 'A Few Long Threads'

Monday, December 31, 2012

Finally, an interview with the beautiful and talented Belinda Jeffrey.


I first met Belinda a few years ago at the Brisbane Writers Festival, and - having a rare afternoon free - she took me shopping, as one does. We had a lovely afternoon, and found we had a lot in common. We were both writers and mothers of beautiful, rambunctious boys, and both passionate believers in the power of stories and books. We also both rather like shoes.

We met up again earlier this year at the Whitsunday Voices literary festival, and I was able to hear her speak about her new book 'One Long Thread'. She spoke with so much humour and charm and pathos about her childhood and her family that I went straight after wards and bought her novel.


'One Long Thread' is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffrey’s books that I have read but I will be seeking out more.

A quote from the book:

"I had moths in my chest. A thousand of them drumming with their insistent wings, thumping inside my heart. It was like the feeling of something struggling to get out, to fly free… Love is like that."

Here are Belinda's answers to my questions:

Are you a daydreamer too?
I am a terrible daydreamer. So much so that I walk into things, drive into things, fall down stairs and boil vegetables dry because I forget what is going on around me.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have always adored books. The experience of visiting the library as a child and borrowing books and secreting them home is embedded in my brain like some magical experience. I remember the smell of books and the feeling of sharing in something wonderful when I opened the cover. I didn't dream of being a writer until I was in year seven. I buried it for a few years during high school but it resurfaced in university and its been a dream ever since.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I tracked down my long lost grandmother some years ago and she told me the story of the girl and the red cost which was actually her story about how she came to find herself pregnant with my father. When a friend of mine asked why I hadn't written a story about girls the first thing I thought of was the red coat and a girl who seeks to understand where she has come from.
How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I'm not a detailed plotter or planner. My writing process is very intuitive. I gather ideas and thoughts and string them together a little like beads. I write once I feel the voice of my character and see where it leads.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I often dream at different phases of my writing process and I think the brain helps process, project and reflect back into itself, all the problems and issues we are working on in our waking lives. I've never written a novel on the basis of a dream, however.

Where do you write, and when?
At the moment I write whenever I can - which is limited while I'm back working full time. I pref to write in the first part of the day and I always write at a little coffee shop somewhere. I can come home and continue writing but I always begin out of the house.

What is your favourite part of writing?
 My favourite part of writing is beginning a new novel. I love the energy and possibilities that exist with a new idea.

What do you do when you get blocked? 
When I get blocked I try stepping up and outside the writing process. I will journal, research, think about the bigger picture. I step into my cognitive brain when I'm blocked. Watching movies helps as does reading a good book. If that fails a bit of a whinge to a friend never goes astray.

 How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I'm rarely short of inspiration. My problem is lack of time and too much stress from work. I do find that I need to unhinge a little to tap into my creative well. Lots of sleep, relaxing, a swim or walk usually puts me back in touch with the wonder of ideas and creative expression. I think the well is always there we just have to find ways to tap back into it at various times.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
My biggest ritual with writing is to go to a coffee shop somewhere. I'm pretty hooked on this process now. I wrote all three of my novels at the same coffee shop but I've moved away and have yet to find the one perfect place.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
My favourite ten writers are: Tim Winton, Margaret Atwood, Marcus Zusack, Paul Griffin, Shaun Tan, Margaret Wild, Philipp Meyer, Kirsty Eager, Joanne Harris and Wilbur Smith (earlier novels only and because they were so influential on me at a certain point in my writing journey)



What do you consider to be good writing?  
Good writing is full of voice and verve. It is a great story well told.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
My advice for those wishing to become published writers is 1) marry for money 2) write what you love 3) always listen to those who know more than you do

What are you working on now? 
 At the moment I'm illustrating a picture book which is due out next year. I'm also tinkering with a novel for upper primary/early high school years.


 Belinda Jeffrey's blog

BOOK LIST: Best Books Read in 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I didn't quite make my target of 100 books this year, reading only 95, but I did discover some brilliant new writers. Here are my top reads of the year: 

Best Historical Novel

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.

Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder

I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! A fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, passion and cross-dressing. This was one of the best reads of the year so far.

The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Set in 1666, soon after the restoration of King Charless II, this novel tells the story of how Alice – a young wife and talented painter - discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a nearby wood. She is captivated by its beauty and wants to paint it, but the owner of the wood —a Quaker called Richard Wheeler, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. So Alice steals the flower, and sets off a chain of events including murder, riot, witchcraft, betrayal and exile. Brilliant historical fiction.

The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner

The Queen’s Vow brings Isabella of Castile, a powerful and passionate woman, to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries. I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!

Best Parallel Historical/Contemporary Novel

Secrets of the Tide by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the Tides is a suspenseful page-turner of a family drama, taking place mainly in Cornwall and London, and moving back and forth between the past and the present. It begins with a girl jumping off a bridge into the Thames. We do not know who she is or why she is jumped, or even if she lives or dies. Slowly the answers to these mysteries are revealed, some of them very surprising. I absolutely loved it, and look forward to more from this debut author.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberly Freeman

Lighthouse Bay begins in 1901, with a woman – the only survivor of a shipwreck - dragging a chest full of treasure down a deserted beach. The narrative then moves to contemporary times, with a woman secretly grieving at the funeral of her married lover. These two women – Isabella Winterbourne and Libby Slater – are joined through time by a lighthouse and its secrets and mysteries. I raced through this compelling and intriguing book, utterly unable to put it down. Fabulous rollicking read. 

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 
The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty – I really loved it.

Best Historical Mystery

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A historical thriller set in Tudor England, this novel features a beautiful young nun, Sister Joanna, as its heroine. The book begins with the burning of Joanna’s cousin for treason, and sees our intrepid nun being thrown in the Tower and then coerced into a hunt for a mysterious crown thought to have supernatural powers. The book moves swiftly along, with lots of danger, suspense, and a little romance. An engaging read.

Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

The latest in a series of great Regency murder mysteries featuring the aristocratic detective Sebastian St Cyr. I really enjoy this series, and buy each new one as soon as it comes out. Begin with the first in the series, What Angels Fear, as part of the pleasure is the unfolding relationships. 

Best Contemporary Mystery 

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The latest in the delightful Bruno Courreges mysteries set in the Perigord in southern France, this one seems a little darker in tone than the previous ones, with terrorists, animal rights campaigners and archaeologists keeping Bruno busier than ever. There are the usual wonderful descriptions of French food and French countryside, and a little romance – I’m just hoping Martin Walker is writing fast. 

Best Fantasy

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that  the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.

Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier 

The sixth in the wonderful Sevenwaters series, this book is, as always, filled with wonder, peril, magic, romance, courage, wisdom and compassion. Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite writers and she never, ever disappoints. A beautiful, radiant book. 

Best Children’s Fiction

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell 

The most recent book by my beautiful sister, Belinda, The Forgotten Pearl is set in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War. The heroine, Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself. I always judge a book by whether it brings a prickle of tears to my eyes, and this book did that a number of times – a beautifully written historical novel for children set during a fascinating and largely forgotten period of Australian history. 

The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.

Flint Heart by Katherine & John Paterson

Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child – I absolutely loved ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and a lesser known book of hers, ‘Jacob Have I Loved’. So when I saw she and her husband John had retold an old English folktale and that it was sumptuously illustrated by John Rocco, the former creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word. The writing is simple and pitch-perfect, and the illustrations are strange and sumptuous – after I read it, I gave it to my 8 year old daughter and she loved it too. A lovely antidote to all those sparkly fairy books.

Best Young Adult Fiction

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A lovely retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Jessica Day George has a light touch, a sweet romance, and a clever use of knitting – I’d recommend this to anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairytale retellings. 

One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffries

This is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffries’ books that I have read but I will be seeking out more. 

Moonlight & Ashes by Sophie Masson

I really loved this new book by Sophie Masson. I think it's her best book yet, and I'm a long-time fan of her work. 'Moonlight & Ashes' is a retelling of the Aschenputtel fairy tale, the German Cinderella. It is set in alternative Prague, and is full of adventure, magic and romance. It has the most beautiful, dreamy cover too - loved it!

by Juliet Marillier

The latest book from one of my all-time favourite authors, Shadowfell is a magical quest set in an otherworldy Scotland. I loved it!

Best Historical Romance

The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Waltz by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I read a lot of romance this year, by a lot of different authors, possibly because I am studying my doctorate and so was seeking the very best kind of comfort reading as an antidote to all the academia I was ploughing through. Nonetheless, the three top romance books I read this year were all by the Australian author, Anne Gracie. Such lightness and deftness of touch, such wit and warmth, such sparkling dialogue - she never disappoints. 

Best Contemporary Romance

I didn’t read any this year – I wonder why?

Best Non-Fiction

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

An utterly engrossing and illuminating look at Napoleon and his Empress, this thick tome is as readable as any novel. I went it to it understanding nothing about Napoleon and his rise and fall, and came away feeling I understood everything.

1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

Looking at the single year of 1812 - and drawing on thousands of first-hand accounts from both sides - this brilliant book looks at each step of Napoleon’s march on Russia and his disastrous retreat. Utterly compelling, shocking and fascinating. 

I need to make a disclaimer, of course:
1) My choice is utterly and unashamedly subjective
2) I know many of these writers, and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. One of them is even my sister! Regardless of whether they’re friends or family, I still absolutely loved their works, though, and hope you will too.
3) Many thanks to the publishers and writers who sent me books this year– I’m sorry if I haven’t read those books yet and I will try to get to them. My reading choices are prompted purely by my own selfish pleasure and so sometimes I don’t read the books I should!
4) This means, of course, that there are many absolutely wonderful books out there which I haven’t yet discovered. I hope that I shall soon. 

You may enjoying reading my interviews with some of the above authors:


INTERVIEW: Kate Mosse, author of 'Citadel'

Friday, November 30, 2012

I am really incredibly excited to have Kate Mosse appearing on the blog today, answering my usual questions about daydreaming, writing & reading. I met Kate at a literary dinner in London a few years ago, and was virtually dumbstruck at the time, having really loved her book 'Labyrinth'. She was lovely, though, and very warm and natural and kind. She's been on a whirlwind tour promoting her new book, 'Citadel' (which I loved), but took the time out to respond to my email. Thank you, Kate! 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Not really.  I spend a fair bit of time in my imagination, of course, but in the company of characters or trying to work out a problem in this chapter or that.  I rarely just sit and look out of the window.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A reader, more than a writer.  I always hoped I'd be able to spend much of my time reading - I studied English at University, then worked in publishing for ten days, then was involved in setting up a major literary prize (the Women's Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize), before becoming a writer.  Even then, I wrote four books (two nonfiction, two fiction) before Labyrinth, still feeling as if I was a reader who was scribbling a bit too.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in London, but my parents moved back to my father's home area in Chichester, West Sussex, when I was a few months old. I think of myself as a Cicestrian born and and bred and my husband and I (who met at school), returned to live there after years away - in London and Paris in his case, Oxford and London in mine - when our own children were young.  We now live about a mile from where I grew up, a multigenerational household (both Mums) and our children, with my sisters and their families not far away.  As for what I like to do - walk in the woods, swim, read, read and read, go to the theatre, sit round the big kitchen table with family and friends to chat.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
We bought a tiny house in the medieval city of Carcassonne in 1989.  I knew nothing about the southwest of France, but I fell head over heels in love with the landscape, with the spirit of the place, with the history.  Each of the novels is, in a sense, a love letter to Carcassonne and I've been working and researching for twenty-three years now, albeit in an ad hoc way.  ‘Labyrinth’ - the first in the Trilogy, that came out in 2005 - is focused on the medieval Cité. ‘Citadel’, which is the third and final novel in the sequence, is based in and around the modern part of Carcassonne, the fourteenth century Bastide.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I spend years researching the history, allowing the characters to come to me and have a sense of the key sections of each novel.  However, I like to discover things as I go along - in adventure writing, the key is pace, momentum, the excitement that keeps a reader feverishly turning the pages.  So a sense of discovery for the writer, as well as the reader, is essential.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not really.  When I'm writing (as opposed to researching, planning, drafting) I do go to bed very early thinking about the characters and start work very early in the morning, with them still fresh in my head.  A kind of dreaming, I suppose.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
I knew it anyway, but I suppose it just brought home to me the extraordinary bravery of women and men who lived under the Nazi occupation in France during WW2, their morality, their courage to keep fighting against what they knew to be wrong, at terrible cost to themselves.  Would we all be as brave?

Where do you write, and when?
I can write anywhere, truthfully.  The early books were written, mostly, in our bedroom in our tiny house in Carcassonne, looking at the towers and turrets of the medieval Cité above.  Now we are based in the UK, I set up shop in my study on the first floor of our house in Sussex, looking out over copper beach tree, a horse chestnut, apple trees in the neighbouring gardens and squirrels running up and down the trunk.  I start at about 3.30am and work for a good chunk of time, then a few more hours during the afternoon.  I never work after about 5pm. My brain stops working and turns to thoughts of a glass of white wine and supper!

What is your favourite part of writing?
The editing.  I do three drafts always - and Citadel is about 230,000 words long, so that's a lot of material to work with.  The first is getting the basics down, the second is knocking it in to shape, then the third draft is starting again and writing the novel as it is supposed to be.  Then, a period of editing - both my agent and my editor work on the text and give notes - and then it's back to me. I love the edit because it's problem solving, it's about making the book the best it can be, ironing out all the creases.  A great sense of satisfaction when it finally goes to press.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I don't let that happen.  Writing is hard work and it's a job like any other.  So, I go to my computer every day and just keep at it.  Always, I have Samuel Beckett's words in my head - 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading source materials, letting your characters come properly to life, walking in the woods of Sussex or Carcassonne, listening to the stories of other people.  

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Strong, sweet black coffee first thing in the morning.  All you need to get going.  Once you've started, it's easy to continue.  It's the blank screen that's the enemy!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Including - but not limited at all to so few - Sarah Waters, Emily Bronte, T S Eliot, Algernon Blackwood, Margaret Atwood, M R James, Hilary Mantel, Marilynne Robinson, Antony Beevor, Ian Rankin ...

Emily Bronte, painted by her brother Branwell

What do you consider to be good writing?
From the list above, you'll see:  good writing is where the author has succeeded in delivering to the reader what they set out to achieve. Each book is a promise made - of story, of style, of pace, of language, of intent.  If you can make good your promise, then a writer can be proud.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don't dream, do it!  Work every day and work hard. Five minutes a day is better than no minutes ...

What are you working on now?
An idea for a play - a commission from Chichester Festival Theatre - is starting to take root in my mind.  You can't rush this side of things, but rather allow the ideas and characters to find their own shape, before you turn the writer's spotlight on them.  I love this point in a project, where you're excited and everything is still possible - and perfect.

The character of Audric Baillard appears in all of the three books – can you tell me a little bit more about him and how you came to conceive him? What is his importance in the three novels?
Baillard is, I suppose, the Conscience of the South, a person who stands both within his period of history, but also outside of it looking on.  He represents the eternal human qualities that most matter and that are - should be - unaffected by the changing politics of any era, of political expediency, of opportunism.   Baillard was fundamental to the plotting of Labyrinth - he carries a burden of extended life in order that he should bear witness to the horrors of history - then appears, almost as a cameo in Sepulchre - then, of course, in Citadel we see his World War II story that's hinted at in Labyrinth.  He is the character that ties all three novels of the Trilogy together.

Please feel free to leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books Set in France

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My lovely publicist Peri is setting off to France for Christmas, and knowing what a Francophile I am, asked me for a list of books she should read before she goes. 

So here it is. My favourite books set in France:

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris – Sarah Turnbull
My Life in France – Julia Child
True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women In Paris – Lucinda Holdforth (a must read! I'm lending it to Peri)

Fiction by Contemporary Writers
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Girl at the Lion d’Or - Sebastian Faulks
Charlotte Grey - Sebastian Faulks
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris (one of my all-time favourite books)
Peaches for Monsieur l’Cure - Joanne Harris
Perfume – Patrick Suskind   
The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. - Sandra Gullard
The Lady & the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier
The Confessions of Catherine d’Medici: A Novel  – Christopher Gortner 
Labyrinth - Kate Mosse
Sepulchre - Kate Mosse
Citadel - Kate Mosse 

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer (I love this book so much - it was my first Georgette Heyer!)
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 

I know I'm forgetting some fantastic books! Any recommendations?

BOOK REVIEW: 'Citadel' by Kate Mosse

Monday, November 26, 2012

Title: Citadel
Author: Kate Mosse
Publisher: Hachette 
Age Group & Genre: Historical Thriller with supernatural twist

The Blurb:
LABYRINTH took us to the walled city of Carcassonne, SEPULCHRE travelled to the mysterious town of Rennes les Bains, now CITADEL transports us right to the southern-most edge of France - and to an amazing adventure set at key points in history in this scarred land right on the Spanish border. Combining the rugged action of LABYRINTH with the haunting mystery of SEPULCHRE, CITADEL is a story of daring and courage, of lives risked for beliefs, of unlocking secrets buried by time. Through history, this 'green land washed red by blood' has seen so much - not least the bravery of the men and women who smuggled exiles out of occupied France and away from the Nazi regime over the border into Spain. In CITADEL, Kate Mosse once again sets out to captivate the reader with the people at the heart of ancient struggles, to bring alive places and times unknown to us and to keep us on the edge of our seats with an amazing story.

What I Thought:
I really loved both ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Sepulchre’, which brought together elements of my favourite genres – history, suspense, romance, with a twist of the supernatural. So I was very excited to get Kate Mosse’s new book, ‘Citadel’, which is a lovely, big, thick thwack of a book. You wouldn’t want to drop it on your toe, or have to carry it around in your handbag.

Even though it is very heavy and hard to hold while reading in bed, ‘Citadel’ was a swift and pleasurable read. Most nights I stayed up later than I should have, unable to put it down.  I love books set in France (I’m such a Francophile!), I love books set during the Second World War, and I love books that have a parallel narrative, set in two different time periods – and so ‘Citadel’ ticks a lot of boxes for me. 

Unlike ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Sepulchre’, there is no contemporary narrative in this book. Instead the story set during the Second World War is interwoven with a tale of a Dark Ages monk who is seeking to protect a mysterious scroll called the Codex. This secondary thread is only a minor part of the book, which concentrates on the primary story of the struggles of a group of women Resistance fighters trying to help people escape Nazi-occupied France. Really, the book could have done without the Codex - the story of the brave women Resistance fighters is strong enough to stand on its own. However, with this second narrative thread, Kate Mosse is able to have the same twist of the supernatural that worked so well in her earlier two books, plus tie all three books together at the climax. 

I’m actually rather sad to know that this is the end of Kate Mosse’s Carcassone books – I hope she writes some more!


INTERVIEW: Jaclyn Moriarty, author of 'A Corner of White'

Friday, November 16, 2012

I absolutely loved Jaclyn Moriarty's new book, 'A Corner of White' and so, as always, I wanted to know more about it. 

Jaci kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Here are her answers:

Are you a daydreamer too?

I daydream so much that I am always either lost or bumping into something. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
From the age of six. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Perth, WA, but my family moved back to Sydney when I was two so I grew up here.  I’ve lived in the US, England and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney.  I like to see the ocean from a window, read all night, eat pancakes in my pyjamas, bake chocolate cakes, skate on frozen lakes, talk all night, and dance in the living room with my six-year-old, Charlie.  (I only really like that last one for the first few minutes: after that, Charlie changes the music, or makes me pick him up and spin him around which hurts my back, or tries to switch things to a game of musical bumps, which I have to say is not a game I enjoy.) 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'A Corner of White' ?
A friend gave me the nickname The Princess KuKu Nightie.  I decided I wanted to write a story about that princess.  Years later, I drew pictures of a kingdom called Cello, where the princess could live.  The princess herself ended up on the cutting room floor, and luckily, so did the nickname. 

Tell me about how you came to use colours as a key part of the book?
I was working in a café one day when a friend stopped by.  I told him I was writing about the Kingdom of Cello. ‘Okay, so what are your monsters?’ he said. ‘You can’t have a Kingdom without monsters.’  (He’s a filmmaker and had just made a horror movie.) I always used coloured textas and pencils when I’m working so these were scattered over the table.  The monsters are colours, I said.  

Did colours come first, or Newton?
After I’d decided to make colours into monsters, I read about the science of colour and light.  That led me to Isaac Newton, and the story of him buying a glass prism at a marketplace and using it to split a beam of sunlight into colour.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Well, I’d already decided to set the book in Cambridge, England, and particularly in Trinity College, Cambridge.  When I got interested in Isaac Newton I discovered he’d been at Trinity, Cambridge.  I chose some other random famous people who’d also been at Trinity, and unexpected connections started emerging between them.   

How extensively do you plan your novels?
For my first novel, 'Feeling Sorry for Celia', I had a one-page plan and did no research at all, except to check some facts along the way.  For this book I had a 150-page plan and 30 folders of research material.
Sometimes I miss writing the old way, and when I finish this trilogy I want to write an entire novel without a word of planning. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not so much dreams as not-quite-sleeping.  Ideas come to me when I’m falling toward sleep, or listening to music.  The whole plot of 'Finding Cassie Crazy' came to me while I was half-asleep and listening to a Placebo album. 
Oh, wait.  I just remembered that I dreamed about the essence of sadness the other night.  I used that in a description of my character’s bad day.   

Where do you write, and when?
After I take Charlie to school I walk to a local café and write ideas or plot chapters in a notebook for about an hour.  Then I come home and work in my study until it’s time to collect Charlie from school at 2.55 pm.  Most days the writing goes nowhere until 2.50 pm when it finally starts working.   So I get in 5 minutes of writing a day. 

What is your favourite part of writing?
The planning phase, before I start writing, when it feels like it’s perfectly possible that I’m just about to write a masterpiece, and I’m spending whole days in cafes drawing pictures and I can’t believe this is my job.  Also, the final third of the book, after I’ve spent months dragging some huge disaster of a book up the side of a mountain and thinking, I can’t believe this is my job,  and then, finally, it’s sort of coming together and I get to toboggan down the other side.   

What do you do when you get blocked?
Eat too much chocolate.  Run up and down a flight of stairs.  Drink a lot of water.  Cry.   Read poetry. 
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading poetry and science.  Talking to people in unexpected places who do unexpected things. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I can’t write without having a blue bowl of fruit and chocolate on my desk beside me.  

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Elizabeth McCracken, Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Edith esbit, Diana Wynne-Jones, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Louis Sachar, John Marsden, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austen, Carol Shields, Charles Bukowsi, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Rachel Cohn.  I think I stopped counting sorry. 

Diana Wynne Jones, also one of my favourite writers

What do you consider to be good writing?
When the characters keep chatting to me even when I’m not reading the book. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t feel like you have to write a novel right away, and don’t be mad at yourself if your stories keep stalling and you find yourself starting something new.  Write as many quarter stories in as many different genres as you like, until one catches hold of you and makes you want to take it to the end. 

What are you working on now?
The sequel to 'A Corner of White'.  Its working title is 'The Cracks in the Kingdom'. 

If you enjoyed this, check out my interviews with Michael Pryor and Jesse Blackadder

Please leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: 'A Corner of White' by Jaclyn Moriarty

Monday, November 12, 2012

Title: A Corner of White
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty 
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Age Group & Genre:  YA fantasy/magic realism

The Blurb:
Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.

What I Think: 
I often tweet about a book while I’m reading it.

My tweets about ‘A Corner of White’ include ‘extraordinary, beautiful, startling’; ‘one of the most original and unusual books I’ve read in a long time’; and ‘I’m in awe’. 

It is certainly unlike any other book I’ve ever read.

‘A Corner of White’ is basically a story about parallel words – our own familiar world - and another far different and yet strangely familiar place, the Kingdom of Cello.

A crack opens up between these two worlds, and a letter slips through. Madeleine, a teenage girl living in Cambridge, finds the letter and writes back … thinking her correspondent is just a boy with a vivid imagination. She does not realise that Elliot’s letters describe a real place …

Both Madeleine and Elliot are suffering loss and confusion and the pangs of first love.

Both Madeleine and Elliott feel very alone.

Their letters build a bridge between them and their world, and, in strange and unexpected ways, help each other make sense of the mysteries of their lives. 

Jaclyn Moriarty has always had a quirky, wryly humorous style, but in ‘A Corner of White’ she reaches new heights of lyricism. There were some lines which sung with such truth and beauty that I wanted to learn them by heart.

Here’s just one:

'She felt the stars were folding into her chest; those sharp, shining, agitated pieces of excitement were stars'. 

Such a perfect sentence, saying so much with so little.

I do have to say that ‘A Corner of White’ is a difficult book to categorise. 

Although the secondary world makes it a fantasy novel, the book is without most of the trappings that we usually associate with fantasy. There are no quests, or magical beasts, or battles between good and evil. The secondary world is remarkably humdrum – despite waves of colours that sweep over the land and cause havoc with people’s emotions, and despite such extraordinary magical touches as the Butterfly Child, who brings luck to anyone who catches her.

Similarly, our own world is infused with strangeness and magic. There are troubling absences, inexplicable coincidences, and odd disruptions to what we would consider normal. 

Because the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists, I’d call it ‘magic realism’ rather than fantasy – yet it is so fantastical, so filled with a sense of the strange and the impossible, that it really blurs the boundaries of magic realism as well. 

I think Jaclyn may have invented a whole new genre. Fantastical magic realism, perhaps? 

Or maybe magic unrealism?

Either way, ‘A Corner of White’ is quite simply one of the most astonishingly original books I’ve ever read. I loved it!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earlier this week, trying to define the new book by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, I called it fantastical magic realism. 

Although ‘A Corner of White’ was set in both our world and an imaginary secondary world, a common trope of fantasy fiction, it was not really fantasy, I said, partly because, ‘the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists.’ 

A few people have challenged me on that, asking ‘what exactly IS magic realism, then?’

Being a brave soul, I thought I’d try, at least, to express what I think it’s all about. 

Magic realism is, I think, a genre of fiction set in our own world, in which strange, uncanny, or magical things happen in the midst of everyday events. The protagonists do not change their world, as is the case in most fantasy novels; rather, they themselves are changed as a consequence of the magic. The line between real and unreal, possible and impossible, is blurred. Life is shown to be filled with mystery and the inexplicable.

Here is one quote I found that I like, by the Mexican-American writer, Luis Leal:

‘In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’

A few books that I have read and loved, and that I would call ‘magic realism’:

'House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende 

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel 

'Garden Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen 

'Love in the Time of Cholera ' by Gabriel García Márquez 

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern 

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger 

'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris 

'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman 

'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey 

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier, author of 'Flame of Sevenwaters'

Friday, November 09, 2012

There are only a few authors in the world that - when I hear they have a new book out - I get all excited . 

Juliet Marillier is one of those authors. I have read every word she has ever written and loved every single one of them. Her books are an enchanting mixture of history, romance, and magic. As filled with wonder and danger and wisdom as any fairy tale, her novels always, always, leave me wanting to be a better person. Her heroines are brave and tender-hearted and capable of great love, all the things I want to be - yet they are still real people, with flaws and struggles and failures.

If you have not yet discovered  Juliet Marillier, I suggest you start with 'Daughter of the Forest', one of my favourite books of all time and a retelling of 'Six Swans', one of my favourite fairy tales. It is the first in a series of six books, each centred on a member of the family which lives at Sevenwaters, a house in Dark Ages Ireland set in the midst of a great forest in which many mysterious and magical creatures lurk. 

The latest is the series is 'Flame of Sevenwaters', released this week (you can read my review below). 

To celebrate its launch, Juliet has agreed to meet with me and chat (in cyper-space, unfortunately, as she lives in Perth and I live in Sydney):

Are you a daydreamer too?
I’ve been a daydreamer since I was a small girl devouring books of fairy tales! I find it easy to slip into worlds of the imagination, and am constantly surprised – often delighted - by what I find there. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Not consciously, though I’ve been writing stories since I could hold the pencil and more or less spell the words. I went through a dinosaurs-and-killer-robots stage, then there were sagas about mountaineers and assassins, and some early attempts at fantasy set in a vaguely medieval world. All before the age of 14 or so. But I went on to study music and to work in various other fields. I returned to what was probably my true calling as a writer much later in life.
Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born and grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, which is the most Scottish city outside Scotland itself. I currently live in a riverside suburb of Perth in Western Australia, and my household consists of me and four dogs. That probably answers the third part – I am passionate about animal rescue and I foster dogs for a local rescue group, though the four I mentioned are all permanent residents. I also like gardening, reading and knitting. And playing with my grandchildren, two of whom live fairly close by.
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
'Flame of Sevenwaters' is the sixth and probably final instalment in the Sevenwaters series. It combines an over-arching story line that began in 'Heir to Sevenwaters', about the struggle of Lord Sean and his family with a dark prince of the Otherworld, and a stand-alone, ‘one-book’ story. I had already decided the story would be narrated by Sean’s daughter Maeve, who appeared as a child in an earlier book. Maeve has a significant disability – severe burns have left her with permanently stiff, clawed hands. In this story she has to step up as an action hero, which meant I needed to work out just what she could and couldn’t do, keeping things plausible for her time and culture and her condition. I needed to give her qualities that made her a real protagonist, not a victim of her past ill fortune. That’s where the flash of inspiration came in: I was, at the time, working with my rescue dog Harry in formal obedience training, so I was learning a lot about the relationship between a dog and its handler. When we met her in 'Child of the Prophecy', Maeve had a big dog that followed her around everywhere. Aha! I realised I could build that into a special talent with animals, the equivalent of being a horse whisperer / dog whisperer. This proved to be the real heart of the story. Good boy, Harry!

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I am a planner by nature. First I do any necessary research, then I write an outline of about two pages. I’ll generally expand that into a full synopsis, then do a chapter by chapter plan. All that before I start writing. If that sounds a bit rigid, I should add that I stop after every three chapters or so, go back to the chapter plan and change it if something’s not working or if I’ve had a new bright idea along the way. I revise continuously as I’m writing the book. That means I work quite slowly, but I don’t need to do very much revision after that first draft is complete.
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes, though it’s only rarely that I have one of those fantastic, well-structured dreams that can be worked into a story. The title story of my collection being published by Ticonderoga next year, 'Prickle Moon', came to me almost complete in a dream I had while visiting Dunedin earlier this year. A magnificent gift conjured up from a cauldron of old memories, including the hedgehogs we saw so often while growing up there and the Scots dialect I heard a lot in my childhood. My dreams are often quite like fairy tales in flavor, that’s when they are not of the anxious, about-to-miss-the-bus, dropped-my-keys-down-the-drain variety!
Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
When I started the Sevenwaters series back in the mid-1990s, I had no idea it would become six books plus a novella, so I had no vision of how it might end. But the way Ciaran’s story played out over the whole series, and his choices in this novel, felt inevitable to me, as if he’d been heading in one direction all along.  I guess the astonishing part of that was the feeling (it comes rarely) that his story somehow already existed and I was just the person lucky enough to be retelling it for him. Weird but good. For those who don’t know the Sevenwaters books, Ciaran is an enigmatic druid whose story spans the entire series. He never gets the point of view, but we come to know him and care about him.
Where do you write, and when?
At the kitchen table mostly, because that is the area where the dogs hang out during the day. I do have a perfectly well set up study but I don’t use it much. When? Roughly office hours, with an extra stint in the evening if I’m not happy with what I’ve achieved during the day. It does vary a bit depending on what else needs doing. I try to get to the gym three times a week to counteract all that sitting down staring at the screen. The dogs make sure I take breaks!
What is your favourite part of writing?
The times when I suddenly realize I’ve been writing for two hours without even being conscious of it – that always means what I’ve written is good! Also, the feedback from readers telling me my writing has inspired their own creative efforts, got them enjoying reading again, or helped them through a difficult time. We writers would be nothing without our readers.
What do you do when you get blocked? 
On those days when the writing isn’t flowing well, I do all the other jobs I need to complete as a full time writer: accounting, preparing workshops, responding to email and letters, research, editing, blog posts … Other things that help get through a creative block are exercise (easy for me as there’s always a dog or two wanting another walk), other creative activities such as gardening, baking or craft work, reading over something I’ve written that I know is good, to reassure myself that I can still do it. Because it doesn’t matter how many novels a writer has in print, the self-doubt never quite goes away. That’s probably a good thing, as it makes us keep striving to improve our craft.
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
By reading folklore and fairy tales. By observing the natural world. By studying human behavior.
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Dorothy Dunnett, Dorothy L Sayers, Mary Stewart, Iain Banks, Jodi Picoult, Kate Morton, Joe Abercrombie, Daphne du Maurier, Kerry Greenwood, Jane Austen. (Yes, there’s only one fantasy writer in there.)

Mary Stewart, who is one of my favourite writers too!

What do you consider to be good writing?  
It depends a bit on the kind of book, but the novels I enjoy most combine excellence of craft with compelling storytelling. Certain weaknesses of style put me off completely - I especially dislike head-hopping (frequent changes of point of view within chapters or even within paragraphs), a heavy
authorial 'message', and unnecessarily flowery or ornate writing. The best plot in the world can't balance these out for me.

 What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read widely, well outside the genre you write in. To become a great writer, you must start as a keen reader, someone who loves storytelling. Don’t try to write for the market – by the time you finish your novel, whatever was the next big thing when you started will be out of fashion. Instead, write the story you passionately want to tell. Follow your heart, but learn the basic skills of writing as well: correct grammar, spelling and syntax. The easiest way to develop these skills is by reading a lot! Write a little every day, so you develop self-discipline. A personal journal is handy for this, not to write down what you had for breakfast, but any ideas or thoughts that come to you. Be prepared for setbacks; believe in yourself and your writing.
What are you working on now? 
I’m working on the third book in the Shadowfell series, which has the working title 'Caller'. The series is a YA/adult crossover fantasy, set in a magical version of ancient Scotland. Book 1, 'Shadowfell', is available now. Book 2, 'Raven Flight', comes out in mid-2013.

Yay! I loved 'Shadowfell' and so I'm happy to know I have more to look forward to.  

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also enjoy my interviews with Joanne Harris and Josephine Pennicott

Or you can read my review of Juliet's  latest book, 'Flame of Sevenwaters', here.
I'm a Gemini, I love to chat! Please leave a comment

BOOK REVIEW: 'Flame of Sevenwaters' by Juliet Marillier

Monday, November 05, 2012

Title: Flame of Sevenwaters
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia 
Age Group & Genre: Adult Historical Fantasy

The Blurb:
Going home can be the hardest thing of all...

When Maeve, twenty year old daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters, accompanies a skittish horse back to Erin, she must confront her demons. For Maeve carries the legacy of a childhood fire in her crippled hands. She has lived with her aunt in Britain for ten years, developing a special gift for gentling difficult animals.

Maeve arrives home to find Sevenwaters in turmoil. The forest surrounding her father's keep also has uncanny inhabitants, including a community of Fair Folk. Now the fey prince Mac Dara has become desperate to see his only son return to the Otherworld to rule after him. To force Sean's hand, Mac Dara has made innocent travellers on the Sevenwaters border disappear, and now their bodies are appearing one by one in bizarre circumstances. Mac Dara's malign activities must be stopped. But how? What human army can defeat a force with magic at its fingertips?

Maeve's gift with animals earns her respect at Sevenwaters. She bonds with her enigmatic small brother, Finbar, his druid tutor Luachan, and two stray dogs. When Maeve discovers the body of one of the missing men, she and Finbar are drawn into a journey where the stakes are high: they may bring about the end of Mac Dara's reign, or suffer a hideous death. For Maeve, success may lead to a future she has not dared to believe possible.

My Thoughts:
Yippee! As far as I’m concerned, Juliet Marillier could bring out a new book every week and I’d be happy. I (like many, many other people) particularly love her books set at Sevenwaters. This new novel is number six. Each can be read alone, but they are definitely best read in order.

The heroine of this book is Maeve, who in an earlier book was badly burned while trying to rescue her dog from a fire. She was crippled as a result, her hands twisted into stiff and useless claws. For me, this gave the story echoes of the terrible fairy tale ‘Maiden with no Hands’. Like the poor handless maiden in that tale, Maeve must try and get through life without the use of her hands. In the tradition of Juliet’s heroines, however, she is brave, philosophical, and determined not to let her life be ruined. She gains comfort and consolation from the animals in her life, particularly a highly-strung stallion named Swift who can only be calmed by Maeve’s soft voice and gentle manner. 

Maeve returns to Sevenwaters after many years, to find her home under threat from Mac Dara, the cruel king of the Underworld who was the villain of one or two earlier Sevenwaters tales. A group of travellers through the forest have disappeared, their bodies appearing in cruel and unusual ways. The ripple effect of these murders has Sevenwaters facing the very real possibility of war. Maeve befriends and tames two stray dogs, and her love for them and for her young brother Finbar sets off a chain of events that sees Maeve travelling by herself – crippled and very much afraid – into the Otherworld.

As always, Juliet Marillier’s new book is a beautiful story of love, courage, faith and kind-heartedness … and I want another one right NOW!!! 

If you enjoyed this review, you may also like  my
reviews of books by Deborah Swift and Jesse Blackadder

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