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INTERVIEW: Emma Glass

Friday, July 13, 2018

 

Today we welcome Emma Glass, author of Peach, to the blog.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales. I’ve lived in London for seven years where I work as a children’s nurse. I’m still figuring out how to be both a writer and a nurse, my work is essential, it’s an amazing source of inspiration and makes me feel like a useful, helpful person. Writing is my escape, but I wish I had a little more balance in my life as I rarely have extended periods of time to write. When I’m not nursing or writing I like to run on Hampstead Heath and spend time cooking and eating.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The best part of writing is finishing a piece and having someone read it, that’s when the writing becomes a story.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Cry. Learning how to be a productive writer is still a challenge for me. The best advice I heard from another writer to avoid block is to stop writing when you realise you’re on a roll. It’s much more appealing to go back to writing something you’re excited about than to go back to something you feel stuck on.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Patrick DeWitt
Magnus Mills
George Saunders
Margaret Atwood
Roald Dahl
Gertrude Stein
James Joyce
Shirley Jackson
Ann Patchett
Joan Lindsey

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that doesn’t just open up your imagination, but evokes reactions that you can feel in your body, something that stays with you a long time.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t compromise on your art. Take advice on titles for your work. Always have a back up plan; writers need food and water, like plants and flowers.

What are you working on now?

Hopefully a ghost story!

You can read my review of Peach here.

Please leave a comment!


INTERVIEW: Lisa See

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

 

Today I welcome Lisa See, author of many books, including Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Absolutely. I don’t know how a writer could not be a daydreamer. We’re daydreaming all the time.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I knew three things about myself when I was growing up. I never wanted to get married, I didn’t want to have children, and I always wanted to live out of a suitcase. I took two years off from college to travel in Europe. The whole time I was wondering how I was going to make my life work the way I envisioned it and how I would be able to support myself. One morning, when I was living in Greece, I woke up and it was like a cartoon lightbulb had gone off in my head. I thought, Oh, I could be a writer! But clearly I didn’t know myself very well, because I also got married and had children. I still spend an awful lot of time living out of a suitcase though!

In one way, I was extremely fortunate with my first book. In another way, I’d already worked a very long time as a writer. To backtrack… I had worked as a journalist for many years and had been the West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly for about eight years when I started On Gold Mountain. Like I said, I’d already been working a long time as a professional writer, so people in publishing knew me and my work. (They may not have known me personally, but they read me almost every week and knew, among other things, that I could meet a deadline.) I also benefited from the success of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Publishers were actively looking for more Chinese-American stories. Amy’s agent was Sandy Dijkstra. Sandy has a great American art collection, and she helped me with some of the art sources for On Gold Mountain. After two years of work—doing interviews, traveling back to the home village, searching out what I could find in archives, and then writing the proposal—I thought that Sandy would be the perfect person to sell the idea. There was an auction—a miracle as far as I was concerned. So, hard work, timing, and good luck.

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

I was born in Paris, but I consider myself to be a fifth generation Angeleno and sixth generation Californian. My parents were traveling when I was born. I spent my first six weeks sleeping in a dresser drawer. I live in Los Angeles. I love to hike, go to movies, eat fabulous food. I love being in nature. I love to travel. Most of all, I love to spend time with my family.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I first heard about nu shu – the women’s secret writing that was invented, used by, and kept a secret by women in one small county in Hunan province for a thousand years – when I reviewed a book for the Los Angeles Times on the history of footbinding. It was just a short three- or four-page mention, but I thought, how could the secret writing exist – the only writing system to have been found anywhere in the world used exclusively by women – exist and I didn’t know about it? Then I thought, how could this exist and we all didn’t know about it? Because so often we hear that in the past, there were no women writers, artists, historians, chefs, and the list goes on and on. Of course, women did these things, but that work has been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up. Nu shu, on the other hand, was an example of something that women had invented, used, and kept a secret for a thousand years. That amazed me, and I have to say I became totally obsessed. That obsession is what led me to write Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I usually start with a seven-page outline. It has the main characters, the relationship I want to explore, the historical background, and a bit of a sense of the beginning, middle, and end. Then I start to do research. Without question, research is my favorite part of the process. I never know what I’m going to find. There are days when I’m hidden in the UCLA Research Library and I’ll come across something and think, Oh, I’ve got to use that! What this means is that the research helps build the plot. These things start to become signposts along the way. The outline begins to grow to sometimes as long as fifty or sixty pages. As I write, I’m slowly moving from major signpost to the next major signpost. In the day-to-day writing, my imagination takes over as I think about my characters moving toward that next signpost.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Rarely. But sometimes when I’m stuck I’ll task my sleep time with trying to figure out what should happen next or how to solve a plot problem. Sometimes it takes a few nights of sleep, but then one morning I’ll wake up and I’ll think, Aha! Problem solved!

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Not so much with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but it certainly happened with my most-recent novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. That book has a character named Deh-ja, who’s banished very early in the novel. After she was banished, I thought that was the end of her character. But things don’t always turn out as I plan. Years (and many chapters) later, when Li-yan, the main character, is walking to Thailand, who does she bump into? Deh-ja! That totally surprised me, but it made me very happy to see her again. Then, many years after that, when Li-yan is on the steps of the Social Welfare Institute in Menghai, who’s there? Deh-ja! Again! I was even more surprised. She wasn’t in my plot outline, and yet she kept elbowing her way into the story. As Li-yan says to her, the fact that they kept bumping into each other in the most unlikely places had to mean something. For Li-yan, that meant taking Deh-ja home with her. For me, it meant Deh-ja needed to be in the story. And for Deh-ja, it meant that her persistence had won.

Where do you write, and when?

I have an office at home. We have a beautiful garden, but my desk faces the wall because I don’t want to be distracted by the beauty outside my window. I get up early and work on my e-mail for an hour or two. Then I write 1,000 words a day. That’s only four pages. Some days I write more, but I try never to write less. I write from beginning to end without stopping to edit. Some writers won’t move forward until they get the first sentence, then the first paragraph, then the first page absolutely perfect, but I think you can spend a lot of time questioning yourself doing that. Also, if you write straight through, you allow magic – those unexpected things that pop up – to happen.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The research! I’ve gotten to travel to some really interesting places. But more than that, I just love the discovery of new things.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I’ve never had writer’s block. (And please don’t jinx me now!) That doesn’t mean that some days I don’t feel like writing or that I think what I’m writing sucks and will eventually be cut. Even when it’s going badly, I feel it’s really important to just keep writing that 1,000 words a day. This is not to say that sometimes I don’t get stuck: how am I going to physically get a character from here to there, what is the importance of an object and how does it play out in the story, why is a character behaving so badly? When these things come up, I don’t panic. I allow myself to daydream. (I find I have the best daydreaming when I walk, am stuck in traffic, or am in the shower. In other words, placed where no one can interrupt my imagining mind.) And I tell myself to let my sleeping mind figure it out.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
This is a great question, because it applies to every part of our lives. To me, the answer all boils down to keeping your heart and mind open. That means literally being open to new ideas, new artists, new art, new emotions, new—and different—everything.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Not really. I make myself a great cup of tea. I try to close out the rest of the world. (My desk facing the wall instead of the garden, as I wrote earlier). I only type with three fingers. (That’s right. Eleven books with only three fingers!) I play music as long as there are no words in it or I can’t understand the language. Geez! I guess I have rituals after all!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
I’m going to put these in alphabetical order so no one has their feelings hurt (assuming they’re still alive): Bob Dylan, E.M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, John Lennon, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nina Revoyr, Carolyn See (my mom), Wallace Stegner, Amy Tan. For my tenth favorite, I’m going to say all the other wonderful writers out there.

What do you consider to be good writing?
I love books that when you open them you step into another world, another culture, another time. A truly good writer is able to take me to those places. Great writing allows me to connect to a character who’s real or imagined. What are we doing as readers when we’re making those connections? I believe we’re thinking about what we would do in that situation. Would we rise to the occasion or fail? Would we be loyal or betray someone? What I believe we’re doing in those moments is connecting to what it means to be human. We’re connecting to this greater thing we call humanity. That to me is good writing, and it’s what I strive for in my own work.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write a thousand words a day, five days a week. That’s only four pages a day. At the end of a week, you’ll have a chapter. Write what you really care about. You need to be passionate, because it takes a long time to write a book and a lot of bumps happen along the road to publication. Love, love, love what you do.

What are you working on now?
The next novel, THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN, takes place on the island of Jeju in South Korea. Jeju is home to the haenyeo—women who free dive for up to two minutes on a single breath. The island has a matrifocal society, meaning that the culture is centered around women. It’s the women who earn money and provide for their families, while the men take care of the children, cook, and do the housework. It used to be that haenyeo retired at age fifty. Now the youngest ones are fifty! This is extremely dangerous work. The women go down sixty feet (again on a single breath) to harvest sea urchin, octopus, and abalone. When I was on Jeju, I got to interview several haenyeo who were in their eighties and nineties. The novel explores the bonds of friendship and how historic events affect people and those they love.


You can read my review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan here.

INTERVIEW: Kirsty Manning

Friday, July 06, 2018

 


Today I welcome Kirsty Manning, author of The Jade Lily, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes indeed. I think this was the most frequent comment on my school reports. It wasn’t a compliment at the time, but it has served me well over the years.
Although, my kids often stop and ask me who I’m talking to when I’m alone.
I’m often caught walking, or driving along having animated conversations with people who don’t exist.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I like to have a rough idea of the line of my story before I start. The Jade Lily is historical fiction and set in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War (WW2) so there were specific dates that had to be hit, for obvious reasons!

The book opens with Kristallnacht in Vienna and I had a very clear idea of the opening scene. I then had some specific scenes planned, plus a rough idea of how the book would end. I used Scrivener this time, and found it very helpful to map out scenes and move them around. I’ve learnt after two books I tend to write the opening, then a loose ending … then I patchwork the two storylines together. I’m never quite sure of how it will turn out, but a plod away and somewhere in the writing some magic happens to join all the dots up. It’s a delightful surprise (and a hell of a relief!) when it all comes together in the end.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
I spent time speaking with Sam Moshinsky in Melbourne, author of Goodbye Shanghai, and a Russian Jew who grew up in Shanghai’s French Concession. He was delighted to meet me over coffee and tell me about his time in Shanghai and he then went on to read a draft of the book and answer questions ranging from Jewish rituals, to the tiny minutia of life in Shanghai under the Occupation.

Sam introduced me to Horst Eisfelder, a former German refugee who spent time in the Shanghai ghetto. It turned out Horst had arrived in Shanghai on the same Italian ocean liner, Conte Verde, as my imaginary Romy … and also, his family had owned the real café in the ghetto my character Romy visits, Café Louis.

Where do you write, and when?

I have a small office—basically a corridor—that overlooks my deck and the garden. It’s like working in a glass treehouse. When I’m at the early stages, and also when I’m editing, I like to work here as it is filled with reference books and it is easy to access the bookshelf.

When I start a book, the office is impeccable. During the last draft and editing, you can hardly see the desk or floor as it is covered in scrawled notes and annotated pages.

I write during school hours for the initial drafts, then in a mad frenzy whenever it is close to submission. I always promise myself that I won’t work right up to the deadline like a crazy person, but I always do.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I do feel full of self-doubt at times. I worry I’ll never find a satisfactory path to the end of the novel. But I’ve learned there is no divine inspiration involved. For me the key is discipline.

I avoid being blocked because I sit down and treat writing a novel like the job it is … just as if I were required to submit an article when I was a freelance writer. I give myself a task every day, or word count, and I methodically work away at it. Some days are better than others

It helps when I start on the book to dive in and stick at it until I nut out the characters. I’m always dreaming about my novel, and talking to myself trying to figure out how to make it work. Much of the work is done when you are doing other things, like driving, weeding and cleaning. Sounds mad, but true!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Reading widely, walking and gardening.

I love being in my garden, doing hard physical work. It forces me to slow down. Gardening is a little like writing in some ways—it’s not instant results. You have to have an idea, and break it down to plant out or weed section by section. It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you try and do it all at once.

In my writing, I try to capture that old-school idea of how plants can uplift us and create something special.

I adore being in different landscapes, and I’m always peeking at gardens down lane ways and over fences when I travel. I just can’t help myself. Plants and landscape really inspire me every day.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Oh, that’s tough. I love writers across a range of genres. In no particular order: Geraldine Brooks, A.S. Byatt, Michelle de Kretser, Jodi Picoult, Michael Robotham, Richard Flanagan, Ian McEwan, Harper Lee, Richard Ford, Kate Grenville and Isabel Allende. That’s eleven, but seriously … who would you cut from that list?

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

1. Read widely. Most writers I know are great readers across every genre, not just the area they write in. I read biography, historical fiction, commercial, literary fiction, poetry and crime. Study how great writers perfect their craft and then step away and find a way to make it your own.

2. Be disciplined and do the work. There are very few writers who have the story just pour from their fingertips. Most rewrite and re-work and massage until it is ‘just so!’ It will likely take far more time, and far more re-writing than you expected.

3. Learn the craft. There are so many amazing writing courses around, along with online writing communities. Try both, if you can.

4. Write what you love. Writing is a long game. Chances are you will spend years lost in the story and characters. So don’t write what you think you should, write what you love because you will spend a hell of a lot of time with this story every day. (Dare I use the word, obsessed?)

5. If your children are old enough, teach them to cook. Trust me, meal prep can be time-consuming and you can buy yourself an extra hour of writing time while they get busy in the kitchen. My kids enjoy planning meals, especially in the holidays. Extra points if they can do all the housework too.

What are you working on now?
My third novel, with a dual timeframe narrative. This one centres on another forgotten corner of history, and tries to solve a centuries-old mystery.

I’ll be exploring themes of truth, beauty, globalisation and identity. Sounds very Keatsian, doesn’t it? My readers will expect a couple of exotic destinations, a generational conundrum, lovely gardens and some mouth-watering food. I’m doing my best to research it all now. Particularly the food. I always start to cook the dishes of the countries I am writing about. I like to lose myself in the scents, the textures, the rituals … it is all part of the process.


You can read my review of The Jade Lily here.

Please leave a comment!


INTERVIEW: Ann Cleeves

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


 

Today I welcome Ann Cleeves, author of Raven Black, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Not so much a daydreamer as an observer. I love watching people and finding new places that might become a part of the book.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I've always wanted to write, which is a little bit different. It never occurred to me that I might get published, and I was astonished when my first book was accepted for publication.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Herefordshire, a rural county in the rural Midlands, but we moved to North Devon when I was still a child. My father was a village school teacher. I live on the North East coast now, in Vera-land. I love this part of the country, the big skies and empty landscape.

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

Are we talking Raven Black? I first went to Shetland more than forty years ago. I'd dropped out of university and quite by chance was offered a job as assistant cook in the bird observatory in Fair Isle, the most remote Shetland island. The book came much later, though. My husband was a passionate birdwatcher and we went to Shetland to see a rare bird. It was mid-winter, dark and it had snowed. Then the sun came up and it was a beautiful still clear day. There were ravens, very black against the snow. Because I'm a crime writer, I thought, if there were blood as well, the scene would look almost mythic.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, I don't usually remember dreams.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
No.

Where do you write, and when?
I write early in the morning at the kitchen table.

What is your favourite part of writing?
I like the very first ideas and sketching them out, but I enjoy editing my own work too, once I have the structure in place, trying to make the language sing.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Go for long walks. Long train journeys are very good too.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Inspiration is easy. Turning the inspiration into 100,000 words that people might want to read is the tricky bit.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read a lot. Eavesdrop. Get to the end of the book before you start re-writing and tweaking.

What are you working on now?
A new series. I'm not quite ready to talk about it!


You can read my review of Raven Black here.

Ann and Kate will be appearing at the Bendigo Writers Festival in 2018.

INTERVIEW: Christine Wells

Wednesday, June 13, 2018



Today I welcome Christine Wells, author of The Juliet Code, to the blog.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
While in the process of researching The Traitor's Girl, which was about World War II spies, I came across the story of Noor Inayat Khan. Noor was a wireless operator who worked for the British Special Operations Executive in occupied Paris during World War II. Everyone thought she was too gentle to survive such dangerous conditions but she managed to elude the Germans and operate effectively for months until she was betrayed. When German counterintelligence kept her prisoner in a mansion in Paris she made several attempts to escape and fought her captors so viciously that they deemed her a dangerous prisoner and kept her handcuffed in solitary confinement.

I wanted to tell a story about an unlikely spy, a woman who is flawed and makes mistakes, but who struggles and ultimately prevails.

How extensively did you plan The Juliet Code?
For this novel, I began with the premise, the inciting incident and an idea of the key turning points, but I didn’t plan Juliet extensively. In fact, it took a different direction from the one I intended when I began.

What were some of the major challenges and obstacles that you overcame while writing this book?

A major challenge for me was getting my head around ciphers and coding—in particular, the Playfair Cipher used by the Special Operations Executive during the war—and trying to then simplify and explain the process in the book. I didn’t want to let The Juliet Code get bogged down in detail because first and foremost, readers are interested in the story. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.

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

I was keen to match up an SAS officer with a former Special Operations Executive agent in The Juliet Code but at the time I began the book I didn’t realise that the Nazi officer on whom I based the character of Kieffer had not only incarcerated Noor Inayat Khan but he had also ordered a group of SAS paratroopers to be executed and their identities obliterated in a manner contrary to the Geneva Convention. One SAS man escaped execution and it seemed a perfect way to give Mac, the SAS officer, a personal stake in hunting Kieffer after the war.

I love the covers of your books. Do you get much of a say in how they’re designed?
I hear from readers that they love my covers and I feel very lucky because I don’t have much say in their design. I might give a physical description of the protagonist but that’s about the only input I have before the cover is sent to me. I am then able to comment but I haven’t felt the need to ask for changes in the three I’ve had with Penguin. The cover artist has done a wonderful job every time.

What are some of your favourite books that you’ve read recently?
Most recently, I read and loved Sally Hepworth’s The Family Next Door, a suburban mystery along the lines of Liane Moriarty’s books with that fine balance of sharp insight, humour and gut-wrenching sadness. I also enjoyed Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, a thriller featuring a female barrister protagonist that I thought extremely well researched and authentic.

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books?
I absolutely love Of Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War by Leo Marks — Marks is a delightful storyteller who inspired the character of Felix in The Juliet Code. I totally fell in love with Leo when I read this memoir. I also devour Ben McIntyre’s rollicking tales of espionage and special forces, such as Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends.

Do you listen to music as you write, and if so, what?
I only listen to music as I write if I’m finding it difficult to block out other noise, and then I listen to Mozart.

Can you tell us more about your Author’s Note, and your true-life inspirations for Juliet, Felix and Mac?

I’ve spoken a little about the inspiration for Juliet above. As I’ve mentioned also, Juliet’s love interest, Felix Mortimer, is based on Leo Marks who was in charge of decoding wireless transmissions for the British Special Operations Executive during World War II. He wrote a poem for the agent Odette Sansom to use as a cipher key, called ‘The Life that I Have” which later became famous. He was the son of the owners of the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road (made famous by a novel of that name) and after the war he became a playwright and scriptwriter.

My tough Scottish SAS captain, Steve Mcintyre (“Mac”) was inspired by a real SAS paratrooper who escaped the Nazis by using his watch spring to pick the lock on his handcuffs. I so admired the mix of supreme toughness, strategy and guile of the SAS men in World War II that I knew I had to write about one of these extraordinary men. Mac also serves as a foil to the more intellectual heroism Felix shows.


You can read my review of The Juliet Code here.

INTERVIEW: Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018

 

Today I welcome Leife Shallcross author of The Beast's Heart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Ohhhhh yes. Incorrigible. I think it's a really important part of being a storyteller! My desire to write stories is absolutely rooted in the (possibly excessive) daydreaming I indulged in as a kid. I can even remember the moment I decided to try turning my daydreams into actual stories! That yearning to escape into a daydream is what drives all my stories and underpins my reading choices. I still daydream all the time - and, in fact, I've discovered recently just how important it is that I make time in my life for daydreaming (having a book published soaks up your spare time in a thousand different ways and I'm only just realising how much I need to protect that precious "quiet time" for my dreaming mind.)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Part of me certainly always did. I still have a bunch of stapled-together stories I wrote and illustrated as a child, and, as I said, I've always indulged in daydreaming. In high school I had a wonderful English teacher (the Australian poet, John Foulcher) who ran creative writing classes after school. That was when I realised how much I was in love with words and when I really started wanting to "be a writer". I came from a generation that weren't encouraged to consider artistic pursuits as serious careers, however, so it was very much only a hobby for me until my mid-thirties. I also took a long time to realise exactly what it was I wanted to write. I kept waiting to grow up and start writing "serious" literature. So at age 35 or thereabouts, I suddenly worked out fairy tales were my jam, I didn't want to write anything else, and, dammit, I was going to give writing them for publication a red hot go. I've been extremely fortunate in my publication journey and, by way of a happy ending, my English teacher turned up at my book launch in April! It was really thrilling to be able to see him and tell him how much I owed to his early inspiration.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I am a Canberran born and bred. I've live here most of my life, and I love it. Right now autumn has just finished; that's my favourite season and when the city is shown to its best advantage. There are beautiful autumn colours everywhere. Mornings can be cold and grey, but usually by 10.30 you get blue skies and glorious sunshine. I did live in London for a little while after I finished university, working as a nanny and soaking up as much as I could of the London atmosphere as I could and travelling around the UK. I think London is my favourite city. I would definitely love to go back and spend some more time there. When I'm not writing, I love baking, especially baking to share. And I'm one of those people who is not good at sitting still without having my hands busy. So if I'm watching TV with my kids, I tend to be doing something crafty at the same time - quilting or needlepoint mostly.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I started writing it long, long before I ever thought I had a hope of being published, and I just wanted a way to lose myself in one of my favourite fairy tales. So the Beast's chateau and gardens were probably the first "character" that really crystalised for me , as I created a fairy tale world to just go and live in for a little while. The rest of it grew from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I'm still working that out! I've found different stories require different levels of pre-planning, although I naturally tend to sit more on the wing-it end of the spectrum.

Where do you write, and when?
I still have a day job (which is currently pretty demanding), so I like to get up early and write for an hour or so before the rest of my family gets up and the day starts. I try to spend bigger chunks of time on my WIPs on weekends and I've just started taking myself on a writing date at lunchtime at least once a fortnight. Then I snatch any other bits and pieces of time to write as I can.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Those times when a scene just explodes into being in your head and just runs like a movie and your fingers almost can't keep up a typing speed fast enough to catch it all. They're rare, and the bits in between can be a bit of a slog, but, God, those moments are so good.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I try and write my next novel! Going for a long walk, a run or a decent drive in the car often helps. Recently I've been working on synopses for a couple of my works-in-progress - this is a great exercise for distilling down the book to its purest essentials and clarifying exactly what it is you are trying to write. I also use music a lot to help me channel the mood for particular scenes.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read! Or consume stories via TV or movies - not zone-out TV, it's gotta be quality story-telling and brimming with vibrant characters. Good screen-based story telling can teach you a lot about how to tell a tale. I also love throwing myself into research. That's always a good way of finding things that spark the imagination. I have a tendency to get lost down research rabbit holes, but that's half the fun, isn't it?

Immersing myself in art is always wonderful for inspiration. I feel like there's two kinds of inspiration. Firstly, there's direct inspiration, where something lights a spark that starts all sorts of fires for your story. And then there's general inspiration, which doesn't necessarily give you any particular ideas, but is useful for helping you get back to the grindstone when things are challenging. Immersing myself in other people's art can give me that direct inspiration I need for new ideas, but often it's just seeing what human creativity is capable of and remembering it takes hard work and reigniting my determination to be part of that endeavour to create beautiful things.

What do you consider to be good writing?
My favourite kind of stories are the ones that sweep you away into a whole other world and, when you stop reading, you want to just find your way back. Someone asked me once to describe what it is I do without using the word that describes it (ie, "writer"), and I said I create portals to magical worlds where people can lose themselves for a little while.

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

1. Just write whatever it is that you love to write. Don't try and fit some preconceived notion of what you should be writing.
2. If you really want to write for publication, find your writing community. You will learn so much from other writers - about writing as well as about the industry. A good place to start is by joining your local Writers Centre.

What are you working on now?
I have a couple of projects on the go. First is another YA fantasy, but less of a historical retelling and more of a steampunk action adventure. This one borrows from Cinderella, but my Cinderella has faked her father's death to save him from his disastrous marriage to the evil stepmother, and then becomes embroiled in trying to foil a dastardly plot that threatens the throne. The second of my WIP is the beginning of a series set in 18th Century London and involves runaway heiresses, dissolute viscounts, magic and murder. So much fun!

You can read my review of The Beast's Heart here.

INTERVIEW: Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

Today I welcome Emma Viskic, author of And Fire Came Down, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My tendency to daydream was mentioned frequently in my primary school report cards, and I haven’t grown out of it since then. I’m particularly prone to daydreaming when I’m doing mundane things like cooking, so I’ve bought myself an electric kettle, coffee maker and rice cooker to try and make things a little safer. Unfortunately I still manage to burn tea towels on a regular basis.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could read, but never really imaged I could be a writer when I was a child. Writers lived in places like Britain or America and always seemed to be men. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began writing with a view to possibly getting published. I wrote two never-to-be-published full length manuscripts before I wrote Resurrection Bay.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I grew up on the fringes of Melbourne with my brother, sister and parents. It was a pretty free-range childhood, without much money, but with plenty to do. I went to the local schools, then went on to study classical clarinet at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in The Netherlands. These days I live in inner Melbourne with my family, dog and chickens. I spend a bit of my down time bushwalking and bike riding, and a lot of it reading.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
And Fire Came Down deals with the aftermath of trauma, and a lot of its inspiration came from scar trees. There are still quite a few scar trees in Victoria, the scars on their trunks showing where Indigenous people removed bark to create canoes and vessels. I’ve been drawn to them ever since my father-in-law, a Gunditjmara elder, showed me one over twenty years ago. The idea of the bark growing inwards to protect, but not erase, the wound is one that resonated strongly with me, as it was a difficult time in my life. When it came to writing And Fire Came Down, it felt natural to use a scar tree as a metaphor for pain and healing.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I never pre-plan, but spend a lot of time plotting as I go. I tend to begin with a few significant scenes in mind, which act like sign posts. I know I have to get to those scenes, I’m just not sure how. This way of plotting involves a lot of rewriting, but all my efforts to pre-plot have failed miserably.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but 3 am does bring me a lot of plot ideas. They usually turn out to be terrible ones in the bright light of day, but occasionally they’re exactly what I need. I always keep a pen and paper under my pillow in case inspiration really does strike.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Nothing serendipitous, but I discovered a lot about myself! I’m always surprised at how much my subconscious runs the writing process. Every time I read over a finished piece I realise that it’s been working away in the background, pushing me in directions I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Where do you write, and when?

I work part-time and have a family so every day has its own pattern. I sublease a writing studio a few days a week, otherwise I write on the living room couch, with my dog, Otto, by my feet. If I need to escape my family, I go into the bedroom. I usually start writing around 8. I do my best work before lunch, so the morning hours are precious. After lunch my brain powers down, so I write in short busts to try and keep focused. I used to write late into the night but I struggle with insomnia so I’ve got a computer off at 9:30 rule now. Except when I’m on a tight deadline. Or on a real roll. Or have one more idea...

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love writing dialogue and the actual work of crafting sentences. There’s also a special moment in every manuscript when I’m able to slip into my character’s minds. It’s wonderful when I manage to get lost in their world, even when it’s not a great place for them.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Moving is pretty much the only way for me to shake ideas loose. I’ll go for a walk or a run, or even do housework if I’m really desperate. The worst thing I can do is sit in front of the computer. As a classical musician, I find it hard not to keep trying to push through, but I’ve learnt that time away from the computer is an important part of the process.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I read and go to plays and exhibitions, watch TV and eavesdrop shamelessly. Public transport is one of the best places to get inspiration for a character or story. I never listen to music when I’m on the train – there are too many great conversations to overhear.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Coffee before, coffee during, coffee after.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Oh this is a hard question. I can’t do an exclusive top ten, but a few of my favourites are Elizabeth Strout, Vikram Seth, Peter Temple, Kate Atkinson, Raymond Chandler, Kazuo Ishiguro, John le Carré, Annie Proulx, Don Delillo and Hilary Mantel.

What do you consider to be good writing?

There are so many different aspects to good writing. It can be poetic sentences, or a story that makes me think, writing that draws me into a character’s head, or dialogue so real I can ‘hear’ it.

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

Nothing you read or write is ever wasted. It’s like practising scales: every word you write and every word you read makes you a better writer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the third novel in the Caleb Zelic series, Darkness For Light. It will be out in 2019.

You can read my review of And Fire Came Down here.

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.

INTERVIEW: Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 

Today I welcome Holly Ringland, author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Oh, yes. Daydreaming has been an escape and salvation throughout my life, like books. I had a boyfriend once, when I was younger, who’s favourite criticism of me was that I always had my head in the clouds, in 'Holly-land'. It’s taken twenty-something years for me to realise what a gift an active imagination is; to be able to daydream, and wonder, and ponder is the best way I know to enrich our interior lives.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Ever since I was a child. My mum taught me to read when I was three (thank you, Mama!) and it was then that I first grasped an understanding of what an author was. It was Sungglepot and Cuddlepie that did it. Lately, Mum has been joyfully recalling how, aged three, I walked out of my bedroom clutching my May Gibbs books and announced with great ceremony I was going to grow up and be like her. I don’t remember ever knowing anything else about myself so surely: I have always wanted to be a writer.

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

I was born in Gladstone, Queensland. Now, I live between Manchester, England, with my English partner, Sam, and the Gold Coast hinterland, Queensland, with my parents who very kindly share their home with me as my base when I’m, in Australia. It’s heaven. Three acres, Mum’s garden, and our three dogs. I feel so incredibly lucky every time I get on the plane here or there. I love to read, write, garden, cook, hike, swim in salt water, travel, and be with people I love.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
It’s strange feeling that rises when I think about what my answer is. This is my first book and so, in some ways, it feels like this story has been brewing in me all my life. The genesis of this novel was trauma. I’ve lived with male perpetrated violence for a lot of my life, which silenced my voice, courage and the dream of being a writer I’ve had since I was a child. In 2012, I started a PhD in Creative Writing. I used my research to look at the relationship between traumatic experience and the process of writing fiction. It was through this research that I discovered Tom Spanbauer’s concept of ‘dangerous writing’, which is the idea of going into the sore place we all have inside of us, and writing from that place; using fiction as the lie that tells the truth. I realised that I’d never written from the sore place. If anything, I’d written around it, aside it, in spite of it. Never from it. So, my research became my own call to arms, but threw up all kinds of questions for me. What would become of me and my life if I wrote the thing I was most scared to write? What story would emerge, and how might it live in other people’s hearts, if it ever saw the light of day? What else can trauma be made into, other than unrememberable memories? These kinds of questions are why I wrote The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I handwrote the first 11,000 words of Lost Flowers in May, 2014; they poured out, and then dried up. I knew enough to know not to force it, and to take care of my mental health (I was bereaved at the time) so I stepped away from writing prose to focus instead on daydreaming. You were such a force for good in teaching me this, Kate. I did that for about 14 months – vividly dreaming the story to life – before I returned to writing in August 2015. I wrote the 100,000-word first draft in the following three months, finishing at the end of October. I didn’t plan it extensively, but while I was gathering and developing the story in my mind I did uncover major skeletal bones before I went near my keyboard. I’ve learned about myself that I can’t write blind to find where I'm going… when I’ve done that in the past I just end up writing hundreds of thousands of unnecessary words, trying to find my way. I believe nothing is wasted, all of those words got me to where I needed to be, but writing is enough of a leap of faith as it is, I don’t need extra fodder for the anxieties and doubts in my mind. I find writing to be more joyful when I know vaguely where I’m going in the story, versus writing through darkness to find my way.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In the past, I have. Usually I’m driven to write by the kind of dreams that are so potent and so vivid that they don’t leave you alone the next day. They haunt me with their realness, even if they’re not frightening in nature. They’re the dreams I know I can only exorcise by writing them out.

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

Many. Writing Lost Flowers changed my life in innumerable ways.

Where do you write, and when?
If I’m not in a project, but am free-writing, I will write whenever and wherever I can. Like, a café, or a library, or a hotel room, or my Mum’s kitchen table. When I’m in a project, I need a base camp, like my office, where I can pick up and leave off and pick up what I’m working on, on a daily basis. I seemed to need that stability when writing Lost Flowers. Maybe the process will be different with my next work. Sometimes the creative process is a wonderful mystery!

What is your favourite part of writing?
The daydreaming and the researching and the connecting and the imagining. I can’t get enough of that time when everything is possible. Also, I love observing how my natural response to being in that phase means that I physically embodying the story. While I was writing it, Lost Flowers spilled over into all areas of my life, which is no bad thing! My wardrobe has never contained so many florals/birds/butterflies/books motifs. Our dreams are worth working hard to honour and enjoy. And embodied, if we so like.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I step away from the keyboard and deliberately redirect myself to spend time with my imagination in a gentle way. I deliberately make space and time to do other things that feed my senses, like going to a plant nursery and getting into the garden, or, I go to the art gallery and sit to look at the corners of paintings where the details are, or I go to a stationery shop (because the smell alone of crayons and pencils and paper can be enough to cause a shift), and I carry a notebook and pen just in case. But I keep a close ear to my inner self talk and storytelling and make sure the loop tape that is play is kind. Self-flagellation and writing don’t work for me. My writing blocks are nearly always connected to anxiety so when I’m blocked, I know my mind needs compassion and I’m learning how best to respond.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I really believe in the adage, input is output. If my output is thin, I know it’s time to go foraging. I take my cues from bowerbirds, except rather than gathering to dazzle and impress a mate, I gather to dazzle and impress myself. Whether it’s going for a slow walk in the golden hour and taking photos, or cooking something delectable no matter how long it takes or the mess it makes, or doing yoga with candles, or wearing red lipstick, or listening to live music, or travelling to a place I haven’t been before, I find inspiration by feeding my mind things that awaken my sense of wonder.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

If possible, I burn essential oils and make the space I’m writing as aesthetically lush and bright as I can. That doesn’t only mean having a space near natural light, or a vase of fresh flowers on my desk, or a stack of the books of that most inspire me but also having evocative writing tools within reach, like a notebook with sumptuous creamy pages, or a pen with glossy black ink. I need both analogue and digital. Sometimes I work in silence, but most often I listen to classical music, or soundtracks, whatever it is, it has to be music without lyrics.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Alice Hoffman, Brooke Davis, Myf Jones, Favel Parrett, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kate Forsyth, Inga Simpson, Zora Neale Hurston, Eliza Henry-Jones and Anthony Doerr.

What do you consider to be good writing?

To be frank, writing that I take with me to pee. If I can’t bear to be away from something I’m reading for those ten seconds, I know it’s good. When I was writing Lost Flowers and I was asked what kind of book I wanted to write, my instinctual answer was, something readers can’t put down, but then when I thought about what that actually looked like for me, it was the book you take with you to pee. But also cook, or fold laundry, or do anything that requires you should technically put down your book, but you just simply cannot.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
You are braver than self-doubt will have you know.
Give yourself the love and kindness you didn’t receive.
The answers can always be found in books.
Fear will never go away, it’s part of the process. Offer it a seat, buckle it up, give it an iPad to watch, and get in the driver’s seat. This is your road trip; fear doesn’t get to dictate where you go.
Your first draft is perfect, it only has to exist: you can’t edit a blank page.

What are you working on now?

I’m daydreaming to life the bones of my next novel. At the very beginning of gathering and researching. Protecting the seeds before they sprout. It’s the most delicious time.


You can read my review of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

INTERVIEW: Juliet Grey

Friday, May 18, 2018

 

Today I welcome Juliet Grey, author of Becoming Marie Antoinette, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
I’ve always been a daydreamer. I daydream even when I’m walking down the street. And when I’m in a place I don’t want to be, even in a city I don’t want to be living in, it gets me through the day. Being an actress as well as a writer, I live inside my head a lot.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, although I have writers on both sides of my family and my paternal grandfather always encouraged my writing when I was a little girl. He was a humorist and a poet and taught me various poetic forms (such as the limerick, sonnet, and ballade – I was a huge fan of Cyrano de Bergerac): I began life as a professional actress, which is what I have also been for years as I pursued writing as an additional career. I find that each discipline feeds the other. And I also narrate audiobooks, so that marries both careers splendidly.

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

I was born in New York City and that will always be my home no matter where I live. The soot of the subway is embedded in my veins. Central Park is my spiritual plot. I live in Denver now, because that’s where my husband got a terrific job; but I am not terribly outdoorsy—not a hiker, biker, or skier, and the thin air just isn’t for me. I don’t know whether it’s a chicken and egg thing, as I write historical books (fiction and nonfiction) I’m drawn to old places or whether it’s the other way around; but I love exploring the oldest part of a city and walking in the footsteps of those who have been there before me. I never met a museum I didn’t like. I love to travel to old cities like Bath and Venice and hunt around for the untouched bits where I imagine people in period costumes will emerge from ancient buildings. I love water, too. I am inspired by looking at the sea, or by rivers. The view calms my soul.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I was writing a chapter on Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI for NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, my second nonfiction book on the loves and lives of European royalty, and I was so struck by how young they both were (she only 14; he, 15) when they were forced into a loveless marriage as so many royal marriages were, by what was ostensibly an international peace treaty between France and the Austrian empire—entities that had been enemies for more than 950 years. And these 2 teens were expected to make a go of it and cement a national friendship? From the start, it was clear that these two children were caught in a web of events not of their own making and that were so much larger than them; and moreover, that their lives, especially Marie Antoinette’s –the foreigner in France, the “other” from the start—were so propagandized and distorted—and that was the story of them that has been handed down through the past several centuries as fact that I felt compelled to tell their story. Their true story. And the only way I felt I could do that was by writing historical fiction so I could get inside the characters’ heads and hearts and minds and souls, while still sticking to the historical record.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I tend to be a bit more of a pantser because I become impatient to start writing already! That said, I take extensive handwritten notes; I research my books for several months before I begin writing, and when I’m writing a novel based on someone’s life I know what the arc of the story will be and where I want it to end, or where it has to end, but I have to plan where the breaks will be (chapter breaks, and for the Marie Antoinette trilogy, what will be in each of the 3 novels themselves). With my historical novels I am extremely keen to get the details right. I try to locate portraits of the characters so I know what they really looked like (it drives me crazy in TV or movie versions where the creators didn’t even bother to cast actors who resemble their real-life counterparts: it takes me right out of the story!). And I have a strict rule for my own writing: if it did happen or could have happened, it’s fair game for inclusion in the novel. If it never could have happened, I would never play fast and loose with the historical record. I will add an author’s note at the back of the book explaining where I may have truncated a timeline, for example. But I will not move a major battle for the sake of expedience and therefore alter history; or have a character survive when we know he or she was executed, just to provide them with a happy ending!

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I’m sure I do; I just can’t think of any examples right now. I always hope that a convenient dream will help me out of a stick plot situation that I can’t seem to fix in my waking hours!

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Marie Antoinette actually had to undergo an extensive physical “makeover” in order to be considered physically attractive enough to be a suitable bride for the Dauphin of France, the grandson of the reigning monarch, Louis XV. The match was arranged when she was only 10 years old and after the French received a portrait of her, the king dispatched a hairdresser to Vienna; a dentist, Pierre Laveran, was sent to straighten her teeth (18th c. orthodontia!) a dancing master was hired to teach Marie Antoinette all the court dances she would need to know in France, a tutor was hired to cram academics through her brain; and Empress Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette’s mother, made the miscalculation to hire a pair of actors (!!) to train her youngest daughter in elocution. Actors—as we all know—were the second lowest life forms for centuries (only a step above beggars and prostitutes). With my mania for adhering to the historical record, I researched and found, then used in the novel, the names of each of the men who were actually involved in Marie Antoinette’s makeover. When it came to the actors, these two Frenchmen were performing with a troupe in Vienna. I had their actual names, but knew little more, so I began to ascribe fictional personalities to them. Then I delved deeper and discovered that one of the actors had been a vicomte in France but had fallen madly in love with an actress and gave up his cushy life and title to marry her and become an itinerant player! The real backstory was heaps better than what I’d invented for him!

Where do you write, and when?

I always write in my home office, which is another bedroom in our apartment. So far, except for brief periods when I’ve been moving and been between apartments (in corporate housing where I didn’t have a separate room to write in), I’ve had, as Virginia Woolf declared of paramount importance, “a room of one’s own.” It’s my sacred space with many of my bookshelves (the rest of the bookshelves are in our living room; I own about 2000 volumes). I need light and air. And wherever we move, I tend to let the room itself tell me how it wants to be decorated. It’s been different in each city. I write like a shark moves. It has to keep swimming or die. I must keep writing or die. Any and all times of day, 7 days a week, except for the middle of the night. I have no specific times of day, or days of the week when I write.

What is your favourite part of writing?

When the ideas are flowing and I am not “thinking about writing.” I adore researching. I love writing dialogue for characters and getting inside their minds. I am not one of those writers who loves editing.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Go to a museum. Change my view/the scenery. Bake. Do needlework (I learned when I played Jane Austen in a two-character play that she did the same thing until an idea came to her again). Act. Something else that is creative or viewing the creativity of others often unblocks my creative issues.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
See the question above! And travel! I love to travel.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

If I am writing something historical I like to collect totems that belonged to, or remind me of the characters or the era in which I am writing; scented candles, period-appropriate music. When I wrote a novel about Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson, I had their autographs sitting by my computer, as well as a bust of Nelson that had been made from metal melted down from his flagship, the Foudroyant.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

I am only going to name deceased writers because they are the ones who inspired me as a child and as a young woman, and whose work I loved performing—and also because it’s also a loaded question to ask an author who hates to discuss her colleagues’ work. I never name any living colleagues on a “best of” list because there are invariably those who wonder why their names are not on it.

William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, Antoine de St. Exupéry, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway, Molière, A.A. Milne.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that takes me on a journey. Writing that has a strong, unique author’s “voice” that sounds like no other “voice”. Complex, nuanced characters. Atmosphere that is a character in itself. Writing that makes me think, feel, question, and that I remember long after I close the book.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write. And if you are serious about getting published, get a literary agent. And write.

What are you working on now?

Promoting my current nonfiction title, AMERICAN PRINCESS: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. It’s been a whirlwind. I had only 1 month to write and deliver the manuscript; then we went into edits and copyedits, and promotion. After the royal wedding, I will need a nap!

You can read my review of Becoming Marie Antoinette here.


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