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INTERVIEW: Josephine Moon

Friday, May 25, 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How extensively do you plan your novels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

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

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

What do you consider to be good writing?

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

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

You can read my review of Three Gold Coins here.

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.

INTERVIEW: Natasha Lester

Friday, May 11, 2018



Today I welcome Natasha Lester, author of The Paris Seamstress, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes! I always have been. My daydreams were somewhat dramatic when I was younger, and spurred on by whatever I was reading - when reading Little Women, for instance, I daydreamed about having a sister who died; when reading What Katie Did I daydreamed about breaking my back and lying in bed for months on end. Thank goodness none of it actually happened to me, but I think my daydreaming habit is part of what made me want to be a writer – it’s the chance to, through words and stories, always be living another life besides your own as you write each book.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Another yes! My mum has kept lots of little books and stories and poems that I wrote when I was younger. I was always writing or reading and I dreamed of one day being able to do, with words, what other writers had done for me: sweep me away to another world for a few hours.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I live in Perth and was born in Perth; I’ve lived in London and Melbourne too but Perth is definitely home. I love to read - of course! - and I also love to drink tea, go to yoga, go for long walks by the water, cuddle my gorgeous children, travel and collect vintage fashion.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I had the first flash of inspiration for The Paris Seamstress when watching the documentary, Dior & I, about Raf Simons’ tenure as Creative Director of the House of Dior. While watching the movie, I had a vision of a mother and daughter working together in a Parisian atelier and, while it took me months to work out who they were and what their stories might be, the seed for The Paris Seamstress was sown in that movie theatre.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I don’t! I write a synopsis for my publisher and then I throw that away and start writing. I have tried to plan but it just doesn’t work for me; I can’t see the story in advance of writing it. I have to feel my way into it by getting the characters onto the page, by getting to know them, by letting them show me what the story actually is.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Rarely, but I had a very vivid dream that prompted the contemporary storyline in The Paris Seamstress. Up until that point, the book had been just a historical novel but I dreamed one night about a new character, the main character Estella’s granddaughter in fact, and it was so vivid and so compelling I had to get up at four in the morning and write it all down. It was the most productive sleepless night I’ve ever had!

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Yes! When I began writing The Paris Seamstress, Estella, the main character, was going to be a traditional seamstress. But I went to Paris to research the book and a tour guide took me to an atelier where they practice the traditional métier of artificial flower making.

If you’ve ever seen a picture in a magazine of a Christian Dior or a Chanel gown in particular, you’ll notice that they’re often decorated with flowers. Haute couture has eight traditional métiers and flower making is one of them and the process was so fascinating that, as I sat in the atelier watching the women work, I knew Estella would have to do that same thing in my book. I went to New York after Paris and visited The Met, which always has a fabulous costume exhibition. Their exhibition that year was on the traditional haute couture métiers and featured an extensive collections of dresses featuring flower-work. The universe was definitely telling me it had to be Estella’s job!

What is your favourite part of writing?
Rewriting. I do love the flow of the first draft once I get to about 50,000 words. But because I am an inveterate pantser, I find first drafts quite scary as I never know if the story will work out. With redrafting, I have the story there and all I need to do is make it into the best possible version, which is a process I much prefer.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Because I only write in school hours (I have three young kids), I never have enough time to write so I never get blocked. If I’m facing a tough scene and I don’t know how to write it, I’ll go for a walk or go to yoga. Quiet thinking time, while doing something meditative like walking or swimming or yoga or even washing the dishes, is the best way to solve story problems.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, AS Byatt, Dorothy Dunnett, Kate Atkinson, Joan Didion, Hilary Mantel, Paula McLain, Shirley Hazzard

What do you consider to be good writing?
When you forget you’re reading a book and feel as if you’re actually living in the world of the story.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t give up! Dani Shapiro calls this, more elegantly, endurability. It means that you have to write for the love of writing itself, not for anything else. That love will sustain you through all the highs and lows and thorough the long years it takes to both write a book and have it published. If you give up, you just never know what might be around the corner, and you should never give up on something you love.

What are you working on now?
A book called The French Photographer, which is inspired by Lee Miller, a Vogue model turned photojournalist in WWII. She was an incredible woman and while my book isn’t strictly based on all the events of her life, my main character is heavily influenced by Lee’s work.


You can read my review of The Paris Seamstress here.

INTERVIEW: Lauren Chater

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

 

Today I welcome Lauren Chater, author of The Lace Weaver, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?

I’ve always been a daydreamer. When I was a child, I would make up songs and spells out of nonsense words just to see whether they ‘fit’ together. Reading books gave me permission to turn my daydreams into something more focussed and I would happily get lost for hours in stories by Enid Blyton and Ethel Turner during the school holidays. As I’ve gotten older, I actually think my capacity to daydream has increased to the point where I will very often have to ask someone to repeat a question because I’m still thinking about a story idea or something I’ve read. My husband finds it annoying but thankfully he’s learned to live with it and I’ve learned to stop apologising. It’s the writer’s curse (and blessing).

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I often dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid, but it wasn’t something I took seriously until I had my son when at 28 years of age. It was more of a hobby, something I dabbled in now and then. Now I look back on all those wasted years and think, ‘what was I doing? I could have been honing my craft!’ The truth is, though, that I was gaining life experience in my twenties – traveling, falling in love, falling out of love, making friends and then losing them, living in a unit the size of a shoebox and one which was a veritable roach motel, getting married and trying to forge a corporate career and having babies. I didn’t realise it at the time but all those experiences have helped me understand more about myself and others and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I need to imagine what life must be like for one of my characters, I have a wealth of experience to draw on. After I made the decision to try my hand at writing novels, I did a lot of courses (many of them yours!) and I’m also going back to uni this year to complete my Masters in Creative Writing so I think my path is set now. Writers don’t just write; they live in the moment and observe. So I like to think that’s what I was doing all those years I wasn’t putting pen to paper.

How did you get the First Flash of inspiration for this book?
The idea for this book came to me as I was shelving books at my local library (where I was working at the time). I was in the craft section and a book called Knitted Estonian Lace caught my eye. I was intrigued enough by the title to pull it down and have a quick skim through. What I read there – the brief history of a little Baltic country which had been occupied by first the Russians then the Nazi’s during WW2 and the tradition of knitting lacy shawls which was passed down from mother to child, convinced me that there was a story waiting to be told. As I did more research into the terrible atrocities that were committed by the Soviets in the Baltic states, I began to wonder if the shawls could be a voice for the women who were oppressed. It seemed to me to be a topic which was worth exploring and writing about.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I would like to say ‘a lot’ but the truth is that I’m quite an organic storyteller. I don’t like to know all my character’s secrets – I prefer them to be revealed to me as the story unfolds, at least in the first draft. My method is sketchy at best; I start by researching and allowing my mind to circle lots of different possible ideas and then I’ll hone in on certain events or motifs that whisper to me ‘I’m important!’ I think our subconscious actually knows a lot more than we give it credit for! So I like to give it a bit of free reign in those early stages as it throws up lots of interesting ideas I might not have hit on if I was plotting it all out in a very organised way. I also think following my main characters is important; if I know their history and their background, then the actions they take and the decisions they make within the world of the story will emerge naturally rather than feeling forced. I have no idea if this is a very efficient way to write (I suspect not) but it’s my process and I don’t think I can change it. I did read something that Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat) wrote the other day which I found very validating. It was, ‘Whether you consciously structure your plot or whether you allow it to develop more organically, chances are the end result will [be] the same.’ That’s not to say that writing courses and workshops and textbooks aren’t vital to understanding structure – they are – but once you’ve absorbed the knowledge of how story works it should really just fall into place as you write. I think paying attention to your own response to what’s happening on the page is important. The writer is really a reader, too so as I write I ask myself, ‘am I getting bored? Does this feel natural? Would she really say that?’ If the answer is no it’s back to the drawing board – or in my case, the keyboard.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I have in the past. They’re certainly good for providing the initial rush of ideas to be explored. I’m a little more wary of them now as we’ve all had those dreams that we think will make BRILLIANT pieces of fiction and then when we sit down to write them they fall flat… I think they can be really helpful in untangling plot points and specific problems but it’s rare that I’ve dreamed up a whole story or a novel from start to finish. I know you (Kate) have found dreams to be instrumental in your practice. Maybe you should give some classes on how to access the liminal dreaming space. I’d sign up in a heartbeat!

Did you make any astonishing or serendipitous discoveries while researching your novel?
Haha because I research and write in that very intuitive way it feels like every discovery I made on this journey was serendipitous and astonishing! But no, there were some things which really made my skin tingle and gave me goosebumps – that’s when I knew I was onto something. Discovering that there was only a week between when the Soviets deported thousands of Estonians and when the German Nazi’s invaded Russia and occupied Estonia? That gave me goosebumps. What an astonishingy awful thing to go through; losing your friends and family, who’d been deported to Siberia, and then having to deal with the incoming occupied forces… That was a bit of a turning point in the narrative. Then of course traveling to Estonia and seeing the lace shawls, visiting the knitting museum in Haapsalu, a little seaside town on Estonia’s western coast, felt particularly significant. And then on the last day, our tour guide managed to locate a man whose father had been a forest brother. This man was now a ranger, and a conservationist and he knew a lot about the forest, the flora and fauna. It was wonderful to be able to ask questions about native plants and he took us deep into the forest and showed us an old bunker where some members of the Soviet anti-resistence movement had lived until they died in a shootout with the KGB. As we emerged from the forest later, I saw an old farmhouse with a thatched roof and lots of sheep dotting the fields and my heart lifted because it was exactly how I imagined Kati’s farmhouse might have looked. And they were sheep farmers, too! That felt an amazing moment of serendipity.

What do you write and when?
I write mainly historical fiction because that’s what I love to read. I do like to branch out and practice writing contemporary short stories but every story requires such a great amount of energy that I have to really concentrate on the historical in order not to fall behind deadline. As a completely different thing, I’m also writing my first non-fiction book, a little baker’s compendium called Well Read Cookies which features biscuits I’ve baked inspired by my favourite books. It’s coming out later this year also through S&S and it’s SO MUCH FUN… It’s totally whimsical and combines my love of baking with my love of reading. I can’t wait to share it! I write three days a week during school hours and sometimes on the other days, if my mum can babysit, but not in the school holidays. It’s just too hard with little people demanding my attention (which they have every right to do, I’m their mum!)

What is your favourite part of writing?

I love the feeling that comes when something is working in my writing; when I’ve pulled the strings together and it’s starting to feel real. It’s euphoric, like falling in love and for a short while, time ceases to exist and it’s just me and the page. Then of course, I have to go pick my kids up and I read over my work later and reality comes crashing down. Oh no, I think. It’s terrible! It’s not the wonderful, perfectly crafted piece of prose I thought it was! Then I laugh at myself and try to remember that everything can be edited once you’ve got something to work with.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I used to believe in writers’ block but now I don’t. My advice (to others and myself) if I get stuck is to just keep going. If you sit there long enough at your desk and keep writing, something will happen. You actually will find a way around the obstacle. Sometimes the obstacle might be not enough research but I just keep going in those cases and make a note to come back and check the facts later. It’s true, what they say about writing being rewriting. Almost everything needs to be rewritten at some stage so I try not to get all panicky and worried about that and I just move forward with the project. As a last resort, a deadline is a great way to punch through a mental block. Who has time to worry when you’ve got to deliver a manuscript in a month? You just do your best and the rest will come.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I love doing courses and workshops, but they can get expensive and also they’re quite time-consuming, so if I can’t get out I just read, read, read. That keeps my well full! Reading books both in and outside of my genre has really helped me improve in my approach both to the writing and the structure of my novels. I’m always on the lookout for good recommendations from people I trust, be they booksellers, librarians, authors or bloggers. I recently read The Wonder by Emma Donoghue which you recommended and I absolutely adored it. It was incredible! It’s great when you stumble across someone who has the same taste in books so you can stalk their reading pile… and if buying new books is costly there’s always the library.

Do you have any rituals that help you write?
I don’t need much in order to write; just Word on my laptop and a quiet space. I know some writers are very ritualistic and I often look at pictures of their beautiful desks scattered with crystals inside their dedicated study-rooms and I sigh with longing… But my house is chaos when my children are around and I don’t have time to worry about the perfect conditions so as soon as they’re at school, I just roll up my sleeves and get to work. One day I will have a study of my own and I do dream of that day. Hopefully it comes sooner rather than later!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Only ten? I’ll have to shut my eyes and ramble them off before I start second-guessing myself! Ok… Tracy Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Kate Forsyth, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Waters, Isabel Allende, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Hilary Mantel.

What do you consider to be good writing?

Writing is so incredibly subjective so the notion of what is ‘good’ will differ from person to person. For me, good (fiction) writing isn’t just about smooth and perfect prose that won’t ‘offend’ the reader or jolt them from the narrative. It’s about channelling an idea or telling a story that twists in surprising and unexpected ways. My favourite kind of writing always has an element in it that I think of as The Weird. The Weird is what makes a story stand out amongst the many hundreds of stories I’ve read before. It might make the reader uncomfortable or unsettled - and that’s ok. At least it’s provoking a response! Fiction shouldn’t just be about telling the same comfortable stories over and over. It should engage and inspire and enlighten us as readers and remind us that there is hope, even when things are bad. My favourite books all do that is some way.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Start by taking short courses. The State writers’ centres are a good place to start and there are professional organisations who run weekend workshops, too. Go along with an open mind and absorb as much as you can from your teachers. They are wise and wonderful people who have walked the path you want to tread. Then read, read, read and practice, practice, practice. Share your work with (certain) people that you trust or, if you want someone to give you objective feedback, see if you can arrange a manuscript assessment. It’s so hard to know what’s working and what’s not when you’re too close to the manuscript. This is true of published authors as well as emerging which is why editors exist. Editors are your friend. Listen to what they say, even if you don’t agree, and then go back and read your own work, imagining that you are a reader with no pre-knowledge of what the piece is about. Also, be humble about your achievements and friendly to other authors you meet. It’s a small industry and there are enough readers to go around. Another author’s success in your genre benefits everyone because it means readers will be out there wanting to find a similar book – and maybe, with luck, it will be yours.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on finishing off my non-fiction book, and then I’m diving back into the last half of my draft for my second novel, Gulliver’s Wife, which tells the story of Gulliver’s Travels from the perspective of his long-suffering spouse. It’s a bit different to The Lace Weaver, in that it’s set in 17th Century London, but there are similar themes which run through it such as the nature of women’s work, female friendship and forging your own path against the odds. It’s totally ambitious and I don’t know if I can pull it off but I’m going to try!

You can read my review of The Lace Weaver here.

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

INTERVIEW: Eleanor Limprecht

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

  
Photo by Louise Hawson

Today I welcome Eleanor Limprecht, author of The Passengers, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes! The constant refrain on my report cards in school was: Eleanor seems to be in her own world most of the time. Now my eight-year-old son is getting the same feedback from his teachers, and I can’t help but be a little bit proud.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, not until I was in my twenties did I even consider writing a book. I wanted to be many other things: a park ranger, a farmer, baker, even a Marine!

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

I was born in Washington DC. I grew up in many different countries (my father worked as a foreign service officer for the State Department). Now I live in Sydney, near the beach in Maroubra. I love hiking and camping with my family, baking, running (especially trail running), travel and just taking the dog to the park.

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

About four years ago I took my husband and kids to visit my Great Aunt Marge in San Diego. Her boyfriend Bert, who was in his 90s, was talking about the time he went to Australia during World War II. He was an American Serviceman in Sydney on R&R, and he was remembering “the beautiful girls and how they loved to dance”. He mentioned how some of his friends married “these Aussie girls”, and for the first time I began to wonder how many war brides there were, and how the marriages turned out. I married an Australian in my twenties so I knew what it meant to leave behind my family and the culture I had grown up in, but I imagined it must have been more difficult for these women, who didn’t have the inexpensive overseas travel or even phone calls to stay in touch.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

Not extensively at all. I tend to write first and organise later - which means that I write far more than I end up using. But I’m convinced that it is the process of writing which shows me the direction the story is meant to go.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Sometimes, but it is less dreams than those 3am thoughts that inform the story - so I always sleep with a notebook beside the bed.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
While researching the book I travelled to the US - both to meet and interview war brides and to attend the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop in Portland Oregon. The workshop had nothing to do with my research, but was going to be a place where I workshopped an early draft of this novel. There are around 200 participants from around the world, and we all ate meals in the dining halls together. The very first day I was there I sat down for lunch at a table with a stranger, and when we began talking she asked where I was from. I told her I was from the US but lived in Australia. “My mother was from Australia,” she said. “She was a war bride during World War II.” I couldn’t believe the coincidence, and this woman ended up helping inspire the story I ended up writing.

Where do you write, and when?

I write in my studio when the children (aged 8 and 10) are at school, between the hours of 9am and 3pm. For many years I wrote at the kitchen table, but a few years ago my husband finished building the studio out the back, and I love having a space of my very own. It also means that I’m less distracted by the housework that needs doing. Out of sight, out of mind.

What is your favourite part of writing?
When I get lost in the story and time disappears. Also when things fall into place unexpectedly.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I read, or walk, sometimes I go work elsewhere, like the library. I always have a few projects going at once so I might work on something else.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Travel is inspiring to me, as well as reading widely. I find it inspiring to teach and help others find joy in writing. I love to be outdoors, and to watch children and animals outdoors. And finally, conversation with interesting people.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Coffee is a big one. And after checking my email it helps me to turn off the internet for a few hours. Then I know that I won’t be distracted as easily.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This is hard! I have many….and they change regularly, but here are today's

1. Louise Erdrich
2. Barbara Kingsolver
3. Anne Enright
4. Toni Morrison
5. William Faulkner
6. Rebecca Solnit
7. Gillian Mears
8. John Steinbeck
9. Helen Garner
10. Arundhati Roy

What do you consider to be good writing?
Increasingly I am drawn to writing that is less ornate but more powerful. Writing that looks simple but simmers beneath the surface.

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

Read read read and read some more. Write because of the joy it gives you, not because of the joy you expect it to bring you when it is published. And practice taking criticism without being devastated by it - this is a difficult but important part of being a published writer.

What are you working on now?
A few things: some short stories, an essay about my father, and I’m beginning to research a new novel.

You can read my review of The Passengers here.

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

INTERVIEW: Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

 

Today I welcome Frances Hardinge, author of A Skinful of Shadows, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes, I've always been a daydreamer. When I was very young and extremely shy, I always had secret stories alive in my head, which I told to myself over time.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I certainly can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. As a child I always had a shortlist of things I wanted to be, and this would change a bit over time, but "writer" was always on the list, as were "artist" and "international spy".

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Brighton, on the 13th floor of the hospital. I now live in a rather green part West London, near to the Thames path and lots of parks. My hobbies include scuba diving, hiking, role-playing games and traveling.

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

It wasn't exactly a flash. A number of partial ideas had been floating around in the back of my head for some time, and started to make more sense once they finally came together. I think the first of these to come to me was the idea of the ghost bear. I'd heard about the historical mistreatment of dancing bears, and it had made me angry, so I liked the idea of one of these bears coming back in ghost form to wreak revenge, unshackled at last.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
This varies from book to book, but I'm definitely a planner. I create brainstorming documents, outlines, maps, character lists and sometimes chronological spreadsheets. I also do a lot of research, even if I'm using a fantastical setting. I like to know the main things that happen in the book, and how the story is going to end, before I start writing in good earnest.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes, occasionally! A childhood nightmare of mine was the indirect inspiration for a dream sequence in The Lie Tree. Another nightmare gave me ideas for a short story.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Historical research always unearths lots of fascinating details. I learnt a lot about seventeenth century spycraft, including how to make invisible ink from artichoke juice, and a way to hide a message inside an apparently unbroken egg. I also learnt about fascinating superstitions still lingering at that time, such as the belief that bear cubs were born as shapeless blobs that had to be licked into shape by their mothers. Some remedies were a bit bizarre too - 'snail water' was a treatment for gout, and newly killed pigeons were sometimes laid on a patient's feet if they were in imminent danger of death!

Where do you write, and when?
I usually write in my little study, which doubles as a storeroom and is very cluttered. Most days I try to work nine to five, but often this schedule breaks down. When I have a deadline looming, it's not unusual for me to work until 2, 3, 4 or even 5 in the morning.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Coming up with the initial ideas, in the first flush of excitement and enthusiasm, is fun. Also, there are times when the writing just flows. Of course, you never know when these times are going to be.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I create more brainstorming documents to help myself think things through. Sometimes I take a break and go for a really long walk, which also seems to help me untangle things.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I'm curious about everything, I always want to try new things, I love talking to people who know things I don't, and I'm a great fan of travel.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Not unless you count making industrial quantities of tea.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
I would have trouble whittling my list of favourites down to fifty, so this list of ten is a bit arbitrary: Lewis Carroll, Susan Cooper, Douglas Adams, Richard Adams, EM Forster, Terry Pratchett, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I think that there are hundreds of different kinds of good writing. Elaborate, lyrical writing takes skill, but so does clear, concise use of language. Multi-faceted novels and ingeniously brief picture books require different kinds of craftsmanship. Books that succeed in being funny, entertaining, scary or suspenseful are examples of good writing, even if they're not the sort of book that gets shortlisted for literary prizes.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Here are the tips I usually give young aspiring writers.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing another rather weird YA novel, this time set in an alternative world. I'd rather not say too much at this stage, but some of the action will take place underwater...

INTERVIEW: Louise Allan, author of THE SISTERS' SONG

Friday, April 20, 2018

 

Today I welcome Louise Allan, author of The Sisters' Song, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My mind is never on what I’m doing but always gallivanting about in the clouds. If I’m washing up or doing the laundry, it’s usually preoccupied by what I’ve been writing, wondering what type of person that character really is, or what I’m really trying to say in a scene.

For me to write well, I have to immerse myself in my story, so even when I’m cooking dinner or walking dogs, I’m still in the world of my story. My family usually call me a couple of times before I hear them!

I’ve always been like it and I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t stop my mind wandering. But it’s come in useful for novel writing! It does make me hard to live with, because people must tell me things at least three times before they register!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, I didn’t start writing until I was 43 years old. I enjoyed writing stories in primary school, but when I reached high school and our creative writing was assessed, I believed I wasn’t good at it because my marks in English were average. In fact, I didn’t think I was artistic or creative at all, so I pursued a scientific pathway and went into medicine and became a doctor.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realised books took many drafts and much editing. Before that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I viewed authors as magical people, for whom writing beautiful prose and books came naturally. Because I found it hard to express my thoughts in words, and anything I wrote needed countless revisions before I got it right, I didn’t view myself as someone who could write. Those marks in English really coloured my vision of myself.

My children showed me what might be possible when they started writing books and winning young writers awards. In 2010, I quit medicine, because life as a working mother of four was too hectic and, knowing I’d need something to keep my mind active, I enrolled in a writing course. I had no idea if I’d like it or not, but by the second assignment I was hooked and knew I wanted to write a novel.

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

I was born in Launceston, Tasmania, and grew up there. When I was 18, I moved to Hobart to study medicine at the University of Tasmania. I worked as a GP for a number of years before moving into the field of breast cancer. In 2000, my family and I moved across the country to Perth, Western Australia, which is where we still live.

I love anything to do with nature—bushwalking, camping, swimming in the ocean. I also have an interest in photography, and that’s one of the ways I renew the creativity well when I’m feeling depleted. Of course, I also love to read!


Fishing at St Patrick’s River, Tasmania, with my sister.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The beginnings of my novel came from a short story I wrote in 2010. That piece was set in the ‘60s, and was about a good girl who’d been abused by her mother. 

Throughout 2010 and 2011, I worked on the story from time to time, taking it forwards in time and trying a couple of different characters’ points of view. The story didn’t seem to be going anywhere, though, until the day one of the characters knocked on her Great Aunt Ida’s door. Ida invited that character in for morning tea, and began telling the family’s story. She went back in time, from the ‘60s to the ‘50s, then the ‘40’s, and the ‘30s, and I was worried she’d never stop. But she did stop, in 1926, and I knew straight away that I’d found my narrator and this was the story I wanted to tell.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all! I have no idea where my story is going when I start. I truly fly by the seat of my pants, and would win the ‘Biggest Pantser’ award. To give you an idea of how much of a pantser I am, I added 12,000 new words during the final edits of my novel.

I have a belief that our subconscious is better at determining the course of a story than our conscious ‘planning’ brain. Having said that, I recently sent my publishers a synopsis of my second novel before I’d written it. It took a lot of self-discipline to write and was completely against my natural tendencies. The only way I managed it was by telling myself that I could still write anything I wanted later!

So far, though, I’ve kept to plan and haven’t changed much. But who knows what will happen in the future?

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I’ve written a couple of my dreams down if I’ve remembered them the next morning, but I haven’t used one as a source for a story … yet.

Sometimes as I’m writing, I get a feeling of déjà vu, like I’ve been in the story before, although I have no memory of it, and I wonder if it was in a dream.

I think that our dreams and our imagination come from the same place, which is why I believe that anyone who has dreams can also imagine a story. We have creativity as children, but as we grow up, we’re taught to ignore that side of ourselves, ridiculed for it even—I certainly was. So, we protect it by hiding it away because it’s so personal and fragile, and tell ourselves we’re not creative. What rubbish! We’re all creative, some of us have just learnt to shield it for our own protection.

We can get in touch with it again. It’s scary at first, but it’s an important part of ourselves and we should be proud of it.

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

All. The. Time! The main theme of my novel—that women aren’t allowed to have dreams—was one of them. I set out to write about child abuse, but as I kept digging between the layers, I found what I was really trying to say.

They say all art is autobiography, and I’m a firm believer in that. It’s not necessarily in the storyline or in the characters, but in other ways, like the themes that arise as you write. I learnt much more about myself from those unplanned things than from anything I based on real life events or people. This theme is probably the most autobiographical part of the story.

Where do you write, and when?

My favourite place to write is in my lovely attic, but I can write anywhere and anytime—I learnt to while ferrying children about. Carparks are a specialty.

I can also write anytime of the day or night, but my favourite time is in the early hours of the morning, when it’s still dark and quiet because no one’s awake.

I have a favourite writing weather, too: rainy days, especially when no one’s home and I have the house to myself.


My attic on a tidy day.


What is your favourite part of writing?
My favourite part of writing is editing. I love being able to refine my sentences and ideas, and turn them into something closer to the ideal I have in my head.

This is because I’m an obsessional perfectionist. I hate first drafts because I have to ignore all the mistakes and just keep moving forwards. I usually give in, and go back to edit. Of course, then I lose the forward momentum and have to refresh my memory of where the story was going. I know I should just keep writing ...

What do you do when you get blocked?

Writing by hand is always the first thing I try. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take the dogs for a walk, or read a book. Sometimes, I pull out my camera and take photos.


A photo I took one day when I was feeling a bit blocked.


There have been times I’ve been unable to write because something is bothering me. Sometimes, I can work through it by writing about it, but other times, I have to let the writing go for a while.

Whenever I’m blocked, I worry it’s permanent, that I’ve written all the words and ideas I have inside me and I’ll never write again. But it’s never permanent; it always returns. Well, it has so far!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I fill up by binge-reading and getting outside with the dogs, in amongst nature and the ocean. I also listen to music, go to the opera or a concert, or visit an art gallery. Even going to a movie helps me refuel. I find it inspiring to spend time with other writers and artists, too.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Only ten! Okay, I admire: Hannah Kent, Charlotte Wood, Tim Winton, Ann Patchett, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kent Haruf, Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Bronte Sisters.

(I think that’s more than ten but I can’t count!)

What do you consider to be good writing?

Beautiful imagery moves me. I also love original ways of using language, but I don’t like it for the sake of it. It has to flow and sound natural, not forced. After all, the purpose of writing is to impart meaning to a reader, and no matter how beautiful your prose, if the meaning is tangled, you’re not doing your job.

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

Get rid of that internal censor! Give yourself permission to write whatever comes up and get back in touch with your creative self.

Also, just get your bum into the chair and do it. Don’t put it off any longer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel, but I’m finding it hard at this ugly first draft stage. However, I’m ploughing on, because if I ever want to publish a book again, I need words, no matter how unsightly they are!

INTERVIEW: Kali Napier

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

 

Today I welcome Kali Napier, author of The Secrets at Ocean's Edge, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
I was once upon a time, before children and mortgages came along. I yearn to reclaim that space again to disappear into my own worlds.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Since I was 3 years old. I can’t think of any other reason why I learned to read at 3 and write at 4, as I started writing little plays straight away. I’d adapted all my Enid Blytons into film scripts and plays by the time I was 8.

I started keeping a diary at age 11 because by then I’d read Daphne Du Maurier’s autobiographies and learnt that a writer needs years of childhood diaries to draw on for inspiration. Unfortunately, I lost all these diaries in the Brisbane floods.

I enrolled in creative writing at university when I was 16, but I had no LIFE experience to write about, so dropped out to gain some. There was a little too much grist for my mill and I didn’t write fiction for 22 years. When I put pen to paper again a manuscript came out.

The process is a little more arduous now, in turning a manuscript into a book, through multiple edits, but I still want 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 accidentally born in Sydney after my parents met in London. My dad asked my mum if she wanted to come back to Australia with him on the back of his motorbike. I was conceived in Kabul, my parents were married in Delhi, and I was named after the Hindu goddess, Kali the Destroyer of Worlds. But she is also the Creator of Worlds, which I kind of like.

I live in Brisbane with my two ratbag kids, and am an MPhil candidate in creative writing at The University of Queensland.

If I get any free time, I like to spend it at bookish events, drinking sangria, and binge-watching Outlander.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The first flash of inspiration for The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge came from an article that popped up in my social media feed about a true historic event, the Great Emu War. I read how in 1932 the Australian Army was brought in to help the wheat farmers of Campion in WA to cull the emus destroying their crops. After several campaigns, using Lewis machine guns left over from WWI, the army had to withdraw and the emus won.

While it has become a bit of a joke, I saw story potential. I wondered about the wars men created to continue fighting when there was no longer a war, as well as what was left over from WWI 14 years after it ended. I immediately made connections with PTSD, or shell shock as it was then known, because for traumatised soldiers in 1932, experiencing flashbacks and hallucinations, WWI was still very much their ‘present-day’ but invisible war. I also thought of the women and communities these men belonged to, and the ongoing effects on them, with absent or unstable men in their lives. The working title of An Emu War came to me immediately, and I knew I would have a man suffering from shellshock, whose unpredictable actions would have devastating consequences for those closest to him.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I try to plot the key turning points up to the climax, after which I leave it up to my characters to decide how the story ends. This approach doesn’t work so much anymore now that I am busier with deadlines and I am trialling a more structured method for my next book, sketching out scenes on index cards before I write a word.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Anything sleep-related is dysfunctional right now as I have chronic insomnia! I am working towards bringing dreams, both the asleep and daydreaming type, back into my life.

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

While my characters are intent on hiding, escaping from, or finding out who they really are, I had a parallel process happening in my own life while writing the book. When I was first deciding where to set the story, I recalled some family tree research I’d done years before, finding a great-grandfather who’d escaped a ‘suspicious house fire’, become bankrupt, and started a new business to reap the tourism potential of Dongar[r]a in the 1920s. He became the basis of my character of Ernie, and I wrote about this is in the author’s note.

After publication, I had several people write to me about my author’s note, saying I wasn’t who I thought I was. I double-checked the original source material that I’d used about 8 years ago, and discovered that my ‘great-grandfather’ was described as having 8 adult children in the 1920s, which meant he couldn’t possibly have been my grandmother’s father.

I was telling this sorry tale of family history research during an author talk at a Brisbane library in March. In the signing queue was a lovely lady who said to me, ‘My grandfather is your great-grandfather.’ I found out that he had had two wives, and 8 children with the first, and 5 with the second, one of whom was my grandmother, and many in each family didn’t know of the other.

The lovely lady was in fact my dad’s first cousin, when I thought I had no family in Brisbane.

Where do you write, and when?
I’m a single mother of two, and have been working part-time, studying full-time for the last few years. I work on my books every spare moment, evenings, weekends and school holidays. My 9-year-old son still punches the cover of my book in bookshops as he resents it for taking my time away from him. This situation has to change for the next book.

The upside is that as a single mother I get a mini writing retreat on alternate weekends, although I wouldn’t recommend the arrangement solely on this basis.

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love the genesis of a new idea, the research, and the joy of a first draft.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I don’t think I have experienced writer’s block yet, as deadlines tend to keep me moving. Whenever I feel fatigued with a particular writing task, and I can afford the time off, I read.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

*sigh* I have a few projects on the go, books 2 through to 5, at various stages of their life cycle. I am wary of burning out, as I tend to develop insomnia at the most inconvenient times (usually when I have multiple responsibilities and deadlines). From May I plan to take a day off each week to ‘fill the creative well’, by napping, reading, and watching ‘adult’ ie., not animated films.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I use the Pomodoro method, though I thought I made it up myself. I set a timer for 25 minutes, write, take 5 minutes off, write for another 25, then reward myself. Start again. If this is in the evening the reward will be a glass of wine!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
* Kate Forsyth (it is true!!! I am not just saying this)
* Karen Brooks
* Jane Rawson
* Mirandi Riwoe
* Kim Wilkins
* Maggie Joel
* Sarah Waters
* Kate Atkinson
* Lisa St Aubin de Teràn
* W. Somerset Maugham
How can I choose just ten???

What do you consider to be good writing?

When I clutch a book to my chest and sob.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Eek. If you are really passionate about something, do it. Act as if you are already successful at whatever it is. Make sure you are clear about what your true goals are. Inform yourself about the industry if you want to make any money from it. And read.

What are you working on now?

I have just hit send on the manuscript for book 2, which is set in Brisbane across three time periods: 1948, 1959-1963, and 2010-12, told through the viewpoint of one character, who realises that a mistake she’d made in her youth could cost her the ability to ever find love and redemption.

I am also writing a novella set in Egypt in 1911, and a novel set in Australia and Malta during WWI.

INTERVIEW: Lily Woodhouse, author of Jarulan by the River

Saturday, August 05, 2017



Today I welcome Lily Woodhouse, the author of Jarulan by the River, to the blog. 



Are you a daydreamer too?
Daydreaming is how books get written. I think it’s an active state, not a passive one.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
It came from two different sources. One was a story told to me years ago by an old man. It was about a young husband struggling during the Depression between the two world wars. He was offered a job by a wealthy widow on the condition that he also become her lover. His wife had to tolerate the arrangement if she wanted her family to survive. The exact same situation does not arise in Jarulan by the River, though it is similar. The second source was a period I spent living in the Northern Rivers district. It is one of the most beautiful, inspiring landscapes in the world. When I came to write the novel it seemed natural to set it there.


How extensively do you plan your novels? 
Not at all. Sometimes I get to a point where I must plan the last part of a book if I want to get out of it alive!


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I sometimes meet characters in dreams who then become characters in books.


Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Reading and learning about the experiences of Germans in Australia between the wars was very interesting. Also learning more about how it was for Maori in Australia during those years which included the years of the White Australia Policy. Maori were admitted because they were regarded as equals in New Zealand.



Where do you write, and when?
I am fortunate enough to have my own study, which is warm and sunny. I write there most days. My favourite time to write is first thing in the morning when I wake up.


What is your favourite part of writing?
The stages of writing a book are all so different that I enjoy them all. Perhaps I like the exciting roller-coaster stage of first draft the very best.


What do you do when you get blocked? 
Leave it for a while. There’s no point in hanging over a manuscript that isn’t shifting. I go for a walk, work on something else, hope the muse will return before too long.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

By regularly dipping in the bucket and seeing what comes up! Sometimes it’s pure, sparkling water, other times a frog.


Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
Is coffee a ritual if you drink four or five a day?


Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Rosie Scott, Tim Winton, Emma Donoghue, Anne Kennedy, Charlotte Randell, Colum McCann, Sarah Waters, Louise Erdrich, Patricia Grace. And Kate Forsyth!


What do you consider to be good writing?  
I enjoy literary and popular fiction as the above list will testify. Some literary fiction will sacrifice story and character for style, which immediately makes the work tedious. It can remind me of an over-indulged child calling endlessly for attention while he pulls heinous faces or walks on top of a fence. The worst of popular fiction will have too rapidly unfolding story, melodramatic event and inconsistent character, written in stodgy dull language. I think good writing can be both literary and popular, with an addictive story, compelling characters and elegant, nuanced writing.


What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read, read, read, read! Although I didn’t include any writers from previous centuries in my list, I think it’s important to read Thomas Hardy for instance, and Elizabeth Gaskell. Here in Australia Kylie Tennant, Ruth Park and Jean Devanny are worth reading to get a sense of how it was for women in the early-mid twentieth century.
 
What are you working on now? 
Another novel. Top secret. Can’t say too much. Might lose. You know the feeling.

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