At the start of April I was very pleased to announce to my staff that we were interviewing the lovely Isobelle Carmody author of The Little Fur series, The Legendsong Saga, The Gateway Trilogy and Obernewtyn Chronicles as well as countless others. All of which as firm staff favourites to read and recommend.
As Neek, a TLC staff member (or Isobelle’s biggest fan – cue nervous laughter and manic devotion), put it:
Isobelle Carmody’s writing it is like a smorgasbord of greatness with a side of fantastic, drizzled with some awesome sauce.
After calming the staff down and managing to get all of them breathing normally again, I was barraged with many suggestions of questions to ask her, MANY questions. First and foremost was “Tell us what happens in the next Obernewtyn book! Well, I am happy to say, we do get a tantalising glimpse… but more so we get an understanding into why Isobelle loves to write, her relationship with her characters and what a passionate author she is.
Thank you very much Isobelle for being interviewed, and sharing your passion with us.
You’re one of Australia’s favourite fantasy authors – what is it about this genre that you love?
I think I see in it what most people do, as a reader and writer. It allows me to step outside the constraints of everyday life where we have to hang the washing and do our wretched tax and argue with some official over something and shop for dinner and buy band aids and Drano and washing powder. Not in order to escape vacuously, as is often the perception, but in order to think about things that matter to me. Like what it means to have free will and yet to co exist with others who also have free will that might infringe upon mine; about why some people are cruel and why some are courageous; about how it is that someone grows up to be Mother Teresa while someone else become Hitler; it is about what makes a person able to sacrifice themselves for others; about what is required of me if I want to be a friend to someone; about what the difference is between a human who is cruel and the cruelty of a cat to a mouse it has caught; about how important powerful people can make decision that a child can see will cause great harm, as if they and their children were going to be exempt from the consequences. In a way, it I like dreaming – a way and a space to deal with all of the thoughts and puzzles and conundrum that arise from that everyday life, only unlike dreaming, you are fully conscious. I guess that is the best way to put it. Writing fantasy is like conscious dreaming.
Isobelle, we literally have hundreds of fans of your writing eagerly awaiting your next book, just from our little shop. Does that translate into a lot of pressure for you when you’re writing?
Absolutely. It is the publishers who put the pressure on, of course, though probably more for their own economic reasons than anything else. But I certainly feel it whenever I am anywhere in public. For instance I was recently signing books at Supanova in Melbourne and there were literally hundreds of people asking when the next Obernewtyn book was coming and if I was ever going to write Darkbane or the last Billy Thunder book. But I never feel bad about that pressure because I truly work as hard as I can so the delays are not because I am slacking off, and in a way it is satisfying to be able to tell people to their faces what I am doing and why.
What’s the most difficult part of being a writer?
Odd as it sounds, sometimes the sitting and typing for hours. I get really sore elbows and back. I get physically bored. You are supposed to get up and move around every twenty minutes or something but I am so engrossed that I never do. Then I pay for it. There is no real downside other than that. I love what I do and I even love it when the going get tough. I love being demanded of by the story and I love conquering the problems. Sometimes when the next round of editing comes, my heart sinks a little, but it never seems to be that hard to re engage a story – even a huge one. I think that is because I write what I want and so it is never just pounding out words to meet a deadline or a word limit. I am always inside what I write. It always matters to me.
You write short stories, picture books, series for younger readers (I love Little Fur!), young adult and fantasy. Which do you enjoy the most? Do you have a pet favourite?
I think my best writing overall is in short stories, other than in Greylands, which I wrote like a short story. In a way they are the hardest thing to write because there is a very intense focus on them and you can never forget the form. Picture books are never quite easy for me, either, though having said that my favourite picture book is Journey from the Center to the Earth and I love that story. I love reading it aloud to kids and Marc Mc Bride’s pictures are fabulous. What I really enjoy most these days is being able to draw as well as to write. That started with the Little Fur book, and they are very special to me. And of course now The Red Wind and the next two books in that series are waiting for me. Both sets of characters in those books come very much from stories I made up for my daughter and so they are full of us and our lives, which again make them special. Strange as it sounds, going back to what I said right at the start, they come from things that are happening in the world around me. About my relationship to the world. Writing lets me think about it. For me, to write is to think.
In regards to Obernewtyn: These characters have been around for quite some time now, and I know many of our readers feel like they are visiting old friends when they read and reread the series. When you write do you get the same feeling?
Absolutely! My dear editor said recently that she was not sure she liked Dameon and I defended him as ferociously as if he were my best friend. I mean how could anyone not like Dameon?! Re entering that world is like slipping on a favorite coat. I love the feel and familiarity of it, and the questions it was asking when I was 14 are still really important to me- in a larger sense, is it possible for human beings as a race to grow morally and ethically; in a more personal sense- what do we gain and lose as individuals when we chose to become part of a group or give ourselves to the ideals of a cause?
So come on, dish, who’s your favourite character? Or if you can’t choose, who is the easiest to write?
Favourite character? Hm. Well I love writing Elspeth when she is sharp and terse because I’m not often like that. I love the rudeness of the Crow and the sorrow of Sorrow. I guess I really liked all of the Little Fur character because of their voices- I loved doing the audio CD of them for Bolinda SO much. I have just finished recording The Red Wind, too, and in that loved the voice of the monster. One of the easiest characters to write was Alyzon Whitestarr. I’d love to go back into her again. But no, I can’t pick one favourite. It’s like the one I am in at the moment is the most interesting and engrossing, and that is Elspeth, of course.
It seems like you put a lot of thought into naming your characters and landscapes, what’s your inspiration for all these names?
The names have to have the right feel. They had to resonate to the characters character. They have to have meaningful poetry.
Which question are you most sick of answering in interviews?
Anything about my childhood unless it is a very specific question, then I like it because sometimes it lets me remember something I had not thought about. Someone recently asked for my first memory and that provoked some fascinating thoughts
What book(s) are you reading now?
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World, Sebastian Faulks One Day in December and Haruki Murakami’s interviews with victims of the Sarin Gas attack on the Tokyo underground. Utterly riveting mostly for the difference in how the Japanese react to disaster in their midst as compared with how we or American would act. And of course it is reiterated by how they are reacting to the current disaster. For me it is especially interesting because in the final Obernewtyn book, Elspeth deals with a people who are ancestors/survivors of Asians, and the book is very much drawing on my reflections.
Please, please, please taunt us with a titbit of information from your new book The Sending, the 6th book in the Obernewtyn series, due out September 2011.
Hmm didn’t I just do that in the last answer? Ok, we will meet Straaka’s brother in The Sending and he has a really interesting character arc. That’s it. Hope you enjoy the next book and that you feel it has been worth waiting for!
Want to no more about the Obernewtyn series? Go here obernewtyn.net
More about Isobelle? Go here http://www.isobellecarmody.net
Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
I have just had the incredible opportunity to have an interview with one of my favourite authors, so unashamedly I need to say this: I AM HAVING A FANGIRL MOMENT. I should be way more mature than this but I figure anyone reading this will get over it.
Every time I read a John Connolly book I am transported and entranced. If you try to talk to me I will say whatever I need to, to get you to go away as quickly as possible so I can keep reading. I will not have heard or registered a thing, I once agreed to watch a Spice Girls DVD and the blame sits squarely on John Connolly’s shoulders. I was engrossed in Every Dead Thing at the time.
I cannot tell you the glee, excitement and sheer joy I exuded when he agreed to be interviewed and the agony of wondering what questions to ask… you see, it’s one thing to be fangirl but you don’t want to come off as such. Suffice to say, I took two weeks to work out the questions to ask and whittle them down from 147 to 10. John was absolutely wonderful in answering them comprehensively and with great speed, further deepening the awe devotion respect I hold for the man.
I hope you enjoy the interview and the insight we get into a fantastic author. John has a new book due out in May called Hell’s Bells which is the sequel to The Gates, a young adult series I can thoroughly recommend.
Thanks again John, hope you can come to Australia soon as I would love to buy you a drink!
John, you write crime, psychological thrillers (sometimes with a dash or two of supernatural) and now you have started a series for young adults with The Gates and the Hell’s Bells. Do you have a preference for one genre over the other?
No, not at all. I suppose I view them all as being part of the same undertaking. Most writers only have a limited number of subjects that interest them, and to which they return over and over. Childhood is one of my subjects, so The Book of Lost Things, The Gates/ Hell’s Bells, and many of the Parker books are concerned with children and childhood. In the Parker books, it’s often how the sins of one generation impact on the next, while the other books are more directly concerned with childhood experience. I suppose, too, the supernatural connects them all. It was a genre that I loved as a boy, and I still have a huge fondness for old ghost stories, most English 19th/ early 20th century. In the end, I think I’m a genre author, in the sense that I’m curious about the possibilities of genre fiction, and I’m not snobbish about it, unlike some of my fellow mystery authors. It’s curious that there remains a deep distrust of the supernatural among more traditional practitioners of the crime novel. It harks back to the genre’s rationalist roots, I think, but the reluctance to countenance experimentation with other genres is very depressing.
What was your inspiration for The Gates series?
I had the idea for the book around 2000 or 2001. Basically, I thought it was a lovely idea: a small boy discovers that his neighbours are trying to open the gates of Hell. I just couldn’t quite figure out how to do it until I began reading about the Large Hadron Collider, and suddenly I thought, ‘Hey, that’s it!’ It gave me what Hitchcock called the McGuffin, the thing that powers the plot, but it also enabled me to bring in all kinds of odd science, and that in turn gave birth to the footnotes, and the twin narrative in the book: the story being told, and the slightly sarky commentary on it by this author figure who is both me and not me.
What would you graffiti on the Large Hadron Collider?
‘Warning: Not To Be Used Without Adult Supervision.’
The Gates and Hell’s Bells are both hilarious and full of quirky logic and physics. Is physics a personal passion or something you looked at purely for the book?
I studied physics in school, but I wasn’t very good at it. It’s only lately, returning to it as a adult, that I’ve begun to get a handle on it. In the end, the books are anti-magic, in a sense: the universe is quite extraordinary enough as it is without the need to bring in wizards and dragons. I think, too, that all authors are magpieish by nature: we look for shiny things that interest us, and we hope that they might interest other people too. These books are full of little shiny things that I just find fascinating, or odd, or funny.
Religion and aspects of it feature in a lot of your books, does that stem from an Irish upbringing?
Well, I was raised a Catholic, and that’s still my faith, although I don’t go to church very much anymore. I still drop in occasionally when passing, though. I suspect I just don’t like being preached at anymore, and it really doesn’t matter what religious form that preaching takes. I think that a lot of mystery fiction I love – and I’m thinking of James Lee Burke in particular, although what I’m about to say equally applies to a lot of the heroes of darker mystery novels – concerns individuals who are searching for redemption, and for me that word comes freighted with a certain amount of spiritual baggage. Also, someone once said that all crime writers are secretly moralists and, again, seen from a certain angle morality casts a certain spiritual shadow.
Music features heavily in some of your books, with The Unquiet having an accompanying CD. Do you listen to music while writing? What are your favourite artists to write/listen to?
No, I can’t work in anything but silence. I can’t even read while listening to music, or certainly not music with lyrics. But music and books are my twin passions, and compiling the CDs for the books gave me a way to combine both, as well as pointing readers in the direction of artists whom they might not have encountered before, and songs that resonated with me as a writer, either lyrically or thematically. As for favourite artists, I’d take A Walk Across the Rooftops by The Blue Nile on to my desert island, and most of Neil Young’s work.
Your characters over the years have been quite diverse, do you have a favourite?
There’s a lot of me in Parker, and he’s become a means of examining the world. On the other hand, David in The Book of Lost Things is very much me as a child, and I have a huge fondness for that little book. I suspect it may be the best thing I ever write, and I’d be quite content if that judgement was passed on me.
You were a journalist before you started publishing novels, did you always want to be a novelist or was it a progression? Basically, did you always want to be an author?
I saw journalism as a way to be paid to write, but I got frustrated after a few years. Basically, there were better journalists than I on the paper (The Irish Times) and better feature writers too. I’d like to think I was good enough for the newspaper, because I still think it’s the best newspaper in Ireland, and it was very supportive of me. Had I stayed on I’d have been happy to be a journalist, although I think there might always have been that niggling sense of incompleteness. In the end, I wanted to write fiction.
Who are your favourite authors? And do you derive inspiration from them and their writing?
The greatest novel in the English language, for me, is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. After reading that, all other fiction felt a bit thin. Ross Macdonald and James Lee Burke are probably the greatest influences on my mystery novels – Macdonald for his empathy, and Burke for the beauty of his prose, and the depth of his compassion. But I’m the product of every author I’ve ever read and loved, from Enid Blyton to E.E. Cummings. It would be hard to pinpoint their inspiration directly, though: I just know that they’ve made me the writer that I am.
I know this is a hard question, but if you could only have 5 of your books forever – which five would they be?
Mine, or those of other writers? I don’t think mine are going to last forever. None of us is writing for posterity; we just have to write as if we are. But other writers? Hmmm. Bleak House, certainly. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. The Collected Poems of E.E. Cummings. And, because they make the world a brighter, happier place, the Jeeves & Wooster novels of P.G. Wodehouse. A desert island existence wouldn’t be so bad with those writers for company.
Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
This week we also managed to interview the lovely Natasha Solomons. Natasha is a very popular author at TLC Books, when her first novel, Mr Rosenblum’s list, was released last year in March 2010 it was our top-selling book of the month and was in our top ten selling fiction books of the year. Not a bad effort for a début author!
The Novel In The Viola is Natasha’s second book and we are just as excited about it. A wonderful tale of an Austrian girl displaced during the onset of WWII, a Jewish girl, who takes refuge in England as a domestic worker for a family (of sorts) in a grand old home in Tyneford on the Dorset coast.
The book gently and beautiful written and you are quickly drawn into Elise’s life and the life of the village in Tyneford. I know we have another bestseller on our hands and we are delighted that Natasha took the time to answer our questions. Even the really personal ones!
Thank you so much Natasha
Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself as a writer?
As well as writing novels, I also write screenplays with my husband. I think that means while my work is ‘literary fiction’ it is very plot driven. I visualise scenes – Kit meeting Elise on the beach while she’s in her knickers and cursing at the sea, the party scene in Vienna, Elise and Mr Rivers drinking pink gin before the last dance at Tyneford… I use these scenes to then tell the story.
My editor once told me that my books are carefully lit. In a movie that is the job of the director/ director of photography but this is the pleasure of novel writing – I can write, direct, cast, find the perfect location and even light the scene. And the fabled ‘golden hour’ at sunset can last as long as I want it to!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I live with my husband, a writer, in rural Dorset. We love tramping across the fields and chatting through the plot of whatever we’re working on or about the books we’ve read or the films we’ve been watching. I’m basically a story-monster so my favourite pastimes involve stories in some form. Or cooking as I’m also a big fan of food. I love slow cooked stews – basically anything that’s hard to burn as I tend to forget what I’m doing half way through. I forgot some rhubarb yesterday and welded it to the bottom of a pan.
Do you have any rituals or processes for writing your novels?
In spring or summer I take my laptop down to the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. There is no phone, no internet – just the squawk of the pheasants and the sound the of the bees. If it’s cold, I work in my study under the eaves and if it’s very cold, I write by the fire.
I’ve had so many gorgeous letters and e-mails from readers. It’s been just amazing. A note from a reader who has really connected with my writing, absolutely makes my day.
You have a blog at natashasolomons.com, does that connection with your readers influence your writing at all?
I actually find that while I’m writing, I need to disconnect from the world for a while. I read and read and take long walks, as I need to allow the real world to take second place to the imaginary one that I’m starting to create. I think it would be dangerous to try and write what I believe readers to want. I have to write the stories that excite and challenge me. I need to be a little frightened before I start.
What was the inspiration for The Novel In The Viola?
I’d always wanted to write something set in the ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham, which was requisitioned by the War Office in 1943. The villagers were forced to leave their cottages on Christmas Eve. They left pinning this note to the church door:
‘Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
But, they were never allowed back and the village is now a ruin. It is situated on one of the most beautiful stretches of England’s coast – but the land is still owned by the Ministry of Defence and visitors are only allowed occasionally.
While I was pondering Tyneham, I read an article in a magazine about Jewish women who managed to escape Nazi Europe by becoming domestic servants in Britain. Many of these women had led privileged lives with servants of their own and had to come to terms with their new positions. In a ‘eureka moment’ I realised that I needed to tell the story of Tyneham and the last days of an English country house, through the eyes of an outsider and a servant– a young Jewish girl from Vienna.
The novel is also influenced by books like Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, ‘Remains of the Day’, ‘Atonement’ and of course, the quintessential ‘young girl in a country house’ story, ‘Jane Eyre.’
If you’re willing to share… love and falling in love features heavily in The Novel In The Viola, what age were you when you first fell in love?
I pined for a beautiful boy, who looked rather like Kit. I was very young, probably only eleven, and I used to watch this tanned boy skimming pebbles on the beach. I felt so pale and plump and ordinary beside him.
Both of your books deal with new immigrants to the UK finding their feet and themselves, is it an issue close to your heart or a coincidence?
My grandparents were immigrants from Berlin, arriving in the UK shortly before WW2. I think their stories as well as those of other refugees have inspired me.
Out of all your characters, whom would you want to know in ‘real’ life?
I feel that I do know them. They are as real to me as my own family.
Finally, do you play a musical instrument at all?
I play the flute really badly. In fact, I can’t play at all if I think someone can hear me. I spent 7 years miming in the school orchestra. The oboes who sat at the next desk used to laugh at me.
Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
This past week we were fortunate enough to speak with Favel Parret, author of the upcoming book Past The Shallows. Past The Shallows is a wonderful book, and to date, my favourite read in 2011. I recently posted a review on our Facebook page (fb.com/tlcbooks) and I can’t speak highly enough of this book. I definitely have a bias to admit, I love this book.
In this interview Favel has shared with us her inspiration for the book and delved a little deeper into the characters and the background for Past The Shallow. We also gain an insight into who Favel is, and what type of writer we are privileged to read.
I hope you enjoy and I thank Favel very much for a fantastic interview.
Can you introduce yourself to the readers; what would you like them to know about you?
My name is Favel. A strange name I know, one that I hated when I was young but have come to like very much. I was always told there was an old English legend about a horse called Favel that you could brush and ask for favours. I do not know if it is exactly true, but in the way stories wrap around us, it has become part of my story.
I grew up in Tasmania, but have lived in Victoria for a long time now. Victoria is home.
Have you always wanted to be a writer or do you have an equal or greater passion for something else?
I always wanted to be a writer but I never thought it would be possible. When I first seriously sat down and started this novel, I knew in my heart that I REALLY did want to be a writer. I still thought it would be impossible, but I kept going anyway.
I have done many things – been a postman, a DJ, worked in a bakery, failed at finishing my degree at university, travelled to lots of wonderful places like Bhutan and Zambia and Cuba and Kenya. I am passionate about many things. I am probably the most passionate about dogs! When I have time I volunteer at an animal rescue shelter called Pets Haven. They save so many lives every year. It is a place that means the world to me.
Past The Shallows is your début published novel, but is it your first novel?
It is my first novel. I never thought I could actually write a novel but somehow I did (over many years). I wrote before, short stories mainly – some published, most not. In my late teens and early 20’s, I published a ZINE called Numb (homemade photocopied cut and paste magazine full of rants and opinions and all sorts of stuff). I was a huge ZINE fan and I met so many great people. It was before email, so there was lots of letter writing. I used get so excited checking my mailbox after work. That doesn’t happen much these days. I miss it!
Who are the authors you most admire?
This list gets longer everyday, but here are just a few…
Maya Angelou – She taught me about the power of words, the power of writing with truth. I love her.
Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses is one of the best books I have ever read. I read it often. He is a master. I have learnt so much from his writing.
Comac McCarthy – The Road is an incredible book. We are so with the characters that we cannot pull away, even when we want to. Even when we don’t want to be on that road anymore. The last paragraph is up on my wall in my studio and I read it most days. It still moves me as much as it did the first time I read it.
I love novels. All the care and time and heart that goes into them. Some novels have changed my life. I know they are important.
Where is your favourite place to write? (not necessarily the best..)
I spend half my week in Torquay and half in Melbourne. I write in both places but I do my best work my studio in the Nicholas building on Swanston Street. It is filled with other artists and galleries and has two old cage lifts with lift operators that are always up for a chat. It is a great place to work. It is my office!
What was the inspiration for Past The Shallows?
The south coast of Tasmania had a huge influence on me when I was young. It is isolated and wild – a place I will never forget. The story grew out of my memories and feeling for that place. It is a sad and beautiful place. An ancient place.
How did you come up with the title?
The title came from the first line of the book – Out past the shallows, past the sandy-bottomed bays, comes the dark water – black and cold and roaring. It was actually my publisher’s brilliant idea (Vanessa Radnidge from Hachette Australia). For a long time, I knew the book as Crack Wattle. I knew this title wasn’t quite right, but it did mean something to me. There is still a section in the book about crack wattle. When Vanessa suggested changing it to Past the Shallows I knew it was perfect straight away. I think it is a great title.
Which character spoke the loudest, to you? Did any of them clamour to be heard over the others?
I love Harry very much. Sometimes it still makes me cry when I think about him. He is a very special character to me – some kind of gift really.
Although Harry is not totally based on my brother, the way I feel about my brother is there in the writing. One of the worst things that could have happened to me when I was a child would have been losing my brother. We are very close.
The ocean and its guises feature heavily in the book, like a character of its own. What is your connection with the Ocean?
You are right. The ocean is a character of it’s own. I am in love with the Southern Ocean. I know that surfing changed my life. I’m 36 and I still love it. It connected me to the natural world, made me aware of tides and winds and the subtle changes that happen every minute of every day. I couldn’t have written this book if I did not surf. And I know I am grumpy and hopeless if I go for more then a week without getting in the water. My favourite time to surf is at dawn, watching the sun come up over Torquay and illuminate the cliffs and sand with the new day.
I know you are working on your next book can you share a bit about it?
I will give you a bit of a blurb, although I don’t know the whole story yet. The working title is Time of the Vikings.
A young girl and her brother try to find their way in a new place. A stone city full of ghosts and empty streets. A place where the wind blows in cold and from the south.
Everything gets brighter when the Vikings come to town – the men who work on an Antarctic supply vessel from Denmark. They are giants and they breathe life into Hobart. Chasing the light from the Arctic to the Antarctic, they sail the world end to end, never stopping for long enough for the darkness to catch them.
But there is a terrible accident off Macquarie Island.
And nothing is ever the same.
– Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
This week we had the fabulous opportunity to interview a new Aussie author, Moya Kate. Moya will be launching her new book Mama Couture on May 2nd and took the time from her very hectic schedule to chat to us about her life, her writing and of course, shoes.
We also gain a little bit of an insight into Mama Couture and some of the inspiration for this wonderful book. If you want to read a review and know the details of the launch feel free to check out our previous blog post: http://www.alturl.com/gaapv
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did, and enjoy Moya’s book even more!
If you would like to read our review of Mama Couture, click here: https://tlcbooks.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/mama-couture-by-moya-kate/
Thank you Moya.
As this is your debut as an author, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Brisbane and have worked and travelled overseas as so many young Aussies do. And even though I’ve had so many opportunities, I have to say that the working at the Qld Writers’ Centre was the most interesting experience to-date. I had the privilege of meeting so many great Queensland writers there and they were all committed to their craft, lovely to be around, and down-to-earth. I certainly don’t believe in the creative mystique anymore. But having said that, I think I dedicated my entire 20s – not to my career – but to developing my voice because it’s really important that writers offer an alternate view, and an alternate voice, to the mainstream.
I have two business degrees. I love the visual arts, am addicted to fashion, deeply troubled by the state of the world and read everything from fiction to Development Economics. Writing allows me to combine all of my obsessions – and all the research that went into Mama Couture has made me a better parent too. So I think I’m on the right path.
Being a mother of four gorgeous children, is any of Mama Couture based on you?
The main character, Til Fisher, works for an Australian fashion label and has this fabulous wardrobe. She’s also determined, loyal, caring and capable. Who wouldn’t want to be her? But she’s not me. I can say that a lot of life experiences have gone into the book but it’s not based on me. The first scene I wrote was Til’s labour scene and it was very different to my experience. I realised then that I was working with a fictional character but I didn’t know who she was so I set out to find out. I started at the beginning of the character’s story, which most naturally seemed to be conception, and kept writing.
It makes me incredibly happy to be able to share Mama Couture with other people and for Til’s story to become a little part of all of us. I think that’s nicer than this being just one person’s story. Reality can be really lonely, can’t it?
You’re well known for your blog; The World’s Best Raising Kids Blog (by the world’s worst mum), how different is the creative process for writing a novel compared to writing on your blog?
It’s really hard to develop and realise an idea in a short blog. Blogs are probably harder than fiction for me. I love writing the blogs but the blogs take me away from writing fiction and being a published author gives me other opportunities – like more shoe shopping. Which leads to more ideas for creative writing and then my kids do something funny and I want to blog about it. And I do use creative license with my blogs. I guess that’s why they say there’s no such thing as history: it’s all just blogging before they invented blogging.
Your character Till Fisher has a life a lot of women would love to live, Was it fun writing a character who leads such a glamorous life?
And I was writing it at a time when my life was at its least glamorous. I had two kids in under a year, and I seriously thought I was never going to go shopping in Paris or wear high heels again. I was covered in baby vomit and often would find myself brushing my teeth and hair at 6pm – for the first time that day.
No wonder I wrote about a glamorous character. But pretty soon she has her fall from grace. Pretty soon she’s vomiting and not fitting into her clothes either. It happens to us all eventually. So I wouldn’t say it was fun, but cathartic. If a mum’s having a bad day, she can read Mama Couture and realise if Til can be jetting off to Paris and her baby is only nine months old, then there’s hope for all of us.
Your novel is fiction, but can some of the mother and business advice be taken as non-fiction?
Definitely. Women don’t only go back to work these days, they go back to managing companies, small and large, and creating franchises and international brands as well. And our cultural products need to reflect that. I didn’t want to be condescending: I didn’t want to show readers how to just write a business plan because a lot of them already know how to, I wanted to show them how to write an international marketing plan and how to value a business and present it to investors. But more importantly, whether they run a small or big company, whether they’re creating small or large profits, is that these value chains are sustainable and responsible. And that women follow their dreams, whether they’re career-oriented or personal.
You write fiction and non fiction with your blog, do you prefer one style of writing over the other?
You’re thinking I’m going to say I prefer fiction, aren’t you? But I don’t find writing fiction to be a creative experience. Writing comedy is fun, but if I separate the genre from the equation, then to me, fiction is all about taking the possibility of a million ideas and putting them through a converging ideas process. Which is a very logical process.
Conversely, in writing non-fiction and in developing the purpose of a blog, I take real life (or knowledge) and put it through a creative, diverging ideas process. I find both to be satisfying writing experiences and hopefully the reader benefits from my work.
Your book cover is fantastic, did you have a lot of input into it?
The cover took longer than the book. In fact, the cover took two years to develop and it is very close to the original concept I came up with. It’s not typical that authors are involved in cover design but I knew it had to speak to the readers. And since readers are such fashion aficionados, I knew it had to be sophisticated.
A lot of friends and early readers (and their daughters) have given us fabulous feedback on the early designs. And the designer Raoul Teague went through hundreds of photos of shoes and we finally selected these two images. It’s clean, beautiful and reflects the conflict running through the book: the constant juggling modern mothers face every day.
Which character from Mama Couture would you most likely be friends with in real life?
I seem to attract quite colourful friends in real life, so I imagine being friends with any of the characters. They provide Til with a fabulous support structure. Good friends don’t just spend time together, they’re there for each other, and they help you take that step closer to being who you want to be. So a lot of my friends are in the book; not as characters, but they’re there, between the lines and in all the beautiful sentences. I take full responsibility for all the bad bits – I’m still learning.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I wish I had more time to read. Stand-outs are Jay Verney, Dorothy Porter, Henry James, Kate Morton, Richard Flanagan, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and my favourite poets Dorothy Porter and Djuna Barnes. On my list to read are the new Suri Hustvedt and Sarah Winman books. The greatest thing in life is discovering a new writer.
And most importantly, have you got your shoes picked out for the launch?
You’ve certainly found my weak spot. To be honest, I am spending an obscene amount of time on this dilemma: pouring over magazines, staying up til midnight trawling through hundreds of online stores, and of course my fav thing – going into DJs and trying on the most ridiculous shoes they’ve got. I’ve narrowed it down to about ten different pairs but I’ve got my heart set on some sky-high Burberrys. I was breastfeeding when I tried them on so the assistant put them on for me and I didn’t dare stand up! But even if I hadn’t been holding the baby I was still scared. And they were $1500. And my husband was there! But I don’t know if I can warrant spending $1500 on a pair of shoes that I have to sit down in. The irony is amusing though. And I think I’ve found the start of the next Mama Couture book.
Courtney Nicholas and Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
TLC Books interviewed the lovely Fleur McDonald this week, author of Red Dust and Blue Skies. Fleur’s books are set in the outback with really vibrant and resourceful women Gemma Sinclair in Red Dust and Amanda Greenfield (Blue Skies). Each of her books drew you in to the characters and storyline like you were there by the women’s sides, battling along with them.
Basically, I am trying to find a nice way of saying that they suck you in and have you staying up way later than you should to finish them.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as we and Fleur did, and I think we should all encourage her to stop playing around on the net and finish her third book! (just kidding Fleur) (kind of).
First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, first and foremost I’m a wife to Anthony and Mum to two gorgeous, active kids. Rochelle is eleven and Hayden’s ten. He‘s just been diagnosed with autism, so that presents us with lots of challenges.
Secondly I’m a farmer or at least a farmer’s helper! We live 100km east of Esperance, on 8,000 acres and here I help care for a menagerie of dogs, chooks, sheep, cattle, tractors and all sorts of other farm machinery. Let me tell you, there are times that the machinery is just as needy as the animals!
Thirdly I’m a writer. That just fits in whenever I have the time.
Your novels have strong women characters based in outback settings persisting against adversity, does any of your work draw on personal experience?
I don’t think that anyone, who has been involved with farming hasn’t been affected by some sort of crisis, at some point in their career. So yes, I can write with authority about farms, nature and pretty much anything to do with our environment. I know how soul destroying it is to feed animals in a drought, put up with floods, pests, diseases and whatever else Mother Nature wants to throw at us. To able to share this with people who aren’t in our industry, gives me awesome amounts of pleasure.
However, my characters are much stronger than me – if half of the things I threw at them, I’d experienced in real life, I would have been running for the door.
What’s the biggest obstacle you face when writing? That is, what gives you the most trouble?
The time factor, is my main problem, but in terms of actual writing, everything after about 30,000 words! I start off at a cracking pace, love meeting my new characters, becoming friends with them and thinking of problems for them. I write and write and write… then I stop. And I don’t just stop, I stop for months. It does take me a while to get back into it, but during the break I think and plan a lot. I can often see holes in my story line while I’m not writing and as much as these blocks annoy me, especially if I have a deadline bearing down, they are good for helping me see things clearly and how to make things better.
Conversely, what brings you the most joy?
Everything about it. I love putting words together, knowing that someone, somewhere, will get a smile or a laugh, or maybe cry.
I loose myself, while I’m writing. I get so caught up in it, I often don’t hear if someone is talking to me, or if the phone is ringing. (My Mum said I used to do this as a kid, while I was reading). When I wrote Red Dust, there was a scene in which the two Stock Squad blokes were bringing stolen cattle into the yards, in the rain. I could see everything as it was happening, in my head and my fingers just flew across the keyboard and nothing else mattered. By the time I finished writing it, I had a really sore bum and I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t until I realised I had been sitting on the edge of the chair, as I was writing it, that I knew how involved I’d been.
Do you have any little quirks when you are writing?
No, I don’t think so – although I’m pretty keen on a good cup of coffee, if I’m writing in the early morning.
Would you ever contemplate writing a book of non-fiction about your life on the farm?
Well, to be honest, I’d never really thought about it. Anthony and I have clawed our way up the farming ladder by sheer hard work. The first hut we lived in didn’t have power or a septic and I lived like that (well, without power) for seven years. As soon as we could afford to, we put in a loo and that was about a year after we moved there.
I guess I think some of stories are interesting to our families, but maybe not so much to the general public.
With your blog fleurmcdonald.com and being on twitter @fleurmcdonald, do you get a lot of feedback from your readers?
Yes, I do. I love hearing from people, especially if they’ve enjoyed the book and I always try and respond, even to the negative responses.
And if so, do you let it affect your writing?
Yeah, it can. I have been known to use up all the writing time, I’ve allocated for a day, on the internet. I’ve now started writing in the spare room, on my laptop, that doesn’t have access to the internet and I still write at my accountants office, for two hours every week and the girls there love making sure I’m not anywhere near the social networking sites! They’re always checking on me.
Do you have a favourite character?
Actually I do – an neither of them are main characters! I loved Jess and Dave Burrows, from Red Dust. It seems as I get older, the gorgeous male characters in their forties have an appeal to me! (Never thought I’d be old enough to say that!)
You have a new book in the works, Purple Roads, due out in 2012, what can you let us in on?
Hmm, well, let me think!
Firstly I’ll say that my main characters are a married couple – I’d like to branch out slightly, this time. Secondly, even though there is farming involved, there isn’t actually a farm and there is a Vietnam War aspect to it. Thirdly, Dave Burrows from Red Dust makes a reappearance!
I hope that’s a good enough teaser!
Thanks for having me.
Interview by Tanya Caunce for TLC Books
This week I had the opportunity to interview a debut author I absolutely love, her autobiography, Burqalicious; The Dubai Diaries, is a new favourite!
Becky Wicks is a writer who I hope people will be reading for a long time to come. Becky has that rare ability to tell a story that has you in stitches at nearly every turn of the page, while also being insightful and educational. I enjoyed Burqalicious immensely, my only complaint was that I wanted to know more, I wanted to hear what happened to Becky after Dubai, I wanted to know more about Becky’s life and the crazy characters she found as friends.
We have found a lot of people who read Burqalicious also had questions about Becky after Dubai; her relationships, her life, her writing and more. I hope this interview answers some of those and more. If you haven’t already read Becky’s book, then what are you waiting for? Go out and get it immediately you wont be disappointed, but first read this interview and find out what we are all buzzing about.
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Brit who has somehow reached the age of 31 existing on coffee and white wine, and the odd pie. I’m a huge pie fan. When I moved to Sydney the first place I ate in was Pie Face. You probably didn’t need to know that. I live in Bondi now because the men are hot and I love looking at the sea. I don’t go in it because of the sharks. I write all day in a cute little café called Katipo, if anyone wants to come and say hi. They’re probably gonna start charging me for electricity soon.
Burqalicious: The Dubai Diaries was your first book, how did you find the creative process?
I found it really therapeutic writing it all down actually. They were pretty intense times, in Dubai, so when it came to editing my blogs and notes into a manuscript I had a good laugh and a cry too, remembering it all. I couldn’t stop until I’d gotten it all out, which is a good thing, because the result is a book I’d have been way too lazy to write otherwise.
So we know you spent two years in Dubai from 2007 to 2009, but can you let us in on something that you didn’t put in the book?
Hmmmm, that’s tough because I tried to be as open as I possibly could when I was writing it all down. I had to cut a good few diary entries out though; else the book would have been a million words long! Stacey had a kickboxing instructor from Iraq who was obsessed with her. That was all pretty amusing. One night we ended up in a nightclub full of hookers because of him. I’ve put some deleted entries like that one on my blog if anyone wants to read them. www.beckywicks.wordpress.com
Did you get any distinctly negative feedback or backlash from Burqalicious?
Not really… not that I’ve seen or heard about yet anyway! (Don’t make me cry!) I think some people might think it’s more appealing to girls because of the name, and I guess, because I’m a girl… OK well yeah, it’s mainly for girls, but it’s really just about Dubai being a mad place to live, and as an expat I guess there are experiences all kinds of people will have in common. I tried not to be negative and as a result, I would hope people don’t see the book as a negative thing.
Of all the crazy characters you met in Dubai who was the most bizarre and why?
I would have to say the Iranian inventor, with his fleet horse and creepy artwork. If you Google the fleet horse you can find his promotional videos on YouTube. It really is awesome! I still can’t believe we lived on his landing and slept in beds he built himself. Not a day goes by when I’m not grateful for my Bondi bedroom.
I know everyone who has read Burqalicious will want to know; do you ever see or hear from MM after your time in Dubai?
Yeah, we’re still in touch. He’s a great guy and we just went through some tough times. It’s funny, when you go through things like bust ups and break ups, you write about them in the heat of the moment. But when you read those words back months or years later, that emotion and drama has passed and you’re like, “What was I talking about??!”. It was hard not to edit my feelings on paper when it came to working on the book, but I felt that if I did that it wouldn’t have been an honest account of how things were at the time. As it is, we’re still in touch and hopefully always will be.
If you were offered to live and work another two years in Dubai, would you want to go back?
I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about Dubai a lot, maybe because of the book dredging it all up again! But no, I think that time has passed. There are definitely still some amazing opportunities over there though. I would encourage anyone to go and give it a shot!
What are the things you miss the most about your time in Dubai
Well, apart from silly, shallow stuff like brunches and boozing in the lap of luxury, I miss the fact that every day was an adventure. You literally never knew what was going to happen next. Even a trip to the bank to open an account was an epic, life-changing experience. Seriously – even the little things over there were inspiring. I felt writing about it all was easy, way easier than I find writing about, say, Sydney.
And the things you miss the least?
I don’t miss that horrid heat. Or the traffic. I lost count of the number of times I almost suffocated, or narrowly avoided being splattered by a Lamborghini.
Are you working on anything new?
Yes I am, but it’s fiction so it’s a thousand times harder! I find writing about real life pretty easy as you have the sights, smells, sounds and emotions all at hand to put into words, but when it’s up to you to create a whole other realm of existence, wow, that’s tough. I’m persevering though and enjoying the challenge. No one has seen it yet though. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows I’m doing it. Don’t tell anyone. It might be shit.
I hope everyone who reads this interview finds it as funny and insightful as I did and for anyone who hasn’t read Burqalicious, I hope it gives you a taste for the sort of hilarity you’re in for! If like me, you still want more, then head over to Becky’s Blogspot for all the fantastic stories and extra diary entries that didn’t make it into the book, along with photos of Dubai and all its weird and wonderful characters.
We have also included the link to our review of Burqalicious The Dubai Diaries for your pleasure, happy reading!
Burqalicious – The Dubai Diaries is available in all good book shops in Australia and NZ.
Becky’s blog: www.beckywicks.wordpress.com
TLC Books book review: http://www.fb.com/note.php?note_id=10150105859943863
Courtney Nicholas for TLC Books