Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Joephine Moon has written several books, but it’s her latest, The Cake Maker’s Wish, that has been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. She found out early on in the crisis, and as the days and weeks went on, like many, things were cancelled left, right and centre. This interview is getting some of her publicity out there in these trying times.
Hi Josephine and welcome to The Book Muse
1. To begin with, what was the book you were supposed to be launching in the next few months when the pandemic hit, and can you tell my readers what it is about?
I was in my publisher’s office having a team meeting to discuss the publicity and marketing strategies for The Cake Maker’s Wish quite early on in the history of Covid19. I don’t think any of us could have predicted that within weeks they’d be cancelling all author tours and events. It happened so fast.
The Cake Maker’s Wish follows the story of Olivia Kent, who bravely decides to move herself and her young son Darcy from their family home in Richmond, Tasmania, to the (fictional) village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds in England. She (along with many others from around the world) has answered the call to help the village in an experimental project to revive its dying economy. At the same time, she has just one wish—to have a family once more. She hopes that the move may help her reconnect with her grandmother’s history in the village, perhaps find some long-lost relatives, help Darcy to connect with his Norwegian father, or at the very least build a new family of village friends. When she gets there, though, she finds that not everyone in the village is as happy about the project as she believed. And while she hasn’t thought about romance in eight years, some unexpected opportunities arise.
2. Are all your books family dramas, or do you dabble in other genres and styles?
Both The Beekeeper’s Secret and The Gift of Life are mysteries.
3. What attracts you to writing family dramas?
It’s funny, but I haven’t really ever thought of them as family dramas necessarily, though you’re right in that they all contain main characters and their family circumstances either support or hinder their progress. I guess the family—whatever it looks like—is the building block of society and also the main driver behind people’s formative experiences and therefore personalities and behaviours. The narrative richness about families is that they are all so different. There are literally endless possibilities to explore in terms of relationship dynamics. Probably, too, the reason family can be such a strong theme in my books is because I frequently write multi-generational point-of-view characters, therefore they do tend to be linked by family bonds of some sort.
4. The new novel begins in Tasmania, and the moves to the Cotswolds in England – what made you choose these two locations in particular?
I went to the Cotswolds to find a story and was indeed lucky enough to find one so that setting was naturally driven by my time there. As for Tasmania, I simply love the island! My dad and stepmother had a cottage in Tasmania for a number of years and I’ve been down there many times. The first time I went to Evandale I declared that I would set a book there—and I wasn’t even yet published! (That book became my second novel, The Chocolate Promise.) I hold fantasies of having a second home down there where I go simply to write books. I had originally intended for there to be more than one chapter set in Tasmania but as it worked out, we only have the prologue. On the up side, I think that gives me an excuse to try again in the future for another Tasmanian book
5. Can you tell my readers about Story Dogs?
Story Dogs is a nation-wide charity that supports early readers by providing volunteers and their dogs as a form of reading assistance. They primarily have their human-dog teams going into schools, where the kids can read to the dogs. The dogs lift their confidence and provide a comforting, non-judgemental ear.
6. What made you decide to become involved with Story Dogs?
Originally, I wanted to be a volunteer for them with my Golden Retriever, Daisy. My son wasn’t yet in school but I thought it was wonderful and wanted to help. But when I read about the attributes a good reading dog needed, I realised Daisy would never pass the test as she was way too excitable. When Flynn started Prep, I came across the organisation again and thought it was a great initiative and one that married together many of my passions—animals, kids and literacy.
7. Prior to becoming an author, what did you teach, and what about this subject did you enjoy?
I was a high school English teacher as well as teaching Film and TV. I don’t think I enjoyed much about it, which is why I didn’t last long 😉
In hindsight, I think I should have been a primary school teacher. When I left high school teaching, I did eighteen months on contracts in primary schools and really enjoyed it. In primary school, you get the chance to build strong relationships and nurture young minds and capture that sense of natural curiosity and love of learning. I love that. After my son started at school and I was volunteering in his class, I had a real hankering to get back in the classroom. It hasn’t really gone away, but there is no way I could write novels and teach as well.
8. What sort of books did you edit during your editorial career?
I worked in an aerospace company for two years, editing aircraft maintenance manuals and company tenders. I also got myself a niche role creating training workshops for the engineers to improve their communication skills, which broke up the monotony of the job, but the whole experience was pretty soul destroying for a creative person. After that, I got a job as a project editor, working on full-colour high school text books. It was such a fun job. Hands down the best job I ever had. (And I have had a LOT of jobs! All good research material now for building characters.)
9. When did you decide to write a novel, and what gave you the confidence to submit to a publisher?
In 1999, I attended at workshop with the Queensland Writers Centre and had what I call a ‘full body moment’ when I thought, ‘This is it—this is what I want to do with the rest of my life’ I knew that I couldn’t just write a novel, though. That’s a bit like trying to build a house when you can’t even pitch a tent. I spent years writing short stories and articles and lots of other things. At some point I moved to novels and wrote across many different genres. It took me a long time to find the style I wanted to write in. Along the way, I submitted manuscripts to agents and publishers and was rejected by everyone in the country at least once.
I don’t think I ever felt confident; I’m not sure I ever feel that way even now. What I did feel was passion for wanting to improve and a hope that wouldn’t die, no matter how many times I was rejected. I’m a big believer in just having a go, so I think that was always my driving force.
10. Have you had any shorter pieces published elsewhere?
Yes, several short stories and multiple articles for newspapers and magazines.
11. When not writing or helping with Story Dogs, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m a huge animal lover, and we live with a lot of animals, so I’m always patting a cat, playing with a dog, or taking care of horses or goats. I bake a lot and read a lot. I also work as the Business Coordinator for an aged care company and create digital content for them too. And, of course, I am a mum to a gorgeous seven-year-old and that’s a huge part of my day and life.
12. Which is easier to write – fiction or non-fiction, or do you find each has its own challenges?
For me, non-fiction is far easier for the simple fact that all the information you want is already ‘out there’ somewhere. Your role then becomes one of being a curator of that information. Writing fiction on the other hand is so difficult. You are creating whole worlds and people out of nothing. It’s much trickier to find the boundaries of the story and set the course for the narrative and I spend vast amounts of time rewriting. Non-fiction uses a completely different part of my brain so it’s an enjoyable counterpoint.
13. Did your background in education and literacy help when it came to crafting your stories?
Being an editor definitely helped because you need to drill down into the really fine points of language that are mostly overlooked.
14. During your writing process, what kind of research do you do?
Research is my happy place and I spent loads of time there. It’s where I find my stories, the inspiration for characters and content for settings. I love location research for settings. I’m also very much a ‘method writer’, so if my character wants to do a coffee cupping, I need to do it too to have that hands-on experience to write about. I also do a lot of interviews with people because human beings are always the best source of information.
15. What events did you have to cancel when the lockdown hit Australia, and which were you looking forward to?
All my touring events were cancelled. Usually, I visit several cities and do dozens of book signings and author talks. I love meeting readers and I’m lucky enough to have some people come out to see me every year. I’m really sad about not seeing my readers.
16. You’ve worked in education and the arts – how do you think these industries complement each other?
Education (at its best) teaches us how to think. The arts teach us how to think creatively, differently and compassionately, and strengthens our resilience.
17. Top five books or authors that you always enjoy?
Monica McInerney, Marian Keyes, JoJo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, and two new favourites this year in Rachel Givney (Jane in Love) and Rose Hartley (Maggie’s Going Nowhere).
18. What are your plans for your future novels?
Right now, I’m working on my 2021 book, currently called The Jam Queen. After that, I honestly don’t know. With the world as it is right now, I’m finding it difficult to organise three meals a day, let alone a new novel
There are many things I’d still like to write, passion projects and children’s stories, and I have many non-fiction books still inside me that I’d like to bring forth too. Part of being a creative is that I need to stay open to what comes my way. I’m always open to a story ‘arriving’ and demanding to be written.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you so much for having me along and for supporting authors, especially at this time. The Cake Maker’s Wish is out on 2 June and pre-orders are open now, with all the links here.