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.
Karen Turner is the author of Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird, an historical fiction trilogy that has partially been self-published and partially been traditionally published. Karen, like many other authors, has had releases, events and launches cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.
Hi Karen, and welcome to The Book Muse
- To start, can you tell my audience about your new book, Stormbird and the previous two, Torn and Inviolate?
Torn was my first novel. It tells the story of Alexandra, growing up in rural Yorkshire in 1808, during the time of the Napoleonic wars. From a young age Alex rails against the constraints imposed on women in her time; forced to watch enviously as her brothers get to go to university, and later when they join the war in Europe. She is betrothed against her will but falls in love with a most inappropriate man. When finally she is betrayed in the worst possible way, she seems to come to terms with the limitations of her life.
My second book Inviolate, picks up Alex’s story where Torn finishes. Darker than Torn, it follows Alex as she embarks on her future only to find that she is haunted by her past. As Alex was older in this book, I was able to explore some different, more adult themes including deceit and violence.
Stormbird, my third and latest novel, takes place in the same home that Alex grew up in, but the year is now 1941. The lady of the house, Jessica, finds herself trapped in a moral dilemma when she discovers Anton, a German Luftwaffe pilot, hiding in her barn.
Stormbird is the ultimate forbidden love story, but it’s also a tense drama as the characters struggle to survive in war-torn England – a time when harbouring the enemy was worse than being the enemy. Realising they can never be together, and with the authorities closing in, Jessica and Anton embark on a wild dash to the coast in the hope of getting Anton out of the country.
- When you started out on your writing journey, what was the first thing you remember deciding to submit for publication?
The very first thing I submitted was a short story that I wrote for a competition. The story was A Book By Any Other Cover and it won 1st prize in The Society of Women Writers’ Biennial Awards 2005.
It has since been published in a compilation of my other short stories called All That & Everything. The print version of All That & Everything sold out a few years ago but it is still available in eBook through Amazon etc.
- What is it about World War Two, and historical fiction in general, that you are attracted to?
I was attracted to WWII because my mother was born in Yorkshire in 1941 and I grew up with stories of her childhood, playing in the rubble of bombed-out houses, food rationing and never meeting her father. My grandmother told me stories of driving an ambulance around Leeds rescuing survivors of the bombing raids, and nights of dancing and partying because tomorrow may never happen. It was a time of great hardship, grief and living-for-the-moment; a romantic yet profoundly dangerous period of history.
I’m very drawn to history and the ‘old ways’. Old-fashioned costumes, homes and manners – the style of a bygone era – I have some affinity with. Many people do, I think, which is why the historical fiction genre is so popular.
- Prior to your novels being published, what had you had published before, and where were these stories printed?
I had a poem published once, many years ago, but I’m not a poet (I secretly think they just wanted me to buy a copy of the book!) My first published book was All That & Everything – a compilation of short stories that was published a couple of years before my first novel, Torn. It’s downloadable for eReaders through Amazon etc.
Additionally, I have a background in finance and over the years have had innumerable articles published in industry mags and newsletters.
- So far most authors I have interviewed have been traditionally published. Have you headed down this path, self-publishing or a hybrid and can you explain why you chose the method you did?
I started out self-publishing after seeing the rejection letters from traditional publishers start to mount up. I believed in Torn and really wanted it to be read so I decided to go down the self-publishing route – and I’m glad I did. Torn has received so many wonderful reviews and apparently brought so much pleasure to readers, that I’ve never regretted the effort (not to mention the expense) of going it alone. And it is expensive – really expensive, but you’re in control at all times which is a bonus.
Meanwhile, the pinnacle of every writer’s ambition is to be ‘picked up’ by a traditional publisher and when that finally happened with Stormbird, I was thrilled.
Nobody tells you what it’s really like and now, having experienced both modes of publishing, I can say that the main difference for me has been the cost – the cost of publishing Stormbird was entirely covered by the publisher.
The trade-off was that I lost a great deal of control over what my book looked like, and the publishing schedule – I had to wait nearly a year after signing the contract to see the book in print! Besides that, publishers don’t seem to be good communicators so there’s always the feeling of being in the dark. Then, after the initial launch, the momentum dries up, as the publisher tends to move onto the next project. They have to – it’s all about business – but I have been left to do my own marketing and sales without the assistance I naively thought I’d have.
In summary, I suppose, traditional publishing is still seen by many as a barometer of one’s success, but I have enjoyed the freedom and control of self-publishing more.
- Like many authors who have participated, I understand you had events cancelled due to the pandemic. What were these events, and which of them were you looking forward to the most?
I had some author talks and a writing workshop cancelled. While disappointing, the one cancellation that has really upset me was the Simultaneous Story Time (SST) that was run through a network of libraries in Australia.
The plan was that a children’s book was to be read to children simultaneously in libraries across the country. I was asked by the Berrigan Shire Library if I would be their reader and I agreed. I was soooo excited to be doing this! I received a copy of the book and was even practising my character voices and then…bummer!
- Do you hope to be able to reschedule these events once the pandemic is over?
Yes definitely. Many libraries and book groups are gearing-up so author events will be able to go ahead in future via remote hook-up, but regardless of whether it’s remote or on-site, I love to work with book-minded people. I will very happily reschedule cancelled events as well as schedule new ones.
Some unexpected opportunities have already arisen as a result of the pandemic and I’ve recently met quite a few people through online groups. I can see no reason why this wouldn’t continue in the ‘new world’ when we all emerge from this.
A writer’s life, by its nature, is insular and lonely. Speaking for myself, I spend my days in imaginary houses, talking with and thinking about imaginary people and situations – I love to get out and meet real people.
- How much have your ties to Italy and Yorkshire informed your stories, your plots and your characters?
My family ties to Yorkshire have been particularly strong in my stories, especially Stormbird. All three of my novels were set in Yorkshire, in a village on the outskirts of Leeds where I once lived, and now visit regularly.
My Italian roots haven’t made their way into my stories. However, as often as possible, I pack up and go to Rome for around 3 months at a time so I can focus on my writing. The reason is that when I’m at home in Australia, there are too many distractions so when I need to get some serious writing done, I leave my husband at home and move myself to Rome where I rent an apartment and live just for writing.
So, while Yorkshire has been the inspiration for my writing, Italy has been the facilitator.
- Which, if any, writing awards have you won, and how did you enter them?
To date I have won eleven literary awards for my short stories and Stormbird was shortlisted for a major Australian romance award.
Every award you enter has different criteria so the most important thing to do is to make sure you read the entry instructions and follow the guidelines strictly. Often the entry instructions – and whether you can follow them or not – is part of the judging criteria. Some will ask you to send a physical copy of your work, while others will only accept electronic versions – nearly all of them will require an entry fee. Then there are font and spacing guidelines, margins and word limits to watch out for.
You can find out about literary awards through writer magazines, author groups and websites.
- Do you have any tips for aspiring writers that helped you on your writing journey to share?
I get asked this so often and there are two main things I always tell people.
- Just start writing. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, just get it down. A book is never written in one draft anyway; writing something perfect straight off is not going to happen. Just start writing and worry about the detail later – that’s the easy part. Knowing when your book is finished is the hard part, but that’s a whole other subject!!
- It doesn’t matter how well you write, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re serious about your writing, you must engage a professional editor. Nothing takes a reader out of a good story like a silly spelling or grammatical error. More than that, a good editor can help with structure, continuity and will work with you to polish your manuscript to the best it can be. If you value your work, it deserves this much!
- What’s the next writing project you hope to undertake?
My next project is a completely new concept for me. I’m writing a book that will be set in Australia, in Victoria during the Gold Rush. I’ve had an idea in my head for a long time but was always so focussed on telling the Torn, Inviolate and Stormbird stories. It’s Australia’s turn now.
- When not writing, what do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
When I’m not writing I love to read just about anything depending on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I go through a horror stage and I’ll read something like a Stephen King. Other times I’ll be in a biographical fad. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the Game of Thrones books – I love to get stuck in to a series where you follow the characters through multiple books.
Sometimes, I’ve been known to read non-fiction, particularly ancient history; Egypt, Rome, Greece.
One of the most important things for a writer to do, of course, is to read so when I’m thinking about my next book I try to read books of a similar genre. For example, when I was writing Torn and Inviolate I read a lot of Pamela Belle, Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory.
Now that I’m working on a book set in Australia, I’m loving Kate Grenville.
Any comments about anything I may have missed?
Well…when I’m not writing I love to run and keep fit. My favourite event is the Melbourne half-marathon as it finishes with a lap around the MCG. I drink too much coffee and eat too much chocolate. I have been a very strict vegetarian for over 30 years.
I enjoy being creative. I bake sourdough bread and have a starter that is about four years old and needs feeding every few days just like a pet.
I have a lead-lighting studio at home and make some nice things, although I’m not very artistic. I love making chocolates and spend a lot of time playing with colours and decorative techniques, with hand-made fondant fillings in different flavours.
What else? I speak Italian and get together (via Zoom) with a group each week where we speak Italian, and discuss current affairs, politics, books, work, movies – anything really. No English allowed. When in Italy I volunteer at an animal shelter twice a week. The centre relies totally on public donation, so I use my dual-language skills to chat with visitors and explain the work the shelter does.
I have had a singing career and worked for many years for a recording company as a session vocalist (yes, there are CDs out there with my name on them!) I have sung at weddings, funerals and in more bands in more pubs, on more stages than I can recall! I have had record producers try to sign me, but I always resisted – not sure why except that I simply enjoyed the singing that I did. I didn’t want the pressure that a contract would mean.
Hmm…Is that it?
Oh yeah, I see dead people.
I think that’s it now.
Thank You Karen