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Fancy Meeting You Here Interview with Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

Hi Ali and Michelle, welcome to the Book Muse!

  1. Fancy Meeting You Here is your third book – as a cowriting team, what has your writing process been like for each book, and has it changed over the years?

We spend a lot of time nutting out our characters and finessing the plot in depth. This allows us to divvy up the chapters and write on our own when it works with our schedule. Our plot map is key as it’s not unusual that one of us is writing  a chapter that comes after another that doesn’t yet exist! We then read over and edit each other’s work, putting a bit of ourselves into each part. Over the three books, we’ve almost created a new voice that is a bit of Ali, a bit of Michelle. When we read back over our stories, we often can’t remember or work out who wrote what!

  1. Do you have any advice for people looking to co-write, and how to make it work effectively and so it is still fun?

We adore creating stories together and highly recommend getting yourself a writing buddy (bonus if it’s your best friend!). It makes, what is otherwise an often solitary pursuit, joyful and social and just that little bit less daunting. Good communication is essential, especially when it comes to teething out a storyline. We’re very like minded and have a huge deal of respect and admiration for each other, which is great because we both hate confrontation! We’ve had to get comfortable with editing each other’s work. But we’re always grateful for each other’s insights. We often leave each other notes in the manuscript saying – “help! this needs your magic touch!”.

  1. Fancy Meeting You Here is about second chances – about what could have been. If you could relive your twenties, is there anything you would do differently or anything you’d change to get to where you are now?

There’s not too much we would change, except for maybe that time we cut our fringes after spending two, painstaking years growing them out. Ali would also like to tell her younger self that she would NOT have more time to write once the baby was born and she should NOT delay editing until then!

  1. If you found yourselves in this scenario, how would you interact with your younger selves, and would you give them any advice or warnings about what is to come?

We think if we had to tell our younger selves anything, it would be that it’s all going to work out! We’re not overly spiritual people, but have come to see that the disappointments, the failed dates, missed opportunities, the difficult decisions we lamented over were all leading us to where we were truly meant to be. Somebody once told Michelle that any decision can be made to be the right decision, and we are grateful that, for the most part, this has been true for us. 

  1. One thing I love about your books is that they’re romantic comedies written by women – which means the female characters are given more than just falling in love with a partner to aspire to. As a reader, I find this a powerful aspect that a lot of romantic comedies don’t always explore. If more romantic comedies were written by women, how do you think and hope this would alter the way the stories and characters play out, and what issues do you think these movies might cover?

Thank you, we are so glad that you were able to recognise Evie as a fully formed human with an abundance of desires for her life. Rewatching some of our favourite rom coms made us realise how problematic they can be in how they portray women. We really want to flip the narrative with our books, while still being romantic, to demonstrate that romance and feminism are not mutually exclusive. I think as a whole, we expect more from filmmakers and writers. People expect to see more than just your typical tropes play out on the big screen.

  1. How do you think incorporating these above issues might change the way romantic comedies could be written as they explore these issues, whilst presenting an entertaining and fun story?

We’re loving seeing more dynamic and diverse women – and men – come to life in stories. Jessie in Starstruck, Oly in Bump, Nina in Ghosts, most of the cast in Sex Education, to name a few. More and more, we’re laughing at the right things, and celebrating women and all of their beautiful complexities.  

  1. How do you think some of the classic romantic comedies would be different if they were made against the backdrop of  the #MeToo movement and discussions around gender equality?

Something that we became even more conscious of as we wrote Evie’s story, was that while she only travels ten years in the past, so much has changed for women in a comparatively short period of time. There’s certainly a long way to go, but seeing how much we’ve progressed, especially since the Me Too movement, has been encouraging. If some of the classic romantic comedies were set against the backdrop of MeToo, I think we’d see a lot more of an equal playing field. He’s Not That Into You wouldn’t show “boys just being boys” and instead question the way men treat women, Sandy would NOT change herself for Danny in Grease, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days would not reinforce the idea that women are clingy, and Sex and the City, well, a lot would change about SATC. In saying that, we think we can appreciate these films and shows for highlighting a moment in time.

  1. The role of women in your books as powerful leads, who are flawed and have their strengths is one of the things that draws me to these books – what is it that makes you create characters that I feel do not always fit into ‘the norm’ – they’re not quite what everyone expects. How did this come about in your planning and creating?

This is so wonderful to hear. We are humbled and heartened knowing that our characters resonate with you! We have a lot of fun giving our characters loveable quirks and eccentricities. I think this is where our sense of humour really comes into play. We also love challenging societal expectations of what a woman and man should be in a way that’s playful and energetic. It’s definitely a conscious decision we made right at the start of our writing journey.

  1. When reading your books, I always felt like the romance wasn’t the be all and end all of the novel – that it was okay for the love to be something other than another person – or both. Was this a conscious decision you made?

We love hearing this! We’re hopeless romantics through and through, but it is always our wish that our female leads are a fully formed human, and that the collected dreams we seek – fulfillment, contentment, connectedness – are realised in them. We are definitely big believers in the importance of having full lives, being independent, curious and having a strong sense of who you are. You can’t expect to find all of your happiness in one person, you have to create that story for yourselves. Which is why we love writing imperfect, yet empowered women!

  1. What is it about celebrating a love of reading and words that speaks to you, and therefore makes your books powerful and something that a wider audience can connect with?

Books and reading have always been a big part of our lives and friendship. Books let us travel the world, expand our minds, fall in love, develop empathy and imagine the impossible. We owe so much of who we are to what we’ve read, and we know so many people feel this way. Which is why it came so naturally to us to create novels that are, in many ways, love letters to some of the great books that have changed our lives.

  1. What was the inspiration behind starting Books on the Rail, and how has COVID-19 changed how The Book Ninjas do their good work getting books out to people?

When Ali moved back from London after helping run Books on the Underground (a similar concept to Books on the Rail), we couldn’t think of a more bookish place than Melbourne to launch an Australian branch. We launched in 2016 by leaving our own books and ones purchased from second-hand bookstores on Melbourne trains and trams. Since then, we have developed a passionate and thriving following and now collaborate with publishers and authors, distributing their notable and up-and-coming books. Thanks to our crafty Book Ninjas (1000 and counting!), we have been able to launch Books on the Rail Australia wide! You can now find our books cruising around all states, including many regional areas. As with many things, Covid put a temporary halt to our moving library, but our Book Ninjas continued to spread bookish love online with our #booksonthebed campaign. We are very excited to be relaunching #booksontherail on November 30 to celebrate the release of Fancy Meeting You Here.

  1. Was it easy to get your Book Ninja campaign up and running, or were there unforeseen challenges when you decided to start this?

When we first launched, we weren’t sure how the public transport operators would respond. So initially, we were more of a secret guerrilla movement, stealthily dropping books for unsuspecting commuters to discover. But as more people and publications got wind of us, we were delighted to receive the support of many of the transport operators around Australia. They even went so far as to brief cleaning staff to ensure that books stayed in rotation, and didn’t end up in lost property.

  1. What has the most rewarding or exciting thing been about Books on the Rail?

We love running Books on the Rail and are constantly in awe of the generosity and passion of our Book Ninjas who distribute their own loved books, and of the excitement of people who discover our books. We’ve had messages from people sharing that they have discovered a new genre that they would normally shy away from, or that finding a book has ignited in them a love of reading for the first time, or just that they are simply grateful for the little pick me up after a hard day.

  1. Finally, what is next for Ali and Michelle?

We are currently working on the screenplay for The Book Ninja, which is very exciting. We’ve also already started brewing a new idea for our next book, which we hope to start writing in the calm of the new year. Stay tuned!

Have I missed anything that you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and in depth interview! We think we’ve covered all the big things 🙂

1 thought on “Fancy Meeting You Here Interview with Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus”

  1. Another great interview. The shared approach to writing a novel is very novel! And quite complex, I imagine. I love your interviews with authors,

    Like

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