Isolation Publicity with Madelaine Dickie

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.

Madelaine Dickie is the author of Troppo and Red Can Origami. Like many authors, she had launches and events cancelled surrounding the release of her book. Whilst this is disappointing for authors, giving them an opportunity to virtually promote their books here and as some publishers and booksellers have done, will help with the release.  

Hi Madelaine, and welcome to The Book Muse

 

  1. To begin with, what genre do you usually write in, and what audience do you primarily focus on?

 

My audience, my readers, love racy plots, gorgeous language and vivid characters. They’re deep thinkers, who are empathetic, curious and not afraid to question the status quo. They also love a good dash of danger—a flirtation with risk!

I write across a number of genres and forms. My early publications were mostly poetry and creative non-fiction, my first novel is a surf-noir thriller, my second novel is literary fiction, and I’m currently working on a biography, a 14,000-word essay on art and violence in Mexico, and a crime novel.

 

 

Madelaine's second novel, Red Can Origami, was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019
Red Can Origami was released by Fremantle Press in December 2019

 

 

  1. Your latest novel, Red Can Origami, is about the conflict between a Japanese mining company and a local Aboriginal group in northern Australia – what inspired you to write this story?

 

I spent about six years living and working for Traditional Owners in the Kimberley, first in Broome, then in Wyndham. It was a privilege to reside in a living cultural landscape, where people have a continuing and powerful connection to country. Through my work, I had the opportunity to attend native title consent determinations, Indigenous Protected Area celebrations, back to country trips and huge bush meetings attended by hundreds of people. Red Can Origami came out of these wonderful and wild years. The book has serious subject matter, but it’s also funny and fast-paced, and the action flies from the rodeos and fishing holes of northern Australia, to the dazzling streets of night time Tokyo …

 

 

  1. Did you have any events related to your book or books planned for this year before everything had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What were they, and which were you most excited about?

I was really looking forward to all of my events. They included talks for the City of Fremantle; Melville Library; Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival; and Corrugated Lines up in Broome.

 

  1. You’ve travelled to Japan, Mexico, and many African countries – how have these trips informed your writing, and do you have a favourite place you’d love to go back to one day?

 

Martha Gellhorn spoke of countries being like lovers. For me, Indonesia was my first love affair—passionate, troubled, exhilarating, exhausting. I’ve spent about three years in Indonesia all up on different trips. It’s where I wrote my debut novel Troppo. Troppo is set in Sumatra and is about mad Aussie expats, black magic and big waves.
Now, my tastes and interests are shifting. In Mexico last year, I wrote a non-fiction essay about representations of violence in Mexican textile art and lithographs, as well as manifestations of violence in the surf culture. This is coming out in an anthology with Fremantle Press in 2021 and I’ll be allowed to share more details soon.

I think generally, travelling has always meant the space to write, the space to dream, to think, to read, to drift, and to reflect with some objectivity on my own country, on Australia, on our strengths and shortcomings.

I’d love to go back to Pavones in Costa Rica, and one day, I would love to visit Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

 

  1. When did your writing journey begin with Fremantle Press?

 

My journey with Fremantle Press began when I won the City of Fremantle T.A.G Hungerford Award for Troppo in 2014.

 

Madelaine's first novel Troppo won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award
Madelaine’s first novel, Troppo, won the City of Fremantle Hungerford Award in 2014

 

  1. Have you won any awards for your writing, and what are they?

 

At university, I won the Illawarra Mercury Journalism Prize and the Nicholas Pounder Prize. I received a Prime Minister’s Asia Australia Endeavour Award to write the first draft of Troppo in Java … and the book went on to win the Hungerford Award, as well as to be shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Dobbie Literary Award. Red Can Origami was written in Tokyo, at Youkobo Art Space, with the support of an Asialink Arts Residency.

 

  1. Do you prefer writing with pen and paper, or on the computer, and why?

 

I write in pen or pencil on blank sheets of A4 paper. This slow form of writing lends itself to stronger, more poetic work. It gives me the chance to see how the words within a sentence settle next to each other. I write and rewrite and rewrite until the rhythm is exactly right.

 

  1. Apart from Troppo and Red Can Origami, have you written anything else in either short or longform that has been published?

 

My first short story won a national competition and was published when I was seven years old. I wrote it on a typewriter and my dad helped me with the editing! Since then, my short stories, radio stories, poetry, essays and creative non-fiction pieces have consistently been published, mostly in Australia, and sometimes overseas. While I was in Japan, I wrote a piece titled ‘Wandering the Yellowcake Road’ about my journey through parts of the Fukushima Da’ichi Nuclear Exclusion Zone. If you Google the title, you should be able to find this one online, published by Coldnoon International Journal of Travelling and Travelling Cultures.

 

  1. Have you ever appeared at, or attended writer’s festivals, and have there been any that have stood out for you?

 

I was invited to Makassar International Writers Festival in 2017, organised by Lily Yulianti, and presenting in Indonesian was an incredible (and challenging!) experience. I was inspired by how many young people were in attendance. They were curious, engaged, energised and intelligent. It was really different to the vibe at writers’ festivals in Australia.

 

  1. How important do you think the arts are in society, and what can people do to support them in these difficult times?

 

I think literature is crucial to our contemporary society. Literature is our memory, our history, and our mirror. I hope people are able to keep reading. My reading has suffered a blow since the coronavirus pandemic—I’m spending more time on that endless scroll of Facebook, or Instagram, or news, and finding it harder to focus, to lose myself.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers you support in your local area?

 

I live in Exmouth, a remote town on the Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia, and I’m very pleased to have the support of The Social Society and Exmouth Newsagency and Toyworld. They both stock copies of my books!

 

  1. Who are your favourite authors and/or books?

 

I love the work of Barry Lopez, Don Winslow, Thea Astley, James Crumley, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Merlinda Bobis, Ludmilla Petrushevskya and Denis Johnson.

 

Madelaine's writing schedule is structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Photo by Aimee Jan.
Madelaine arranges her writing schedule around tides and swells. Photo by Aimee Jan

 

  1. Other than writing, what do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

 

I’m a surfer—and not a summer surfer, or a sometimes surfer. My writing days and weeks are structured around tides, winds and the arrival of swells. Many of our surf spots here are boat access only, and my best days in the surf are off the reef with my girlfriends. They’re amazingly capable water women—they have their skippers’ tickets, can 4WD, own their own boats, and are incredibly brave. When I’m not surfing or writing, I like going for long walks through the desert with my husband, and I like drinking cold white wine on hot desert evenings.

Red Can Origami came out of six years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Red Can Origami came from 6 years living, working and fishing in the Kimberley region of WA
  1. Working in the arts, what have you learned from others in the industry, and have you been able to apply this to your own work?

 

My greatest lessons have been from the masters—from writers who push the boundaries of form and of language. From the way Beckett finds rhythm in minimalism, to Joyce’s bold and shameless play, to Kurniawan’s quirky narrative structures, writing is a constant learning process. I have also learned a great deal from Georgia Richter, my wonderful editor at Fremantle Press.

 

  1. What do you think the most important thing the arts can bring to people in these trying times?

 

I think the arts can bring escapism and hope, can prompt reflection and contemplation.

 

  1. Do you have any other novels in the works, and when do you hope to be able to release them?

 

I’m currently working on a biography of the Kimberley Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann.

Wayne is a Nyikina man, a boiler-maker welder, a lawyer, and a former finalist in the Western Australian of the Year Awards.

He has rubbed shoulders with Queen Elizabeth, the King and Queen of Sweden, as well as numerous Australian Prime Ministers and Western Australian premiers. His most demanding role was as CEO of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). At its helm, Wayne successfully negotiated a 1.5-billion-dollar compensation package for Traditional Owners relating to Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas plant at James Price Point, north of Broome. Wayne came under constant assault during this time, was called a ‘toxic coconut’ and accused of thinking white, lying white, and talking white. He approached me to write this book out of a desire to set the public record straight.

It’s a fantastic project and I’m genuinely thrilled to be at the desk each day. This book is going to be really special and really powerful! I’m hoping to finish a first draft by the end of the year.

 

 

Anything you wish to say that I may have missed?

 

Thanks Madelaine and best of luck in your career.

 

Isolation Publicity with Alison Booth

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.

the-philosophers-daughter-cover

Alison Booth has a PhD from the London School of Economics, and is the author of several books, including The Philosopher’s Daughter, which came out in early April. Like many of my participants, she had events and launches cancelled. With some of these moving online, my series is one aspect of how these authors are getting the word about their books out there, and in some cases, I am reviewing them – these reviews will appear in separate posts as close to the interview date as possible – or as soon as I can get them up – I am hoping to stick to keeping them close together, otherwise will link them to each other in the posts when I am able to.

 

Hi Alison, and welcome to The Book Muse!

 

  1. Your novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, came out on the second of April, 2020. To begin, can you tell my readers a bit about your latest book?

 

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

 

  1. What inspired this book in particular, and what genre do you usually write in?

 

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong but very different young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I wanted to introduce an alteration in the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

 

The second half of The Philosopher’s Daughters mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia, one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by British colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then.

 

I’ve long been fascinated by how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents; they can react against them, agree with them, or be crushed by them. The closer we are to a parent, the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden that Harriet, the older of the two sisters, carries.

 

 

  1. What events did you have to cancel due to the pandemic, and where were these events going to take place?

 

We’d planned events in the UK, which is where the novel is published. Needless to say, these have had to be cancelled and my trip to the UK had to be shelved too. To make things more complicated, the London warehouse went into lockdown some weeks ago so book distribution halted. However, the publisher organised a British book bloggers tour that began before the lockdown, and I’m thrilled with the responses.

Amazon has the kindle version of the book on its UK and Australian websites, and once the UK lockdown ends and the paperback version of the book is mobile again and arrives in Australia, we have plans for events in Australia.

I’ve been very impressed with the outreach from the book community to authors whose releases have been affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’m very grateful to you and all the others who have offered coverage on their blogs.

 

 

  1. Other than The Philosopher’s Daughters, what other works have you written, and what genre are they in, or are they all different genres?

 

My previous novels include A Perfect Marriage (2018), a work of contemporary fiction, while my first three novels (Stillwater Creek (2010), The Indigo Sky (2011), and A Distant Land (2012),) are historical fiction spanning the period from the late 1950s through to the early 1970s. More details can be seen at my fiction website: http:// http://www.alisonbooth.net

 

  1. Have any of your books won any awards?

 

Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.

 

  1. You’re also a professor at ANU in Canberra – what is your PhD in, and what do you teach?

 

My PhD is from the London School of Economics and is in economics. During my teaching career, I taught a variety of courses and my favourites were graduate labour economics and public economics. I am Emeritus Professor now and I no longer teach but I’m continuing with research projects.

 

  1. What is your area of interest, and why did you choose this area in particular?

 

My research interest is behavioural economics, which studies the effects of psychological and cultural factors and the like on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. I chose this area because of my interest in the links between cultural factors, economics and psychology.

 

  1. Does this area of study and research inform your fiction writing, or do you find they are completely separate?

 

There is some overlap to the extent that fiction involves human psychology and I’ve always been interested in this. But also my research is concerned with inequalities, both in terms of racial and gender issues, and this comes across in the fiction.

 

  1. When not teaching and writing, what do you enjoy doing?

 

Reading, bush walking, visits to art galleries and the cinema, and dining with friends.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or comfort read, and why this one in particular?

 

My father introduced me to the novels of Patrick White. I love reading and rereading them. While at each stage of my life I’ve noticed different things about these books, I particularly appreciate the landscapes White describes and his acute psychological insights.

I don’t have a comfort read but I do have a comfort TV programme, and that is the complete set of episodes of Dad’s Army. The characters in this series are superb.

 

  1. How do you switch between academic writing and fiction writing, or do you have a schedule and process to do this easily?

 

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I work very regularly and aim for 300 words a day. This is not many words and I can fit this in with other things happening in my life. Once a draft is finished, I put it away for a while and then block off a chunk of time when I can work on revising it. I don’t mind the actual switching between the different forms of writing any more, though I did find that shift between heart and head difficult to begin with. I write many drafts; for each novel there are typically well over twenty.

 

 

  1. What do you have planned next for your fictional worlds?

 

I’m working on two book drafts. Both are historical although not in the purists’ definition of historical as being set more than fifty years ago. I’m at the redraft stage for both projects, so would prefer to keep them under wraps until I work out what needs doing to each of them.

 

 

  1. Books are important in these trying times – what booksellers are you trying to support and purchase books from?

 

Local bookstores and for some purchases Booktopia and Fishpond.

 

  1. With many festivals and launches heading online at the moment, do you think this will continue after the pandemic, making access to these easier for those who can’t attend in any capacity?

 

My guess is that online events will continue for a while, but with time – assuming the pandemic goes and the associated fears fade – we will return to the physical form, perhaps modified in some way and there may well be hybrid events. If we do return to where we were before the pandemic, I think it is very important for organisers of book events and festivals to provide podcasts for those who are unable to attend for whatever reason. Maybe this lockdown will have provided us all with more skills so this can be achieved.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite book or author?

 

That’s a difficult question! I admire a great many authors and read widely. My favourite authors include Patrick White, Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Anna Burns. This year I’ve read some wonderful books including Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Anna Burns’ Milkman.

 

 

  1. What were your favourite books to read when you were younger?

 

When I was very young my favourite books were by authors Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton, and I also loved the children’s encyclopedias on my parents’ bookshelves.

 

 

Thank you, Alison,

 

Thank you so much, Ashleigh. If anyone reading this interview likes my books, I’d be delighted if they could post a review on the website of their favourite bookstore and on Amazon. Online feedback is really important to authors and particularly so in this pandemic period.

 

Isolation Publicity with poet, Jennifer MacKenzie

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.

Navigable-ink_cover

Jennifer MacKenzie is a poet, published with Transit Lounge in 2020. Her collection of poetry, Navigable Ink, was inspired by an Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer – as Jennifer describes below. Like many authors, she had various launches and events cancelled, and so is taking part in this interview – hopefully it will get the word about her book out there. Up until now, most of my interviewees have been in the fiction, non-fiction and kid-lit worlds of writing, so it is interesting to get a poet on here, and discuss her work and what she has had to cancel.

Hi Jennifer, and welcome to The Book Muse.

1. To start, can you tell my readers a bit about your book, Navigable Ink?

Navigable Ink is a homage to the Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. It is a portrait of an artist living under extreme stress, but who has the courage to continue his work, and reflect broadly on history and on the political responsibility of the artist. I have employed a number of methods, including creating poems based on some of Pramoedya’s writings, in both fiction and memoir, and also dedicating poems to contemporary Indonesian artist activists. I have focused on the beauty of the Indonesian landscape, and introduced a variety of poetic forms across the collection, in order to make it as vivid and engaging as possible.

2. What inspired, or drove you to write this work in particular?

My previous poetry collection, Borobudur, required a great deal of research into Indonesian history. It was during that time that I began to read Pramoedya extensively. However, writing a collection of poetry is often a slow process. It is only in the last few years that I began to imagine the possibilities of basing a collection on someone I greatly admired.

3. When did you start writing poetry, and what made you decide this was how you wanted to write?

When I was at school I was very fortunate to have the late artist, Les Kossatz, as a teacher for one year. As well as teaching art, he also gave us writing exercises. His way of life, with the studio and artist friends, seemed very exciting to me. At the same time, I was reading a lot of Patrick White, and I found his prose to be a model for poetry writing. At 18, I felt I had to choose either painting or poetry, and I (wisely, based on my painting ability!) chose poetry.

4. What events and launches did you have planned before COVID-19 came along, and you had to cancel everything?

Navigable Ink was due to be launched at Readings in Melbourne on April 1. I was in the process of organising some interstate readings, but they too had to be abandoned. I am scheduled to have events in New York in September, and at the Ubud Writers Festival in October, but they must be considered highly unlikely to happen.

5. How much time have you spent in Indonesia?

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time there, either travelling or doing research for my books. I’ve also participated in a number of writers’ festivals and conferences there.

6. When you translated Pramoodya Ananta Toer’s work, did you have to do any extra study of the Indonesian language?
Yes I did. I studied Indonesian at the University of Melbourne, and at the Universitas Gajah Mada in Jogjakarta.

7. What was it about Toer’s story that interested you, and did you meet him prior to translating his work?

I was very interested in how his writing delineated patterns in history, and how these patterns were central to his own situation as a persecuted writer. I was attracted to his methodology in opening up the history of Indonesia and its culture. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him, but many of my friends did. I communicated with him through friends who visited him.

8. Have you translated any other works into English, or from English into other languages?

Pramoedya’s Arus Balik (Cross-Currents) is the only translation I’ve done.

9. What sort of messages about activism do you think poetry can communicate to readers?

Poetry can take an ethical position on crucial issues such as the climate crisis, and do so in a number of inventive ways. Eco-poetry is an example of poetry which can encompass historical, political and environmental issues while employing a diversity of forms.

10. What do you hope your poetry collection communicates to a wider readership?

Although Pramoedya is very well-known in Indonesia, he seems to be largely unknown in Australia. I have found that what he represents as an artist, and the relevance to the issues of today, of political freedom, of the freedom to write without censorship, of the importance of engagement with crucial historical and environmental issues, to be subjects that are resonating with readers.

11. Working in the arts, what has been something you’ve enjoyed as a poet and reviewer?

The best thing has been the engagement with writers and artists from all over the world. I have made some wonderful friends and have learnt so much from them.

12. With isolation hitting us all hard, how important do you think the arts, and in particular the arts in Australia is for everyone?

Nearly everyone is drawing on the arts in some form to help them through this difficult period. However the support for artists from the Federal Government has been conspicuously lacking. The good thing is that artists have been supporting each other with much generosity.

When it comes to supporting the arts, how important do you think it is to continue to support local artists, writers, organisations and booksellers over conglomerates in these times, given that if we don’t, we could lose our industry and local voices?

It is essential for governments and arts’ bodies to support the arts across the spectrum in this difficult time. Otherwise we are going to lose irreplaceable cultural capital.

13. How supportive do you think the Australian writing community is?

I have found the community to be very supportive, with writers buying and promoting each other’s books. I think we have come to realise how important the connections we have to each other are.

14. Finally, any future works of writing readers should be on the lookout for?

For poetry, Ellen van Neervan’s Throat, and Felicity Plunkett’s A Kinder Sea. (UQP) For prose, Barry Lee Thompson’s Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge) and Annee Lawrence’s The Colour of Things Unseen (Aurora Metro Books)

Anything further?

Thanks Jennifer!

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

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.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!

Isolation Publicity with Dr Anna Whateley

 

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.

Peta Lyre

Dr Anna Whateley is a neurodivergent, #OwnVoices author – and it is exciting to hear from her about her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, which was released on the 28th of April 2020. Anna put some of herself into Peta, and I think this will make for interesting and authentic reading. Like many authors during the next few months, Anna is missing out on the release, launch and events related to her debut novel. Since starting this series, several events and launches have moved online, which is great – but this series is still vital I think – to showcase as many authors as possible affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways and in at various stages in their careers.

Hi Anna, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. Your first novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal is released this year – can you tell the readers a little bit about Peta, and where she came from?

Peta Lyre is 16, and from an area just south of Brisbane called the Redlands. She is doing year 11 at a TAFE college, and lives with her Aunt Antonia. Peta is autistic and gifted, and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, so life can be a bit intense! She has been following all the social rules perfectly, masking and ‘passing’ as normal for years. Her best friend is Jeb, a funny and sensitive guy stuck in a mechanics course when he wants to branch out. When Samanta arrives at college, Peta falls in love. They go to Perisher Valley for a ski trip and everything becomes more difficult. She is left with conflicting rules, an avalanche of emotions, and her worst fears are realised.

Peta’s voice was natural for me, a certain way of thinking I share, but her story is her own. She’s more sensible than me, and probably smarter!

2. You’re the second author I’ve interviewed represented by Danielle Binks, who was the first Isolation Publicity interview – how did you meet Danielle, and how long have you been working with her on the novel?

I met Danielle at the CYA conference in 2018, where I pitched Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal. I was pretty nervous, but she was supportive and yet straight to the point (I like that!). After she signed me up we had some young interns read Peta’s story, and they loved it. We didn’t really do any edits before sending it out to publishers in early 2019.

3. I understand that Peta Lyre is your first novel – what events and launches were planned for this novel prior to the pandemic shutting everything down?

Before the pandemic I was contracted to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and a few other events that still haven’t been announced (or they haven’t decided what to do yet). I absolutely love festivals, so I’m a bit crushed. Apart from those, I’d planned to have a launch and a few bookstore events – they’ve mostly moved online, so that’s great!

4. Without giving too many spoilers away, is there anything about Peta and her story that was inspired by yourself, or anyone you know?

I share her diagnoses, and she takes the same medications I do. I also went to a TAFE for years eleven and twelve of high school and went on the ski trip. I’ve drawn on those years to create Peta’s world, but not directly, and nothing in her family life is like mine was really. We did struggle for money in those years, and I really wanted to show what low SES living can be like. Not in a dramatic way, just in a mundane sort of day to day life way – like not going to the movies or having sponsored ski trip thanks to the government and package deals with local private schools. Being the charity kids, as it were. We still enjoyed it, but there’s always a moment when you realise that other people live and experience life differently. Apart from that, I drew on key moments – emotional punches – from my teenage years. Like the moment you realise someone has judged you for kissing a girl, or when you realise you’ve hurt someone you love. The situations are different, but the core emotion is shared.

5. Since the pandemic started to shut things down, you’ve started an #AusChat video series – what inspired this, and how many people in the book industry in Australia have you spoken to so far?

Ha, this was a strange thing! I was swept up in a moment of loneliness and sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my writer community. I can easily slip into isolation anyway, and forget that I need other people, and when it looked like everything was shutting down, it became overwhelming. So, I guess my ADHD-self took over and decided to chat to people I know from Twitter using zoom, and just see how they’re going. Then I thought I’d record it and pop it up on my YouTube channel. Kay Kerr helped me figure out a few parameters and was always going to be my first chat. We’ve shared a lot of our publishing journey together and had previously thought we would do some online conversations. I’ve recorded thirty chats now and have more booked in! I’m stunned people have responded so well, and I’ll keep going so long as the need is there.

6. You’ve got a PhD in young adult literature – where did you study this, and in particular, what aspect of young adult literature did you focus on?

I do, but not in creative writing of YA! I analysed young adult fiction with a theoretical framework. It’s an academic way of understanding where our society and culture sit on a particular issue. For me, it was understanding how people continue on after they realise they’re going to die. That sounds simple, but there’s a moment where you understand what death really means, and that it’s always present in our lives (perhaps even more so at the moment). These revelatory moments are key to YA texts, and I specifically looked at the role characters who didn’t fit the binary codes of society played in each narrative. I could go on forever! Basically, I found that young adult fiction does an amazing job of processing and incorporating death in a productive and transformative way. More than that, characters who don’t fit simple binaries are crucial to survival. Perfect.

7. Did you study children’s literature prior to the PhD, and what did the course focus on? What aspects of a children’s literature course do you think are important?

I came from doing a teaching certificate in the UK, and before that I completed a BA with Honours in English Literature. Not children’s literature at all! I studied all the classics, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. I loved every moment, though I’d say my favourites were the Romantic period, and postmodern literature. My honours looked at environmental discourses over the last two hundred years, winding in feminist, post-structural and postcolonial theories. I have taught children’s and YA literature to pre-service teachers more recently, where I think it’s really important to keep the texts current, while leaning on historical writing. We need to show a genuine respect for the books we study, whether they are adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, or poetry. Popular or unpopular, they all show us something about the culture that produced them.

8. How important are #OwnVoices stories to you, and what do you think they bring to the book world?

Own voices writing is incredibly important to me, and I’m lucky to have come along at the upsurge of a movement that amplifies my own voice. We’ve had post-colonial theories for a long time, questioning the writing of Othered/marginalised people by those in more powerful positions (Western, usually male, white writers). Own voices is expanding these ideas and drawing attention to how problematic it is to have disabled, queer, or otherwise marginalised people written, rather than writing. The caveat is always that some writers may not want to expose their own position, or identify a text as own voices, so it’s good to remember that before criticising any text for not being own voices. I think our books bring a sense of authenticity, and it’s changing the publishing industry for the better.

9. #OwnVoices has been around for a few years now. What are some of your favourite #OwnVoices stories, and why these in particular?

I really like Erin Gough’s writing, her short stories and novella in particular, but obviously her YA, Amelia Westlake, too! To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is wonderful, and Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard also had a big impact. I’m really looking forward to Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me, as an autistic own voices YA novel. I like these ones because they have a voice I identify with, or that I don’t – and then I can learn and expand my own world understanding by reading them. [Just a note, these authors may not all identify these novels as own voices!]

10. During these difficult times of isolation, what authors or books do you find yourself turning to?

I’m reading a strange pile right now, mostly inspired by #AusChat! Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, is taking my breath away. I’m expecting my copy of Deep Water by Sarah Epstein to arrive any day now, and I can’t wait. My reading has changed a lot over the years, perhaps as a teenager I would have turned to a long fantasy series, with a contemporary novel or two on the side.

11. There are several new releases over the next few months that have either been delayed or rescheduled due to the virus or are coming out without any launches or events attached to them. Which ones are you the most excited to read when you will be able to get them?

Ah! Luckily, I’m involved with OzAuthorsOnline, where we are doing YA launches for people who have had their events cancelled. Soon, I will have Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water, Katya de Beccera’s Oasis, and Danielle Bink’s The Year The Maps Changed, of course!

12. Favourite author, series or book that you always go back to?

Oh, once up on a time I’d have said Twilight, but the long-time favourite is Anne McCaffrey. For contemporary writing, I’d say Judy Blume.

13. What writing method works for you – handwriting, typing or a combination?

Typing! I scribble things, but my hands lack strength and I type much faster.

14. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have SO many hobbies. They include reading, jigsaws, felting, sewing (badly), camping, mushroom photography and Minecraft!

15. Do you have any writing buddies, like a cat or a dog?

I have two dogs, Teddy and Buddy, and two rescue guinea pigs called Autumn and Winter. They all keep me company! Teddy barks a lot, but he’s very sweet.

16. How do you think the arts community will help people through this tough time, and how do you hope it will come out at the other end?

The arts give us escape, entertainment, a reason to go on, and a way to process what’s happened. These things are equally important.

Thank you Anna!

Isolation Publicity with Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

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.

SnowWhiteCover copy

Kate Forsyth has written over forty books for all ages. Lorena Carrington is an illustrator, who works with photographic mediums and digitally to create her fabulous illustrations for the Lost Fairy Tale series, published by Serenity Press. The third book, Snow White and Rose Red, is published today, the first of May 2020. I decided I wanted this interview to appear on release day, and will be posting my review as close to it as possible. Kate and Lorena, like many authors, had launches, bookstore appearances, art gallery appearances and other events cancelled in the wake of COVID-19. As a result, much of this publicity is moving online at this time. I’ve read Kate and Lorena’s previous books and have a special edition of Lorena’s art – and they are much treasured books.   Kate and Lorena have appeared together for this interview.

Hi Kate and Lorena, and welcome to the Book Muse!

 

  1. First of all, how did you two meet each other and was Vasilisa the Wise the first project you collaborated on?

 

KATE: We first met when I wanted to buy myself a piece of fairy tale art as a present to myself for having completed my doctorate in fairy tales. A writer friend of mine Allison Tait sent me a message on Twitter with a link to Lorena’s website, essentially saying ‘Kate, have you seen this? I think you’d like it’. It was a complete coincidence – Allison didn’t know I was actively looking to buy some art, she just thought I’d like what Lorena creates. And I did! I loved it! I bought one of her pieces at once, and we began to communicate via social media, and just found we had so much in common. After a while, we realised that we were both working on very similar projects, quite independently of each other, and we decided to collaborate. We worked in secret for quite a long time, exchanging stories and images, and slowly Vasilisa the Wise came together.

LORENA: I think our serendipitous meeting is an example of the good that social media can do. At its best, social media create communities in which extraordinary connections can be made. Without that one tweet from Allison to Kate, my work life today would be completely different, and I’m so grateful for it!

 

  1. Snow White and Rose Red comes out at the end of April – did you have any launches or events planned for this book, and if so, what were they?

 

KATE: Lorena and I have done a tour together with every book so far, and we had so much fun planned for this book! A launch, art gallery showings, school visits, and so on. It was heart-breaking that everything had to be cancelled. Apart from anything else, it means we won’t get to see each other! We live so far away from each other, our launch tours were always a lovely excuse to get together, drink champagne, throw around ideas, and talk for hours. Now we shall just have to do it all virtually.

LORENA: I desperately miss the chance to sit on Kate’s balcony with a glass of champagne this year! But that time will come again, and for now we’re having a fabulous time putting together videos and plotting our online book launch on May 1st. There will be champagne involved.

 

  1. Are there any future Lost Fairy Tale anthologies planned for the two of you, and will the series hit the magic fairy tale number of seven?

 

KATE: We are working on Book 4 right now! We chose the stories together, and I have re-written them, and now Lorena is creating the art for them. The book will be called ‘The Gardener’s Son, the Golden Bird & Other Tales of Gentle Young Men.’ And, yes, we like to imagine seven …

LORENA: At least seven! I just started work on The Gardener’s Son this week, and I’m reminded (as I always am) of how much fun it is working with Kate, and with her incredible words.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite tale that you have worked on?

 

KATE: All of them! We don’t retell a story if we don’t love it. Though of course (speaking very quietly) some are more beloved than others. It’s made me very happy to bring the beautiful stories of Mary de Morgan to a wider audience, and I particularly love the Grimm stories ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, ‘Six Swans’ and ‘Snow White & Rose Red’. ‘Tam Lin’ is one of my favourite stories to retell in an oral performance, while ‘Katie Crackernuts’ is another old Scottish tale I just adore.

LORENA: I’m with Kate. Every story I’m reading or illustrating at the time is my favourite. I do have a soft spot for some too though: ‘The Stolen Child’, ‘A Mother’s Yarn’ and ‘Strawberries in the Snow’… And ‘The Pot Who Went to the Laird’s Castle’ is so much fun to read aloud.

  1. Lorena, when did you start illustrating, and what was the first medium you experimented with?

 

LORENA: Before I moved into illustration, I was a photographer and photographic artist. I began as an absolutely purist to the photographic form: I formulated my own photographic chemistry, printed from large format negatives onto fibre-based paper, and only in black and white of course… This all came crashing down when I had children! I suddenly couldn’t justify locking myself in the darkroom for days at a time. So, I moved slowly into digital, but if I was going to adapt to this new medium, I wanted to take full advantage of it. I began montaging photographs together in Photoshop, and having young children inspired me to start thinking more deeply about fairy tales and the stories we tell them. It. was a natural progression then to move into illustration.

 

  1. When did you decide the photographic layering method you have used in Vasilisa the Wise, The Buried Moon, Wiser than Everything and Snow White and Rose Red was the most effective method for this series of books?

           

LORENA: The layering method works so well because I’m working with a world reflected in but different to our own. Photography captures what is it front of the camera, but with digital montage I can build something new from it. I can create lions and griffins out of sticks and leaves. A girl can sprout a mermaid’s tail, or tight rope walk over a single hair. I can make a forest from blades of grass, and the ocean from a fish tank. It feels magical, even as I sit at my messy desk with a rapidly cooling cup of tea.

 

  1. Of all the illustrations you have created so far, Lorena, which have you had the most fun with?

 

LORENA: The most fun are probably the illustrations where I have to build a creature from scratch. I really enjoyed creating the goblin getting tangled in a fishing line for Snow White and Rose Red. He’s just so delightfully wicked and cranky! I had a fantastic time finding tangles of hair and wigs to make his ridiculous beard.

SWRR3
The goblin Lorena created
  1. Kate, you’ve loved fairy tales for a long time – your whole life. What was it about fairy tales that attracted you to them, and was there one in particular that you loved?

 

KATE: I spent quite a lot of time in hospital when I was a little girl, and so books and stories were enormously important to me, offering me an escape from the physical constraints of being so sick and afraid and alone. My mother bought me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy tales when I was seven, and I read it to absolute tatters. There was something about the darkness in the tales that spoke very powerfully to me. The heroes of fairy tales have to face profound dangers – being turned into toads, being fattened up to be eaten – and that sense of peril resonated with me in a way that most sugary-sweet children’s stories did not. I too was in danger. I too was facing insurmountable odds. Fairy tales gave me hope that I too could triumph, just like the young men and women who defeated the witches and ogres and dragons of their world.

Of all the tales I read, ‘Rapunzel’ was the one that resonated with me most powerfully. This is because my lonely hospital ward was a metaphorical tower, I realise now; and also, because Rapunzel’s tears had magical healing powers, while I was in hospital because I had lost my tear duct in a savage dog attack. I ended up writing a whole novel inspired by ‘Rapunzel’, and a poem, and did my doctorate on the history of the tale, so you can say a great deal of my life has been shaped by seeking to understand this one story’s magnetic pull on my imagination.

 

 

  1. Your love of fairy tales is evident in your novels – whether it is the themes or tropes, or the use of a particular fairy tale infusion to tell a story from history – such as the Singing, Springing Lark in The Beast’s Garden – how do you go about choosing which fairy tales work with which historical events?

 

KATE: That is a very hard question to answer, Ashleigh, because it’s never as mechanical as that. Each book comes to life in my imagination in a different way, and sometimes it’s the fairy tale that inspires the historical events. For example, the idea for The Beast’s Garden came to me in a kind of dream, as I was awakening from sleep. The dream showed me a girl in a golden dress singing to a room full of SS soldiers as she tried to save the man she loved. The setting and the fairy tale were fused together from the start (a golden dress is a key motif in ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’.) I draw upon a number of different fairy tales in The Wild Girl, but all of them were tales told to the Grimm brothers by Dortchen Wild, a real-life woman who was my protagonist in that book. What tales she told, and where and when, became the thematic structure of the book, and revealed to me her story. The Blue Rose is the only book of mine where I went out actively searching for a fairy tale to fit my story, and even then, I stumbled upon it most serendipitously and when I was not actually looking for it.

 

 

  1. Can you tell my readers anything about your next fairy tale infused historical fiction, Kate?

 

KATE: I’m working with an ancient Greek myth this time! The book I am writing is set in Crete, in contemporary times and during the Nazi occupation of 1941-1945, and it draws upon the story of Ariadne and the Minotaur. The novel will be called The Crimson Thread, which is a reference to the ball of red thread that Ariadne gives to Theseus, so that he may find his way out of the labyrinth after he has slaughtered the Minotaur. I’m only in the early stages, but I’m very much loving the writing of it!

 

  1. This is for both of you – do you have a favourite artist or style of art, and why?

 

KATE: I am a passionate lover of art, and artists feature in quite a few of my books. The Venetian artist Titian in Bitter Greens, for example, or the Pre-Raphaelite artists at the heart of Beauty in Thorns. I particularly love figurative art which has a story at its core – which is probably why I love the Pre-Raphaelites so much as they were inspired by myth, poetry and fairy tales, just like me.

LORENA: My early work was inspired a lot by modernist photographers like Imogen Cunningham, Tina Modotti and Edward Western, and I think I still keep a lot of those sensibilities, though it may not be immediately obvious in my work! I think they taught me that so much can be found in a single object, yet you can still hold onto its essence. More obviously, I adore the work of illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac, and Virginia Frances Sterret. The use of silhouettes and broadly coloured and textured backgrounds in Golden Age fairy tale illustrations were a launching point for my own illustration style.

  1. You both work in the arts sector – with recent events and the cancellation of launches and festivals, and booksellers closing temporarily or changing the way they operate for the next few months, how do you think the arts industry overall might be impacted?

 

KATE: Oh, Ashleigh, this is a terrible time for our creative artists! Our government does not value their work, and does not understand how variable and difficult our income is anyway. The sign of a rich and vibrant culture is always its art, and yet it seems as if we are to live on nothing – creating out of a void. I am so afraid for the young artists, and those that are working outside the norm, and those that come from Indigenous or migrant backgrounds, and those who have staked everything on their creative work. Stories and art are so important! We are not human without them.

 

  1. Supporting the arts, and in this series, Australian authors and illustrators across the board is something I am passionate about. What is the most important thing about the arts for both of you, and how should Australians support the arts and local bookstores in these times?

 

KATE: Thank you, Ashleigh, it’s so heartening to know that there are people like you in the world, working tirelessly to help and support our creative artists. What can I say? We should all read more Australian authors, and listen to home-grown music more, and watch more Australian-made films and dramas and dance and theatre and buy Australian art to make our homes beautiful. I do my best, particularly with Australian authors. I buy them, I read them, I post pictures of their book covers on social media, I review them on my blog and for Booktopia, I began a light-hearted book show on YouTube with one of my best friends, I like and share the posts of as many writers as I can, and when they are overcome with hurt and despair, I try and send them loving support and reassurance. I do all this every single day, because it’s all I can do.

LORENA: I second everything Kate says in the last two questions. We need art and books more than ever, and those who make them it haven’t been properly supported, certainly not in our lifetimes, and far less so in times of crisis like these. Our industry will survive: it’s a many faceted thing, but we need to remember that the industry wouldn’t exist without the many individuals that make it. We can all support the arts: by buying a book, chipping in a few dollars a month to an artist on Patreon, purchasing handmade locally made gifts… and by constantly reminding those with money and power that the society they profit from would not exist without the arts.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and how are they getting books to customers at this time?

 

KATE: My local booksellers are Berkelouw Books at Balgowlah, in Sydney, and they have very sadly closed down for the moment.  However, The Constant Reader at Mosman are struggling on, having click-and-collect services available – no browsing in the shop allowed but they have a great website (and all of my books are available!)

LORENA: We have a fabulous bookshop in Castlemaine (Victoria), Stoneman’s Bookroom. The staff there are extraordinarily supports of local authors and illustrators. They are taking order for pick-up at the moment, and I hope it’s enough to get them through. I can’t answer this question without also giving a massive shout-out to Blarney Books in Port Fairy. Jo is brilliantly engaged with the Australian book and art community, and works passionately to promote their work. She’s extraordinary.

  1. Favourite author, series or genre to read?

 

KATE: My favourites genres are historical fiction, crime, fantasy, memoir and – of course! – fairy tale retellings. I have a page on my website that I call ‘Kate’s Favourite Writers’ – I think there’s more than 110 there! https://kateforsyth.com.au/favourite-writers-adult

 

Lorena: I can’t resist an Australian-written YA or middle grade book. I’m currently reading Alison Croggon’s The Threads of Magic, and loving it. I also have a soft spot for literary fiction by women, classic crime novels, artist memoirs, and historical fiction. I prefer historical novels that deal with the every day, rather than big war adventures. Kate’s Beauty in Thorns and Hannah Kent’s The Good People are two of my favourites from the past couple years.

 

  1. Best writing companion – cat, dog or both?

 

KATE: My beautiful dog spends most of the day curled on a chair in my study. My cat wanders home when it gets dark, eats, then wanders off again!

LORENA: I love this question! Once upon a time I would have said cat (warm lap, comforting purrs) but I’m afraid I’ve been converted into a dog person. And there’s nothing like a dog to remind you to get away from the desk for an hour to walk in the fresh air, which is vital to work like ours!

 

  1. Kate – do you prefer writing by hand, or on the computer, or a combination of both?

 

I write in my diary every morning long-hand – and scribble down ideas and inspirations long-hand – and write poetry long-hand – and sometimes I do writing sprints long-hand. Everything else I write via my computer. Unless I’m stuck. Then I’ll try writing long-hand to see if it unsticks me.

 

  1. Lorena – is there a medium you love when it comes to illustrating that you haven’t used in a long time?

 

LORENA: I still miss the darkroom… And every now and then I like to pick up a pencil and remind my hand how to make marks on a page. Lately I’ve been playing with cyanotypes again and using them to teach illustration workshops. It’s a fantastic way of combining photography, montage and painting. You paint a light sensitive solution onto paper, in any shape you like, lay objects over the top to create a silhouette, and expose it in the sun. You then rinse it to set the solution. It’s (relatively) safe to use, and great fun for students. I’ve even started incorporating it into my work, with a board cover design for a novel coming out through Swan River Press in Ireland, where I combined cyanotype and photography in a digital montage.

  1. What new releases are you both looking forward to in the next six to twelve months?

KATE: Oh my gosh, so many! On my to-be-read shelf I have new releases from Natasha Lester, Kelly Rimmer, Dervla McTiernan, Kayte Nunn, Julia Baird, Alexandra Joel, Melissa Ashley, JoJo Moyes, and Michelle Paver – I want to read them all. So many books, so little time.

LORENA: I recently received a review copy of Shakespeare and the Folktale, edited by Charlotte Artese. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it looks like a fascinating exploration of the tales that inspired some of his plays. I’m also looking forward to Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings, Hollowpox, the third Nevermoor book by Jessica Townsend, A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green, and Vesper Flights by Helen McDonald.

 

 

  1. Finally, are there any stories you’d both like to explore in future works?

 

 

KATE: I’d like to retell ‘Katie Crackernuts’ and the Psyche myth in novel form. And Lorena and I are toying with the idea of doing a collection of transformation tales next, which means I could do the Welsh tale of Blodeuwedd which has long haunted my imagination.

LORENA: I’m very much looking forward to the transformation tales! I also love the idea of exploring some strange and interesting folktales – it would be fun to make some ghosts and monsters.

 

Anything further?

 

 

KATE:  The theme of ‘Snow White, Rose Red & Other Tales of Kind Young Women’ is, of course, kindness. We chose it because we think kindness is the most crucial of all human actions. We are living through dark and difficult times. These stories can help us and inspire us to be more compassionate, more loving, more understanding, more kind. We hope you all read them and are inspired.

 

 

Thank you both for appearing here! I can’t wait to read Snow White and Rose Red!

     Isolation Publicity with Kerri Turner, author of The Daughter of Victory Lights

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 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.

One of my participants is Kerri Tuner, author of The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and The Daughter of Victory Lights, both historical fiction novels published by HarperCollins Australia. Kerri was due to appear at various author events throughout Queensland about her latest novel, which she kindly sent me a copy of, as well as a tour of regional NSW called HerStory: Women Who Rebel, which sounds fascinating. This interview will touch on her books, and writing, reading, and the events she had to cancel in light of the current pandemic of COVID-19. Like many authors, Kerri is missing out on telling people about her book, and my series is a small way I can help with this.

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Hi Kerri, and welcome to The Book Muse.

  1. Both your novels are historical fiction – what is it about historical fiction that interests you the most?

It’s the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. I also think historical fiction creates a real sense of escape. You are going into worlds so entirely different to the one you know, yet realising that some themes are common to humanity all throughout time and place. I find that really interesting, and then there’s an added sense of wonder and awe because you know much of what you’re reading (or writing) is actually true.

  1. I’m yet to read the beautifully inscribed copy of Daughter of the Victory Lights that you sent me at the time of putting this interview together. Where did the inspiration for Evelyn’s story as a member of a searchlight regiment come from?

The Victory, the performing boat that Evelyn ends up working on, was where the idea for this book started. I knew Evelyn worked not as a performer on it, as my last novel had two performers as protagonists, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I was interested in having her work with the lighting, but also knew that however she ended up on the boat, it would be as a result of her wartime experiences. So I got researching into ways to connect the two parts of her life, and by sheer luck came across the UK’s all-female searchlight regiments. All the pieces kind of fell into place then.

  1. Your first novel takes place in the years before and during the Russian Revolution during World War One – where did this story come from, and is it based in historical stories you heard anywhere?

It’s very much based on the real-life stories I grew up hearing and loving. I trained my whole life to be a ballerina, and knowing I didn’t have access to the high-level training I needed (I grew up in a small town), I decided to immerse myself in everything ballet in an effort to become an expert in everything else (as much as a kid can be an expert, that is!). So ballet dancers were my rock stars, their lives my celebrity gossip. Russian ballet dancers, and particularly in that era running from the late 19th century to the Russian Revolution, they dominated the ballet world and shaped ballet into what it is today. So that’s the era I was reading about the most as I grew up. As an adult, this led to the inspiration for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers. The entire book started with a line written by Joan Acocella, a dance journalist, in the introduction to The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. It’s there that I first learned about Russian ballet dancers of that era being involved in the sex trade.

 

  1. Both these books from what I can gather focus on women in history. Several of the authors I read have focused on these untold stories. For you – what do you feel the power of telling these stories is, and why did you choose these stories you’ve used in your novels in particular?

Women’s stories have not been given the same space and attention throughout history, and a lot of that has been deliberate. Strong, boundary-breaking women were often seen as a threat to the established way of life (as is seen with Mathilde Kschessinska in my first novel), and other times women were silenced so as not to give offence to men (as happened with the women who worked during World War 2, seen in my second novel). Telling these stories redresses this imbalance and gives due recognition to women’s huge contributions to history and the way they changed the world and society. The stories I tell are just the ones I happen to find and connect with. I know there are so many more out there waiting to be uncovered.

 

  1. What events have you been booked for that have been impacted by the current pandemic?

I had a tour of author talks in libraries throughout Brisbane which was cancelled, which would have also included bookstore visits for signings and a first-ever Facebook Live event for one of the libraries. I was also going to be one of the authors in the HerStory: Women Who Rebel tour of regional NSW. I still have a couple of events lined up for later in the year, some in Townsville and one in Tamworth, but we’ll have to wait and see how the situation stands before we decide if they go ahead.

  1. The HerStory: Women who Rebel sounds fascinating – can you tell us about the event, who it is run by and which authors were involved?

HerStory: Women Who Rebel is a campaign being run by HarperCollins/Harlequin which features books that focus on women who rebelled throughout history. The campaign includes The Daughter of Victory Lights, The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper, The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks, The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman, and Where Fortunes Lie by Mary-Anne O-Connor. All five authors were going to be on the same tour, appearing at events as a panel, discussing our books, history, and women’s roles throughout history.

  1. What were you looking forward to in HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

HarperCollins/Harlequin have only recently begun experimenting with this style of tour, where a small group of authors come together for a sort of mini-festival feel. I was excited to see how that would play out. As a relatively new author it can be difficult sometimes to set up solo events – you don’t know if the audience is there for it, and libraries have to place a lot of trust in you. Coming in as a group, I think we had a chance of attracting a more wide-reaching and diverse audience. And I think the conversations were going to be fascinating.

  1. What are you going to miss about HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

The opportunity to connect with readers. Writers spend so much time alone at our desks, working away on our stories, and it’s really nice to get out there and meet people face to face and talk about the things we all love – books! Also, the opportunity to further connect with the other historical writers.

  1. Do you think we need more events like this celebrating women in history, and Australian women authors who write about these women?

Absolutely! One thing every event I’ve done has had in common is the astonishment people express when they find out the kinds of things women have done historically. Events are a fantastic way of getting this fascinating information, information that we can all learn from, out there. They are also vital in supporting authors.

 

  1. Is there a favourite untold or lesser known woman in history you think everyone should know more about?

I would have to say Mathilde Kschessinska. I included her as a supporting character in The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, but I could honestly write an entire series about her and never have to make anything up. The woman was an absolute force. Affairs with royalty, public simultaneous romantic relationships, wealth to rival the Romanov family, incredible power and influence. She had the courage to take Lenin himself to court right when he was amassing his full power; she danced for men who were waiting to kill her and so moved them that she was able to escape. She became a refugee. She taught some of the following generations’ most famous ballet dancers. She lived to nearly her one hundredth birthday. There is so much more I could say. If you’re interested in formidable, temperamental, courageous, rule-breaking women who forged their own paths, definitely look her up!

 

  1. Do you have a writing process, and what is it?

It’s changed a little with each book, as I’ve learned more as I’ve gone through the process of being published. But generally I spend several months researching, and in this time start to build an outline of the plot and characters. I then form a very thorough outline of the book, print it out and lay it on the floor, then see if any storylines have been dropped or any events could be moved to a different section to be more effective. Then I write the first draft, usually leaving small gaps here and there for the tiny historical details that I don’t know and want to fill in later. If it’s a big gap, or something that will influence the direction of the story, I stop and do the research then. After the first draft is done, I research and fill in all those tiny gaps that were left. I usually do another couple of drafts, where I will add further detail, fine-tune the writing, and keep building on the sense of time and place. Then it goes to my agent, who reads the entire manuscript and gives me feedback. I do one more rewrite, send it back to my agent again, and if she’s happy with it, it goes to the publisher. Once the publisher accepts the manuscript, it goes through three rounds of editing. In each round I’m usually still adding little touches here and there, because I can’t help myself. After the last round, I get one more opportunity to see the final, typeset pages, and then my work on it is done. Until the marketing and publicity starts, that is.

 

  1. When writing, do you have a preferred medium, and what is it?

I have a laptop that is solely used for my writing. I use the program Scrivener in the researching and first draft stage, then export the manuscript to Word for subsequent drafts.

  1. Favourite writing companion: cat, dog or both?

Dog, I have a miniature schnauzer called Nelson who always sits by my feet while I write.

  1. Favourite genre to read? Or are there many?

Historical fiction. Although I will read pretty much anything.

 

  1. Favourite author and top five books?

Too hard to pick just one author! But top five books would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, and Persuasion by Jane Austen.

 

  1. What made you want to become a writer, and how did you find your publisher?

I always thought I would write one day. I’ve loved reading and writing my whole life, and with ballet being such a short career I had a notion that I would become a writer when I retired from ballet. But I didn’t have the right body type to become a ballerina. After a few years of trying different things, I turned to that early idea of writing, and have loved it ever since. Getting published was not easy though. It took several years, many tears and rejections, and countless moments of doubt. In 2017 I came across The Nash Agency, and submitted The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers there. Haylee Nash signed me, and within three months got me a two-book deal.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers, and why these ones in particular?

All of them! I love shopping at independent bookstores wherever possible. But there are some bookstores in particular who have really supported me as a writer. Dymocks Chatswood gave me my first ever in-store signing, Kinokuniya hosted the launch for my debut novel, Booktopia brought me in to sign books and record a podcast, Robinsons got me in to sign copies they distributed throughout their stores in Victoria, Dymocks Melbourne have supported me both online and in store with reviews and signings, Book Bazaar did the most exquisite window display for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and Collins Booksellers Byron Bay gave me the warmest welcome when I just happened to pop in. Plus there’s all the stores that have come along to my events, including but not limited to Book Face Pacific Fair, Burns Bay Bookery, and Dymocks Baulkham Hills.

  1. Which member of the Babysitters Club are you?

Jessi. The love of ballet is a giveaway!

  1. How important do you think the arts are for us at this time, and all the time, and does more need to be done to support them?

The arts are vital. As we can see right now, we turn to them in times of difficulty and great upset. They soothe us when we’re frightened, they allow us to escape when we feel trapped, they connect us when we’re isolated. There is not a single person in the world who has not partaken in the arts in one way or another. Yet the arts are constantly one of the first sectors to be hit with funding cuts. This is despite the enormous contribution they bring to our lives and the economy, and the countless jobs they provide. I’m so grateful to all those who are supporting all the innovative ways the arts are trying to survive, particularly in this difficult period. I would just like to see them supported on a bigger scale, the same way other industries are.

  1. Any recommendations for social isolation reading, listening and viewing?

For reading, I’m defaulting to light-hearted books that make me laugh. Books like The Secret Recipe of Second Chances by J.D. Barrett, The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates, and Crazy Rich Asians by Keven Kwan. For viewing, Younger because it’s set in the world of publishing (albeit a highly fictionalised version), and Kim’s Convenience because it’s warm and hilarious. For listening, I like to escape into cast recordings for musical theatre shows, because you get a story along with the music. I recommend Six, Kinky Boots, or Dear Evan Hansen. Although, if you want something a little different, I did create a Spotify playlist for my book The Daughter of Victory Lights, which is full of big band, swing, and crooners.

Any further comments?

Just a great big thank to for having me here, and an additional thank you to all the readers who are going out of their way to support authors in such an unprecedented and difficult time.

Thanks Kerri!