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.

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_orig

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!

 

Isolation Publicity with Middle Grade Mavens

 

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.
Some of my first interviews were with authors who have had events cancelled – and if there is more interest, I will be including as many as I can over the next few months, because books are what will get us through. Another artform and piece of media that will get us through is podcasts, and whilst I have written about the ones I listen to before, I’ve never interviewed a podcaster. So, the first podcast I will be interviewing is Middle Grade Mavens. Pamela has answered most of the questions where it doesn’t specify a name with two answers. It’s interesting to see how the book community is adapting and promoting the literary world, and in the midst of this pandemic, are promoting kids’ books for all ages across their social media platforms.

 

It was interesting to see that we enjoy some of the same books and podcasts as well.

middle grade mavens

Hi Julie and Pamela, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. I started listening to your podcast late last year in 2019 and binged it to catch up. First of all, can you tell my readers what the podcast is about?
Middle Grade Mavens is an Australian book review podcast by myself, Julie Anne Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman. It’s aimed at anyone who loves middle grade books; that is, books aimed for ages 8-12. We provide detailed book reviews on new and not-so-new releases and author interviews. We sometimes create bonus episodes for aspiring authors such as a series we ran over the summer interviewing of children’s book editors.
2. When you began the podcast, as a team and as individuals, what did you hope to achieve with each episode?
Julie: Pamela and I both have an intense love for middle grade books. Sometimes we have intense views about how they should or should not be written, but regardless of our views, we knew we wanted to get the word out about great middle grade books we’ve encountered. To do that, we decided we would just start talking about middle grade books. From there it morphed into interviewing authors, illustrators, editors, publicists, booksellers, and anyone who wants to join us on the journey of promoting and discovering wonderful middle grade books. The world is our oyster really.

3. The connection you have as podcasters is great to listen to – did that develop as you planned out the podcast, through a working relationship, or another relationship, and how long have you been friends for?
Julie: It’s funny, Pamela and I met at Kidlitvic (industry conference) a few years ago and hit it off immediately. We talked about books, our views on the industry and how we hope to be a part of it. When I bounced the idea off Pamela of a podcast about middle-grade books, she jumped at the chance. We didn’t really have any idea how to go about it, so we just wrote up some questions we’d like to ask each other about the books we were reading, and went from there. We use a simple platform called Anchor, which is a mobile phone app. We record on Skype and upload our segments and interviews to the Anchor app, which then distributes our show to 10 platforms, like Apple Podcasts. Pamela is also whizz at websites, so she built one for us. The rest is history!

Pamela: It’s always great to hear that people enjoy our connection. We had already been part of a writing mastermind group for a year or so when Julie suggested a podcast, we knew each other fairly well but it has grown from there with working so closely. We spent a few months planning and preparing before we started recording so I think that also helped. We’re quite different in many ways but similar in our approach to our careers. We take things seriously, but not too seriously, and while we’d love to be perfectionists, we know with children and the limited time we have that perfection is unattainable so we don’t let that stop us.

4. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading, and was it a middle grade book?
Pamela: I’ve always read, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. One of my fond childhood memories is on my 7th birthday, my dad waking me up to give me a beautiful book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales from our next-door neighbour. I still have that book, although it’s not very PC any more. I also have an annual that was my mother’s when she was a girl. One of my favourite books as a child was Roald Dahl’s The Twits and another was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved escaping to other worlds, or other versions of our world. I still do!

Julie: I am going to surprise you, but I was not a reader at all as a child. I didn’t get the reading bug until I was well into my late teens when I read, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan Series. Those books made me a reader and I still read them today and love them. Plus, I was always a sci-fi nerd, watching Dr Who as a child, so a sci-fi book series is what it took to get me reading.

5. I’ve been studying, reading and following literary circles and trends for a while – and the last few years have been the first time I have heard the term middle grade, at least in Australia. How do you feel the trend in using this term has grown for readers aged around eight to twelve?

Pamela: Middle-grade was a new term for me when I started writing for kids. Until I had my own children, I hadn’t read children’s books in many years and while they were little, I was mostly immersed in picture books. As a kid, I would jump between reading younger books like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, maybe a Babysitter’s Club, classics like Little Women and then adult books like Mills and Boon and a French detective series I discovered at the library. There were books in between, of course, but not like they are today. I love that the focus has grown in this area because it’s such an important developmental growth period for children, especially as they no longer have the freedom to explore the world as they once did. But also, a great middle-grade book can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as well, without darker themes, violence or heavy language that they might want to avoid. It’s hard for me to tell if the term has trended recently because I’m so immersed in it, but I like to think we are champions for middle-grade books and helping that readership to stand on its own.

6. When we were younger and in the nineties, the terms middle grade and young adult didn’t seem to be around or as visible – the bookshops and libraries were broadly divided into kids, adult and sometimes teen sections – do you think the addition of young adult, and middle grade has helped to address how we present books to readers of all ages?

Pamela: Yes, I think the terms really help the gatekeepers and the readers home in on books that are appropriate for their age level and also help booksellers and publishers to target their marketing. Which isn’t only great for sales but it’s also great for attracting kids to read. If they pick up a book that looks interesting but is too advanced or to dark, they might be put off. Likewise, they might be put off if a book seems too easy or babyish. Having these loose categories really helps everyone involved to know what to expect.

Many years ago, children’s books were seen purely as educational opportunities, very moralistic, so I think a part of carving out this niche is that the books are written with an understanding of the age group, writing from a child’s point-of-view rather than the perspective of an adult trying to teach a child. Story is much more important than moral now, which gives authors more scope and allows them to have more fun.

7. Maven Julie is a librarian (if I have this wrong, I apologise, and please correct when you send this back). In this sphere, have you noticed a change in the way middle grade books are presented and recommended in your library? Has this helped kids and parents find the right books?

Julie: So, I better clarify I am a customer service librarian, not a catalogue Librarian. My focus is to help readers discover, find, and access books, as well as essential services that the library offers. I have definitely seen some great changes in the kind of books coming into the collection, as well as how they are presented on the shelf. Through the podcast, and having access to re-release books, I am also able to make some great recommendation of new release books that have only just hit the shelves, as well as some golden oldies.

8. Maven Pamela – how do you incorporate the many, many middle grade books into your home-schooling?

Pamela: Many, many, yes indeed! We start every home-school day with me reading aloud from a novel to both my boys, who are only two years apart so close enough that I don’t feel the need to do separate books. I try to choose more challenging, literary books than what they choose for themselves – a mixture of classics and newer books. How I select those is fairly random, depending on what we already have and what I think they’re ready for. I have collected quite a few books from second-hand book sales and little free libraries over time so we always have options. Other times I use the library. After the novel read-aloud, I usually read from a non-fiction book or maybe a narrative non-fiction picture book and do this for both world and Australian history and sometimes to tie in with our science nature study. We also have bedtime reading, which is the boys’ choice – they usually each have a novel going as a bedtime read-aloud. And then throughout the day they dip in and out of other books for their own reading – these are usually more light-hearted books, manga, or Pokémon or Minecraft guides.

9. Do you have a current favourite middle grade book or series, and why?

Pamela: My current favourite is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, it has so much depth to the world, the characters, the setting. You can really lose yourself in Nevermoor, which is what you want from a series.

Julie: My current favourite is Malamander by Thomas Taylor and I am reading Gargantis, soon to be released, which is the second book in the series. It is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. A middle grade magical realism set in eerie-by the sea, a shanty town with a crumbling hotel and a protagonist with a fruit as a surname. My criteria are eclectic I realise, but I’m owning it 100%!
10. When not reading middle grade books, what is your go to genre?
Pamela: Historical fiction is my go-to but I like good writing in any genre, including non-fiction, which I read quite a bit of.
Julie: I used to love forensic crime, but that was before I adopted sleep deprivation as my eternal friend. Now I like to read all things Mystery and or Who Dunnit!

11. Best reading companion: dogs, cats, or both?
Pamela: I’m a dog person but we don’t have any pets right now. At the moment, I’m lucky to get any peace at all so I’m happy when I do!
Julie: Achoo! Neither, allergies. Can I go with the actual book being the companion?
12. Which Hogwarts house do you think you’d be in, if you’ve read the books?
Pamela: Hmmm, I want to say Gryffindor but probably Ravenclaw.
Julie: Gryffindor, although, if I did one of those tests it would probably be Hufflepuff.
13. Are there any 2020 middle grade releases that you and your munchkins are looking forward too?
Pamela: Hollowpox, the next Nevermoor book, and Remy Lai’s new release, Fly on the Wall, both of which have been postponed, which is disappointing! Mr Nine is looking forward to Allison Tait’s new series, The Fire Star in September; and Mr Seven has a few sequels he’s looking forward including Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything (by Mick Elliot), Real Pigeons Peck Punches (Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood) and Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas books.
Julie: Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, The Mummies Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce.
14. When not borrowing from the library, do you have a favourite bookseller you frequent, and why?
Pamela: I try to spread the love around but in particular I like to support my local indie bookstore, Benn’s Books (Centre Rd, Bentleigh). They have a beautifully curated children’s book section.

Julie: The Younger Sun in Yarraville Vic They have an incredible selection and I have to limit my attendance so not to break the bank.

15. Book podcasts are gaining traction – and what I love about them is I can listen to them whilst doing something else, which is how I binged on your podcast and One More Page. What is it about podcasts that discuss books in particular that you think is something people are seeking out?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. I guess for each person it depends on what they’re trying to get out of it. Some of our listeners are writers and looking to learn more about the industry and pick up writing tips. Others are teachers or librarians looking for book recommendations. The industry is quite strong (or at least was before COVID-19) and there are so many books, it’s nice to be able to cut right through the noise. I think it’s also a form of connection – when you get to know a podcast and if you enjoy the show’s format or the presenter’s voices, you feel a connection to them and want to hear what they have to say. And if the hosts are reading and discussing the same books as you are, there’s a connection there, a shared experience. As we are finding out the hard way with the pandemic, connection is a hugely important part of life. If you can get that connection on your terms – when, where and how is convenient for you – even better.

16. What book or podcast recommendations can you give readers?
Pamela: As a writer, I love So You Want to Be a Writer, particularly the interviews, they’re fascinating. For kids, my boys love Wow in the World, which is an hilarious science-themed podcast. As for books on writing, I’m currently reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, I highly recommend it.

Julie: Same as Pamela, above, as well as our friends at One More Page. I also love The First Time podcast, and another great one for more readers of adult mystery and crime fiction, SheDunnitShow Last but not least, another great one for adult and kids book lovers, Words and Nerds…

Isolation Publicity with Victoria Mackinlay

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.

ribbit rabbit robot high res-min

Victoria MacKinlay is a debut author with Scholastic Australia. Her first book, RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT came out earlier this month. Like many authors in the Australian book community, she has had various events, appearances and launches cancelled due to the pandemic. In the wake of the pandemic, the book community has come together to try to promote these books, and support authors – as my participants have been discussing through out these interviews

Hi Victoria and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT came out with Scholastic at the start of April – what is the book about?

It’s the tongue-twisting tale of a friendly Frog, a greedy Rabbit and a Robot with a short fuse, and their chaotic adventures with a magic lamp.

It has themes of friendship, greed, kindness and a gentle message about the importance of paying attention. There’s also an ethical dilemma and an act of altruism. So, basically, a LOT packed into a picture book of only 172 words!

2. Where did the idea come from?

My 3-year-old daughter and I were playing with a frog sponge in the bath saying: “Ribbit” and “Rub it” as we were washing. The repetition of those words was so funny and we quickly added a Rabbit and a Robot. The game stuck with both of us. My daughter kept asking for it and I started writing down lists of words that followed the “R*b*t” formation in various notebooks. I challenged myself to tell a fully rounded story using only those words … and that is how Ribbit Rabbit Robot came into being.

3. It is also your debut picture book – prior to becoming an author, what was your job, and what was it that made you take the leap from this into writing?

I have always written stories but before being published I worked at Google for 9 years which was an incredible experience – being part of a start-up that grew into something which has changed the way the world works. I studied French and Italian at University which has allowed me to travel a lot and have a very varied career, but I’ve always dreamed of being a published author.

4. Due to the current pandemic, many authors have had launches, events and festival appearances cancelled – what events have you had to cancel, and is it possible these might be rescheduled?

The launch, various story times and my Sydney Writers Festival appearance were all cancelled, but I have to say the outreach of support and love from the book community has been incredible (including this interview!). I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me, and I’ve enjoyed moving events online (like the Facebook live story time I recently did for Harry Hartog). I hope the SWF will be rescheduled and can’t wait to read to kids in person but can’t complain about the opportunities that have been offered to me since the pandemic. Thank you everyone!

5. The title of your book is alliterative, and the text has some rhyming in it – what do you think these two aspects of literature do for kids who are learning to read?

I love to write in rhyme and read a lot of rhyme and poetry to my daughter. I studied poetry as part of my degree (I actually took the same degree at the same University as Julia Donaldson). RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT happened organically – it was created from the pure joy of playing with my daughter and my love of playing with words – but I am delighted to hear from speech pathologist friends who have described it as “gold” for working with children who struggle with the /r/ sound. I could pretend that that was my masterplan all along but it’s a very happy consequence.

6. As a debut author, how did you get published by Scholastic/what was the submission process like?

I’d seen Clare Hallifax speak at various writers’ festivals and events and booked a manuscript assessment with her at the Creative Kids Tales Festival in 2018. Unbelievably this was my first ever manuscript assessment and she was the very first publisher to read the manuscript. I was in a dream-like state when she said she liked it and asked me to submit it to her. That story will be my second published book. I sent her RIBBIT RABBIT ROBOT after she had contracted my first story.

7. Why did you choose a rabbit, a robot and a frog?

Because they all follow the R*b*t sound pattern (or make a sound that does).

8. How were you paired with Scholastic book designer, Sofya Karmazina, as an illustrator for the book?

My publisher paired us together and I am so lucky that they did! Not many people know that in traditional picture book publishing the illustrator and author are kept very separate (I believe so the author doesn’t influence/dominate the illustrator and to give the illustrator space to add their own magic to the story). Essentially, once Scholastic aquired my text, my work was done. When I saw Sofya’s roughs I was blown away, almost intimidated, by how brilliant they were. I had left the text very open and she created the world in which the characters live. She added so many special and fun touches to the story. She’s an amazing talent.

9. How long have you worked in the book industry?

I got serious about writing picture books in January 2017 and signed my first book contract in June 2018. I must say that the kidlit community is made up of some of the most fun, generous and kind people I’ve ever met.

10. The arts are an important sector in society – what does it mean for you to work within this sector?

It’s a great honour and a privilege. I feel lucky every day to be able to do what I do – write for children. And I do hope during ‘the great pause’ this pandemic has afforded us, people will reflect upon the joy and comfort the arts bring to our lives.

11. With the arts becoming so important and significant for everyone during isolation, what stores are you trying to support locally?

I have a massive soft spot for Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt. They have such a beautiful book community and were going to host the launch. And I was thrilled Harry Hartog invited me to do an online story time. I am very keen to get down to Melbourne and visit all the gorgeous bookstores I’ve been stalking online.

12. What is your favourite writing snack?

Chocolate. British Dairy Milk with Turkish Delight is la creme de la creme if I can get it. Otherwise KitKat Chunkies, Kinder Buenos, Daim bars and Reese’s pieces.

13. Pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard – which do you prefer?

Pen and paper. I am a paper lover – when I lived in Florence, I used to spend hours browsing the paper shops and have also got stacks of paper I collected on work trips to Japan. I write on the squared notepads you get from Daiso for $2.80 (they remind me of the notepads we used in French schools on exchanges). Despite my vast collection of notepads, I still find that stories invariably come at inconvenient times and several have been written on crumpled receipts from the bottom of my handbag.

14. Cats or dogs – or both?

I have two beautiful rescue cats but I’m also a dog lover who grew up with a black labrador.

15. Finally, is there another book in the works?

Yes. My second picture book (which is based on the true story of my 8 year old grandfather being gifted a lion cub by a Maharajah) has been pushed back due to the pandemic and is now scheduled for May 2021. I am in the process of signing my third contract and have many more manuscripts on the go.

Thank you, Victoria,

Isolation Publicity with Hazel Edwards

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.

Hazel Edwards has been in the industry for forty years, and has written for various age groups. But she is perhaps most well-known is There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake, which celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. As a kid, I remember having this, and There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Roof Getting Sunburnt. Hazel decided to highlight her publisher, Margaret Hamilton, so there are fewer questions, but what is here is an interesting view on what it was like being involved in such a popular book for both author and publisher.

Hippo-Pot-A-musing in a Time of Pandemic

Hi Hazel, and welcome to The Book Muse

Q. There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake was your first picture book, (1980) – and now the 40th anniversary edition has been issued (2020) , amidst the Pandemic Lockdown. How is your situation different from those for whom their FIRST book is due out? Especially as there’s little chance of publicity due to lockdown of all services?

A muse inspires, and sustains so…I’d like to pay credit to the quiet ones behind our books.

Editors, publishers, designers…and readers. And that this is a LONG process.
A reader, not the writer is the owner of the book, once it is published.

Any book requires lots of support, long-term. In this weird Pandemic Isolationism, I feel SO much sympathy for those creators whose FIRST book was due to appear in this time. They’ve been robbed of the highly anticipated book baby birth and the associated launch euphoria. But their book still exists and can have a life beyond these restrictions. It is an idea traveller and may yet continue post-Pandemic.

At least with social and digital media there are still ways of sharing ideas which can be infectious in the best possible way… in a time when we must find new ways of problem-solving.

Because some characters can have lives of their own ( most people know the cake-eating hippo but don’t know me) I’d like to thank the three generational fans but also the original Hodder publisher Margaret Hamilton who took a BIG risk on an unknown writer. A few weeks ago she set me her ‘memories’ and gave permission for me to share.

HIPPO MEMORIES from original Hodder Publisher, Margaret Hamilton A.M.

I have spent many decades working in publishing, specialising in children’s books, firstly at Hodder & Stoughton, then at my own company Margaret Hamilton Books. It makes me extremely proud to see that some of the books I originally published are still in print and being enjoyed by a whole new generation.

My special memories of ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’:

• Opening the envelope from Hazel Edwards and immediately loving the story that she had sent and reading it to my colleagues at Hodder.

• Picturing in my mind illustrations by Deborah Niland, with the hippo being almost too big for the pages.

• Deborah wasn’t very keen but I talked her into doing the book, also to do the ‘hippo’ hand lettering of the title, which has been used for all subsequent titles.

• Receiving a letter from the Leipzig Book Fair, awarding Hippo the International Best Picture Book Bronze Medal in 1981.

• Being part of the audience at Garry Ginivan’s ‘Hippo, Hippo the Musical’, seeing so many children enjoying themselves. Thinking, who would have thought that simple story I found in an envelope would come this far?

• Visiting a restaurant at Lake Louise in Canada in 2017, having my phone with its hippo cover beside me on the table and the waiter saying, ‘Isn’t that the hippopotamus on the roof eating cake?’

• Receiving a copy of ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Christmas Cake’ together with a recipe for gingerbread, a cookie cutter and a card which said, ‘to Margaret from Hippo’. The gingerbread was very good!

• It gives me special pleasure that Hippo is 40 years old. How proud I feel that so many Australian children have read the books and love them — and there are now six other titles in the series.

• I have huge pleasure sharing Hippo with children who visit me at Pinerolo, the children’s book cottage, especially families who have booked the cottage on Airbnb. It’s very satisfying to see them recognise Hippo, parents and children alike.

• It was a very special pleasure to receive a copy of the beautiful 40th anniversary edition with a special tactile cover.

• Happy 40th birthday Hippo and congratulations to Hazel Edwards and Deborah Niland.

Margaret Hamilton AM. Also runs Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage
http://www.pinerolo.com.au Visit post-Pandemic. And share YOUR book with her and other readers.

 

IMG_1302
Hazel Edwards

Q. Any hints for authors and Illustrators about publicising their NEW book during the lockdown?

A frequently updated author website is vital. It centralises resources like reviews, photos and links to social media like Twitter which is the most effective for solo creators short of time.

Use humour in anecdotes about your book. Never say “ Please buy my book’. Visuals are helpful, especially with the author and book and can be used several times with different captions.
Radio or podcasts have long term audiences and can be recorded from your home.
Building up a genuine, long term following is more important than a quick blitz of publicity.
Don’t despair that you didn’t have a launch. (Just a bit like missing a 21st birthday during the Lockdown as my grandson is doing.)

Don’t confuse with irrelevant answers. Or talk about your other books. Keep to the current one. Have a link to where it can be bought, easily.

While I’m considered a ‘vintage’ author with diverse genre books, today I’ve been asked to talk about the 40th anniversary edition of ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ (Penguin /Random House) being released in a time of Lockdown and the Pandemic. Few know I also write adult mysteries like ‘Celebrant Sleuth; I Do or Die’ (Audible) or the mini sequel ‘Wed, Then Dead on the Ghan’ (Kindle) . So I won’t talk about them now.

 

And congratulations to all the author and illustrators whose book babies are moving independently. They may travel places you had not envisaged because during the Lockdown people are READING more, in ALL formats.

 

Isolation Publicity with Tanya Bretherton

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.

However, even the authors without new releases, anniversary releases or events need our love and appreciation during this crisis, and Tanya reached out to me to appear on the blog. So far, as you may have seen, I have tried to have as many different interviews, authors and genres as possible – it all comes down to who wishes to appear in this series. I still have slots open, and will be going for as long as I can during these hard times.

Hi Tanya, and welcome back to The Book Muse!

  1. Where did your interest in researching and writing about true crime, particularly historical crimes, come from?

Like many people, I enjoy reading true crime, listening to crime podcasts and watching documentaries.  I didn’t initially set out to write in this field though.  My background is sociology, but not criminology.  My first book, The Suitcase Baby, emerged from my day job.  I am a research consultant, and when tracing the history of child protection legislation in NSW I stumbled across an article about a murdered child, cast off into the waters of Port Jackson in the early 1920s.  My interest in true crime as a writer began with that article.  The harbour is such an iconic place in Sydney.  The crime was just so horrible.  I needed to know why it happened – who could kill a child?

  1. So far, your three books – The Suitcase Baby, The Suicide Bride and The Killing Streets have covered crimes that people may have never heard about in today’s society. What is it about these crimes that one could say have disappeared from wider knowledge?

I am really interested in forgotten history or hidden history – overlooked crimes, but also overlooked people.  My books aren’t about wealthy people.  The people I write about don’t bequeath grand estates.  The private letters they wrote were not kept by anyone, and any diaries they may have written are long gone.  They weren’t perceived to be significant historical figures, so you won’t find remnants of their lives held in a private collection or in a museum somewhere.  My field is labelled true crime, but I focus a lot on family history.  I write about death, but I also write about those things that matter most in life: family, love, relationships, tragedy and healing.  True crime is fascinating to me, not because it exists at the extremes, but because there is always a family drama surrounding it in some way or other.

True crime also presents a rich terrain for us to explore heroism.  I write about perpetrators and victims, but I also write about forgotten heroes who try to humbly and quietly work to make the lives of those around them better.  There is villainy in crime, but there are also acts of heroism to be found as well.  I think of the grizzled old police officer in 19th century Newtown who bravely tried to save a young boy drowning in a flooded brick pit, despite the fact that the officer couldn’t swim.  I think of the farm worker in the 1950s who fought to save the life of his work mate dying of a heart attack, out on a remote and dusty plain of the Australian outback.  I think of the single Dad in the 1930s who fought to keep his daughters, at a time when the state deemed the unmarried unfit to parent.  Tragedy creates victims, but it also creates heroes.

 

  1. True crime is a genre that has seemed to gain traction in the last five or so years with books, shows and podcasts. What is it about true crime stories that people find fascinating?

I wonder about this too.  It is often said that the growing interest in true crime is being driven by the dark parts of the human psyche.  Some people believe that we delight in reading about those things that we cannot do, and perhaps even wish we could do.  I think it is also possible that the interest is true crime is driven by an inherent goodness in people.  The vast majority of the more recent true crime writings and documentaries deal with the miscarriage of justice – those who are imprisoned unfairly or trials that go awry.  People tune in because they are interested in the discovery of truth, and there is a genuine interest in the pursuit of fairness and equity.  True crime is about much more than violence, or gore, or delighting in misery.

  1. Do you think there is a correlation between the interest in crime fiction – Sherlock Holmes, Rowland Sinclair, Phryne Fisher, crime shows – Blue Heelers, Criminal Minds, the Law and Order franchise – and an interest in true crime amongst readers and viewers, and podcast listeners?

I have drawn a conclusion about this, and it may be entirely wrong as it isn’t based on any marketing knowledge or demographic data.  I have always got the impression that there are two very distinct camps.  There are those that like crime fiction, and those that like true crime.  There are fence sitters, but most people tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other.  I feel this in a very real way because I feel the wrath of readers who mistake my work for fiction (eg “I didn’t like the book because I didn’t like the ending”) and those that believe non-fiction must conform to some very set rules and can only be written without emotion (eg “history isn’t a novella”).

  1. Your stories always have an element of social and economic aspects to what happened and who committed the crimes. Can you briefly outline how this was a feature in each crime you have looked into in your books, and what makes these aspects important when considering any crime?

You have absolutely hit the nail on the head!  I like to write about crimes that can tell a big story and a little story at the same time.  My books start with a true crime event and that creates momentum for the story to be told, but in truth, my books are social histories.

There is a dark side to crime writing, of course, and issues of gender in this context are of particular interest to me.  The Suitcase Baby explores friendship and loyalty.  The bond between the two women in that story is remarkable and deserving of a thorough exploration.  The relationship between Jean and Sarah was dangerous, and some very conflicted choices were made by both women.  The Suicide Bride looks at the institution of marriage at the turn of the twentieth century, and the challenges of mental illness in a society which had little compassion nor understanding for those suffering from it.  The Killing Streets examines women as victims and considers one of the most elusive criminal archetypes: the serial killer.  They are all true stories, driven by facts, but they are also family dramas.  True crime often places greatest emphasis on pathology or the psychological profile of a criminal.  I place more emphasis on the relationship profile.  The people in my stories do not have money nor power, and they find themselves in very difficult circumstances.  Any judgements we might make about their decisions need to be made with that in mind.  I am not an apologist for crime, but choice is a loaded term, it’s a relative term.

  1. When you begin your research journey, where do you start – with primary sources or secondary sources?

I start with both.  I go back and forth between the two, checking facts as I gradually build a narrative and decide which characters I am going to focus most closely on.  I only select a criminal case if it can provide a platform to tell a bigger social history story.

  1. How many historical crimes that are potentially unsolved or that have gone largely ignored do you think there are in the archives?

Too many to count, and very few of these will ever be solved.  The historical periods I write about were a looong time ago.  Police had to work with very limited forensics, so it isn’t like there are blood samples stored in cabinets just waiting to be re-discovered and tested.  Many records have also been destroyed over the years as well.  The methodologies used to build cases were also often quite skewed.  Suspects were often profiled with very racist, and classist overtones and this means it would be impossible to try and solve many of these crimes now.  The records are simply too tainted by the biases of the era in which they were created.

  1. From what I can remember about The Killing Streets, the real killer was never identified – do you think this case will ever be solved?

The murders of women that occurred in parks across Sydney from the 1920s to the 1940s won’t ever be solved.  I can understand that some people might find reading a book about that infuriating, but I must admit I find the mystery of it fascinating.

  1. Are there any other cases that have caught your eye that you would like to write about?

I am writing my fourth book at the moment – on poison in post-war Sydney.  I also have three other manuscripts at a slow simmer point on the stovetop as well.  My books involve a huge amount of research, and it takes time to prove the dough, so to speak, to see if a fully formed book can emerge.  When I find a story that has some great twists and turns, and surprises, that becomes my next book.

  1. Can you tell the readers a bit about your publishing journey with Hachette Australia, and how you got started with submitting to publishers?

Like everyone, I have experienced rejections by both agents and publishers.  I can only say to people who are genuinely interested in writing – keep going.  My journey into publishing has been a long one, and I think that apprenticeship has been important.  The more you write the more you learn, and the more you learn the better prepared you will be when an opportunity to publish presents itself. It will happen when it is meant to happen, and chances are that won’t be overnight.

 

  1. When not investigating these crimes, what do you enjoy reading or doing?

I have a day job, as bills need to be paid.  I spend time with family and friends – they matter more to me than anything else.  The rest of my spare time is consumed by writing.  My books involve a lot of research and endless hours of labour go into them.

  1. Are there any authors or books, or podcasts you recommend people interested look into, apart from your books, of course?

I listen to so many! I tend to be drawn to podcasts with a history focus.  The State Library of NSW produces some great ones.  I have just listened to The Burial Files on the history of the Devonshire st cemetery – it was brilliant.

  1. Have you had any events cancelled, and if so, what were they, or were you planning on attending any events as a visitor rather than hosting something this year?

The Killing Streets is definitely a Covid-19 casualty.  The pandemic struck just after the book launch so all of the events we had planned for the book have been cancelled.  This is of course, a small disappointment in the scheme of what we are all facing right now.  I feel for the entire world at the moment.

  1. Which booksellers are your favourites to frequent, and do you hope to be able to support them as much as possible during this time?

I guess I can only say – buy local wherever you are.  I try to buy from my local booksellers.  I also love secondhand bookstores, and libraries.  I know that the internet is increasingly playing a role in the way we share and celebrate books.  It is also wonderful to have the big chains involved, as they play such an important role in selling, but our local stores and libraries are the heart and soul of book-life and we should support them.

Is there anything you’d like to say that I may have missed?

Thank you, Tanya, for reaching out and helping me with this venture

Isolation Publicity with Jenna Guillaume – author and freelance journalist.

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.

what I like about me

Jenna’s debut, What I Like About Me, which I hope to be reading and reviewing soon, came out in Australia in 2019. This year, it was meant to be released in America, and Jenna was due to head over to America for a book tour when the corona virus hit, and closures meant she wasn’t able to do so. In lieu of this, like many authors, she’s trying to do online tours and promotion, and her stop on my blog is part of this, and is another interview in my Isolation Publicity series.

Hi Jenna, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. Your book, What I Like About Me. Has been out in Australia for a year and is just being released in America. Is this an exciting move for an Australian author?

It’s so exciting! I honestly didn’t really expect What I Like About Me to be published in America as I know it’s a hard market to break into, and it’s a very Australian book. It was a very lovely surprise. We consume a lot of American culture here so it’s nice to have a story of my own going back the other way.

 

  1. Did you have to edit your book for an American audience, or did you leave it as it is?

I did have to make some edits, although perhaps not as many as you’d think. It was mainly language – caravan became RV, servo became gas station and so on. I also had to take out a reference to Minties, because apparently they’re a dog treat in America, not a human treat.

  1. Do you feel it is important for Australian books to maintain their Australian identity when entering the international market?

I’m really passionate about seeing Australian books tell Australian stories, and retain as much of that identity as possible in international markets. As I already mentioned, we consume so much American culture here. It’s vital we hang on to our own culture, and having it embraced internationally is always going to help with that.

  1. Where did the idea for What I Like About Me come from, and what is it about Maisie that you think makes her more relatable than some of the middle grade or young adult protagonists in more popular books?

What I Like About Me initially started out as a romance, so I started with the dynamic of the core four characters who would be involved in the romance plot. As I developed the character of Maisie, the story morphed into being more focused on her own internal journey with loving herself – although of course the romance is still there.

I wouldn’t say Maisie is more relatable than other protagonists, but I do hope readers can connect with her. I poured a lot of my own personal experiences and emotions as both a teenager and an adult into her – especially regarding my relationship with my body. She’s comes from a place of authenticity.

 

  1. You started out as a writer with places like Buzzfeed, Junkee, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News. Do you still write for these places, and where did you get your start?

I started my career at Girlfriend magazine, working there for five years, before I worked at BuzzFeed for another five years. I now freelance in addition to writing books, so the publications you mentioned are those I currently write for (amongst others). After a decade split across just two workplaces, it’s nice to branch out and write for a lot of different titles!

  1. You’re represented by my first interviewee in this series, Danielle Binks. How did you meet, and do you enjoy working with her?

Danielle and I ‘met’ online, on Twitter, purely because we have similar interests and enjoy chatting about things like pop culture and romance books and, of course, YA. We met in person for the first time at the Sydney Writers’ Festival a few years back, and she became my agent a few months later. She’s a dream to work with. We’re totally on the same page about a lot of things, and it’s wonderful to have someone as knowledgeable and passionate as Danielle in my corner.

  1. Is there another book on the way that you can tell my readers anything about?

I’m currently editing my second book, which is out with Pan Macmillan in August. It’s Weird Science meets Jenny Han – two girls accidentally create the perfect guy, and he complicates their lives in ways they would never have anticipated. It’s a very fun rom-com that I’m excited to share with people.

 

  1. The important stuff: Cats, dogs or both?

DOGS! Although I am trying to grow out of my previous anti-cat prejudices.

  1. Favourite kind of writing snack?

Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.

 

  1. Which Hogwarts house would you belong in if you were attending Hogwarts?

I’m a Ravenclaw through and through!

  1. What is it about rom-coms that you love, and what was the rom-com that began your love of the genre?

Rom-coms are just so comforting. You know they’re going to have a happy ending. They’re the best form of escapism, and necessary in times like this. I’ve loved rom-coms for as long as I remember – I can’t even tell you what my first one would have been. I know I watched Clueless for the first time when I was about nine, but I’m sure there were some earlier than that. I guess that’s the first one I actively chose to get from the video store though.

  1. You might hate me for this question, but top five rom-com movies – what are they?

Oh my god this is so tough! Okay, don’t hold me to this because it may change in future, but right now:

  1. When Harry Met Sally
  2. 10 Things I Hate About You
  3. Clueless
  4. Love Actually
  5. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
  1. When writing, do you prefer typing on a computer, or using a pen and paper? Is one or the other more effective for you?

Computer, 100%. My handwriting is terrible and my arm hurts after writing like two sentences. I’m too used to computers now.

  1. Do you have a favourite bookseller, and why are they your favourite?

Ooooh I love so many bookstores, but I have a soft spot for Better Read Than Dead in Newtown because I go to book club there and they do other great events, plus it’s just such a homey and friendly place. Also Kinokuniya in the Sydney CBD, which is where I had my first book launch! They have an incredible range and a great YA section in particular.

  1. Like Danielle, your job is in the arts. How important do you think the arts are, in times of crisis and at other times as well?

The arts are vital. I know it can feel ‘frivolous’ or not important, but while they may not contribute to our physical health or immediate survival, I think they’re absolutely necessary for our mental health. They keep us sane and bring us joy even in the darkest times.

  1. Do you prefer the blue cover, or the yellow cover?

I cannot possibly pick a favourite. I like that both variations are out there!

 

  1. In this time of crisis, what art forms – movies, podcasts, television, books etc – do you find yourself turning to when you need a break from everything that is going on?

I definitely go back to my go-to comforts – rom-coms, and movies and shows I loved growing up. There’s something about nostalgia that provides a safe space. I am also super into kdramas, because they tend to have romance-focused plots, and having to read subtitles forces me to get offline when I am otherwise addicted to my feeds.

 

  1. What books are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m so excited for Danielle’s debut The Year the Maps Changed, as well as Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me and Anna Whateley’s Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal.

 

  1. Which events were you the most excited about this year that have been cancelled or postponed?

Oh man. I was going to be in America at the end of April to do some promo events for What I Like About Me and also see my faves BTS perform, and now that trip has been cancelled which I’m super bummed about. And although I was going to be away when it was on, I’m still devastated to see the Sydney Writers’ Festival be cancelled. There are so many events that had a lot of work put into them that have now been called off. It’s just so heartbreaking. I know when we can all finally gather and go to these events again, it’s going to be all the more meaningful.

Any further comments?

It’s a really tough time right now. Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty for reaching for joy. Also, I know there’s a lot of financial pressure on many people, so even if you can’t support your fave artists and small businesses with money, a recommendation, review or tweet of appreciation and support can be really meaningful! And don’t forget the joys of libraries, which all have online services you can access without leaving the house.

Isolation Publicity: Suzanne Leal Blog Tour, Author of The Deceptions

3

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.

Leal, Suzanne - credit Kelly Barlow

The third in my Isolation Publicity Series is part of a blog tour for a book called The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal, which is based on stories she heard from her landlords who had lived through the Holocaust. It’s a riveting and moving read, exploring the Holocaust and hidden stories and secrets and how these can affect generations of a family. My review is more expansive. Enjoy this interview and the review.

9781760875275

Hi Suzanne, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. Novels and books about hidden stories like The Deceptions are some of my favourites, and often very powerful narratives. What has led you to writing these stories as an author?

Hi Ashleigh, and thanks so much for having me.  You’re absolutely right: in my new novel The Deceptions everyone has something to hide or a secret they don’t want revealed.  I’m very interested in what people try to hide or what they simply leave unsaid.  Often the things we don’t know about a person – and what they don’t wish to discuss –  are the very things that are most interesting about them: the trauma they have had to overcome, the country they were forced to leave, the loss they have experienced.   It is these hidden stories that, once known, give us a new insight into people we may have thought we knew well.

  1. Did your experiences as a lawyer help you understand how people in unimaginable situations, like your characters in The Deceptions, make decisions that we may think are immoral or dangerous?

I started my legal career in criminal law, then moved into refugee and immigration law and now child protection. In each of these areas, I deal with people in crisis, whether this is because they risk going to jail or have fled their homeland or have lost their career.  My work has taught me a lot about the difficulties people face in their lives, the mistakes they make and how they might try to make up for them.  When I read about the difficulties facing people during the Second World War I often wonder how I would have behaved.  Would I have behaved as admirably as I might hope I would?

  1. Some people think all war novels are the same. Yet as someone who reads a lot of these sorts of novels, I find each one tells of a unique aspect. Is this something you think novelists in general aim to do?

I’ve never really thought all war novels are the same for truly no two writers will ever tell a story in exactly the same way.  Writing a novel takes time and, for me at least, is a difficult thing to do.  I have to be absolutely taken by the story I have to tell to enable me to keep going with it.  That involves discovering the essence of each of my characters: who they really are and why they behave the way they do.  This is what many most writers do – they really drill down into their characters – and in so doing, make each work unique.

  1. You credit your landlord, Fred, for starting your career as a writer – can you expand on how you feel he helped you enter this career?

For seven years, Fred and Eva Perger were both my neighbours and my landlords.   They were also Czech and Jewish and had both survived the Holocaust.  As we became closer, Fred started to confide in me about his experiences during the war. These confidences became regular interviews and in the space of a year, I had five hundred pages of transcript describing events and places with an honesty and photographic recall that still astound me. These interviews formed the basis for my first novel, Border Street, which opened my career as a writer.

My new novel, The Deceptions, was inspired one of the stories Fred and Eva had each told me.  As teenagers, they’d been sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto outside Prague.  Whilst there, they got to know a Czech gendarme whose job was to guard the camp but who was also having a clandestine relationship with one of the young Jewish women detained there.  Some months later, the gendarme and the young woman disappeared from the camp.  After the war, he returned home but her fate remained unknown.  Over the years, I found myself wondering what had happened to her.  I didn’t have enough information to research her actual life – I didn’t even know her name – but at the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  In the end, I gave in and, using my imagination, I recreated her instead.  From there, The Deceptions emerged.

  1. Which do you prefer – being a writer, or fighting for justice in a court room?

I like the combination.  As a lawyer, I sit on a tribunal where I make decisions about people who come before me.  I might be called on to decide whether a person should have a taxi licence or a building licence or a tattooing licence or a firearms licence.  I might also be asked to decide whether a person should have the right to work with children.  To make decisions like this, I need to know a lot about a person’s background, behaviour and motivation. This makes my work fascinating.

As a writer, I love to sit alone and to try to put into words those things in life that puzzle me or shock me or surprise me.  I love sitting down to get out on paper all the thoughts that would otherwise clog up my head.

  1. What is it about World War Two and its stories in particular that you are interested in?

I am interested in World War Two because of the unbelievable horror of the Holocaust.  I find it absolutely impossible to contemplate what it must have been like to have been part of it.  Because I became so close to my neighbours, Fred and Eva Perger, who were both Holocaust survivors, I found myself thinking about World War Two a lot.  I found myself wondering how I would have behaved had I been part of the war: would I have behaved well, would I have been altruistic or would I have simply focused on myself?

  1. What is it about dual timeline narratives in historical fiction that you think is an effective and powerful means to tell the story?

I’ve always liked reading dual timeline narratives.  Last year at Storyfest – the Milton-based festival directed by Meredith Jaffé- I interviewed Natasha Lester and I love the way she intertwines her stories of contemporary life and historical fiction.  A dual timeline narrative was important for my novel The Deceptions because it is very much an exploration of the legacy of war through the years and through generations.

  1. What do you prefer writing – historical fiction, or another genre? Why?

I like writing both historical and contemporary fiction, although I find writing historical fiction more difficult because of the all the research required.  More than anything, I’m interested in how we live now, how we manage our relationships, our work, our losses and how we find the strength to get through hard times.

  1. Have you shared your story with Fred and Eva’s family?

Since Fred and Eva’s death, I have stayed in contact with their daughters, Helena and Renata, to whom I have dedicated The Deceptions.  Helena and Renata read the manuscript early on because I wanted to make sure there was nothing in the book that might upset them.  For although the character of Hana is in no way based on their mother, the places Hana is taken during the war are the same as the places Eva was taken.  Helena and Renata checked my Czech for me and have been incredibly supportive of me.

  1. When did Fred and Eva start telling you their stories about the Holocaust?

I lived beside Fred and Eva for seven years.  After a year or so, they began to tell me about their wartime experiences.  It wasn’t until I’d moved away from them that Fred and I met each week to record his life experiences.

  1. For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event, that’s sometimes just a number. Yet it affected millions of people, has millions of names attached. How important do you think it is to continue teaching it and letting the world know about stories like Eva and Fred’s story?

I think it is fundamental to keep telling stories of the Holocaust so that the horror of it might never be forgotten and never repeated.  It is difficult to comprehend the deaths of millions of people, so difficult it can lose its impact.  More confronting can be the story of one or two or three people whose stories we follow so closely we can immerse ourselves in their lives and get an insight into their experiences. This, I think, is the particular power of fiction.

  1. What impact do you think stories with named victims will have on the teaching of the Holocaust, beyond the usual names such as Anne Frank that we all know? Is it your hope that more stories like this will not only expand knowledge, but expand understanding and empathy?

There are so much Holocaust stories of so many people from so many different backgrounds.  To expand these stories is fundamental to an understanding of the horror and reach of the Holocaust. I think it is also important not to forget that the damage war causes has a long reach: it stretches through time and down the generations.

  1. Finally, what are you planning for your next book, if there are any plans?

I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, which continues the theme that so interests me: how do we find hope and resilience in the midst of troubled times?

Thank you Suzanne, and good luck with future endeavours.

Isolation Publicity with Kirsty Manning

 

the lost jewelsDue 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 second interview in this series is with Kirsty Manning, author of The Midsummer Garden, The Jade Lily and The Lost Jewels. Kirsty, like many authors who have book releases over the next few months, and festival appearances, Kirsty has had these cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the current pandemic. In an attempt to help, I am interviewing those who have taken me up on the offer, and I’ll be throwing in a couple of bookish podcasts as well along the way. So, here is Kirsty’s interview.

Hi Kirsty and welcome to The Book Muse

1. When you set out to write The Lost Jewels, how did you find out about the Cheapside Jewels that form the backbone of the novel and its mystery?

A little over three years ago I was in the final stages of researching and writing my last novel set in Shanghai in World War Two—The Jade Lily—when I stumbled across an extraordinary newspaper article that completely knocked me off track.

It was a review of an exhibition of 500 priceless pieces of Elizabethan and Tudor jewelry–The Cheapside Hoard–that was on display at the time at the Museum of London, and I paused to read it. Who doesn’t love a diamond?

Naturally, I put aside the manuscript I was supposed to be writing and started to research everything I could on this shiny new topic. I found out what I could.

As my imagination took flight … the same questions haunted me: how could someone neglect to retrieve 500 precious pieces of jewellery and gemstones? Why was such a collection buried in a cellar? Who did all these jewels belong to? Why did nobody claim this treasure in the subsequent years? Who were the workmen who actually discovered the jewels in an old London cellar at Cheapside in 1912?

No-one knows the answers to these questions.

2. I really enjoyed this novel – you seem to capture the essence of both time periods you focused on. What do you like about writing a dual timeline story, and do you think it creates a more intriguing plot?

I love diving into different worlds, and it keeps it interesting when you are writing … if I get stuck on one plotline, I can jump across to the other!

I think a dual narrative can create intrigue if cleverly crafted, because the reader often knows the outcome for historical sections, and that expectation creates an added layer of drama in the text.

3. How much research did you do for this novel, and what was the most interesting thing you had to research?

I spent about a year researching this book before I started on the manuscript proper, noodling about with characters, timeframes and places.

I write about three eras of London, the 1600’s, 1912 and present day. For the 1600’s I read plenty of contemporary texts, like Shakespeare (who was writing at this time) and the diary of Samuel Pepys—the philandering public servant who kept a diary of his life in London at the time, including the Great Fire. He was the guy who buried wine and a block of parmesan cheese in his London garden—resolving to return to for it after the fire had passed. That’s my kind of correspondent!

Before I set off to London, I visited the breathtaking Cartier exhibition in Canberra. I was guided by a jeweller, who not only talked me through the design and setting, but what it took to facet an emerald—stones so fragile they splinter—and the flaws in a sapphire that make them so special. The best part, perhaps, was a replica of a goldsmith’s room, complete with the leather that folds across the lap, anvil and polishing stones. It wasn’t hard to imagine talented artisans sitting at tables just like these in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris and London hundreds of years ago, just like they do today. Later, I’d go on to visit jewellers in Melbourne and London, who’d show me to their tiny workspaces before pulling out diamonds, sapphires and gold bands from secret leather pouches and spreading them across the desktop to catch the light.

London is perfect for steeping yourself in history. I visited with my teenage son, Henry, and together we took tours with historians tracing the path of the Great Fire, visited the buildings, churches and monuments designed by Wren—who clearly loved a dome. We walked the streets of the East End learning about all the suffragettes were doing in 1912, and took a turn about the Burough Market and Dickensian London.

We spent the best part of a day at the Museum of London learning about fires, plague and revolutions, as well as suffragettes and life in Edwardian London. The Museum of London is also home to the Cheapside Hoard (although it is currently in storage) so I saw some replica jewels and stocked up on reference books.

I struck it lucky at the British Museum, where a sympathetic curator opened up a room containing some of the buttons and jewels allegedly from the Cheapside Hoard and it blew me away. To be in that room in London, looking at pieces with rubies and sapphires from Sri Lanka, diamonds from India, and emeralds from Colombia all set in exquisite gold rings and buttons, crafted in London when it was the centre of the exploding trading world. The Victoria and Albert Museum also has a fine selection of jewels, and the Natural History Museum is great for seeing real gemstones up close in the rough.

4. I had never heard of jewellery historians before this book – what do you think the best thing about being a jewellery historian would be?

Unravelling the true stories and mysteries behind a hand-crafted piece. The story of a jewel tells a bigger story of trade and globalisation, design trends, economics and politics. I try to show how many hands pass over a jewel—from origin to purchase in The Lost Jewels. A jewel changes someone’s life every time they come into contact with it, then either pass it on to a loved one and sell it on. There are stories with each handover.

5. I found moving between the key moments in the history of the jewels to be effective – was this a conscious decision or did it evolve while you wrote the novel?
A bit of both! I wanted to give the reader a sense of the hands that pass over a jewel, from origin. And I had an idea of the history, but it is all speculative … so I wove that in with my own narrative.

6. I love the way you centre women in your stories – do you feel that by doing this, you are contributing to a previously ignored historical record?
Yes indeed. The Lost Jewels is my imagined tale woven between the facts. I love bringing to life forgotten pockets of history—in particular, women’s voices that have long been overlooked or dismissed. For me, a novel begins between the gaps of history. I build my world on the bits we don’t know.

London was in turmoil in 1912—on the brink of war—with women marching in the street demanding the vote. Both these eras seemed ripe for fictionalising, placing strong, interesting women at the forefront of each story.

As for Kate, my main contemporary character—I’m in awe of the research of historians, curators and conservators around the world. They tenderly dive into our past to give us stories for our future. To teach us lessons, to give comfort and warning where needed. This is my love letter to their important work in libraries, museums and galleries around the world.

7. Do you have a favourite bookseller? Why this one in particular?
The Avenue Bookshop in Albert Park – because I can walk there! I also love New Leaves, in my former home-town of Woodend because a country bookshop keeps a country town engaged and inspired.

8. What is your favourite thing about the literary and writing community in Australia?
The camaraderie. Australia is awash with literary talent and in Melbourne I’ve made connections with writers who will be friends for life.

9. Books are always important. But in times of crisis, they can be a great comfort to people. For you, which book brings you comfort no matter how many times you read it?

To Kill a Mockingbird … always

10. You’re involved in the arts community in Australia – how do you think the arts will help people through the next few months?

If history teaches us anything, it is the power of the human spirit to be optimistic and rebuild after tragedy. Now is the time to contemplate what is really precious. It is the perfect time to celebrate art and beauty—also a time to read and reach for topics that bring a little hope and sparkly magic to our lives.

11. Favourite writing or reading companion – cat, dog or both?

My new puppy, Winter.

12. How long do you like to spend researching a book before you write those first words that begin the story?

About a year. But the research never stops until the story is done.

13. What are you going to be reading during this isolation period, and do you have any recommendations?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.

14. Finally, what is your next project going to be about?

A mystery set between the French Riviera and Germany …