A Conversation with Lisa Heidke

It occurred to me that I hardly need to introduce Lisa Heidke to followers of this blog, who I know are pretty passionate readers of contemporary women’s fiction. Lisa is the popular author of LUCY SPRINGER GETS EVEN, WHAT KATE DID NEXT, CLAUDIA’S BIG BREAK and STELLA MAKES GOOD – books she is proud to call ‘chick-lit’.

Lisa and I met online – not the way you’re thinking0_Heidke Lisa small (you can read more about such things below) – but in the way many authors meet each other these days, via our ‘social platforms’, that is, Facebook, Twitter and the like. But we did eventually get to meet in person, and bonded over everything we had in common – especially our love of women’s fiction, and our struggles writing it! I discovered Lisa is as funny as her books, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to my blog today, to discuss her long-awaited new novel, IT STARTED WITH A KISS.

So, it’s been a while between drinks, Lisa! I have seen your fans on social media hounding you for your next book, so I’ll ask for them, what took you so long?

Short answer? A couple of false starts …

The longer answer? I wrote a manuscript that I love about two sisters on the professional tennis circuit. It’s got travel, romance, suspense, and intense drama between the siblings as they navigate their professional and private lives in the public arena. Unfortunately, [my publisher] Allen & Unwin, didn’t think it was quite the right fit for them so I started writing IT STARTED WITH A KISS.

Coupled with my oldest son doing the HSC in 2013 and A&U pushing the publication date back, yes, you could say it’s been a long journey getting novel number five ‘out there’. But I am so pleased it is!

So you’re saying you haven’t exactly been sitting on your hands! 🙂 I think readers don’t always realise that the publishing process is often long and arduous, and completely out of the author’s control. Good for you for persevering and producing a whole brand new novel, which I enjoyed immensely! What was your inspiration, the spark that fired IT STARTED WITH A KISS?

I have friends whose marriages and long term relationships have fallen apart and suddenly they find themselves alone and lonely. How do they meet people? Quite a few sign on to dating sites – RSVP, e-harmony etc. And I thought this would be a fascinating premise for a novel. I interviewed friends and am enthralled by the concept – how internet dating works (and often doesn’t!), the successes and the horror stories. I also poked around a few dating websites … eye opening. It’s amazing how much personal information people will reveal to complete strangers, along with sharing photos taken back in the 90s, when they had a full head of hair and looked twenty-five. What happens if they make it as far as actually meeting up with their potential love interest?

I had a great time writing IT STARTED WITH A KISS, but I wouldn’t like to be Friday!

Why not? I’d certainly like to have her name – what a great name for a heroine!

Thanks, Di. I’m rather fond of Friday’s name too!

I don’t want to be Friday because she’s going through a tough time personally and professionally. Her career as a naturopath got sidelined to raise a family and then, when her husband leaves her, Friday flounders, not knowing what to do with herself. Her self-esteem is at an all time low and she makes things worse by having an ill-fated fling with a married man. I felt sorry for her as I wrote her character but still, I kept adding to the conflict and tension …

 The grist of any good story! We writers are so mean to our poor characters. And yes, thrusting Friday into the realm of internet dating was particularly cruel! So tell us about your research – what’s your opinion of internet dating now?

Inevitable. Is that the right word?

Because if you’ve just come out of a long-term relationship and all your friends are couples, how do you meet potential partners, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mum, working alone or employed in a small business? If you’re actively involved in the church, gym or some other activity, such as a cycling or movie club, you might meet someone … but what are your other options? (Other than badgering your friends about ANY single non-loser friends, brothers, and acquaintances they might have.)

Generally, older, single women aren’t going to go to bars or clubs by themselves; it’s far safer to flick through potential candidates on a computer in the privacy of your own home.

Does that sound depressing? I don’t mean it to be – and I certainly didn’t set out to write about internet dating, but the more I spoke to women the more I realised that this was the norm, especially for woman between the ages of 25 and 45, who were looking companionship – at the very least.

No, it doesn’t sound depressing, you sound like you’re a convert! You certainly cover the range of possibilities of internet dating – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, without giving spoilers away, Friday’s biggest problems come from rather unexpected places. The twists and turns at the end of the book are surprising and even shocking at times, and really well-handled, Lisa. Congratulations! 

Thanks, Di. I had a lot of fun writing Friday’s story. I really hope she resonates with readers.

Just one final point – my internet dating days are over but I have quite a few friends who have found true love on these sites!

 Lucky them! Thanks so much for your time, Lisa, it was great chatting.

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If you want to find out more about Lisa and her books, you can go to her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

And if you want the chance to win a signed copy of IT STARTED WITH A KISS, just leave a comment below, and Lisa will choose one lucky reader at random.

 

 

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A Conversation with Rachael Johns

I am so excited, and I know many of you will be as well, that Rachael Johns is in da house! (as the young people say 🙂 ) I first ‘met’ Rachael on Twitter – she was so warm and friendly and generous online, that I felt like I knew her. So I was thrilled to learn that she was attending GenreCon last year, and we finally got to meet in person. I wasn’t disappointed, she was just as warm and friendly, and great fun at Karaoke … but that’s another story.

We have been trying to get together for a outback ghost finalConversation ever since but we’ve both had busy years. I was off travelling, while Rachael kept writing books, much to the delight of her many fans. So finally we started our conversation on the publication of the third book of her wildly popular Bunyip Bay series, OUTBACK GHOST. I’m fascinated – and not a little envious – of the series phenomenon. They are particularly popular in romance, readers seem to love them. I often have people asking for sequels to my books, but I just don’t know how I would go about it. So my first question to Rachael was …

Did you know from the beginning that there was 3 books’ worth of material in Bunyip Bay? 

Thanks re the series, Di, it was a lot of fun to write and I learnt a lot about my writing process throughout the journey. The reason I decided to write a series was as you mentioned because readers had contacted me on Facebook and email asked to know what happened to the characters in my first book. Many begged me to a write a story that followed on from JILTED but for me that story was finished – I’d put the hero and heroine Jilted-US-cover-final-647x1024through hell (ten years of it in their case) and given them their Happy Ever After, I didn’t want to throw anymore drama at them. And hey, a book without drama would be a pretty boring read. In addition to requests from readers, I read a bit of American romance and many of those authors write very successful series. I realised that readers enjoy going back to a town and familiar characters time and time again, so decided to try my hand at a series. I chose three books from the get-go (because it seemed like a good number) and had a loose idea about who the hero and heroines of each book would be, although this changed a bit as I progressed and got to know them. There is one plot line that travels through the three books but you do not need to read them all in order to understand the books. However, I didn’t really do half as much pre-planning as I should and I now know that if I write a series again, I’ll work out some of the specifics that will link the books BEFORE I start writing. Despite deciding there was going to be three books, I left a couple of characters unfinished so to speak. I introduced them but didn’t share their story with the reader. So now… I’m getting requests for MORE Bunyip Bay books (yay) and having these characters I’ve decided that I can and will go back and write at least one more book. And who knows… maybe in THAT book, I’ll introduce more characters for potential stories 🙂

Wow! So you could keep going on a neverending thread like that, I suppose! I totally agree with what you say about sequels, that’s what I tell my readers when they ask for more – don’t you think they’ve been through enough! But the way you’re doing it gives you the opportunity to draw on a huge ‘cast’ of characters, and give them each a fresh story. Now, I find it so difficult when people ask me what’s my favourite book, but I’m going to ask you anyway – do you have a favourite couple in the trilogy (or is it a quadrology now!)?

Ooh favourite couple. That is a tough question. Like choosing a favourite child, it really depends on the mood I’m in – lol! But if you’re going to make me pick, I’d have to say Adam and Stella from OUTBACK GHOST. Adam has been with me from the start of the series as he was a friend of the characters in the first book, so I’ve learnt a little bit more about him in each book and I was SO ready to give him his Happy Ever After. He’s had a horrible experience that shaped his past and who he is today so it took a really special woman (or rather women, if we include the heroine’s little girl) to help him heal. Stella is a young woman who has also had a hard life so far but she’s never let anything defeat here. I think they’re a match made in heaven and it was fun to go along for the ride as they fell in love.

Yes, it’s often the latest couple who are closest to your heart. And I’m sure your readers will agree about Adam and Stella! But then, they’re not quite your latest, are they? I really have lost count of how many books you have either written or are writing this past year – you’re prolific! I shouldn’t be highlighting this for my readers, who are always asking when my next book is coming, and I’m afraid a year apart is close for me. So how do you do it? Especially with three young boys under your feet?

Haha Dianne – I ask myself this Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 10.42.12 amquestion a lot, cos most of the time I barely feel like I’m keeping my head above water, never mind getting any words down but it’s amazing how those words really do add up. In theory I work school hours now and that’s when I do the majority of my writing. But school carnivals come up, kids get sick, other things make me lose days, so I also write most weekends for at least a couple of hours each day and I make lots of other sacrifices. Like ironing, and housework 😦 And I’m not much of a cook anymore, but hey my kids are so fussy, they don’t want to eat anyway. I don’t watch much TV either, although this is something I regret and want to change. I’m not a superwoman, I just set myself goals and I don’t always achieve them but I find if I aim for a certain amount of words per day, I’m more likely to get there than if I don’t!

Well, maybe you are a bit of a superwoman! I hope your readers appreciate the sacrifices you’re making – ironing and housework, however do you cope? 🙂 But clearly it’s working for you. I have just received your newsletter with the announcement of your latest novella, THE NEXT SEASON, which follows on from THE KISSING SEASON. What other goodies do you have in store for your readers?

1214 The Next SeasonThanks Dianne – those novellas were a lot of fun to write. I really enjoy writing a short story between the big books and THE NEXT SEASON is a first-lovers reunited story, which happens to be my favourite type of romance of all!! Following THE NEXT SEASON is THE ROAD TO HOPE, which is linked to my first rural romance JILTED and will release in March next year. This was a fun and challenging story because I took a character who wasn’t very nice in JILTED and made her the heroine in THE ROAD TO HOPE!! Can’t wait to share Lauren’s story with all my readers!

 

Thanks so much for the chat, Dianne! I can’t wait till the next time we can do it in person!!

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Look forward to that, Rachael!

Rachael has kindly offered to give away a signed copy of OUTBACK DREAMS, the first in the Bunyip Bay series. So if you haven’t caught up with them yet, here’s a great place to start. Just leave a comment below, and Rachael will choose a winner at random. But be quick! We want to wrap this up in the next week or so, so that your prize can make its way to you before Christmas!

A Conversation with Liane Moriarty

I am so excited to welcome Liane Moriarty to my Conversation series!

Liane2As many of you know, we are friends, colleagues, co-anchors of Book Chat along with Ber Carroll, and the three of us appear regularly together at events. Since the success of THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, and now BIG LITTLE LIES, Liane’s star has risen to a whole other stratosphere from us mere mortal mid-listers, but she’s still the same girl at heart – warm, natural and self-deprecating, and I couldn’t wait to introduce you to her, here on my blog.

 We started our conversation back when BIG LITTLE LIES was released, but writers are real people too, and in Liane’s case, have small children and go away for the school holidays! At that time, BIG LITTLE LIES had debuted at Number 1 in the New York Times Bestseller List, after the phenomenal ongoing success of THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, which was still on the list after a year! So I asked Liane …

How does it feel to have not just one book in the NYT Bestseller List, but two!?

Thank you so much for dropping that into the conversation, Di!

It feels wonderful and surreal, almost like a practical joke. I emailed my publisher in the US and asked if someone could please send me an actual real copy of the New York Times because I don’t think I will believe it until I can actually hold the newspaper in my hands. Then I’ll be able to keep it for my grandchildren. (Although knowing me I’ll probably lose it.)

I can imagine that it feels very surreal! Such an amazing accomplishment – from what I understand it’s incredibly rare for any author to have 2 books in the list at the same time, let alone an Australian. Do you think this puts paid to the idea that Americans won’t read or understand books set in Australia? Have you had to make any substantial adjustments to your stories for the American market?

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I actually just this moment got an email from the US that began, ‘Holy Crap!’ with the news that the paperback edition of WHAT ALICE FORGOT has made it on to the bestseller list, so apparently an Australian author now has three books on the New York Times bestseller list!  All three books are set in Australia, so yes, I think American readers are OK with an Australian setting. I haven’t made any substantial adjustments. We always leave in Australian colloquialisms, slang etc. if they make sense in context.

The only thing that has sometimes created confusion is the change in seasons.

Until I put a note on my website, I was receiving many emails from US readers of THE HUSBAND’S SECRET gently pointing out that Easter takes place in the spring, not the autumn.

9781742612010Well, that’s adorable. And even more congratulations are in order! 3 books in the NY Times bestseller list, PLUS a movie deal signed with Nicole Kidman and Reece Witherspoon!! I’ve heard that Nicole wants to play the part of Celeste, do you know which character Reece intends to play? (I’m calling them by their first names, because they’re obviously friends of mine now too, by virtue of the six degrees of separation rule.) And just for a bit of fun, do you have a wishlist of actors to fill the other roles?

 I am guessing that Reese maybe wants to play Madeline, but  I don’t actually have any idea. I think both she and Nicole would be amazing as Celeste and Madeline. It would truly be a dream come true to see them playing my characters.

In regard to the other characters, a friend suggested Hugh Jackman for Perry, and I agree he’d be perfect. I also think Matt Damon is perfect for any role he would like. Any role at all. He probably likes to work with his old Oceans 11 friends, so we might need to make room for George, Brad etc. I’m happy to do a rewrite of the book if necessary. You can see that I start behaving like a fifteen year old whenever this subject comes up.

I think it would only be fair to make room for George and Brad, and I’m more than happy to help out with casting. In fact, I’d be prepared to take it off your hands altogether, Liane. If you could just organise to get their contact details for me, I’ll take it from there. Really, it’s no trouble … Who’s behaving like a fifteen year old now!

But seriously, I reckon Matt Damon could totally play Ed, Madeline’s husband – he has that air of decency about him. Though I was picturing maybe Paul Rudd, who could nail Ed’s sense of humour and deadpan delivery. His one-liner comebacks at Madeline are hilarious. In fact, their whole relationship crackles with life, it was one of my favourite things about BIG LITTLE LIES. What did you enjoy about writing the book, and were there any parts you found more difficult?

I really enjoyed writing the interview snippets from the parents who were at the Trivia Night – my ‘suburban Greek chorus’. They were mostly minor characters, who were there to help build a picture of the main characters, and to give different perspectives on the events of the night, and some were purely for satirical/comedy purposes, so it meant I could have lots of fun with them. I also loved the setting, as I don’t actually live in an idyllic seaside community so it was lovely to sit down at the computer each day and feel like I was heading off to the beach. There were some panicky moments when I was writing Big Little Lies. I’m not a planner, so I never know how my books are going to end or how my plot is going to come together. It’s always such a relief when I’m about two thirds of the way through by which point I’ve worked out my ending, I’ve got to know my characters and they’re all behaving themselves (or misbehaving) and the writing just flows. I wish I could jump ahead to that point with my next novel. (I’m currently at the panicky point!)

Oh no! Then I best not keep you any longer! Except to say that I laugh-out-loud loved the Greek chorus too, and I still can’t get over how you can pull together such intricate plots and bring it all to such a satisfying conclusion. You’re a wonder.

So we’ll leave Liane there, panicking about how to finish her next book, and hand it over to you. If you’ve read BIG LITTLE LIES, who would you cast in the film? And even if you haven’t read the book yet, who would you love to see in a ‘funny, heartbreaking’ film about ‘ex-husbands and second wives, new friendships, old betrayals and schoolyard politics’. Speak up in the comments, and you have a chance to win a signed copy of BIG LITTLE LIES !

 

 

A Conversation with Ber Carroll

It’s my very great pleasure to welcome Ber Carroll to my conversation series! 718kmhynikL                   As many of my regular readers will know, Ber and I – along with our third musketeer, Liane Moriarty – write a joint newsletter, BookChat, and speak together at author events. We met through our mutual publisher five years ago after we had both commented to her that we’d really like to network with other authors – particularly other women’s fiction authors. Our publisher put us in touch with each other, then I invited Liane to join us, and we’ve been going strong ever since. We all support one another, listen, share our highs and lows, and I know I can speak for Liane when I say that we were both impatiently waiting for Ber’s new novel, Worlds Apart.

So tell me this, Ber – what took you so long?!

First of all, I want to thank my readers for their patience. Three years is a long time between drinks (especially if you’re Irish, like me!). Some stories just take longer to write, and this one has been percolating for a while, maybe even since I first arrived in Sydney almost twenty years ago. Straight away I felt as though I belonged here, in Sydney, and ever since I have found myself watching others, migrants like me, and wondering if they feel thIMG_4008at same sense of belonging, or if they feel like they belong somewhere else. Many of the characters in Worlds Apart are foreigners, foreign to Sydney, or foreign to Dublin, or foreign in some other less obvious way. It look a while to weave a story around these characters. All the minor characters came first: Fila, Lisha, Kasia. Then followed Erin, Laura, Cathy and Moira, who were more complex to write, and whose individual feelings of being ‘out of place’ have nothing to do with nationality.

That is fascinating. I had a similar experience when I moved up to an inner city suburb of Sydney a couple of years ago. I know that’s a much less dramatic move, but after living in the same town for 24 years, raising my kids, I was a little terrified about such a big move. But I totally relate to the ‘sense of belonging’ that you talk about. It was unexpected and very powerful.

So needless to say, I loved Erin’s storyline. But before we go on to the main characters, I’m interested that you came up with the so-called minor characters first. I say ‘so-called’ because they all have a significant role to play in Worlds Apart, and they each have such interesting back stories. Are any of them based on people you know? How did you come up with them?

Well, I learned after my first novel not to base characters on real people! Having said that, Kasia is loosely based on a Polish girl who used to nanny for a friend of mine. My friend couldn’t warm to her, and I remember wondering (while listening to recounts of everything this poor nanny was supposedly doing wrong) what the nanny actually thought of my friend.  Fila is based on all the young Afghan girls in Australia, who are every day striving to learn our language and our culture. Lisha, similarly, is based on all the Nigerian girls in Ireland, struggling to fit in and make a new life. The reason that letters and emails are used periodically throughout the novel is to give these minor characters a voice.

I loved the letters and emails throughout Worlds Apart – they give such a warm and personal insight into the characters. You’ve admitted to relating quite closely to Erin, so what about her cousin, Laura, the other central character driving the narrative? I actually think a lot of readers will relate to Laura – the stressed, overworked, overtired woman juggling a demanding career with being a wife and mother. But I daresay the reader will also see how Laura’s control freakery is only making things harder for herself. Tell the truth now, Ber – have you ever been found scrubbing your shower recess in the middle of the night?

Actually, my house is such a terrible mess by the time I finish a novel that some midnight scrubbing wouldn’t go astray! Going back to Laura, yes, I hope a lot of women can relate to her – I certainly can. The constant juggling, the persistent feeling that you aren’t doing the right thing by either your family or your work, is something I have experienced firsthand, especially when I worked in the corporate world and had less flexibility with my hours. At certain points in the novel, my writing of Laura’s struggles were a little too heartfelt, and the editor had to ask me to ease off a bit.

That’s interesting, Ber. Well, you still certainly managed to convey Laura’s stress levels extremely well – I felt exhausted reading some of her sections, I just wanted to tell her to slow down and relax! That’s why I enjoyed her scenes with Moira so much. What a lovely character Moira is – you have given us such an empathetic portrayal of a person slipping into dementia. Where did you get the idea for Moira?

Moira is the combination of many stories I have heard over the years from family and friends who have loved ones with similar illnesses. I was struck by how many times these stories were relayed with a smile, and how much tenderness there was beneath the sadness. As an author, I enjoyed writing Moira immensely. She’s warm, funny, very lovable, and a strange mix of wise and child-like. More than anything, she is totally unpredictable . . .

I love writing those unexpected characters too – it’s like having a visit with a lovely friend. And I think that’s how readers will feel about Worlds Apart, Ber – like they’re sitting down for a visit with a range of interesting characters, either in Sydney, or across the world in Ireland!

And let’s not forget the male characters! The three leading men – Jack, Adam and Esteban – were all very appealing in very different ways. What was your inspiration for these characters?

I have to admit, Di, that after six novels I find it quite hard to come up with new male characters. The truth is that Jack, Adam and Esteban came about after lots and lots of contemplation and scratching around for ideas. Jack is Erin’s perfect man, even though he comes with a certain degree of baggage (specifically, two wary daughters). Adam – hyperactive, passionate, quirky – is her friend and boss. As the story progresses, Erin has to make a choice between these two very different men (lucky Erin!). Esteban is Laura’s husband, and yet another foreigner. But Esteban is quite well established: into Dublin, into Laura’s family, and into Irish life. I like how Esteban provides an exotic element to a very Irish family. And I like how he breaks stereotype.

Actually, as I write this I’m realising that I’m very happy with how the male characters turned out. Maybe all that contemplation paid off!  

Indeed!

Thanks so much for giving us this extra insight into Worlds Apart, Ber, and thank you also for providing a signed copy to give away to one lucky reader! All you have to do to win is join in the conversation by leaving a comment below. Ber will pick a winner at random. But be quick – competition closes a week from today.

Worlds Apart is available in hard copy or e-book from Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia, the Apple iBook store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and many other online sites. It can be purchased from any country around the world.

A Conversation with Ilsa Evans

Authors are sometimes asked if they’re interested in reading a manuscript and Nefarious-Doings_coverproviding a quote for the cover. This can be a fraught business, you can imagine! But last year I was asked to read Nefarious Doings by Ilsa Evans – the first instalment of her new Nell Forrest Mystery series – and I was sold from the very first page. I have since been telling anyone who would listen how much I enjoyed it.

So I am very excited that Ilsa agreed to join me for a conversation today!

Ilsa, you have managed to seamlessly blend what we love about contemporary women’s fiction – warm, relatable characters, everyday life, a good dash of humour, even a touch of romance – with murder, mystery and intrigue … So I have to ask, what made you veer into this territory?

Evans_IlsaI think that I’ve written across genre a little bit in the past, which may have been to my detriment. One minute I’ll write something quite light and then I’ll lurch into the story of an abused woman, or euthanasia or something like that. And I started thinking how nice it would be to identify – and be identified with – a certain genre. Then one evening I was watching the marvellous Phryne Fisher on the ABC, and had a bit of an epiphany. Murder mystery seemed like a marvellous challenge, plus it was a genre that allowed me to retain characters. I find it terribly difficult to say goodbye to characters at the end of my books. For weeks after I finish writing, I feel like I should be able to pick up the phone and invite them around for a drink. With murder mystery, I get to catch up with them every few months!

What a great answer! This happens to me too, and my readers are always asking for sequels, but my stories don’t really allow for that. Your Nell is such a wonderful character – I know I couldn’t wait to spend more time with her after I read Nefarious Doings, so I was thrilled when Ill-Gotten Gains was released soon after. I realise this could be one of those ‘Where do you get your ideas’ questions that are impossible to answer, but – how did you come up with Nell?

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Most of my main characters are people I would like to know. I’m fine with having unpleasant or annoying or odd types in the background, but the main ones have to be someone I’d enjoy spending time with. Because that’s exactly what I have to do! In Nell’s case, I was busy with another project when I first came up with the murder mystery idea so she had to bide her time for a few months. By the time I finally put pen to paper, she was fully formed – and getting very impatient! I don’t actually recall making any definitive decisions about her personality or family or even her job; they all just seemed right. Incidentally, I recently read your The Right Time and I think Nell would get on very well with Ellen.

I think you’re absolutely right! They’re both that kind of no-nonsense woman, pulled in all directions by kids and work and all the other ephemera of life, and wondering where they fit into the mix. Nell did appear fully formed, I felt like I already knew her from the start – which is a great characteristic to have in your lead. And taking a character like that, and putting her on the scent of a mystery, was a stroke of genius. My dad is always asking me when I’ll write a crime into one of my books, but my head just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately! Did you have to plot out the entire mystery, so you knew where it was going? Or did you start with an idea, and let it unfold? 

It’s funny you should ask that because I’m getting towards the end of the third book in the series and have just realised I’ve tied myself in knots (figuratively speaking). And the knots have a lot of loose ends also, sticking out left, right and centre. It’s like a cross between macrame and writing. Not good. So no, generally I start with an idea and just let it unfold but perhaps I need to start rethinking that approach!

You may well have to! I’ve always been a little dubious about crime writers who claim they don’t know whodunnit until it comes out in the writing. However, it must be both exciting and daunting to stretch your author muscles.

You’ve kind of answered my next question: that you’re working on a third book in the series (Yay!). How many books do you think Nell has in her? Or do you have other plans after this?

The third book is called Forbidden Fruits and I’m just now finishing it off. I’d love for there to be more – and have ideas for at least another three! – but I really have to wait and see how they’re going. The reviews have been great but I’ve just heard that the print editions have been postponed so that’s not good. It’s all rather up in the air unfortunately. Although I do know that next I’ll spend some time on a project I started under contract a few years ago, but then the contract fell through so I shelved it. It’s a light, non-fiction exploration of middle-age for women, called ‘The Invisible Woman and other remarkable phenomena of middle-age.’ I’m actually looking forward to dragging it out and dusting it off!

And as an invisible middle-aged woman myself, I’ll look forward to reading it! If it’s executed with the same warmth and humour as your Nell Forrest series, then it will be a must-read. Thanks so much for the conversation, Ilsa!

And it doesn’t have to stop here! You can keep the conversation going below, I’m sure Ilsa will be happy to answer your questions. Or just say hi. Everyone who comments will go in the draw for one of THREE e-copies of Nefarious Doings. You will need an ereader, but it can be read on any format, including tablets. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’m certain my readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

 You can find out more about Ilsa here, and about the Nell Forrest series here and here, where you can even read a sample chapter.

 So leave a comment below and be in the running for a copy of Nefarious Doings!

The Happy Jar – one year on

For those of you who receive my newsletter, (and if you don’t, go sign up right now!) you may recall a piece I did at the beginning of 2013 about keeping a ‘happy jar’. The idea was to start in the new year, and write down every time something makes you happy. It may be a big important thing like a new job or a new house or a new baby, or it may simply be the sight of a puppy, or a plastic bag blowing in the wind. (American Beauty reference there, folks.)

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At the end of the year – preferably on New Year’s Eve – you’re supposed to open the jar and read all your happy moments, and remember that, despite the constant refrain to the contrary, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year after all.

I was in transit on New Year’s Eve, and away from home for a couple of days, so I finally sat down on January 2 and opened my jar. photo There weren’t any real surprises, most of the happy moments I recorded I still remembered. But then I wondered if that was because I had written them down in the first place? You know, like when you write a shopping list but then leave the list at home, but you still remember nearly everything on it?

So I’m thinking it was the process of writing down the happy moments that made them stick. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth continuing the practice through 2014. What you focus on expands. I was looking for happy moments, noticing them more often, recording them, and reflecting on them.

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I should add here that I do realise some years are genuinely tough – I’ve had my share of them, and no amount of positive thinking is going to eradicate them entirely. Many of you may be well and truly glad to see the back of 2013, and for completely valid reasons.

But stop for a moment and think back – was it really the whole year? All 365 days? Should the entire year be considered a write-off because some of it, even a lot of it, was difficult? Isn’t that like throwing the baby out with the bathwater? The division of years is somewhat artificial anyway. The Mayan calendar followed a 2-year cycle; the ancient Romans had 8 day weeks. (Yes, I can hear you all, what you could do with that extra day …) Gradually, over centuries, we got better at calculating time, and we ended up with the current system, one so precise it only has to be adjusted by a single second every 18 months or so. 

Which leads me to my other big revelation of 2013. There are 24 hours in every day, no matter what. Okay, so that doesn’t exactly put me in the running for a Nobel Prize, but it’s an important concept to grasp. You see, no sooner do we get to the end of January that the rumbling begins about how fast the year is going. And with each passing month, that rumbling builds, until come October/November we are united in one desperate chorus – Where did the year go?

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I do understand that as we get older every year is shorter in proportion to the rest of our lives, and I know the pace of life grows ever faster … but there are still 24 hours in every single day, and everybody, no matter how rich or poor, has the same 24 hours to spend. So around mid-year, when everyone was lamenting that the year was half over, I chose instead to see the calendar as half full. As July rolled over into August and then September, I welcomed each month, and I tried to make the most of them. Maybe the year didn’t go any slower, but it didn’t go any faster either. It just was what it was. Three hundred and sixty-five, 24-hour days full of lots of happy moments, big and small, of family, friends, work, challenges, joys … life. So tell me, how was your year?

A Conversation with Jenn McLeod

I first had contact with Jenn back in 2011 when she sent me a lovely email to tell me 54A1122-t-200x300how much she enjoyed my novel, Three’s a Crowd. She also revealed she was an aspiring author, and had recently landed herself an agent. Fast forward to February 2012, when Jenn announced the exciting news that she had signed up with publishers Simon & Schuster, and just over a year later her debut novel A House for all Seasons hit the shelves, to resounding critical and reader acclaim. It’s a lovely, heartwarming tale, just like its author, I suspect, because Jenn and I still haven’t met in person! So I was thrilled to have her as my inaugural ‘conversationee’.

Hi Jenn, thanks for joining in the conversation today. As I said above, I’m thrilled to have you, because I’ve been dying to pick your brain about something. I am totally intrigued by the way you describe your writing process: that you come up with your title first, then the blurb for the back cover, and these then form the template for your novel … As someone who has been known to still be searching around for a title in the editing phase, and who struggles to write blurbs, this is absolutely fascinating. Can you tell me more? How did the title ‘House for all Seasons’ come to you?

Well, Dianne, I have a long answer and a short answer. The long answer goes something like this …

“While delighting in the early morning sun in Spring of 2009, inspired by the sensational sensory surrounds in the little country corner I call home and the pure joy of living in a place that experiences such diverse seasons …” Yeah, yeah, yadda, yadda …

Ha! And the short answer?

Rural romance was a boom genre around 2009 and although I’d been flogging a couple of manuscripts – they were not rural stories and I am neither a farm girl, nor a romance writer – and a significant birthday loomed, I gave myself an ultimatum. If I wasn’t capable of writing a country story and getting ‘some’ attention by my 50th I clearly could NOT write and I should give up.

(Hmmm, I did say this was the short version, didn’t I?)

Anyway, I decided to ‘make’ myself a country girl and write myself a good ol’ country story. Enter NaNoWriMo 2009.

(For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November each year.)

Freshly inspired by two authors – Monica McInerney and yes, you, Dianne Blacklock! – I was determined to tackle a multiple POV (point of view) story about four women and written in fours parts: spring, summer, autumn and winter. (Let’s not take the easy path, Jenn!)

Could I go wrong with an unexpected inheritance theme?

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So, House for all Seasons, with its four main female characters – each one as different as the seasons – was born.

Before I jumped into Nano I had the title, the four characters, and I’d written their individual blurbs. Twelve months later, one day before my 50th birthday I submitted House and signed with an agent. And I’m delighted to say the same character blurb made it to the back cover of the printed novel.

Amazing! Have you kept the same process for your next novels?

Book two (out April 2014) started as a title and a tagline …

Simmering Season

This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Calingarry Crossing’s local publican, Maggie Lindeman, discovers there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.

Then there was an opening line that I’d been saving up for years, waiting for the right time. (And while there maybe not always be the perfect time, Dianne, it was definitely ‘the right time’ for me to use that line.) Wanna sneak peek? It’s going to be a bit controversial for anyone who, like you, Di, has read and fallen in love with the House for all Seasons characters, but it has to come out sooner or later, so here’s that opening line …

‘I always thought the next funeral I’d attend would be mine.’

(Yep, I’ve killed someone off. *gulp*)

I LOVE that opening line! It does exactly what an opening line should do, which is basically to make you want to keep reading. Well done you! Obviously your process is really working for you and the way you write stories. What’s next?

Thanks for asking, Di. Book 3 in my Season’s Collection is next, although my process did hit a snag! Even though I’ve been blessed with a lovely agent, and a publisher who is consultative and open to author input, I’m learning to adapt to change. You see, book 3 was 90,000 words completed when I revealed my title and blurb, etc, to my agent (whose opinion I value) only to hear she didn’t think the title (Season of Temperance) or the lead character’s name (Temperance) was right for the commercial fiction market. Yikes! Did I mention I was 90,000 words in and that my titles feature as a theme throughout my stories? Once I picked myself up and told myself change was possible, I found a new title and a character name that works even better. In fact, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it and cannot wait for book 3 to hit the Australia/NZ shelves in April 2015!

(Phew – I guess this blog post shows you how my books get so big!)

You’ve hit on a really important part of the process here, Jenn – editing! I actually love the editing phase … Well, perhaps it might be better to call it a love/hate relationship. It can be a bit daunting at first, but it always leads to a better book in the end. I have learned so much from the privilege of having an editor. If there was one piece of advice I’d give to aspiring writers, it’s not to be afraid of being edited! What would your advice be, Jenn?

Ditto on the editing, Di.

First I’d say, writing for publication is not the same as writing for pleasure. Being a published author turns a hobby on its head, frustrates the family, and tests your patience. My advice is threefold …

  1. It’s never too early to start thinking like a published author.
  2. Develop a head for business and learn to plan – sometimes the marketing, accounting and time management parts of this gig are more small business operator than writer.
  3. Give those closest to you the opportunity to share your journey. Don’t assume they already know. Don’t assume they don’t want to understand. With involvement comes support – and you will need that in bucket-loads.

That is such a great note to finish on, Jenn. So lovely chatting with you! 

House-for-all-Seasons-Jenn-J-McLeod-194x300Jenn was also kind enough to provide a SIGNED COPY of the new ‘Baby B’ format of A House for all Seasons! But the competition must close this Friday 13 December, so that we can get the prize out to you asap, hopefully in time for Christmas (if Australia Post obliges). So, sorry, but this is only open to Australia and NZ residents. All you have to do is say hi in the comment below, and Jenn will select a winner at random. Good luck!