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!

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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!

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?

No!HFAS_packshot_web-240x300

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!

The Best Man

I am very proud to announce that my ninth novel, The Best Man, is officially out! A few bookshops were early stacking it on their shelves, so some of 9781742611945you have already read it; some had it magically appear on their e-readers after pre-ordering earlier; others had it delivered to their door from online booksellers. Books come in a variety of ways these days, but in the end, it’s the story that counts. So I guess I should tell you what this one is about. It opens as Henry and Madeleine are waiting at the airport to meet the best man for their wedding, Henry’s old college friend, Aiden. And then … you see, here’s where I get stuck. Allow me to explain.

This is the first time I have started with the title. For some authors, that’s their preferred method. (Am I right, Jenn McLeod?) But on more than one occasion, my publisher and I have still been scratching around for a title just before the manuscript was due at the typesetter. This is not an ideal situation. So it was very handy to come up with a title first. The Best Man. Three little words that had the potential to mean a whole lot. They did to me, anyway, which is why I was eventually able to write an entire novel around them. I started dropping the title here and there, and it seemed to get the desired response:

‘The Best Man, eh? Who is the best man?’

‘Hmm,’ I would reply, cryptically. ‘Who indeed?’ That is the question.

I wondered if I’d finally attained the holy grail – of fiction and non-fiction writers alike – and managed to create a ‘hook’. A hook is that irresistible idea, or a question you can pose that creates a buzz, has everyone talking, and sucks you straight into the story, dying to find out the answer. My friend and fellow author, Liane Moriarty, is a master of the hook. Every time I hear the idea for her next novel, I want to read it immediately (after wishing I’d had the idea first!). So I was very proud of myself for coming up with a catchy, hopefully intriguing title.

But as I progressed further and further, I realised the rest of the story wasn’t going to be so easy to encapsulate. This seems to be the way it goes with my books. My focus is all on the characters, so the first thing I did after the title popped into my head was create them – their names, backgrounds, what they did for a living. Then I threw them together at a particular, significant point in their lives, and watched what happened next. That may be all well and good, but it does not make for a must-read blurb on the back of the cover! And it also makes it very hard for me to post an interesting blog (Are you still there? Hello? Anyone?).

So what I thought I’d do this time is hand the Comments over to outright spoilers. It’s safe to keep reading the rest of this post, but – ALERT! – don’t scroll down that-a-way if you haven’t read The Best Man first. If you have, and you want to make a comment, or ask a question, start a discussion, whatever – then fire away. The idea occurred to me the other day when someone posted on Facebook, after reading The Best Man, that they couldn’t say much so as not to spoil it for others. That was absolutely the correct thing to do in a public forum, but I would genuinely love to hear your feedback, what you think of the characters, and what they (or I) did right or wrong, good or bad. Please do NOT feel that you have to say something nice, this is not a fishing expedition. The only time I get to have such conversations is when I’m invited to book clubs, where (mostly) the attendees will have read the book. The rest of the time – at events, in interviews – I have to tread carefully and not give away too much. 

So go nuts in the Comments. Speak freely! Here’s a question to start you off, and to help me out at the same time – How would you describe The Best Man, in a nutshell? What would you say it’s about? I might just glean some pithy answers for the next time I’m asked. 🙂

And don’t forget – if you haven’t read The Best Man, SPOILER ALERT ahead!

In sickness and in health

Well, any of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know I’ve had the flu, because I have had a bit of a whinge about it. I made it through winter relatively unscathed, so it was probably bound to happen. There are many perks when you write for a living – you can slop around in trackies, work at whatever time of the day or night that suits you – but one of the downsides is that you don’t get sick leave, or anyone to take over for you when you are sick. The book doesn’t write itself in your absence. You don’t return to your desk to find that the next couple of chapters are there, waiting for you to look over.

However, this early in the piece, and this far away from the deadline, I didn’t feel too frantic. I was just sick enough not to care. You know the different levels of illness? At a milder level – say, head cold – it’s just irritating, but when it steps up to include aches and pains and fever flushes, you don’t give a toss any more about missing work or missing whole days, you just have to go and lie down. I had to beg off a couple of social engagements that I had been really looking forward to, but even the idea of them was too much to contemplate.

The only thing that did get me out of the house last week was my youngest son’s graduation from Year 12. Mothering is another occupation with no sick leave. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – it was momentous, the grand finale of 25 years of end-of-school ceremonies. However, feeling less than a hundred percent obviously stopped me from becoming quite as emotional as I thought I would, which was probably just as well for everyone around me. I’m not good at endings, they make me cry.

Coincidentally, I had the flu when this particular child weaned himself. They say babies sometimes do that when Mum is sick; it doesn’t taste right or something. Anyway, he had to be brought to me in my sick bed for his last feed of the night, and he had a little try, but then turned away, uninterested. He didn’t fuss or cry or fret, he just didn’t want it. I offered it the next morning, and through the day, and the evening, but he had no interest at all, he wasn’t at all bothered, and I was too sick to really persist. A few days later, when I was well again, I realised that my last baby had had his last feed ever, and I hadn’t been paying attention. And there was nothing I could do about it by then, which may have been just as well.

I read a beautiful quote on Twitter over the weekend from the singer, Kate Miller Heidke, “There was a day when your mum/dad put you down, and they never picked you up again. They didn’t realise it was the last time.”

Just as well we don’t realise it’s the last time, or how could we ever let them go?

What’s in a name?

Well, plenty, I reckon. I’m stuck for a name for this blog, though. I’m thinking it’s probably going to remain ‘dianneblacklock’ so you’ll still be able to find it. I have at least changed the tagline. Must get around to decorating next week …

Names of blogs aside, I love naming things, namely, the characters in my novels. And that’s what has been occupying me lately in my current novel. I have most of the major characters sorted, though the female protagonist took three goes to get right – hoorah for ‘Find and Replace’ on Word. I had a name in mind as I began, but it jarred as I read back over the first few chapters. I tried another name, but it didn’t feel right either, and finally this one evolved – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with in the first place, but it feels absolutely right now.

In a way, characters name themselves, at least they certainly won’t be shoe-horned into a name that doesn’t suit them. When I was writing Almost Perfect, I could not settle on a name for Liam. I had a very long list but I just couldn’t decide. One day, a scene from later in the novel came to me, and I quickly scribbled it down – by the end he was Liam, and he couldn’t be called anything else after that.

I have an admission, I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was a girl I wanted to have eighteen children, weird but true, and I think at least part of the reason was that I would get to choose so many names. I made long lists of monikers for those would-be children, giving them second, and sometimes third names. It was updated regularly as my tastes changed. I still have an extensive handwritten list – needless to say most of the names make me cringe now.

I only had four children in the end, and didn’t even give two of them middle names. So I have plenty of names to use up! The names of my characters are very important to me: they have to go with the surnames, they have to fit with the other members of their family, they have to be true to the age of the person. And somehow they have to reflect, as best they can, the personality of that character. It really grates on me if names don’t seem right when I’m reading a novel. One thing (among many!) that really bothered me in The Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ was a very odd choice for the seventeen-year-old daughter of hippies. And ‘Anouk’ was a white, thirtysomething, middle-class woman – the only explanation for her name is an offhand comment that her parents were francophiles. But as I remember she has a sister called Tracey. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for giving her such an unusual name, and it irritated me throughout.

Maybe it’s just me? Are names in books important to you? Are there names that grate for you as well? Would the wrong names affect your enjoyment of a book? Or would a rose, regardless of its name, smell just fine to you?

PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments and feedback on my first blog! So encouraging xx