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.

 

 

A little privileged whining …

Thanks for the overwhelming response to my last blog post on the chick-lit debate. Clearly many people felt very strongly about the topic. And I don’t know whether the moon was in the Seventh House, or Jupiter had in fact aligned with Mars, but there was some kind of synchronicity going on. At the risk of blogging a dead horse, I’m going to take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a couple of other recent links of interest.

Over at Tara Moss’s blog, after attending the recent SheKilda crime festival, she decried the gender bias still rampant in the literary world. I’m sure Tara couldn’t have imagined the response she was about to get, however, when Cameron Woodhead, reviewer for The Age newspaper, weighed in with some extraordinarily patronising comments. Primarily, that it all sounded like ‘privileged whining’ to him. (It’s well worth a read – great stoush in the comments.)

I was almost not going to write the previous post for fear of just such an accusation, and Lisa Heidke, herself a wonderful author of women’s fiction, commented on my blog that she didn’t want to whinge or seem ungrateful … Little wonder young women today are reluctant to identify as feminists, for fear of being accused of being whiny whenever they speak up for themselves.

Wendy Harmer is no shrinking violet, and she picked up the cause and reported Tara’s battle with the critic on her website The Hoopla, (where Wendy also linked back to my blog, thanks!).

I am heartened by all your comments, both here and on my Facebook page, that you would read the books no matter how they were labelled, and I appreciate that, I really do. But not everyone is as sure of themselves. There has been a very interesting development in the digital world, as reported in the Guardian on the weekend. Romance readers are the most enthusiastic migrators to ebooks, where sales are soaring. But the main reason for this is a little sad – no one can see the cover of an ebook, so romance readers feel they can read with impunity, away from judgemental gaze of literary snobs. That breaks my heart just a little.

When my kids were learning to read, their teachers always impressed upon the parents that they must be seen to be reading around their children – newspapers, magazines, recipe books, anything – and that it didn’t matter what kids were reading – similarly, special interest magazines, comics, whatever – as long as they were reading. So if Mum happens to be reading a book, written by a woman, which may or may not sport a girlie cover, is she to be ashamed of this, and hide it from her children?

When did everyone get so judgemental? Are we not supposed to enjoy reading? Good luck getting kids to read at all if that’s the message we’re sending them.

To quote Tara Moss in her follow-up blog (I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t leave this alone), ‘Women’s voices matter’. Our stories matter, our writing matters. What we have to say matters. We shouldn’t have to apologise for it.

The chick lit debate continues

Some of you may have seen this article in the Guardian over the weekend, asking the question if we should mourn the death of chick lit, a death which may, in the words of Mark Twain, be described as an exaggeration.

It all depends on what you mean by ‘chick lit’. Is it a catch-all label for all women’s fiction, or does it only refer to those with the hot pink covers sporting ‘stilettos and Martini glasses’, as mentioned in the article? But is there much more going on inside the covers, and the problem is merely the way women’s fiction is being packaged?

When my first book (above) was published, a male friend asked me what women’s fiction was, and was he allowed to read it? He also said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover, but he was surprised he enjoyed it. Now I don’t mind that our books are marketed to women, women are the biggest buyers of books by far, but has this led to the assumption that all women’s fiction is the same, and worse, that it’s light fluff? There is a whole other discussion to be had – in a future post – about covers and marketing, but this is more about perception. Those of us who read women’s fiction know that it’s often about much bigger issues; that martini glass could be making light of alcoholism, and the shoes masking some painful body image issues.

So why the cutesy label? Because we do mention shoes? Martinis? Love? Or, gasp, is it because it’s written by women? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if men write about relationships or domestic issues, they’re considered insightful forays into the human condition. Perhaps they’re not always lauded, but they ain’t called chick lit either. I’ve heard many excellent female authors shrug and apologise for what they write. I’ve done it myself. ‘It’s just entertainment’. ‘I don’t mind it’s called chick lit’. We wouldn’t want to look like we’re taking ourselves seriously as writers, for goodness’ sakes.

That doesn’t mean you must write only about serious stuff to deserve to be taken seriously as a writer. Look at Nick Hornby and Nick Earls – both wonderful, funny writers whose books are very much about relationships. Their solid reputations are well-deserved. Just not so sure that female writers of the same ilk are given quite the same status.

What do you think? Am I worrying about nothing? Does it matter what it’s called? Do you love the girlie covers or shy away from them? And if there are any blokes out there – would you be caught dead reading one?

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