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?

Alice med

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 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!

The Secret Ingredient

Or a little shameless self-promotion.

I had written another post for today, but it felt wrong not to give this space over to the launch of my new novel, officially published today. The Secret Ingredient is my eighth book. Coincidentally, my mum had eight babies. I wonder if she ever felt it would be expecting too much of people to be excited for her by number eight? Even though I have no doubt she loved that baby – my little sister – as much as the rest of us, and felt just as proud and elated … if perhaps, a little more tired!

By novel no. 8, I don’t expect everyone to experience the same thrill they did when my first book, Call Waiting, was published. My family are very proud of me, but it’s what I do now. There’s not the same level of excitement when my advance copy comes. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great, Mum. Congrats … What did you say we were having for dinner?’

Same with friends. ‘You’ve got another book coming out? But aren’t you writing at the moment?’

‘Yes, I’m working on the next one.’

‘So what will this be, six … seven now?’

There is no way the heightened level of excitement that accompanied that first book – even the first two or three – could be sustained. It would be impossible, and exhausting. I couldn’t do it, so I can hardly expect everyone else to.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud, and happy, and that I feel a very real sense of achievement. With the publication of The Secret Ingredient, I have over a million words in print. That boggles my mind. But more than that, the characters are part of my psyche now, taking their place alongside the characters from all my previous books.

So here’s to them! I hope they’re all right out in the big wide world, without me overseeing everything they do. They’re on their own now. I’m on to number nine …

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.

Popping the blog cherry

Welcome to my new blog!

Sorry, I’ve only just moved in, so the place is a little bare at the moment – it doesn’t even have a name. Give me some time to settle in and I’ll make it more homely. But I had to ask you over now or else I might never get around to it.

I have been hesitating because I wasn’t sure what I could put in a blog, until I got to thinking about the next few months. My latest novel will be published in November. I have one son leaving for overseas and one who will return from overseas, one sitting his HSC, and one who is likely to do anything, and most certainly blog-worthy. I also have to sell my house and move to a totally new area, all while I try to write my next book.

So I think I should find something to blog about.

And so now I finally begin – at the same time as I begin my next novel. It should be an interesting way to chart the journey, at least. Perhaps I’ll come here when I’m stuck, or when I’m tearing my hair out because it’s all getting too hard. I could say I’ll drop in when it’s going like gangbusters, but then I probably won’t. Because that’s when you can’t stop, and you don’t want to stop. The characters have taken over the story and are running with it, so you have to run to keep up. That is the time I like the best, really one of the main reasons I keep writing. Because if it was all as hard as it is when the going is tough, what would make you want to keep going?

Sometimes it’s beginnings that are hard, like walking into a party with a lot of people you don’t know. Even if you’re outgoing and interested in getting to know them, not everyone will respond so willingly, or turn out to be type of person that you want to get to know. Then you’re stuck in a corner struggling to make conversation and waiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass before you can make an excuse to move on, go to the loo, get another drink, whatever. We’ve all been there, right?

Other times it’s a great party, you get along with everyone, you’re flitting about in all directions having a wonderful time, and you all want to party on … but then it gets late and you have to leave … which is when you realise there’s nowhere to go.

So here I am, on book number 9, with a little experience under my belt, taking my time to get to know my characters, not expecting too much, but hoping things will develop into a nice steady relationship.

How about you? How much time do you give characters to get to know them? A few pages, or a whole chapter? A couple of chapters perhaps? Or do you judge a book by its cover and the blurb on the back?

Leave a comment, or just say hi, so I know I’m not out here all by myself!