This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.
Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.
My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.
The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!
Christine Bell’s historical novel No Small Shame has just been released, making hers the first fully online book launch of my experience. Christine has 35 short fiction books published for children including picture story, chapter book and YA titles. Her short stories have won national writing competitions and been published in various anthologies. No Small Shame tells the story of immigrant Mary O’Donnell who arrives in Australia on the brink of WWI. Meticulously researched though it is, the story’s strongest points are its engaging and relatable characters.
Welcome, Christine, and congratulations on the excellent reception of No Small Shame. Thank you for sharing some words with me today. Let’s see what set you off on your writing journey. What was your favourite book as a child?
Christine: When I was in grade four, our teacher Miss Yule possessed the most beautiful illustrated story book I’d ever seen. It was a large, full colour book called Best Scandinavian Fairy Tales. Every couple of days she would read from our current story and hold up the divine full-page illustrations. Once a week, a child was allowed the very special privilege of taking the precious book home overnight to read. It seemed an interminable wait until it was my turn. I could barely breathe for excitement that evening while I turned the pages and read as much as I could. Later, I read surreptitiously by torchlight, carefully turning the pages under the sheet. It broke my heart when at the end of the term, Miss Yule left our class to get married, taking her beautiful story book with her and depriving me of a second overnight read. I’ve never forgotten that book.
And never forgiven Miss Yule, no doubt. Or those conventions that made marriage and teaching incompatible! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
There are no secrets as such, but there are always guns on the wall. Small moments that may not mean much at the time of writing, but must inevitably have a purpose. I have a scene in No Small Shame, aboard ship, where Mary is forced to have her hair cut off due to a plague of nits. The scene shows the conflict with her mother, but Mary’s hair also comes to have a deep symbolism throughout the novel. When I first wrote the scene, it was more to show shipboard life and I was concerned in the early drafts if it was earning its place. But as the novel progressed, Mary’s hair became a metaphor that echoes right to the final scene.
Guns on the wall! Eek! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
Just before No Small Shamewas officially released, a writer friend emailed me from the bookshop carpark after getting caught up reading it. She emailed again, a day later, half-way through, to say how much she was loving it, and that I’d painted such a picture with words and drawn the characters so well that she felt she knew them. The next day she contacted me to say that she’d cried through the final five chapters, loved the book, and how could we get it made into a movie. It’s an author’s dream to have a reader connect so emotionally to your story and to have it come alive in their mind.
That’s wonderful feedback. Do you write full time?
I write virtually full time. My children have all grown up and left home, and I’m most fortunate to have the financial support of a partner. Royalties from my many children’s short fiction titles, together with my annual PLR and ELR payments* help financially too, even all these years after the titles were published. I work in our business part-time too, but the majority of days I can be found at my writing desk.
*Note: public and electronic lending rights, from when books are borrowed from libraries. Note 2: Support authors! Borrow books from libraries!
Excellent! Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
I’ve had lots of opportunities to meet many fellow writers through writing groups, events, conferences, masterclasses and workshops. I’ve also completed two tertiary qualifications, including a Master of Creative Writing, where I met writers who’ve become good friends. I also served as the Assistant Co-ordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Vic (SCBWI) for five years where I made a lot of friends and connections in the kid-lit community. I’ve connected with lots of writers through Facebook and Twitter. My social media is predominantly all about writing, publishing, books, and related topics, and I’ve always found the online writing community incredibly supportive and friendly.
I agree, the #WritingCommunity is great. Where do you write?
My office looks over our rather lovely, tranquil back garden where I can hear the birds, see them playing in the bird bath, and watch the change of seasons. A couple of years ago, after a spinal surgery, I purchased an electric standing desk and combined with another long desk, it forms a fabulous L-shaped workspace. One full wall is floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves, and, adding a red filing cabinet and splashes of red on the bookshelves and desk, I have a bit of a colour theme going. The wall opposite features a huge framed map of the Somme, the setting of my current work-in-progress; plus a large original illustration from my children’s book, Snozza; a messy corkboard of memorabilia and treasured mementoes; as well as various artefacts related to my current work . It’s a lovely space that I had such fun decorating to truly inspire and reflect what I’m writing.
Do you have launch parties for your books?
I never had a launch party for my children’s books, so I was very excited to plan an instore event at Readings Hawthorn to release No Small Shame. It was rather a large shame that the event was cancelled due to Covid-19, but I quickly became aware of the possibility of launching the book online, via Facebook. I was still very keen for acclaimed author and writing buddy Alison Goodman to launch the book. This was a little problematic since we were to be in separate houses due to this time of isolation. We decided that a pre-recorded launch was probably the only way to go. I really wanted a live, spontaneous component though. But even as I advertised it, I wondered if the live stream would work. Short story, with a little tech advice and after a practice mock event, it worked very well and No Small Shame was launched on the 2nd April. I was really thrilled that I was able to see so many friends, family and fellows present in the event comments, questions and congratulations. For anyone who’d like to view the launch, I’ll include the Youtube links: Book launch https://youtu.be/LHXC4OJvKTI. Live stream https://youtu.be/c4sJ9vamIzI.
Ooh, and readers can have a little look at your writing office on the YouTube link! Thanks, Christine; I’m very much looking forward to reading No Small Shame, and to your next book, which is also set around the time of the First World War.
Michelle Saftich writes engaging stories whenever she puts pen to paper – er, fingers to keyboard. Her historical novels ring very true, and the first,Port of No Return, was inspired by the experiences of her father’s family who fled northern Italy at the end of World War II, as the region was invaded by Tito’s Yugoslavian forces. The sequel, Wanderers No More, continues to follow the family’s journey, beginning with their arrival in Australia in 1950. Both these novels are highly rated.
More recently, Michelle has released The Hatch, a science fiction novel which I have recently read and reviewed (here). In The Hatch, all Michelle’s trademark insights into human nature, family interactions, and political machinations are transported thrillingly into deep space.
I’m so thrilled to speak with Michelle today on Last Word of the Week.
Thanks for talking with me, Michelle. You have three books out now – what are your thoughts on novel writing?
Michelle: It’s no small undertaking. A novel takes a long time to write. I know I’ll be with the story and its characters for at least a couple of years. For me, it helps having stories and characters that are close to my heart and that I feel have something to say or show. It’s about love, creativity and discipline.
What are the challenges of being a writer?
Finding enough time. Working almost full-time in a communications job and being married and raising two boys, with an abundance of pets, there’s so little time free for writing. Every spare minute goes into it. I write in the car in carparks or sitting on the floor of foyers, waiting to pick up my boys from extracurricular activities. I edit or write next pages in my mind on the train going to work, where I scribble down notes to myself as reminders. When I finally set aside a whole Sunday afternoon to write, the joy as I lift the lid on my laptop can’t be described. It is bliss. It is coming home. It’s time to be me and to create. I can’t imagine a life without writing.
And yet, it is not easy. There are other challenges. Marketing. Reviews. Solitude, and the need for a lot of it during the writing process. Self-criticism. Doubt. Fear. Redrafts. Rewriting. Then finally the sadness when it’s done and there are characters to farewell, characters who won’t say another word. Then it’s time to put them out there, like birth. And like a parent, the writer gets to watch how they take those first steps in the hands of others. That’s the hardest for me. Releasing.
It sounds very difficult when you put it like that. I find it very sad when my characters no longer interrupt my dreams saying “And another thing I want to do or say is…” Given all that, why write?
There are times when I wonder why I do it. Why write? Why tie up so much time in bringing to life a story? The answer is simple, I love it. I love creating with words, using my imagination, challenging myself. I first knew I wanted to write at age six. At age 15, I was starting to try my hand at novels. Always writing. Weekends mostly.
You have written in different genres, which is something I do too. What’s that like for you?
When I wrote my first two published historical fiction novels, Port of No ReturnandWanderers No More, I was drawing upon family history, my heritage and the mysteries surrounding my father’s place of birth. I wanted to know more and found it enjoyable to research what happened to not only my father and his family, but to all those forced to flee their Italian cities in the north-east of the country after World War II. I was shining a light on a little-known part of history and my motivation was strong and somewhat personal.
My third published sci fi novel, The Hatch, is very different from the first two, though some themes are similar. I still have written about the prospect of having to leave all you know behind for another place, though in The Hatch readers are taken off planet and forward into an imagined future, rather than into a researched past.
With the historical fiction novels, I tried staying true to historical events, while bringing in fictional elements to help tie it all together and to present a flowing narrative.
With sci-fi, I was fully in my imagination, speculating on a future Earth and what human aspects we would migrate with us if we were to settle on other planets.
And you have managed that brilliantly. Thank you so much for sharing with me today.
Jordan Bell is a psychologist and educator with a passion for helping children and parents learn about science. She also has a not-so-secret super-hero identity: she is Aunt Jodie of Aunt Jodie’s Guides to (just about) Everything!
Jordan’s first book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution, gives kids a fun and fascinating understanding of the key concepts underlying the theory of evolution, using REAL science. It’s perfect for parents who want to inspire a love of science in children (7-11 year olds) or to start a child’s science education early. It’s especially useful for parents who would like their kids to have more female role models in science.
Definitely on board with that, I say (tucking my B App Sci into my back pocket with a happy sigh).
Welcome, Jordan, and thanks for speaking with me on this episode of Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us a bit more about you and your books?
Jordan: As a nerdy mama to a curious primary-schooler who always wants to understand the “why?” of life, I have had lots of experience in putting complicated ideas into words that little brains can understand.
It’s not just another boring bedtime story! It’s a science adventure into the ancient past that makes learning about the basics of evolution fun and engaging, and uses words and concepts that are right for kids in middle and upper primary school. For anyone new to science, my Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book and how to pronounce them.
Sounds great. Now let’s find out a bit more about you. What was your favourite book as a child?
My favourite book as a child was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Not only is it an amazing tale about the power of stories, but also such a spell-binding title to a child who constantly begged for yet another trip to the library – a book that never ended? Sign me up! My dad bought me a really beautiful hardback edition when it was first released in English, which was printed in red and green ink with illustrated chapter initials. That exact copy was lost to the mists of time but my husband tracked down a copy for me a few years ago and I treasure it. I’ll be reading it to my daughter this year!
A book that deserves to be a lifetime favourite! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?
I’m most productive when I have a morning to myself and I can take my laptop to my favourite café, fuel up on french toast and tea, and write for 3-4 hours. They are used to me doing this now and top up my teapot without asking. I can write anywhere as long as I have half an hour and a computer, but that’s my preferred routine.
That sounds like the perfect writing space, and writers should always have a ready supply of French toast and tea. How do you feel about reviews?
I love them! I would really like some more! Having said that, if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t appreciated my book, they haven’t chosen to share those thoughts with me, so my experiences have all been positive at this stage. I might feel differently after some critical feedback!
What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
The greatest review I ever got was from the son of a friend:
“I thought the book was fantastic. I learnt lots, I never got bored and never wanted to stop reading it, it was very clear and it’s also a very fun way to put it. I would rate this book 5 stars and I normally pick out every single fault.”
But I’ve had lots of people excited about the idea of a book about evolution for children, it seems like a book that is needed out there in the world!
Yes indeed! What kind of reader would like your books?
I write Aunt Jodie’s Guides for primary-school aged kids, to help them get their heads around big scientific ideas that will have an impact on their life. I started with explaining evolution, because I think that’s the kind of idea that — if you can understand it as you are growing and learning — will change the way you view the world. We desperately need future citizens who are well-informed about the science that underpins our natural and technological worlds, and I think kids are a capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, if we explain it properly.
Hear, hear! Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?
Anyone who searches Aunt Jodie’s Guide should find my online store pretty easily, and the bookshops that have stocked me so far have been very generous about displaying my book face out so hopefully a few people have stumbled across it that way!
That’s great, let’s hope for more stumbles. What would be a dream come true for you?
I’d love to have my book picked up as a series by a publisher with the scope to share these ideas worldwide and maybe even in other languages! I’m currently working on Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change, and I have strong ideas for more books in the series as Aunt Jodie explains the human body, space science, and computers!
All books that I think need to be in the world as soon as possible. Please keep writing! And thank you so much for sharing with me today.
Laura E Goodin’s first novel After the Bloodwood Staff is one of the most enjoyable reads I have ever encountered in quite a long and industrious reading career.
I’m a devotee of vintage adventure fiction and, let’s face it, adventure underpins many stories that are classified into other genres.
After the Bloodwood Staff is a treat. It’s witty and engaging, with cracking characters, and it takes the genre by the scruff of the neck and upends it with some panache.
If you love the kind of mystery, danger and excitement that infuses Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, the Murdoch Mysteries, and Shakespeare & Hathaway, you will adore Laura’s books.*
In today’s Last Word of the Week, I have an early Christmas present for you: an extract from the novel. Meet two of my favourite all-time characters: the sedentary, impractical Hoyle and the irritable, no-nonsense Sybil.
And if you’re looking for a different kind of present for that special reader in your life, follow the links. It’s not too late!
The bookstore was a barn of a place. Hoyle thought it might have been an actual barn at one point, judging from the smell that underlay the scents of musty paper, old leather, and expensive coffee. He’d driven an hour from the DC suburbs to get here; a post on his favorite adventure-fiction forum had recommended it as a good source for overlooked authors. And he needed a change of scene. The pile of what looked like sawdust pellets that he’d found in a corner of the garage last week had filled him with a vague but relentless dread that somewhere in his house lurked a brood of termites. He’d been trying to get the nerve up to phone somebody for days. The dread had swooped again as soon as he had woken up. But it was Sunday. Can’t do anything about it today, he had thought almost jauntily. The bookstore would be the ideal distraction.
He could feel his mood lifting as he wandered along the first aisle, turning from dull worry to the bright eagerness of the hunt. He knew the look of the books he wanted; he almost didn’t have to read the spines anymore.
Oh, that one looked about right. He reached, and his hand was knocked aside by a painful swat.
“I saw it first,” snapped the woman who’d hit him. Her was hair slightly grey, like his. She was significantly shorter, but stocky enough to put a bit of sting in the swat.
“What the hell?” he cried. But she was already striding toward the cash register.
Hoyle felt a wave of loss and frustration. He rushed to the register. “Hey,” he called to the woman as she finished paying and carefully placed the book in her tote bag. “Hey, wait.” She gave him an annoyed look over her shoulder. “Please,” he said. He caught up to her. “Please. Just let me see what it was. I didn’t even get a chance …”
She hesitated, then drew the book out. After the Bloodwood Staff, by C.G. Ingraham. The cover was a faded mustard color, the title printed in an enticing Art Nouveau font. Without thinking, he ran one finger gently across the cover, feeling the rough cloth, and the slightly smoother lines of the title. The woman did not pull the book away.
“Ingraham,” murmured Hoyle. “Never heard of this one.”
“Fabulous stuff,” she said. “He was a bit of a maverick. Not many of them wrote about Australia. It was all Africa this and South America that and the South Sea Islands the other. I’ve been looking for this one forever.” She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry I was so rude.”
“That’s okay,” he said. On an impulse, he added, “Coffee?”
They stared at each other for a moment.
“Thanks,” she said.
Hoyle and the woman placed their orders at the cafe counter and looked for a table.
“There,” Hoyle said. “You go grab it.”
After The Bloodwood Staff by Laura E Goodin
Once he had the coffees, he twisted and shuffled through the chairs, holding the coffees at head height to keep his elbows safe from jostling. He had an uncomfortable feeling that raising his arms like this made him look paunchy. When he got to the table, he set the coffees down and sat.
“I’m Hoyle,” he said.
“What’s your first name?”
“That is my first name.”
“Your parents named you Hoyle?”
“Well, what’s your name?”
They sipped, not quite companionably. She kept glancing at him, then away, as if she were expecting something from him.
“So, um, you read a lot of adventure?” he ventured at last. Oh, God, what a stupid thing to say.
“Since I was little,” she said. “My grandfather got me started on one of Mundy’s novels.”
“King, of the Khyber Rifles?”
She sat back, astonished. “How did you guess?”
Hoyle shrugged, feeling bashful. “It’s my favorite of his, that’s all. Thought maybe your grandfather might have felt the same.”
“What’s your favorite Conan Doyle?”
“I confess it’s the Brigadier Gerard stories.”
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Just because they’re obscure, doesn’t mean they’re not good.”
On the strength of this, he said, “Tell me about Ingraham.”
Sybil leant forward, suddenly eager. “It’s such a sad story. He spent years of his life as a sort of groupie of Conan Doyle—followed him around from one speaking engagement to another, never getting up the courage to introduce himself or even write Conan Doyle a letter. He did write Haggard once, in 1899—at least, Haggard’s reply was found in Ingraham’s papers, although Haggard seems to have thrown out Ingraham’s letter. Typical.”
“What did Haggard say?”
Sybil closed her eyes. “‘My dear sir, your suggestion is entirely untenable—indeed, bordering on the insane—and I trust you will seek out competent assistance. Please do not contact me or anyone associated with me again.'” She opened her eyes and took a sip of coffee. “That was all. What in the world could Ingraham have suggested? I’ve been reading his books for clues. He was prolific, too—nearly thirty-five by the time he died. He starved himself to death. He’d become convinced that an evil parasite lived in his liver and the only way to kill it before it propagated was to starve it—and, by necessity, himself.”
“Wow,” said Hoyle, feeling queasy.
“Oh, yes, you can look up the case study.”
“Was he English?”
“No, American, believe it or not.”
“I take it you’re doing a PhD on him or something?”
She blinked. “Oh, no. No.”
“But you know so much about him.”
“It’s a mystery, that’s all,” she said, suddenly irritable. “I want to know what his suggestion was.”
“Ah,” he said.
“That’s why I needed this book. It’s one of the last three I didn’t have. I’d checked out online sellers, everything. When I saw you reaching for it … sorry.”
“Will it help make up for it if I let you in on a secret?”
“Really, it’s okay—”
She lowered her voice. “There is evidence that Ingraham travelled to Australia in the 1890s.” She sat back with an air of having given him something for which he should be very grateful.
“Wow,” he said again, somewhat more weakly.
She frowned. “Of course, wow. You … don’t get the connection?”
“Nope.” He started drinking his coffee as quickly as he could.
“His letter to Haggard was written in 1899.”
“Ugh! I’m glad I did nab Bloodwood, it would have been wasted on you. He’d found something in Australia and he wanted to mount a second expedition.”
Something in her voice made Hoyle say, “Whatever it was can’t possibly be there now. It’s been, what, over a hundred years?”
“Do you think I should go and find out? Or that I shouldn’t?”
“Well, it’s none of my business, is it?”
“Because if you’re thinking that I’m just a middle-aged woman who should stay home with her cats and her book club for a couple of decades until it’s time to go into a hospice and die, then you can just think again.”
“No! No, of course not, no, sorry.” The silence descended again. She finished her coffee and stood up.
Hoyle stood as well. “It’s been a pleasure talking with you.”
“Oh, no it hasn’t. Don’t patronize me. Oh, and thanks for the coffee.” He watched her go, then went back to the shelves. There was an unpleasant, dogged feel to his browsing now, but it was not entirely fruitless: he found a couple of Talbot Mundys he’d been looking for, and, over in the kids’ section, a copy of Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels. He bought it, even though he had three copies already; there were nephews and nieces, and Christmas was less than two months away. The oldest of them was almost too old now for the book, and, to be frank, too interested in black nail polish, but maybe there was still time to instill a love of adventure.
Not that Hoyle himself had ever been on an adventure. In fact, he’d devoted a fair bit of effort over the years to arranging a calm life. A job that suited him, if it didn’t inspire him. A few friends, whom he saw at comfortable intervals. His sisters’ kids, when he wanted someone to give something to. The thought of trudging through a jungle somewhere, picking leeches off his privates and drinking blood from a cut on the neck of his packhorse to stay alive …
Sybil, though—she seemed raring to go. Maybe she would go to Australia, find Ingraham’s secret—or something else entirely. A thousand possibilities, straight out of a thousand musty books with frayed and mottled covers.
He drove home past the endless rows of bland, northern Virginia strip malls and office buildings, fast-food places and office-supply stores. What kind of adventures could he have here? Finding the best price on red peppers at the supermarket? Crossing the street to avoid a group of sullen teenagers?
He pulled into his driveway, got out of his car, and went inside. Sunday afternoons were for reading. But today he couldn’t settle in. Tea, then doing the breakfast dishes, then checking email, then more tea, then filing a few bills, then a walk to the convenience store for some milk, then more tea. After each task, he tried again to engross himself in one of the books he’d just bought. Each time, he was overwhelmed by the need to walk, to straighten, to do. He kept finding reasons to think of Australia.
Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wallwas released earlier this year. Melissa is a medical research scientist with a graduate certificate in human nutrition. She likes to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in lots of places that pay very little money.
When I reviewed her astonishing speculative fiction for Aurealis magazine a couple of months ago, I used words like grounded and observant, accessible and engaging. I was utterly transfixed by the premises in the storyline, so frighteningly futuristic and so devastatingly apt for today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading more from this Australian writer and very pleased to have her on board for today’s Last Word of the Week.
Welcome, Melissa, it’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Melissa: Access to affordable healthcare (as well as accurate health and nutrition information) are very important to me. I worked in medical research for many years (cancers and infectious diseases) and also completed a graduate certificate in human nutrition. I’ve also been a patient in the public system myself (two babies and Hodgkin’s lymphoma). And I have two children, one with allergies and asthma. The possibility of Australian healthcare being eroded until it resembles that of the United States terrifies me. I see people on social media crowd-funding for their treatment and paying ridiculous prices for medications such as insulin and epipens. I can think of nothing worse. There are many themes in my novel The Shining Wall, but access to affordable healthcare is the most important one to me.
Oh, interesting, because there are so many fascinating themes in your book. I’m a huge fan of the Neo Neandertal/Sapien contrast that you explore, reflecting so many historic instances of some people being seen, and treated, as lesser than others. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
There’s one scene in The Shining Wall where the stories of all three point-of-view characters converge briefly at one of the city gates. The repercussions of that chance meeting have profound impacts on each of their stories. Angling the different threads of the story towards this convergence and then playing it out was a lot of fun and very satisfying.
And it’s really well done, IMHO. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I think all the characters in The Shining Wall would be quite relieved. They’d probably also wonder why I hadn’t created a kinder imaginary world for them. There’s a lot of weird consciousness stuff going on in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment. Those characters would probably be resigned to the nature of reality being an illusion.
Relieved! That’s an excellent response ! Now, can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
I was always writing as a child. I was very into fantasy stories and fairy tales. I stopped writing to pursue science in my late teens and I didn’t take up writing again until I was in my thirties and had had my first child. The first things I wrote were short misery and motherhood memoir/realistic fiction pieces. Then I found Margo Lanagan’s books (Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels) and I wrote a fantasy novel with witches, selkies, dragons, man-eating trees, fighting bears and all sorts of fun fantastical stuff. While I was writing that I discovered Octavia E Butler and decided science fiction was for me.
The character of Alida in The Shining Wall was influenced by some of my favourite female characters in fiction including, Mirii from Marlee Jane Ward’s Orphancorp books, Devi Morris from Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and Temple from The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.
Oooh, thank you, there are a couple of new ones there for me. I love to hear about undiscovered treasures to chase. They sound excellent. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago I’d just moved from Melbourne to Geelong, had left a job that saw me crying in the toilets on many occasions, was very pregnant with my second child, and very worried about my future career opportunities. If I could talk to that woman now I would say: ‘Your science career is going to fall flat on its face. Enjoy the time with your children and concentrate on your writing because that’s where most of your joy will come from.’ I would also maybe say: ‘No spoilers, but someday someone might even publish one of your books.’
Ooh, now I’m scared that I would adversely affect the future if I told past me too much!
Lucky you don’t write time travel then, eh? LOL. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
By the time I’d finished The Shining Wall I’d written three full-length novels in the space of five years. As a result, I felt the need to take on a more wieldy project. So during 2018 I wrote a novella, set in the world of The Shining Wall. The novella is out on submission at the moment (fingers crossed). I’m currently working on another story set on both a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth and a distant planet colonized by a cult of humans. My plan is to keep exploring ideas that interest me with the hope that other people find them interesting too.
Lovely to hear that there’s more where The Shining Wall came from! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I don’t think I could take the adrenaline of being a fictional character in the kinds of books I like to read. I like a quiet life. I would have to read some slow-paced realistic/literary fiction to find a suitable answer for this one (it’s not going to happen!).
Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of speculative fiction. She writes tales of terror and dark possibilities, in both short story and novel form. Her latest collection of meticulously researched, nerve-rattling stories was recently reviewed in my favourite magazine, Aurealis (issue #124) where it is described as ‘a wicked joy to read’.
I’m thrilled – not to say a little spooked – to meet this other Claire of the incredible words.
Hi, Claire! Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Claire: I think the main thing readers ought to know is that my stories are semi-autobiographical. Every story reflects some aspect of myself, my emotions, my desires, fears, etc. A lot of them reflect my feelings regarding my Epilepsy, BPD, and being a mother. I’ve had Epilepsy since I was 12 (I’m 28) and was formally diagnosed with BPD when I was 26. I also have a wonderful 7-year-old daughter who inspires me to write more and become a better person. She can be quite a handful – she has ASD, and stresses the hell out of me sometimes, but we do so many creative things together; she’s my annoying best friend. I’m also an artist. I paint between writing, and I’m currently building a mansion out of paddle-pop sticks. I’m crafty when I procrastinate. My house is filled with books and paintings. I also have a cat named Cthulhu and don’t own a TV. Are those things readers really ought to know? They are now!
And fascinating things they are. Cthulhu, eh? I bet the cat can say that name better than I can, being an alien of sorts…
What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
Huh. No one has ever asked me that before. I rather like one of the final scenes in my novel Only The Dead. It’s a death scene; well, rather, one character finds another character’s body. I remember feeling rather proud of myself when I finished writing it. I also received a wonderful review with a nod towards that scene, so it made me feel quite thrilled I’d managed to evoke such a strong emotion from a reader.
Sounds gripping! Now, if I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
There’s a character named Cassie in Only The Dead who’s a badass motorcycle-riding artist and Vietnam War protestor. If I told her she was imaginary she’d probably tell me to get fucked and offer me a joint.
She sounds very real – which is exactly what you want from a character! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
Of course. I still have all the Sonya Hartnett books I stole from my high school library. I’m a hoarder and have a few hundred books, many of which I’ve owned since I was a teenager. Notable authors include Isobelle Carmody (of whom I named my daughter after), Anne Rice, Catherine Fisher, Clive Barker, Jostein Gaarder, Emily Rodda, etc.
I started writing at a very early age. The first ‘book’ I wrote was essentially fanfiction. I was fed up of waiting for the fifth Harry Potter book to come out, so I ended up writing my own book. It was called ‘Harry Potter and the Magic Broom’ and it was actually quite depressing. Harry felt all sad he couldn’t see Ron and Hermione over the holidays, and then he found a magic broom which gave him a sense of euphoria every time he rode it. Now that I’ve come to think of it, I believe it was a metaphor for antidepressants. I started self-harming when I was 12, so I’m pretty sure it was just another way to express myself. Weird. After I wrote the book, and a half-finished sequel, I developed my own characters, my own ideas. A lot of my early fiction were adventure stories, mostly about pirates. Incidentally, I still have those early books.
Returning to other authors…. Anne Rice, in particular, has a special place in my heart. I first read Anne Rice when I was 18. I had a pretty shitty home life, so I left home and moved in with the first man who paid attention to me. He was horribly cruel, a drug addict, would alienate me, and steal my money. During the period of three years all I wrote was scraps of things here and there. Yet the only nice thing he did for me is buy me Anne Rice books as a form of penance for my suffering. I was so lonely, I’d read her books from cover to cover and imagine I was in New Orleans with the vampires and the Mayfair witches, and that my life was as exciting as theirs. When I finally left the relationship, I felt so inspired by Rice’s world I immediately started writing again. And then I wrote ‘Madeline,’ my first published horror story, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What an amazing backstory! Lots of material – but very glad you’re through to the far side of it. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Fuck. Umm. Don’t worry your Epilepsy held you back from the Air Force. Don’t worry you didn’t get into university on your first go. Don’t worry you failed year 11 high school English class. Everything will make sense one day. It may be dark and horrible. You may think self-harm is something you need to do. But life – though it gets a hell of a lot harder – will get more manageable, I promise. Also, drink and party as much as you can. 21 is a really young age to become a mother. I won’t judge your breakfast rums. For now.
That’s precious advice, thank you! What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I’m currently working on two projects. The first is a novelette, of which I’ve almost completed a first draft. The story is about the grief and pain one feels regarding suicide, but I’ve disguised it as a supernatural horror. I think! Unfortunately, over the past four years, three of my friends have committed suicide, so it’s a subject that’s often on my mind. I’m enjoying writing this, as I’ve managed to throw in cantankerous off-beat character I’m hoping will get a few laughs.
The second project is a novella, something I’ve been working on slowly for the past two years. It’s a dark fantasy novella, tentatively titled ‘Therianthropy,’ and is about shapeshifters, the moral obligations of humans, what it means to have a soul, and the difference between being a human and a monster. ‘Therianthropy’ is my major work, and it’s something I’m taking my time with. I’m currently being mentored by the esteemed author Paul Mannering, who is helping me conclude the draft. I originally started the book as a mentorship with the fantastic author and illustrator Greg Chapman, so I suppose, in a way, it’s a collaborative project. Three heads are better than one!
Oooh, that sounds wonderful. I want it now! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Someone else’s. My characters are fragments of myself, and that’s horrifying enough.
Great answer. Thank you so much Claire for sharing with me on Last Word of the Week.
But there’s always time to meet new authors and new fave books. I’m delighted to alert you to a fab share-fest from (my wonderful publisher) Odyssey Books. Throughout October, they’ll be featuring one author a day from their amazing list. I just love their ‘mission statement’: Odyssey Books : where books are an adventure.
Today I’m speaking with Gill Thompson. Gill has spent most of her career lecturing in English at sixth form level, but her hankering to write fiction has never gone away. She enrolled in and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, and says it was the best thing she ever did.
Gill understands both ends of the writing process: the planning and editing required to produce a text, and the reading and analysis it takes to appreciate it. She says she is now finally fully joined up! The writers among you will find her website full of wonderful writing tips, and the readers will be very interested in her wonderful historical novel The Oceans Between Us about the post-WWII child migrant process. So relevant in today’s context of the movement of people seeking refuge and safety, and with a foot firmly in both the UK’s and Australian social history.
Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Gill! It’s lovely to have you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
That’s a difficult one! My book is about a child migrant from Britain to Australia just after World War Two. I don’t have any personal connections with that story (I’m old, but not that old!) – and in fact I agonised for quite some time about whether it was my place to tell it – but the support I received from ex migrants, and from The Child Migrants Trust, the charity that reunites parents and children, gave me the encouragement to go ahead. The fact that many people have written in their reviews of the book that they are grateful to have found out about this event makes me feel I’ve done the right thing.
My only common ground with the novel is that it is about a mother separated from her son. A few years ago, our son set off on what we now call his ‘gap decade’ (!) as he found a way to combine work and travelling. He is now settled in Bucharest where he met the girl of his dreams and they are getting married next month. I am happy for him, but I know how my character Molly feels at being separated from her child. It’s really hard! I certainly think I wrote those scenes from the heart.
Separation, especially for an unknown time, is really hard! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
I submitted three chapters from the novel as my dissertation for the Creative Writing M.A I undertook in order to help me write the best book possible. I remember describing a scene from that section that I was particularly proud of to my husband. Instead of giving me the approval I desired, he pointed out that I had missed an essential part of the plot. We argued about it for ages. I went away and sulked, then reluctantly conceded he had a point and finally, begrudgingly, I rewrote it. To this day, that scene, which features my protagonist Molly acknowledging that her son Jack must have died in the bomb blast that destroyed their home, is one of my favourites. It was clearly right to put it in. I’m not going to tell my husband that though!
Oooh, a marital secret, how exciting :-). If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
What an interesting question! (Don’t people always say that when they don’t know the answer?!) I think it would have to be an indigenous Australian girl called Rosie. Whilst I was researching the story of the child migrants, many of whom were falsely told they were orphans in order to lure them to Australia, I came across an eerily parallel account of the ‘Stolen Generation.’ These were Aboriginal children, taken from their parents as part of the White Australia policy. In my story, Jack and Rosie meet and bond through their common experience of loss. Having seen Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good, (based on the Thomas Keneally novel of the same name) and read Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, I’d become fascinated by the rich spiritual life of indigenous Australians, particularly their belief in the power and role of dreams. I’ve tried to convey this through my characterisation of Rosie who sometimes has supernatural insights. Of all my characters I think she would have understood the slender line between reality and fantasy and wouldn’t feel threatened by being told she was fictitious.
That’s a really great answer – and it actually makes Rosie more real to me! But more about you: can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
I love the novels of the late Helen Dunmore. She had such skill at writing compelling human stories against the backdrop of historical events. I wouldn’t place myself in the same league as her but she is definitely a big influence. I read quite a lot of Tim Winton’s books when I was researching my story as I think he conveys the landscape and atmosphere of Western Australia so well. My central character, Molly, loses her memory so I read a few stories about memory loss such as ‘Pieces of Light’ by Charles Fernyhough and ‘Briefing for a Descent into Hell’ by Doris Lessing. I also love Maggie O’Farrell’s dexterity with words and the way she gets inside people’s minds so convincingly. Finally, Anne Tyler has an amazing ability to convey huge life issues within seemingly inconsequential events. I can only dream about writing as well as any of these authors, but they have certainly given me something to aspire to.
Ah, we have a lot of reading tastes in common! Lovely. Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago my parents had both recently died and my husband was in the middle of a decade of ill health which he was seemingly unable to recover from and which doctors were baffled by. I was trying to care for him whilst supporting our family with my job as a teacher. I’d wanted to write since I was very young but life always got in the way. My father had written text books on Photography but always had a secret ambition to write a novel. I think he passed that on to me! Although he died in 2001, I was able to enrol on my Creative Writing M.A with some of the money he left me. It was hard at times, with Paul so ill, but I managed to scrape through it, and my novel ‘The Oceans Between Us’ started to evolve.
Eventually Paul recovered and I had the space to give the manuscript more of my attention. It took me nine years before it was published but I am so glad I stuck at it. I often wish I could travel back to 2009, when life felt so bleak, and tell my former self that my dream of writing a novel really would come true, and that life really would get better. I wish my father had known how my writing aspirations would end up.
That’s a great story, and I have some similar experiences and feelings. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I have now written a second novel, ‘The Child on Platform One,’ about a mother and daughter separated by war, which comes out next March. It’s gone through two rounds of edits so I just have the proof reading to do and then it’s finished. To be honest, I don’t have a single idea for book three at the moment. I think the creative well has run dry! I am going to give myself the summer off. We have our son’s wedding to prepare for and my daughter and her husband are having an extension built so I have a feeling they will be bringing our two adorable granddaughters to stay with us on and off through July and August so I will have plenty to keep me busy. I am hoping inspiration will strike by the autumn though so that I can get writing again. I think I would miss it if I didn’t.
Oh, yes, I do hope there’s more to come! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I am currently obsessed by Eva, the protagonist of my second novel. She is a musical prodigy living in Prague during the late 1930’s. Later, when she is taken into a concentration camp, she uses her musical talents to mount a defence against the Nazis. I don’t have a musical bone in my body but I am fascinated by the power of creativity to triumph over adversity.
What a great creation, and a good choice. Thank you so much Gill for sharing with me today on Last Word of the Week.
Belinda lives in country Victoria (Australia) with her devoted and beloved husband, surrounded by books, cat-fur, and half-eaten cake. Belinda divides her days between writing rom-coms, baking, and indulging her love of comic books.
Belinda’s happy and uplifting novels are often described as ‘funny’ and ‘flirty’, and maybe that’s a reflection of herself as well as her style. I think I’ve just met an incurable romantic!
Welcome, Belinda, it’s lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Opening with the tough questions! What do I think people ought to know? Well, I suppose they ought to know that my books are lovely, will leave you feeling fuzzy, and feeling good and, now that I’ve been unleashed on the world, there’s no stopping me.
Seriously, though, I’m a mid-thirties (still clutching that demographic) girl who loves the love. I bake and cook and wrangle my cats, and my husband is pretty awesome, too.
Baking! Anytime you want to drop something by… Hehe! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
There’s on particular scene I love in An Impossible Thing Called Love where William and Emmy explore London together. They tend to do a lot of that, but there’s one moment I especially love where they’re wandering about the Tower Bridge together, talking about the building, the sites around them, and generally enjoying one of their first bits of togetherness in a few years.
If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I’ll still with William for this one (An Impossible Thing Called Love). He’d probably laugh, tell you you’re wrong, and continue on his merry way. I mean, he’s still loud enough in my head that he could get a sequel, so I’m quite sure he’d never believe you.
I think I’d like a sequel with the gorgeous William… Oh, let’s get back to the questions! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
There’s been so many over the years. As a child, I read a lot of Roald Dahl. I was fascinated with The Witches for a while and borrowed that whenever I could. Baby-Sitters Club books also featured in my childhood. I think my teen years involved quite a bit of science-fiction (Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in particular).
As an adult, I moved into light-hearted rom-coms and women’s fiction. I think I started putting some serious thought into writing when I stumbled onto Mhairi McFarlane and Lindsey Kelk, and I thought of how much I’d love to produce something so fun.
Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Please start writing now. Write and work hard. It will be okay.
I think it will be more than OK! What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I have a lovely little Christmas novella due out in November, titled One Week ‘til Christmas. It’s gorgeous, and is about Isobel and Tom. Isobel finds herself in London just before Christmas as a political reporter. As an odd-job, she’s sent to interview Tom. They form a bond, and explore London together in the week Isobel has left in London.
That sounds like a perfect holiday read. And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Oh, I’d have to say Emmy – because I’m a little in love with William (can you tell?).
Yes I can tell! Thank you so much Emmy – I mean Belinda – for having this week’s Last Word!