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Myles Ojabo, the slave experience, and the water goddess

Today I’m honoured to speak with Myles Ojabo, whose debut novel Black River was published earlier this year. I was very fortunate in being chosen to review Black River for Aurealis magazine, and very appreciative that Myles is able to be with me today to share some of his experiences in researching and writing his splendid novel. I used words like ‘energy and unending relevance’, as well as ‘complex, thoughtful, entertaining and pertinent’ in my review which can be found in Aurealis #123

Welcome, Myles, I’m very pleased to meet you. I thoroughly enjoyed your novel. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Myles: The novel Black River: An Account of Christmas Preacher, a Slave Freed is the creative component of my PhD study, completed at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. The novel comes out of my desire to fill both a symbolic and literary gap in my family history.

I came to New Zealand from Nigeria in 2011 to study. I completed a Masters of Creative Writing in 2013, which focused on the features and significance of the short story cycle, and the PhD came later on.  I met an African American man in my first year in New Zealand and we became friends. Our friendship often got me thinking about the historical impacts of slavery in our contemporary societies. When my African American friend told me about life in America, I saw a different but really fascinating black culture that originated from the continent of Africa. My thoughts often wandered back to days of my childhood, when my mother and father told us stories of some of our forebears who were taken as slaves. I wondered if some of my distant relatives could be living in America, Brazil, Cuba, or the Caribbean. I became interested in American slavery and its impact on black people. And the PhD in Creative Writing explored my own lineage in this regard.

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In the course of writing Black River, I carried out an ethnohistorical research on my own ethnicity, that is, of the Idoma people of Nigeria, and on American slave history. I also undertook a psychogeographical trip to America for the sole reason of visiting old slave plantations to confirm some information acquired from my ethnohistorical research. I tried to employ fantastical features when merging the history of my people with that of the African Americans. One legend vital to the novel is that of a forebear believed to have flown from slavery in America back to his village in Africa. Black River became a neo-slave narrative with supernatural elements that fills the literal gap in my family history. The novel has recently been nominated for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize for prose fiction.  

Congratulations! That’s so fascinating. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

My protagonist, Christmas Preacher, sold into slavery as a boy, lives most of his life on American soil. A supernatural mermaid, Oda’nyaa, is bent on having him remain in America. She is irresistible and he often finds himself trapped by her seduction. On the other hand, Orinya, Christmas’s resurrected forebear, wants Christmas to return at a predestined time. Christmas is indecisive all through the novel.

For an African American writing about slavery, home in most cases is freedom. Some never get it. Some get it. The novels The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead and Grace by Natasha Deon are good examples.  Both works, written by African Americans and published in 2016, depict enslaved blacks in America’s South heading North in pursuit of freedom. Africa is the mother continent to most black people around the world. In Black River, freedom is not depicted as home. Africa is home in the novel.

My favourite scene in Black River is that moment when Christmas Preacher realises that he has powerful ability to levitate back to Africa. He leaps into the air and heads for the sky. However, he is captured by the mermaid and her followers in the course of the journey. Christmas is held captive until his Ancestor, the great Alekwuafia, comes to his rescue, allowing him to complete the journey to Africa.

I love that mermaid. She’s pretty much my favourite character. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Black River has two endings, offering readers the liberty to pick one of them. A scene predicts his death in America. And another shows his return to Africa. In the novel, death is not able to end existence. Characters die, but their spirits often continue to communicate with each other, and with the living. In the life beyond death, Oda’nyaa, the mermaid, attempts to convince Christmas that his trip back to the mother continent was a lie, that it never occurred.  He laughs and calls her a lying mermaid. Well, I think Christmas would laugh and of course accuse you of lying to his face.

I like the freedom this gives to the reader  and I know which is my preferred ending (but no spoilers here!). 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?

The list of writers that inspire me continues to increase over time. The list of my favourite books also changes with time. If we were to look back to the period in which I was writing Black River, I would list these books:

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, a memoir written by himself.
  • Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, an autobiography written by himself.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiography written by Harriet Ann Jacobs.
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, an autobiography written by himself.

Their works were the first to inform me in detail about the experiences of the brothers and sisters taken away from the mother continent many centuries ago and enslaved. It was exhilarating for me to see the painting of Frederick Douglass among the great African Americans honoured on the walls of the Freedom Centre when I visited America. He was born enslaved in Maryland and escaped to freedom as a young adult in 1831. He did this by pretending to be a black sailor. The Civil War galvanised Douglass and others who saw that slavery might finally end and they lobbied President Lincoln and other leaders for the recruitment of black soldiers.

Literary works such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Grace by Natasha Deon and Kindred by Octavia Butler provided me with an opportunity to elucidate why and how literary genres such as historical fiction, neo-slave narrative, and magical realism can mutate or come together. This equipped me to handle my research and also to tackle its question by being able to draw out themes around the African American slave experience. 

Thank you; these are good additions to my wish list. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Be confident. Be proud. Be much more ambitious.

I say this because I have been a victim of spiteful words. You go through a PhD journey only for some people and institutions, I call them strongholds, to use their demoralising words to crush you. There are people who have never read a novel but enjoy telling you what to write about. I would tell my younger self to be ruthless in pursuing his desires amidst these sorts of negative energies.

I used to worry about some of the negative things said to me until my father asked me what I was worrying about. He went on to say, “You are still young. You can make a lot of mistakes. You can make a lot of decisions and you can attain a lot of success.” I would tell my younger self the same thing. I would tell him no one can tell the stories he intends to tell or write about. 

What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I dug up some short stories I wrote during my Masters Degree in Creative Writing and have started polishing them. They are all about the experiences of exiles in a psychiatric hospital. The collection of short stories will appear early next year.

I am also working on a play about a Nigerian PhD student living in New Zealand and struggling to maintain relationships with his supervisor and his Kiwi girlfriend.

I like the sound of that play! What would the student’s name be, I wonder…And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would like to be Christmas Preacher’s son, Ijeyi. Christmas, as indicated earlier on, is the protagonist of my novel, Black River.

Ijeyi, born in 1804 to Christmas Preacher on American soil, represents the American experience that I cannot relate to.

My African American friend and I recognise Africa as our mother continent, but we have different outlooks on life. I could relate to my friend’s experiences in life but not fully, since he is the one that has been through life in contemporary America. It is vice versa when it comes to him trying to relate to my experience growing up in contemporary Africa.

Christmas has two sons in Black River. An African American and an African son. I can relate with the African experience. I can relate with the impact of the colonial experience on the continent of Africa. I wish I could be Ijeyi who was born a slave, just because of the desire to fully understand the impact of slavery on the lives of African Americans in contemporary America. Due to this, Ijeyi’s story seems missing in Black River. He is sold off as a child, and not even Christmas ever sees his son attain adulthood.

That’s terribly sad! Maybe a future book about Ijeyi? Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Myles, and congratulations on a wonderful book.

Myles Ojabo Links

Where to buy: https://www.amazon.com/Black-River-Account-Christmas-Preacher/dp/047341175X

Twitter: @Myles_Ojabo

The Silence: cover reveal

Cover Reveal!

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement as the cover of Susan Allott’s debut novel The Silence is revealed. The Silence will be released in April next year.

I’ve been lucky enough to have Susan answer a few questions, too, about her writing process and the story behind her novel, a suspenseful mystery about a missing woman, marriage, emigration, children, and especially secrets. The Silence has been compared to both Jane Harper’s The Dry and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I can’t wait to read it.

Welcome, Susan! At last, your cover is here, and it looks wonderful. Covers are so important. Can you tell us something about the process for you? Who gets to design and choose the cover – do you have input? And what about the title – was that your choice?

Susan: My covers were done by the in-house team at Harper Collins, one designer based in the US and one in the UK. The US cover came through first and I thought it was beautiful but I did ask for some changes. I had a very specific image in my mind of what the houses on Bay Street look like, and it bothered me that the houses on the cover weren’t exactly as I’d described them in the book. The designers went away and made the changes I’d asked for and when it came back the houses were accurate, but the cover was no longer beautiful! It was a good lesson. I realised the cover needs to evoke the book rather than depict it in a literal way, and it needs to be attractive to potential readers.

When the UK cover came through I loved it immediately. It’s so intriguing and inviting: exactly the kind of book I would pick up in a bookshop.

The title was my choice but it took me ages to come up with it! My book is about a woman whose disappearance goes unnoticed for thirty years, but it’s also about Australia’s ‘forced removal’ policy which continued for decades, and most white Australians were somehow unaware of it. We were trying to find a title which brought those two elements together, but nothing was quite right.

In the end I went back through working titles I’d used before I found a publisher. One of these was ‘The Great Silence’, a quote from W.E.H. Stanner’s famous lecture which describes a ‘cult of forgetfulness’ around the history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I played around with it a bit – ‘The Long Silence’? ‘The Huge Silence’? – but of course the more powerful title was the simplest one. I sent an email to my editor and agent: ‘How about The Silence?’ And they both replied ‘I love that.’

It was such a relief, that we’d found the right title, but also that we’d held out for one that really worked instead of compromising. It’s so right for the book, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner.

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Do you have a favourite task in writing, such as scribbling ideas, fleshing out scenes, inventing characters, visiting locations, editing? If so, why?

I get the most pleasure out of editing. I do a lot of deleting, rewording, deleting again, over and over until it finally works. My happy place is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, reworking what I wrote yesterday and making it shine. I have to force myself to push on and write new material. I think it’s because the first draft is often so flat and clichéd that it dents my confidence. I need to get over that. I do know that even the best writers’ first drafts are appalling.

I’m going to ask you to play favourites: who is your most beloved character in your own writing, and why?

I think I’d have to say Mandy, the character whose disappearance is central to The Silence. She’s a 1960s Australian housewife who doesn’t fit the mould. Her husband wants nothing more than a brood of children and she is secretly taking the Pill.

Over 50% of the novel is set in the 1960s, before Mandy disappeared, so we get to know her well. I wanted her absence to be felt in the chapters set thirty years later. Hopefully she comes across as complex and relatable, as flawed as we all are. She’s been in my head a long time.

Can you tell us something about yourself that you think readers should know?

The Silence began as a story about my experience of living and working in Sydney in the late nineties. More specifically, my experience of failing to love Australia, while everyone around me seemed so happy and at home. The book I tried to write was about a young British woman called Louisa who, like me, left Australia to return to the UK. Then she got home and wondered what was wrong with her. That experience of overwhelming homesickness was my starting point. But the story didn’t come to life until I started exploring the world Louisa had left behind: her husband Joe and their neighbours, Steve and Mandy. I wrote against my own experience, describing Australia through the eyes of people who loved it and called it home.

I fought the idea of setting the book entirely in Australia for a long time. Funnily enough, I met an Australian man in London a few years later, and went on to marry him! He encouraged me to keep writing. We visited Australia a few times over the years and gradually I accepted that my story was there. In part the novel is about the experience of migration, and how liberating it can be to make a new home on your own terms, even though that didn’t happen for me.

Are there any particular writers or books that inspired you on your own creative path?

The biggest influences for me while writing The Silence were Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, and Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara – the book and the film. Tim Winton too of course, I’ve read everything of his including his memoirs. Oh and Evie Wyld is incredible. The trouble is, these wonderful writers can be slightly intimidating and I spent a few years thinking my writing wouldn’t be good enough until I sounded like them. I think I took a long time to accept that my own voice was ok. I read a lot of non-fiction too while I was researching. The stolen generation storyline was inspired initially by a passage in a book called Australia: a biography of a nation by Phillip Knightley. There’s a section in that book about an Australian policeman who used to come home from work, sit at the back of the house and cry. I knew I wanted to tell his story.

What would you say is the most difficult barrier to overcome in writing a novel and having it published? Do you have advice about that, or a good story of how you got there?

I think the hardest thing is to keep going, especially when you’re aware of how hard it is to get published. For me, the challenge of writing alongside the demands of work and family life sometimes felt insurmountable. My advice would be not to fixate too much on publication as a goal, especially not in the early drafts. Write primarily for yourself and try to write the kind of book you love to read. If you love your book and enjoy writing it, that will come through on the page.

I’d also caution against giving up the day job too soon. Time is not always your friend. I never had enough time to write for the first few years, when my kids were little and I was working. I wrote whenever I could find a spare hour in the day. (Sometimes it was only twenty minutes.) It gave me an urgency when I did sit down to write that may not have been there otherwise. Writing was always the thing I did when I should have been doing something else. My me-time.

That said, I think it was a gift from the Universe when I was made redundant at the end of 2018. I had an agent by that stage and she was keen to submit my manuscript before the London Book Fair in March this year. The months I spent writing full time in the run-up to submission were completely immersive and I’m not sure I’d have managed it if I’d still been employed. I might have found the time somehow but I wouldn’t have had the headspace.

And the book did sell in the run-up to the Fair! I don’t like talking about luck, when really it’s sheer stamina that gets the book written in the end, but I do feel very lucky that I had that period of time to finish the book just when I needed it.

What was the most difficult scene to write in the novel – you don’t have to give away spoilers!

There’s a scene about a third of the way through where Isla, my protagonist, starts to question her long-held loyalty to her father, who is suspected of murder. I needed to show her range of emotion while also managing the plot and the logistics of the scene. The hard part always is trying to be subtle, but not so subtle that the reader loses the thread of where the character is coming from. I’m pleased with that scene now but it took forever and I drank an awful lot of coffee.

What are you most looking forward to in your writing?

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new book, which is set in London this time. I want to get the sense of momentum again, where the hours go by and I barely notice. Other than that, I’m not sure if this is strictly ‘writing’ but I want to hold the published copy of The Silence in my hand and flick through the pages. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

That will be a wonderful day indeed. Congratulations, Susan, and I’m looking forward to holing a copy too – and reading it!

The Silence by Susan Allott will be released on April 30th 2020.

Susan’s links:

Website: www.susanallott.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sallottauthor/

Twitter: @SusanAllott

Instagram: @susanallottauthor

Carleton Chinner on Xhosa storytelling and space opera

Carleton Chinner writes near-future space opera. He is the author of the Cities of the Moon series—The Hills of Mare Imbrium, and Plato Crater. He also reviews new releases of predominantly science fiction for the Aussie Speculative Fiction Review where he enjoys reading stories that explore what science means to humanity. Carleton is known to enjoy solid science and will grumble at stories where fires burn in a vacuum or scuba divers spend hours underwater without needing decompression. I detect a healthy dose of scepticism in a writer with no need to suspend disbelief.

Welcome, Carleton, and thanks for joining me on Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Carleton: I’m more a storyteller than a writer. I guess that comes with the territory when you spend your childhood on an African farm where old Xhosa women spin marvellous tales of river serpents and white-painted, clay-clad women who return from the dead. I absorbed the craft of stories from these Xhosa ladies: the pull of suspense, the impact of vivid imagery, and the all-important need to suspend disbelief. There was no book learning, but learning nonetheless, in the deep organic sense of stories told in voice and rhythm. Learning in the way of things told and remembered.

That’s the best description of storytelling I’ve encountered! Lucky you. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Just one scene? If I had to choose it would be a scene from my second book, Plato Crater, where two characters who cannot be together meet as remotely piloted droids in an uninhabited lunar crater. Circumstances mean there is no way they will get together soon, but they still find a way to share a kiss under the endless stars.

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I love this scene because it captures an idea that is quite central to my writing; no matter how whizzbang the future technology is, people will still be people with human needs and desires. 

That’s really romantic, especially for droids! If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Brother Jonas is a monk in a collection of short stories I am writing who may be something other than human. It would be great fun to tell him he was imaginary. I suspect it would lead him to deep introspection about who we are and what makes us real. 

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’ve always been drawn to descriptions of our first interactions with aliens that cast light on who we are as humans. One of the first books I read like this was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land where a child raised by Martians comes to Earth and has to comprehend human culture. Heinlein’s description of laughter as a human response to the suffering of another had me sit back and go “Whoa! I never thought of it like that.”

I’m a big fan of China Miéville’s creative worldbuilding, but his Embassytown stands head and shoulders above the rest with its twin-brained aliens who get high on language, in a world where hyperspace is like travelling on the sea complete with seasickness and sharks.

More recently, I’ve been reading Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series which is packed with a diverse array of ideas about race, sexuality, violence, and even body modification.

Wonderful books in that list! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Just write! Tell the stories you want to tell.

I wasted so much time wondering if I should write instead of just getting on and writing. 

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Good point! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Planning for the GenreCon * conference in November is taking up a lot of my writing time right now. It’s hard work, but worth it. GenreCon is going to be great.

When I’m not busy with that I’m working on a new technothriller about how Australia implements a reputation system like the new Chinese system.

*Genrecon will be a three-day feast of genre held in Brisbane from Nov 22, 2019, with fantastic speakers and panels.

Oooh, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

An oldie, but I would love to be Phillip Linx from Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx stories as he explores crazy worlds in the Humanx Commonwealth. More importantly I’d be Flinx for his pet Alaspinian mini-dragon Pip. How cool would it be to have your own dragon?

Super cool! Thank you for sharing with me today, Carleton, and all the best with Genrecon.

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Carleton’s Links:

Website: https://carletonchinner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sunfishau

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarletonChinnerAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carletonchinner/

Buy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0758DSP5Z

Teddy bears, wolves, and cow pats

My spirit animal is probably cute and cuddly rather than strong and noble. What do you think? I can dream … I’m pretty sure heart and soul would be part of it though…

Today I’m sharing this wonderful interview with Meeting the Author. What fabulous questions! Thanks to Camilla Downs, gracious host of Meeting the Authors website, author, poet, nature photographer, and all around good egg.

For great insights and intros to new books, you can follow Meeting the Authors at http://meetingtheauthors.com/

Here’s my interview. As Camilla says, watch out for the cow pats!

http://meetingtheauthors.com/2019/10/22/meet-the-author-the-stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden/

A run on the dark side with Claire Fitzpatrick

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.

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Metamorphosis by Claire Fitzpatrick zoom

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.

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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.

Metamorphosis by Claire Fitzpatrick

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.

Claire’s Links:

Website – https://www.clairefitzpatrick.net/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/witch.of.eldritch

Twitter – @CJFitzpatrick91

IG – wetoo.arestardust

Metamorphosis – https://ifwgaustralia.com/title-metamorphosis/

On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Metamorphosis-Collection-Stories-Claire-Fitzpatrick-ebook/dp/B07TCJX6X2/

Latest news: #WeLoveOurAuthors

Every day throughout October, awesome Odyssey Books is celebrating one of its authors with a feast of shares including FREE SAMPLES!

Now is the time to discover your new favourite.  Look under Odyssey News every day in October to meet yet another fab author. Remember, this is where books are an adventure!

My feature day was Saturday October 12th. If you want to learn some of my secrets and get some freebies of my writing, here’s the link:

https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/2019/10/12/clarerhoden-weloveourauthors/

Rosalie Ham: author and extra

Rosalie Ham is an Australian author most famous for her debut novel The Dressmaker, a black satire about love, payback, and 1950s haute couture, which was made into a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving in 2015.

Recently I was fortunate enough to meet Rosalie at an event where she explained how the movie was made, her part in it, and the challenges of shifting a story from prose to film. Rosalie was so inspiring that, grabbing my courage in both hands and telling myself that being scared every now and then is good for me, I introduced myself and asked if she would consider appearing on the Last Word of the Week blog. And here she is! 

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Thank you for joining me today, Rosalie. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Rosalie: I tend towards the ironic, and so some readers don’t ‘get’ that sort of tone or my black humour, but I get that not every book is for every reader.

That’s a great way to think about it, very wise. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I have favourite scenes in all four novels, so I’ll pick a couple. In The Dressmaker it’s at the end when Sergeant Farrat is sitting on top of The Hill. Everything around him is razed, the landscape burned flat to the ground, smouldering and smoking, cinders floating. The District Inspector of Police arrives and asks, ‘What happened?’

The sergeant replies, ‘There’s been a fire.’

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At the beginning of Summer at Mount Hope Phoeba, Lilith and Maude are sitting on the narrow bench of the family sulky which is stranded in the middle of a roadside dam. The three 19thcentury ladies are wearing their Sunday best, sheltering from the sun under their vast, ostrich plumed hats. Their skirts are bunched on their laps exposing the lacy trim on their bloomers, their boots are up on the dash, slimy green water swirls just below their bottoms and the tail of the horse supposedly conveying them to Church floats before them. In the quiet of the country lane, they hear a carriage approach. It is the grand Britzka containing the wealthy neighbours from the vast property to the west. Maude speculates, ‘They may not notice us.’

Oooh, yes, these are perfect. From what I have read, I understand that your characters are not completely imaginary, but based on real people. Has anyone recognised themselves in your books?

I suspect most writers create characters using elements of real people. Because characters, basically, carry a theme, creating a plausible vehicle is my main focus. The added personality traits are instilled to make them more memorable and hopefully readers might then find empathy with a character and his or her purpose. Some readers out there might just recognise why a character says and does certain things.

I know that you appeared in the film version of The Dressmaker as an extra. Are you a character in any of your books? Why/why not?

No, I’m not a character in any of my books. Generally, in order to create an effective character for a particular role that character needs to do what you want them to do. Their intention is their narrative drive, if you like, so their intention has to be quite separate to what I might say and do. It’s essential to strive to present a balanced argument, so you need to think about alternate arguments and create characters to present them so they all need to be other than the writer’s personal point of view. The story becomes about the argument rather than how I feel about the point I’m prosecuting. 

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That makes sense. Take yourself back ten years – what would that Rosalie like to tell you?

Trust your ability. Believe in yourself more, go for it, your stories will reach further than you imagine.

Amazing, yes. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

 More writing. I’ve got a few more events to attend this year to promote my last novel, The Year of the Farmer, then there’s a rough first draft of my fifth book that I’m dying to get stuck into. As I see it, there are at least two more novels I could write. And I have a dream that one day I’ll adapt one of my novels to a stage play. And I need to do all of this while teaching part time.

 

Year-of-the-Farmer-677x1024What’s the single most important quality in a writer, in your opinion?

Talent. Some books are written through sheer determination and they’re good. Readers will get much from them, but some writers are different, their stories boil straight from the heart, they burn and shimmer, they’re well-structured and moving, revelatory, unique, life-changing, and above all, memorable. That sort of writing can’t be taught, it comes from the way writers look at the world and convey it to others.

And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I’d be Phoeba Crupp from my second novel, Summer at Mount Hope. I’d grow my own grapes and produce fine wine, raise beautiful sheep with superior wool, cultivate exceptional grain crops and work hard with nature. Because I value friendship above romance, I’d carry sad matters of the heart in my back pocket like a spare hanky. When my father betrays me, I’ll turn that to my advantage and make my life a testament to female strength and the fighting rural spirit.

She sounds divine. Great choice.

Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Rosalie. I was indeed a pleasure and an inspiration to meet you.

 

Rosalie’s Links:

Website: https://rosalieham.com/

Twitter: @RosalieEHam

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RosalieHam/

If you’d like to book Rosalie to talk at your school, library or book club (or fundraiser, lunch, valedictory…) please get in touch with Booked Out Speakers, Melbourne on (03) 9824 0177. I can highly recommend her as a speaker!

Rosalie is represented by Jenny Darling and Associates (03) 9696 7750

#WeLoveOurAuthors

Really, who in their right mind doesn’t love books?

And books are created by AUTHORS!

#WeLoveOurAuthors

*Do you have favourites? See my classic list below – do we overlap at all? Did I forget something wonderful???

#WeLoveOurAuthors

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.

#WeLoveOurAuthors

And yes, my turn will come.  So be prepared … I almost feel I should give you tips on how to tone me down for a while … Lots of tweets, posts, and links will be shared 🙂

#WeLoveOurAuthors

*(some of) Clare’s favourite authors of all time:

Mary Renault. Georgette Heyer. JRR Tolkien. Ursula Le Guin. JK Rowling. Mary Stewart. TH White. Robin Hobb. Mercedes Lackey. Katharine Kerr.

(some of) Clare’s rising favourites:

CSE Cooney. Laura E Goodin. Kathryn Gossow. Neil Gaiman. Kim Wilkins. Elizabeth Bryer. Melissa Ferguson. Charlie Jane Anders.

Confession: I meet new favourites all the time!

Cindy Davies, with Middle Eastern mystery

Cindy Davies is the author of The Afghan Wife, published by Odyssey Books in 2017 and its sequel The Revolutionary’s Cousin, released on September 12CindyDaviesth 2019.

 

Welcome, Cindy, 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?

Cindy: I’ve had a lifelong interest in the countries of the Middle East, particularly Turkey and Iran. I lived in Turkey several years ago and have returned regularly ever since.  While there I learned to speak Turkish.  The idea for my first novel came from talking to the migrants and refugees who came from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. I also think that a novel about Iran’s recent history is relevant at the moment.

I taught English language for most of my life and the main character in the novel is an amalgamation of the many students I met. It took me five years to research and write The Afghan Wife.  I’ve been in demand this year to give talks about Iran because it is such a topical subject.

However, as a writer I cut my teeth on writing travel articles and had several published in airline magazines for Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and one was translated into Arabic for Emirates. I also wrote short articles for the Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend magazine. So by the time I came to write the novel, I’d had plenty of practise as a wordsmith.

That sounds rather exotic and completely fabulous. You lived in Turkey and speak Turkish: that’s amazing.

Esfahan, Iran. Photo by Cindy Davies.

Esfahan, Iran. Photo by Cindy Davies.

What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Am I allowed to have two?  (haha of course!)

The first is when Karim and Zahra meet for the first time before the Iranian Revolution.  She’s a teenager from a small town in Afghanistan and he’s a sophisticated Iranian in his twenties. This is pre-revolutionary Iran and the Shah is still on the throne.  Zahra makes some terrible social gaffes—thinking that a house in Martha’s Vineyard in the USA is actually in a vineyard.  When he says ‘your tiny hand is frozen’ she doesn’t get the reference. Her social innocence endears her to him immediately.

The other scene is when Karim is trying to get back to his house after taking part in a raid on the American embassy. It’s midnight and pitch black. Four young hooligans, armed with sub-machine guns, are in a jeep which comes tearing down the deserted lane Karim is running along. He’s terrified that if they spot him they’ll open fire.

Ooh, very exciting! I’ve noticed that your characters  seem very real. How do you make them believable?

I know everything about them—I write a biography of them in point form even down to what their favourite colour is. The author has to know how a character will think and feel in any given situation.  Very occasionally, though, a character will surprise me.

One of my reviewers obviously found Karim so real that she wrote that if she ever met him any time, any place, he would be her man. I didn’t have the heart to say that he really only existed in the novel and even then he wasn’t perfect.

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? 

Leo Tolstoy the 19th century author was a master at writing love scenes.  Think of the scene between Anna and Count Veronsky at a deserted railway station: she’s already attracted to him, but she’s married.  She steps off a train at a deserted station, the steam from the train clears… and he’s standing there!

Although by modern standards seem wordy, the nineteenth century novelists like the Brontë sisters understood the human condition. People want to read good stories. 

I love Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Margaret Atwood, Joan London (WA writer). Australians Liane Moriarty and Jane Harper are excellent story-tellers.

I read a lot, always with a critical eye as I ask myself how the author is keeping me interested.

Take yourself back ten years what would you like to tell yourself?

Don’t procrastinate—get started on that book!

Great advice. Whats next for you in the world of writing?

I have at least four synopses already written but no novel planned out as yet.  I have a ‘snippets’ folder for ideas. I’m currently collecting malapropisms. Recently someone said to me ‘I believe you collect small vinegrets about people.’  She meant vignettes of course—I added that to the file, I’ve got a character in my who makes these kinds of mistakes all the time.

That’s an interesting project! (Mrs Malaprop returns *I’d better be careful*)

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character one of yours, or someone else’s?

I identify with Zahra, my character in The Afghan Wife. She had no choice but to escape from Afghanistan with her husband, cousin and young son. As a migrant to Australia myself, I arrived with three young children and had to make a new life here.  Zahra’s situation was worse because she had a violent husband and a manipulative cousin. Zahra was strong for the sake of her child and eventually she made the best of what life had thrown at her. 

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 A great choice. What’s been your best achievement since the publication of your novel?

I was placed third in the Kathryn Hayes competition,’When Sparks Fly’ operated by the New York chapter of Romance Writers of America.   I was thrilled, especially as my novel is not strictly a romance but is in the Women’s Fiction category.  I’ve also been the keynote speaker at one of the biggest book groups in Sydney, as well as at the NSW Society of Women Writers.

Congratulations! Here’s wishing for more success, and more books arising from your ideas. Thanks for speaking with me today, Cindy.

 

Cindy’s links:

Website: cindydavies.com.au

Facebook: Cindy Davies Author at https://www.facebook.com/cindydavies.author.18

Nicola Pryce sails to Cornwall in 1773

Nicola Pryce writes romances featuring Cornwall, adventure, drama, handsome heroes,  and foregrounding remarkable women – an irresistible combination. If you’re a bit keen on Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, or Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth, or any well-written historical fiction, then you need to meet Nicola asap. Not in 1773. Now!

*Plus read on for a bonus scene!*

Welcome, Nicola. It’s great to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Nicola: If I have to reveal secrets, then it’s that I sail, certainly, but not across vast oceans. I’m more of a harbour hopper, sailing in and out of the towns and secret coves in Cornwall that I describe in my books. My characters inhabit my world, only 226 years before me. I follow their footsteps – every mile they walk, I walk; I have been to every harbour they anchor in, every river they row up, and every inn they dine in. Every mad dash they make across Bodmin Moor, I’m racing behind them. The houses they live in are all there, the streets they walk, the moonlit rose gardens and clifftops where they meet. And I wake to the same hammering in the shipyard, the same bleating of the sheep, the same crowing of the cockerel.

That’s great to know! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

My favourite scene is in The Captain’s Girl. My aristocratic heroine, Celia Cavendish, finds herself on a fast cutter in the charge of the rather secretive Captain Arnaud Lefèvre. It is two in the morning, the wind is gentle, the stars bright above them. Captain Lefèvre serves freshly caught seabass, grilled on a bed of herbs; they drink Chablis, watch a shooting star, and all the while the south coast of Cornwall is drawing closer. As she breathes the salt air, relishing the wind in her hair, Celia feels free for the first time in her life. At daybreak, she must return to rigid protocol and social niceties, but more importantly, she must explain her sudden absence.

Oooh, how intriguing! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Badly!  I could see it hadn’t gone well when I saw Madame Merrick staring down at me from the first floor of her dressmaking establishment above Pengelly’s Shipyard. The sun was glinting on her lorgnettes and knew that as soon as I opened the door, her hawk-like eyes would pin me into submission.

And I was right. Her silk petticoats rustled as she swung to face me. Elowyn and Mrs Pengelly took refuge in the storeroom, but I knew I must stand my ground.

‘A figment of your imagination? Her French accent is always more noticeable when she’s cross. ‘I think not!’

I had to be brave. Most would turn and run, but I had to explain.

‘You’re a character in my stories, Madame Merrick. You don’t exist off the pages of my books.’

A rise in her perfectly arched eyebrows, a slight ruffle in the feathers of her headdress, and then a smile – and it’s always worrying when Madam Merrick smiles.

‘Well, perhaps it is not such  a bad thing. Maybe it is better they think you have fabricated my existence. Yes, let them think that – let them believe, I do not exist. It might well work in my favour. Will you take a glass of punch with me?’

I had to say I would, but only a small glass as I know only too well what goes into Madam Merrick’s punch.

Oh, that’s marvellous, Nicki, thank you so much! An extra scene. Yippee!

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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 a dreamy child, a boarder from the age of eight in a school with limited television and a large library and I spent rather more time reading than I should  – even finishing Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell in orchestra practice with tears rolling down my cheeks!

I read everything I could, from Agatha Christie detective novels to John Wyndham’s science fiction, but mainly I read historical fiction. I loved Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Goudge, Georgette Heyer, Huge Walpole, R F Delderfield, as well as all the Angelique books which we had to cover in brown paper! I did English A level and I enjoyed discovering the Classics.

At 42, I completed an Open University degree and found myself drawn to the eighteenth century and that has certainly influenced the books I write. My favourite author is Jane Austen, but it was Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham who introduced me to Cornwall through their books.

The Rebecca and Poldark effect, eh? Perfect. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I left school at 18 telling everyone I was going to write a historical novel, but my nursing career and my three children took up all of my time.

Ten years ago, at 52, I decided my children needed to know the real me. They knew me as their mother, and a nurse, but they didn’t know the stories that were always in my mind. I had never written anything down, but I decided to return to the child I was, to the incurable romantic who had read her way through school. So I began writing my first novel – Pengelly’s DaughterIt took me three years. I had never written anything before, but it was picked up by an agent, and then Corvus Books wanted a second book, and a third and a fourth.

What would I say to my myself ten years ago? I’d say, ‘Sit down, take a deep breath because you’re NEVER going to believe this …!’

Indeed, what a fabulous story. Good for you! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I’m currently writing the fifth book in my series. Each book is written through the eyes of a different heroine. You get to know the new heroine in the previous books and so Book 5 follows The Cornish Lady. It’s now 1799 and Amelia Carew is facing a terrible dilemma.

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You can follow the order on my website http://nicolapryce.co.uk/  but all my stories can be read as stand-alone books. I put photos to illustrate the history behind my stories on my website, so there’s background information as well.

Uh-oh, that’s a few more for my TBR pile – but thank you so much, these sound wonderful. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

This is such a difficult question because, let’s face it, the trouble with books is that you get to fall in love with so many heroines as well as heroes. I would, of course, love to be Elizabeth Bennet, but – and I might regret this – I think I’m going to go for the daring-do, the energy and romance, and the sheer glamour of Marguerite St Just.

I’d like to be beautiful, graceful, witty, highly intelligent and I’d get to go to fabulous balls and wear stunning silk gowns. I’d have the whole of London falling at my feet, and I’d speak fluent French. I’d also have the very good fortune of discovering that the man I loved, and who had disappointed me so very terribly, is none other than the divine Scarlet Pimpernel.

I’d be just as cross with Sir Percy, just as hurt and disappointed; just as petrified of Citizen Chauvelin, and just as desperate to save my brother. But I’d be her, so I’d have her courage – her extraordinary bravery as she sets off across the channel to save her husband.  Yes, can I be her, please? The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.

Thank you so much Clare for inviting me to share your Last Word of the Week. I’ve had a lovely time answering your questions.

Thank you Nicola, you’ve been a great guest and I’d love to talk again – how about when Cornish Saga 5 appears?! In the meantime, of course Baroness Orczy would love to host you in her novel :-).

Nicola’s Links

Website     http://nicolapryce.co.uk/

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/nicolaprycebooks/

Twitter      https://twitter.com/npryce_author

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/nicola_pryce_author/

Amazon      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cornish-Lady-Saga/dp/1786493853

Kobo             https://www.kobo.com/at/en/ebook/pengelly-s-daughter

Barnes and Noble    https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cornish- dressmaker-nicola-pryce/1126737521