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!
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.’
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.
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.
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.
What’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.
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
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.
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. What’s 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.
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.
Marianne: Thanks so much for having me, Clare, and congratulations on the publication of The Ruined Land.
Thank you! It’s very exciting, but let’s talk about you today (or this post will be VERY long!). Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book really ought to know?
Ooh, that’s a hard one, I’m not sure readers need to know anything about me at all! However, part of A Little Bird Told Me is set during the British heatwave of 1976 when I was the same age as my main character, Robyn. I have a particularly strong memory of that summer because my family moved back to the UK after a couple of years in Germany. We found huge cracks had appeared in our lawn, the tarmac on the roads melted and there were ladybirds everywhere. The hot weather was wonderful for us kids but did make everyday life harder for the adults.
We also owned a TV for the first time and I remember suddenly being exposed to pop music, kids’ programmes and lots of American shows and films. It was quite a revelation!
That probably explains the great sense of setting in your novel – you were almost there! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
There’s a scene early in A Little Bird Told Me that happens after the nine-year-old Robyn is given a gift by a stranger. She’s too tired to tell her mother about it that night and instead asks for her favourite bedtime story about how the family came to live in their home. The story is so familiar to Robyn that she joins in with the telling of it.
I love the way families create these little narratives about who they are and how soothing children find this kind of repetition. In the story, it’s a nice little moment before Robyn starts learning the truth behind her mother’s tale.
Yes, that’s a great family insight. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I think the child Robyn would be fascinated but adult Robyn would be a mix of furious and resentful. At the beginning of the story, she’s trapped by the events of her past and if she discovered that none of that was real I can see a fair bit of foot stomping.
Oh yes, I can see that! 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?
My favourite reads over the summer have been Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I have always had a soft spot for myths and legends but these new retellings from a female perspective combine fantastic writing and innovation and that’s inspirational.
I agree entirely. Some great tips there, thank you! Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago, I had a super active toddler and was coming to terms with a second miscarriage and the death of my Dad. I was pretty exhausted, feeling guilty that I wasn’t like those other mums that set up new businesses in the evening after the baby’s in bed. The thought of writing a book was a very distant dream indeed.
So, I’d tell myself, and anyone else in similar circumstances, to try and worry a little less, be kind to yourself when you need it and enjoy the small moments. A year later I was pregnant with my second child, which was wonderful and unexpected, and my oldest was starting at playgroup. It was that extra time at home with the baby that allowed me the space to think about writing.
So much can change in ten years, can’t it? Kindness is essential, especially to yourself at such times. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I’m editing another novel at the moment or will be just as soon as the kids are back at school this week. It’s about a young woman who, partly out of loneliness and partly because of her own history, is drawn into the public outpouring of concern and grief surrounding the case of a missing child. Her involvement leads to a series of deceptions that carry her deeper and deeper into trouble.
Oooh, that sounds interesting! Do let us know when it gets to print. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Hmm, I’m not sure whether I should be answering with a character that I think is most like me or a character that I would most like to be. That would make quite a big difference!
Reading Circe right in the middle of school summer holidays this year, I found a passage where she discovers that the island she’s been exiled to is quite beautiful, has all the wildlife she needs to pursue her sorcery and, to top it off, her home is self-cleaning and her food replenished fresh every day. I had a very strong urge to be Circe in that moment!
Excellent answer! Thanks so much, Marianne, for sharing with me on Last Word of the Week.
Ardent Australian author Sue Parritt (who was born in England) has penned an impressive collection of novels across genres: future dystopia, WWII history, and contemporary fiction for a start. Sue’s writing is all about humanity and how we interact with each other. Providing great characters, detailed settings and fascinating plots, Sue Parritt is a writer to follow wherever she leads.
Author Sue Parritt
Welcome, Sue. I’m thrilled to be able to speak with you today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Sue: I am a feisty sixty-nine-year-old, passionate about peace and social justice issues. My goal as a fiction writer is to continue writing novels that address topics such as climate change, the effects of war, the harsh treatment of refugees, feminism and racism. I intend to keep on writing for as long as possible, believing the extensive life experiences of older writers can be employed to engage readers of all ages.
I’m totally with you, Sue! Writers must write, and from the heart. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
The scene in my fourth novel, ‘Chrysalis’ p.311 where my protagonist, Jane leaves the comforting cocoon of her sixty-year life to face an unknown future.
“Water seeped into Jane’s shoes as she disembarked at Heathrow central bus station. Stepping away from the puddle, she waited impatiently for luggage to emerge from bus bowels. At least the rain had stopped and grey clouds parted to reveal a washed-out sky of palest blue. She tilted her face, felt a hint of warmth to come. The perpetual promise of spring, new life, new growth and in this her sixty-first year, an opportunity for complete renewal. In an instant she had unzipped, cast-off, dashed over to a nearby rubbish bin and tossed her old jacket inside.
And there was a butterfly underneath, damp wings trembling in straw-coloured sunlight as she prepared to take flight.”
This scene reflects my feelings on taking early retirement eleven years ago to concentrate on creative writing. I took a risk giving up paid work but have no regrets. Like Jane in the final sentence of ‘Chrysalis,’ “today I know for certain true freedom lies within and I alone can birth its endless possibilities.”
How wonderful! How brave! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
Sannah the Storyteller, protagonist ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’ “As a storyteller I am familiar with the imaginary. An articulate speaker, I employ both voice and body to weave a spell around my audiences, make them believe whatever the government dictates. But never forget that in my clandestine role of Truth-Teller, I share the truth about Earth’s degradation with readers and other characters to evoke essential action.”
Sannah is a great character, very brave, compassionate and intelligent. 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 have always read widely, however some of my preferred authors are: Helen Garner, Margaret Drabble, Mary Wesley, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve, Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Jolley.
From my days as a sickly child reading Dickens in my grandparents’ kitchen, I have found inspiration in fiction. Each narrative presents a microcosm of lives and worlds, providing for me not only a rich reading tapestry but also the stimulus to create my own stories.
We share some favourite authors too. I just knew it would be fun to speak with you! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Have faith in your writing, learn your craft and never give up no matter how many rejections you receive.
Great advice. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
Back to the future for my eighth novel, working title ‘The Doorkeeper.’ Set in Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula in 2100, this novel will deal with overpopulation and extended life expectancy in an increasingly climate-challenged world and the inhumane solutions adopted by a government determined to rid Australia of unproductive citizens. My protagonist will be forced to take up a position as a Doorkeeper, one of the hated individuals that choose who will be granted a continued lifespan or be euthanised.
Yikes, that sounds all too scarily possible. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I would be ‘Jo’ in ‘Little Women’ – the tomboy, the writer, the one that isn’t afraid to flout the conventions of a society that seeks to confine her.
Dear Jo! What a role model! Thank you so much for talking with me, Sue, and all the best for your future writings!
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.
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Well, that’s a couple of things we have in common! Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective who investigates family secrets in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published online and in anthologies. Her ‘Identity Detective’ series explores the themes of identity, family history, secrets and adoption reunion. Sandra is now writing Sweet Joy, third in the series, set in London during The Blitz.
Sandra Danby Author
LWOTW: Welcome to last Word of the Week, Sandra! Tell me, when did you write your first story?
SANDRA: I must have been six or seven when I made my own magazines, writing the stories but cutting pictures out of my mother’s ‘Woman’s Weekly’ and ‘Woman’s Own’ magazines. I’m still rubbish at drawing but clearly I was showing early signs of the magazine editor I would later become. I have no clear memories of all those stories but I do remember writing an ambitious series about a sea-going cat that travelled to all the exotic faraway places I wanted to go. My early writing was always about adventuring into the unknown, being brave and fighting battles, influenced by the Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, combined with an avid curiosity about life beyond the East Yorkshire dairy farm where I grew up.
Curiosity is so essential for a writer. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I would describe myself as an imaginative planner. The over-active imagination that saw me told off as a child at school for dreaming, well she’s still here but is now forged with the organised focussed journalist who likes to plan and research. I must have read thousands of words about how other writers do it, but every writer has to find their own way. As I wrote my first two novels, with a third abandoned in a box, plus countless short stories, I’ve experimented and learned to loosen my planning and to listen to my dreams. The phase of writing I love the most is when story points fly into my head at random, often in that first dozy thirty minutes on waking.
A waking dream! That sounds very, very useful. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
A reader coming up to me at a fair and saying ‘I’ve read the first two, when’s the next out?’ There’s no better motivation for pushing on with the next book.
Oh, that’s a marvellous question to hear! What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m straightening out the kinks and twists in the plot of my third novel, ‘Sweet Joy’. It’s the sort of job that has to be approached with a completely clear sharp brain or things can get out of hand and ideas mysteriously disappear. It’s incredibly satisfying when connections are made and your brain says ‘of course that goes there’ when you’ve had a blank spot for sometimes months.
There is sometimes the sense that your subconscious (or maybe your characters…) knew what had to happen all along… If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t give up. It’s a long haul; you have to be in it for love. Writing is a job, not a hobby.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Green, but only green as in the nature that surrounds us. I never wear the colour green, I think because I hated my 1970s bottle green school uniform. My favourite green is the landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds, endless rolling green hills and a wide horizon.
the Yorkshire Wolds – photo @SandraDanby
How beautiful it is. Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Sandra.
Author Paula Boerlives in the Snowy Mountains of eastern Australia. Her lifelong love of horses began when she first rode a pony on a ranch in Canada, aged 7.
Paula’s writing career started at school where she wrote a story from the horse’s perspective for her final English exam. Combining her love of horses with her passion for travel, she has raced the native horses in Mongolia, climbed the heights of Colombia on horseback, and competed in Endurance rides around Australia. She claims the best way to experience a country is from the back of a horse.
Although not always on horseback, Paula has travelled in sixty countries on six continents. Her wonderful five-book Brumbies series was created from her experiences and love of our high country wild horses. The first Brumbies book became an Amazon ‘Best Seller’ in 2012. The final in the series, Brumbies in the Mountains, was published in January 2015. But there are exciting things coming! I’m pleased to interview Paula in this edition of Last Word of the Week.
LWOTW: Welcome, Paula. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Paula: I have been ‘horse mad’ since I was 9 years old and have ridden in many horse disciplines since then. My favourite has been endurance, as it has enabled me to see amazing places in Australia from horseback which I would never have experienced otherwise.
I also love dogs, and lesser liked creatures such as spiders and snakes.
I knew we had a lot in common. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
In the Brumbies series, my favourite scene is in book 5, Brumbies in the Mountains, where Ben rides his stallion up a mountain and sees an eagle flying high – below where he is riding. All the adventures in my stories are based on my own experiences and seeing an eagle flying below where I rode will always stick with me as a magical moment.
In my upcoming horse fantasy trilogy, The Equinora Chronicles, one of my favourite scenes (and there are many) is in the prologue, where the unicorn goddess creates tiny dragons from sea horses.
That sounds wonderful – I can’t wait. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
Shock! Of course they are real! To me anyway – they follow me around the house all day, chatting to me. When I finish writing a series, I experience grief at their loss, until I bond with the characters in my next work.
Of course they are, my humble apologies. 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?
Easy! Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series. Not only did she inspire my writing, but I believe that subconsciously that is why I moved to Australia. As a 10 year old, I dreamed of being a flying vet in Australia (like the flying doctors but for animals). My family and friends told me that was unrealistic as no such thing was needed, but I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting the first female flying vet, Dr Jan Hills, when my husband and I looked after her Northern Territory property.
What a wonderful backstory! Now take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago I had just signed my first book contract (for The Okapi Promise, my debut novel which is based on my experiences in Africa where I spent five months travelling in an old Bedford truck). I would tell ‘that me’ to find a niche for my writing that spoke of who I was. I thought at the time it was travel to wilderness areas, but I now know that my brand is based on animals, predominantly horses.
Animals. I do so love them. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
The first of The Equinora Chronicles, The Bloodwolf War, will be launched at Conflux in Canberra, Australia, early October 2019. The other two books in the trilogy, which are written, will follow a year apart. Meanwhile, I am working on a sequel trilogy in the same world, with new and exciting characters such as a goat god and griffins.
So exciting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
Interesting question. I guess I AM whichever character whose point of view I am writing at the time. To pick someone else’s character, I’d love to be Nighteyes, the wolf in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy.
Dear Nighteyes! Such a wise and resilient creature. He’s helped me through many a dark place.
Thank you so much Paula for sharing with me today.
Phyllis M. Newman is my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week. Born in New Orleans, Phyllis spent her formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross Country, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, and “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, ghostwatchers all.
Phyllis M Newman author
LWOTW: Lovely to meet you, Phyllis. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Phyllis: I was thirteen and attending junior high school. It was a murder mystery entitled M is for Murder. (At the time I was living in Dade County Florida, murder capital of the world.) I still have a copy of it somewhere (and since then I think someone stole my title.) Maybe I could brush it up and finish it? At the time, I didn’t have the maturity and discipline to complete it with a well thought out plot and exciting characters. I do remember that the main character was named after my best friend Rhudell.
Ahem, murder capital of the world…*shivers*…You totally should revisit that book! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Only if you dream can you write. Only if you have an imagination can you create fiction. Planning, not so much. I prefer to start out with a strong character who has a set of problems and just write as if I am that person. I develop in my mind only a vague idea of where she will go and what she will do and about my major themes. Those details come to me as I flesh out the story.
Case in point, when I started The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, all I knew about Anne, my main character, was that she was orphaned, she secured training as a typewriter, she could see spirits, and it was set in England, 1922. You can see that any writer could develop volumes out of such a situation. It’s quite exciting to write in this way. It’s an adventure.
I love your method! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
When a traditional publisher accepted my manuscript for publication. And I got a cash advance. And a very professional editor worked closely with me for months to polish and improve the writing. After a year, I was holding a book in my hand with my name on it. Talk about dreams!
That’s a completely magical feeling. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am polishing a finished manuscript, a novel in the same genre as The Vanished Bride of Northfield House. It is another gothic mystery with elements of the supernatural and a suspenseful romance. And, of course, trying to market and publicize my two other publications.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Just write. Stop dreaming and put your fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper. Whatever floats your boat!) The more you write, the better you are at it. And read. Learn what makes a good story. And don’t forget the craft of writing. Good story telling is an art, but good writing is a craft that anyone can learn. But you can only learn by doing. That’s more than one thing, but all of the above is important.
Excellent advice there, thank you. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
I wear yellow, the color of sunshine, at every opportunity
How lovely! Thank you so much, Phyllis, for being my guest on today’s last Word of the Week.
Michael Pryoris a Melbourne author who writes in many veins: from literary fiction to genre sci-fi to slapstick humour, depending on his mood, and very successfully too. Over fifty of Michael’s short stories have been published in Australia and overseas, and he has been shortlisted nine times for the Aurealis Award for Speculative Fiction. His short stories have twice been featured in Gardner Dozois’ ‘Highly Recommended’ lists in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy. Eight of his books have been awarded CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Notable Books status, and he’s been longlisted for a Golden Inky (YA book award) and shortlisted for the WAYRBA Award (Western Australia’s Young Readers Book Award).
He has also twice won the Best and Fairest Award at West Brunswick Amateur Football Club (Australian Rules), so I know he’s a fully rounded person!
Hi, Michael, great to talk with you. What project are you talking about today?
Oh, that’s so cool! Is there one aspect of The Graveyard Shift that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
The book is set in Melbourne, my home town, and it’s a bit of a love song to a city I love. After years of writing stories set in imaginary locations, it was fun to write in a setting that I knew well. Instead of trying to work out how far it was from Imaginary Castle A to Imaginary Desert B, I could just use my local knowledge.
What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
I’m driven by the fact that anything else I could be doing would be a whole lot less fun and wouldn’t suit me nearly as well. Besides, I want to be part of the ranks of storytellers that stretch back to the dawn of language, because storyteller is such a human activity, part of who we are.
So true! Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I liken it to using stepping stones to cross a swiftly flowing river. The stepping stones are well thought out ahead of time and are in place, nice and solid. Between, though, it’s fluid and changeable, able to take you anywhere.
That’s perfect. A plan with flexibility, I like that. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?