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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

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

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

Last Word: Barbara Quinn

Barbara Quinn is an award-winning short story writer and author of a variety of novels including her latest, The Summer Springsteen’s Songs Saved Me, a novel about the healing power of the music of the Boss.

A longtime Springsteen fan, and native New Yorker with roots in the Bronx, Long Island, and Westchester, Barbara lives with her husband in Bradley Beach, NJ and Holmes Beach, FL. She has travelled to forty-seven states and six continents where she’s encountered fascinating settings and inspiring people that populate her work.

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Barbara’s many past jobs include lawyer, record shop owner, reporter, process server, lingerie sales clerk, waitress, and postal worker. She enjoys spending time with her son and his family, planning her next adventure, and listening to the Boss.

With that background, I can’t wait to hear how Barbara approaches writing. ‘I’m sick of sitting right here trying to write this book’ (Dancing in the Dark) seems to be one line from the Boss that doesn’t apply!

LWOTW: Welcome, Barbara. Tell me about when you first realised that you are a writer.

Barbara: As a child I was drawn to books at an early age. I became lost in stories my parents read to me of far off lands and fairytales. I started writing stories and plays that my brother and I performed for family. I never stopped. My first produced play was for my Girl Scout troop. That was a fractured fairytale about a good wolf and an evil Red Riding Hood. Ah, I can still feel the joy caused by the audience clapping.

I love the sound of that version – the good wolf especially. Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?

I have a vivid imagination. I can’t control it but have learned to depend on it and to suddenly be taken someplace new and unexpected. Once there, other skills take over.

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What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Having my latest novel The Summer Springsteen’s Songs Saved Me published brought me so much pleasure. What a kick to see it out there. But the part that really made me happy was the incredible fan mail I received. There’s simply nothing like having complete strangers connect with my work to the extent that they are so moved they write and tell me about it. We are all human and that need to connect is real and is so rewarding when we accomplish it.

That sounds wonderful. What a great experience. What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

I’m looking forward to finishing another novel so stay tuned! And to traveling more now that my husband is retired.

If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Read widely. Write often. And find a place to share your work.

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

Alice in Wonderland! I so would love to jump down that rabbit hole.

That does sound like a great place to travel Thank you so much for talking with me today, Barbara. I can’t wait for news of the new novel.

Barbara’s Links:

Twitter: @BarbaraQuinn
Instagram: @authorbarbaraquinn
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Healthy.Lifestyle

Website: http://baquinn.wixsite.com/barbaraquinn

 

Last Word: Laura Laakso

Laura Laakso, my fabulous guest today on Last Word of the Week, is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She currently lives in Hertfordshire with her two dogs (and you know I love dog people). Books and storytelling have always been a big part of Laura’s life, from writing fanfiction to running tabletop roleplaying games and now writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, Laura works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses frighteningly useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists.

Laura’s debut novel, Fallible Justice, was published last November by the excellent Louise Walters Books and her next two books in the Wilde Investigations series, Echo Murder and Roots of Corruption are due for publication in June 2019 and March 2020. Laura’s Wilde Investigations are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem.

Laura Laakso

LWOTW: Laura, it’s wonderful to meet you! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.

Laura: Probably back at university, when I was preparing a Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying campaign. I got completely carried away with the world I’d created and suddenly realised that I cared more about the back story of my supporting characters than what my players were going to do in the present. Naturally, I had to write everything down. Many years later, I began dabbling in fanfiction, until an extraordinary beta reader showed that I have the skills to write original fiction and told me that I should do just that. My debut novel, Fallible Justice, was dedicated to him as a thank you.

That’s a great story! These days, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?

Dreams and imagination are the greatest tools a writer has. Daring to dream big and imagine a different world, and then putting them into words is what makes writing so exciting. You never know what your mind creates, both awake and asleep!

That said, I’m a big fan of planning these days, given that I write paranormal crime novels. Having a detailed plan in place before I start writing not only helps me remember all the details, but gives me confidence in the story arcs and red herrings. If I draw up a story progression and it looks more like a tree than a straight line, I know I’m off to a good start. About half the time, my characters ignore the plans completely, but I feel better knowing I at least tried to plan the story.

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I love characters who ignore plans! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Having readers contact me to say how much they loved one or more of my characters. It’s one thing for me to adore the people I’ve made up, but for others to share those feelings is simply extraordinary. My first reader even wrote me a fanfiction drabble about one of my characters, which I will always treasure. I recently dropped a few hints about my evil plans for future books and made people very anxious. I even received a few threats were I to start hurting their favourite characters.

Oh, that’s a sure sign of success! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

You mean aside from the good night’s sleep? My publisher and I are about to start work on Roots of Corruption, the third book in my Wilde Investigations series. I absolutely adored writing the story and I can’t wait to see how the editing process turns it into a beautiful novel. I’m also ridiculously excited to see what our talented cover designer Jennie Rawlings will come up with for this book.

If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Dream boldly. The world is full of rules and restrictions, both in terms of writing and in general, and you need believe that you can do the things that keep you going. Be ambitions, but write with self-compassion.

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

I’d love to be Miss Marple’s regular sidekick!

You’d be perfect in the role. And all those cups of tea and biscuits, how fabulous :-). Thank you so much for sharing with me today. Go Wilde!

Laura’s links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LLaaksoWriter

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

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

Website: https://lauralaaksobooks.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17986279.Laura_Laakso
Buy Laura’s books here:

https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/product-page/fallible-justice-by-laura-laakso
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fallible-Justice-Wilde-Investigations-Laakso/dp/1999780930

https://www.amazon.com/Fallible-Justice-Wilde-Investigations-Laakso/dp/1999780930/

https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/product-page/echo-murder

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07PDNVYQ1/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PDNVYQ1/

Last Word of the Week: Paula Harmon

Paula Harmon writes terrific books so many of you will know of her already (such as Murder Brittanica). I’m very glad to introduce Paula to LWOTW so we all have a chance to get to know a little more about her.

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LWOTW: Welcome, Paula! Tell us, when did you write your first story?

Paula: The first I can remember was when I was about six or so. It was about the Clangers because I was a huge fan and fundamentally wanted to live in a world a lot more exciting than my own.

Film and Television

The Clangers https://www.britishclassiccomedy.co.uk/the-clangers

And the Clangers were always exciting, I agree! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

I have very vivid dreams and they often lead to stories if I can remember them long enough to write them down. I’m also a great day-dreamer and spend a lot of time wondering ‘what if…’ – What if I went somewhere different? What if that person is in disguise? What if I found another world behind that door? Having said that I do plan stories a bit – the longer ones that is.

That sounds like a great combination of writerly imagination and organisation. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

I think getting wonderful feedback from readers and interacting with them at writers’ events. I have read from ‘Kindling’, ‘The Advent Calendar’ and ‘Murder Britannica’ and it’s fantastic when people respond with laughter or sighs or surprise in all the places you want them to. And it was great to be able to publish ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ in time to give it to my mother as an 80th birthday present. It is a tribute to my eccentric late father.

What are you most busy with at the moment?

I’m working on a sequel to ‘Murder Britannica’ which I hope to have out in 2019 if possible and on the fifth in the ‘Caster and Fleet’ Series. (By the time you read this, the fourth – ’The Case of the Masquerade Mob’ – will have been out a month.)

If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Write something regularly, even if it’s a couple of sentences or some dialogue – it keeps your writing muscles supple and you never know what it might lead to.

Great advice there! And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?

A deep wine red.

Thank you so much Paula for speaking with me this week.

8 covers 2(1)

Paula’s links:

https://paulaharmondownes.wordpress.com/

viewauthor.at/PHAuthorpage

https://www.facebook.com/pg/paulaharmonwrites

https://twitter.com/PaulaHarmon789

https://www.goodreads.com/paula_harmon

Something to Say: Liz Newell

Today on our occasional Something to Say series of interviews with a variety of creative folk, I’m very pleased to speak with Perth playwright Liz Newell, whose play Alone Outside (what a chilling title!) has finally reached us over here in the east of Australia after debuting in Perth in 2017.

STS: Welcome, Liz. You have exciting news for us?

Liz: My one-woman play Alone Outside is making its East Coast debut as part of Melbourne Fringe, thanks to the glorious guys at Lab Kelpie. It’s on in the Fringe Hub at Arts House from September 14-29. It’s a warm, funny, occasionally bittersweet exploration about the journey home – about how the things we leave often wait for us to get back, and about how we wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for where we’ve come from (whether we like it or not). The play premiered in my hometown Perth in 2017 as part of FRINGE WORLD Festival at The Blue Room Theatre, so this is its second outing, and my first play to be produced on the East Coast, so it’s a pretty exciting time.

Alone Outside - Promo Image featuring Sharon Davis

STS: Alone Outside sounds very interesting. What aspect of the play do you relate to most – the character, a scene, an effect? Can you tell us more about that?

Alone Outside is a pretty personal work for me – by no means autobiographical, because I’m nothing like Daphne is (I wish I were!), but it’s very much based on people and places I’ve experienced. I grew up in a small regional city in south-west WA and the story takes place during a woman’s first few days back in her small home town after a long absence. The coast, the rolling green hills, the little islands in the harbour, the cold nights and warm days, the dingy pubs, the school friends she hasn’t seen for ages who are all married now – it’s not much of a stretch for my imagination because I’ve experienced it first hand many times.

Daphne also wrestles with this sense of unease upon her return, with the knowledge that she doesn’t particularly enjoy being there anymore, but that so much of who she is now has to do with the place and its people. It’s strange to confront the things that make us who we are, and even stranger when we’re not sure if we like them anymore, and I think a lot of people who grew up in places or situations they don’t look back on fondly can relate to that.

Playwright Liz Newell and Performer Sharon Davis

Playwright Liz Newell and performer Sharon Davis.

STS: Yes, I totally agree. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Writing is the only thing I absolutely love doing and feel like I sort of know how to do. Other things I probably know how to do, but don’t enjoy, or I do enjoy, but I don’t know how to do them.

I draw a lot of inspiration and motivation from theatre and TV shows and any kinds of stories that I see and think are phenomenal in one way or another – well acted, well written, well structured, a solid story, a surprising character arc, anything. I saw Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (directed by Imara Savage and featuring Helen Thomson and Kate Box, amidst an all-star cast of ladies) in March this year and I still think about it nearly every day. I also recently devoured US sci-fi show Counterpart on SBSonDemand in a single weekend; it’s brilliantly acted, and a master class in narrative structure. To create something at least half as good as the things that light a fire in my belly, and maybe give some other audience member the experience that I once had, is the dragon I’m forever chasing.

A lot of my work is very character-driven and female-centric, and I think it’s really important, especially in this day and age, to give people the chance to see themselves onstage wherever possible – especially, with any due respect, people who aren’t Straight White Middle Class Males. I’d like to give a bit of a voice however I can to anyone who can’t see themselves in anything Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and others of the Canon have ever written.

STS: Chasing dragons, eh? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – Hemingway staring at a blank page until he sweats blood for example. What can you say about your process?

Hemingway’s “sit at a typewriter and bleed” is a classic. I think of that often and I think there’s an important lesson in there that I like to remember – that in order for words to really sit perfectly on the page, or for a story or scene to really sing, you do have to put a tiny piece of yourself into what you’re doing; some small truth which, if it weren’t there, the work would be lesser for it. The audience might never know what it truly means, and you might never tell anyone how true it is to you, but it’s still there, doing an important job.

I’m also a fan of the often-used expression that to write a first draft is to just “vomit onto the page” and deal with it later; the key is to just get something out as a starting point. It certainly feels like that sometimes when you’re pushing through a scene or plot point that you’re not convinced is working yet, and all the words on the page look like slop.

Bleeding, vomiting, it’s all pretty unpleasant stuff but then, the act of writing can be pretty brutal!

For my overall process, I tend to think of every beat or scene as a building block. I move them around, stack them on top of one another, replace them with bigger, better ones. Eventually, hopefully, you end up with something strong enough to bear the weight of the director, actors and creative team who will eventually jump up and down on it in rehearsals.

STS: Wonderful images; thank you for those! Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Disorganised. Stubborn. Ambitious. Determined. Inconsistent.

Playwright Liz Newell

Wow, some great foremost protagonist attributes there, Liz. Thank you so much for having Something to Say. It’s been a complete pleasure. Go catch that dragon.

 ALONE OUTSIDE plays at the Fringe Hub, Arts House, North Melbourne 14-29 September 2018. To book, go to http://bit.ly/AloneOutside

IMAGE CREDITS:

All Alone Outside promotional and rehearsal images of performer Sharon Davis are by Adam Fawcett.

Image of the Rockies and headshot feature our playwright Liz Newell.