Nine Naughty Questions with… Alissa Callen, author of Beneath Outback Skies.

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Alissa Callen

author of Beneath Outback Skies

Nine Naughty Questions

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1. I wonder, is a romance writer born or made? Please tell us a little about your life before publication.

A lifetime ago I was a counselor and saw firsthand life doesn’t always deliver a happy ending. So I was drawn to the romance genre where I could guarantee my characters would always receive a happily-ever-after. After a childhood spent chasing sheep on the family farm, it was natural my hyperactive imagination then played itself out against a bush backdrop. I now live on a small slice of rural Australia in central western NSW that provides constant inspiration, whether it is our river pumps failing (yet again), the grass fire that consumed our front paddock or simply the sight of my Little Farmer cuddling his dog on the back of the ute.

2. For all the glitz and the glam associated with the idea of romance novels, writing about and from the heart is personal and very revealing. Do you think this is why romance readers are such devoted fans? And do you ever feel exposed?

A romance novel, or any novel, is a work of fiction. But like any creative project a little piece of an artist or author will bleed onto the canvas or page. And it is this emotional intensity and authenticity that will engage an audience and transport them into another world. As the thoughts, feelings and actions of my characters are intrinsic to them, no matter how much my own emotions might leach into their fictional lives, I don’t feel exposed.

3. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Beneath Outback Skies is a novel featuring red dust, romance and secrets.

Paige Quinn will let nothing and no one distract her from caring for her wheelchair-bound father, Connor, and fighting for her remote, drought-stricken property, Banora Downs. Least of all a surprise farm-stay guest named Tait Cavanaugh, whose smooth words are as lethal as his movie-star smile.

Except Paige can’t help noticing that, for a city-boy, Tait seems unexpectedly at home on the land. And he does ask a lot of questions.
It doesn’t matter how much he helps out or how much laughter he brings into her life, she soon suspects he is harbouring a big secret – the real reason he has come to Banora Downs.

Grab a copy of Alissa’s novel Beneath Outback Skies here

4. Is the life of a published Romance writer… well… Romantic?

I’d love to say yes but reality will argue otherwise. I wave my husband off to work wearing boring pyjamas and with glazed over eyes as mentally plot my next scene. Hours spent on the computer also preclude intimate candle-lit dinners and at times even regular dinners. Grilled cheese sandwiches are my regular ‘go to’ food when lose track of time.

5. Of all of the Romantic moments in your life is there one moment, more dear than all the rest, against which you judge all the Romantic elements in your writing? If so can you tell us about that special moment?

One special and ‘I’m never doing that again’ moment was the day our first child was born. There is something about a baby that deepens any relationship and strengths the emotional connection between two people. Needless to say I went on to have three more children.

6. Sex in Romance writing today ranges from ‘I can’t believe they’re allowed to publish this stuff’ explicit to ‘turn the light back on I can see something’ mild. How important do you think sex is in a romance novel?

The heat level of a book, let alone the inclusion of a sex scene or scenes, depends on both the genre as well as an author’s voice. For some stories the romantic journey of the characters is shown solely as an emotional one, while for other books both the emotional and physical journey will be charted.

7. Romance writers are often Romance readers – please tell us your five favourite (read and re-read) romance novels or five novels that influenced your work most?

1. Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen

2. Persuasion – Jane Austen

3. Border Laird’s Bride – Allison Butler

4. The Rider of Lost Creek – Louis L’amour

5. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

8. Erotic Romance writing is ‘so hot right now’, do you have any thoughts on why?

The publishing landscape is always changing and it is so interesting to see what the next ‘hot’ thing will be. The advent of e-readers and tablets has added a new dimension of accessibility and anonymity that suits the erotic genre. No longer will print covers of erotic romance books raise eyebrows on the train or bus commute home.

9. Lastly, what advice do you give aspiring writers?

To read. Anything and everything. To also not lose sight of the magic that happens when you put fingers to the keyboard. Now, more than ever with social media, writing is a business and the joy of finding the perfect word or having your wayward plot ducks line up in a neat row can sometimes become stifled.

Thanks for joining us Alissa!


beneath-outback-skiesBeneath Outback Skies

by Alissa Callen

A captivating rural romance featuring an indomitable young woman determined to save her family farm, and the city-boy who is not all he seems...

Paige Quinn will let nothing and no one distract her from caring for her wheelchair-bound father, Connor, and fighting for her remote, drought-stricken property, Banora Downs. Least of all a surprise farm-stay guest named Tait Cavanaugh, whose smooth words are as lethal as his movie-star smile.

Except Paige can’t help noticing that, for a city-boy, Tait seems unexpectedly at home on the land. And he does ask a lot of questions…

It doesn’t matter how much he helps out or how much laughter he brings into her life, she soon suspects he is harbouring a big secret – the real reason he has come to Banora Downs…

Grab a copy of Beneath Outback Skies here

Sharon Penman, author of A King’s Ransom, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sharon Penman

author of A King’s Ransom, The Sunne in Splendour, Prince of Darkness and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in New York City and grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey in its pre-casino days. I have a B.A. in history from the University of Texas and a J.D. degree from Rutgers School of Law. I practiced law in New Jersey  and California for about four years, although it felt much longer; I considered it penance for my sins, past, present, and future!

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I always wanted to be a writer, but I never expected to be able to make a living as one.   When you hear those stories about artists starving in garrets, they usually have writers as roommates.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Sharon Penman

That life was black or white with few shades of grey in-between.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I find music very inspirational and soothing, too, if I am struggling with the dreaded Writer’s Block.  I usually have classical music playing in the background as I write and sometimes medieval music.  For my last novel, A King’s Ransom, I often listened to the haunting lament that Richard Coeur de Lion wrote while he was held prisoner in Germany; it can be found on YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVRjmTdM4c8&feature=related. Greensleeves is another song that is often heard at my house. I think photography is an art form, too, and my home is decorated with many stunning photos of Wales done by a Welsh photographer friend of mine, Dave O’Shea.  I often found myself gazing at them as I worked on my trilogy set in medieval Wales during the thirteenth century.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I am definitely not a Renaissance woman; I cannot sing, dance, paint, etc. But I have always felt the urge—the need—to write. I wrote my first short story at age six or seven, about a horse named Queen. I wrote my first novel in my early teens; thankfully that one has long since vanished, for I suspect it would be highly embarrassing to read it today.

Wanting to write was only half of the equation, though. I also needed something I wanted to write about. I did not find that until I was in college, when I stumbled onto the story of Richard III. I was interested enough to want to find out more about him and discovered, to my surprise, that there was no proof that his nephews had been murdered, much less that he had done the deed. I was so indignant that I began telling my friends about this terrible injustice done this long-dead medieval king. They had a uniform response; they said, “Richard who?” and then their eyes began to glaze over. So it was then that I had my epiphany—that this was the story I was supposed to write. Twelve years later, it would be published as The Sunne in Splendour and I was no longer a reluctant lawyer; I was a very happy author.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My latest published novel was A King’s Ransom, the sequel to Lionheart and my final book in my series about the first Plantagenets, Henry II and his controversial queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, sometimes known as the Devil’s Brood.  I’d initially intended to end their history with the third book,  but they had other ideas and so I found myself writing a five book trilogy about them!  I am currently working on a novel set in the kingdom of Jerusalem in the twelfth century, Outremer—the  Land Beyond the Sea.  After that, I hope to resurrect the career of the hero of my medieval mysteries, Justin de Quincy, who first appeared in The Queen’s Man, the queen in question being the above-mentioned Eleanor of Aquitaine. I love doing the mysteries, for they give me greater freedom to exercise my imagination than the historicals do, and I am delighted that they are finally available as e-books in Australia and the United Kingdom, thanks to the diligence of my new publisher, Head of Zeus.

Grab a copy of Sharon Penman’s novel A King’s Ransom here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope that my novels awaken in readers an interest in history in general and medieval history in particular. I am always so pleased when readers tell me that one of my novels inspired them to want to learn more about the characters or the era itself. History matters. We can learn from it if we are lucky.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

There are so many writers whom I admire. Mark Twain for being Mark Twain.  The Bronte sisters for defying a world in which women were not expected or allowed to be creative.  Harper Lee for writing a novel that I consider well-nigh perfect, To Kill a Mockingbird.   Geraldine Brooks for taking me back in time to seventeenth century New England in Caleb’s Crossing, and Alice Hoffman for doing the same in her novel of Masada, The Dovekeepers.   Bernard Cornwell for writing the best battle scenes I’ve ever read.  I am an avid reader as well as a writer, and am grateful that there are so many good writers out there.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

World peace? No, I do not think I’ve ever set very ambitious goals for myself as a writer; I was willing to settle for reasonable ones.  I want to entertain and inform readers, to share my love of history.  I think historical novels are a form of time-travel, so writers of that genre have a responsibility to their readers be as accurate as possible.  I write of people who once lived and I feel a sense of responsibility to them, too, since their lives are the clay that I use to create my books. A fellow writer, Laurel Corona, said it perfectly: Do not defame the dead.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Persevere. Remember that writing is as subjective as it is solitary, so reviewers and critics and editors are not always right, but pick your battles, especially with editors. Bear in mind that there has not been a writer ever born whose book could not benefit from editing. Take comfort from the knowledge that writing is a skill that can be honed by practice, rather like polishing a diamond. And be thankful that you are writing now in an age where you are not totally dependent upon the good will or judgment of publishers; for the first time, writers have options, among them the opportunity to reach out directly to readers via social media. I see that as a very good thing   Facebook has allowed me to become friends with so many of my Australian readers in a way that would not have been possible even ten years ago, and they have done more to promote my books Down Under than an army of agents or publicists.

Sharon, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of A King’s Ransom here


A King’s Ransom

by Sharon Penman

Travelling home from the crusades, Richard was shipwrecked off the coast of Austria, after an encounter with pirates. Richard should have been under the Church’s protection, but in Outremer he had given the Duke of Austria good reason to loathe him and he was captured. He was immediately claimed by the Holy Roman Emperor, who also bore a grudge against the captive English king. Richard was to spend fifteen months imprisoned.

For a man of his fiery nature, it was truly shameful. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, began to move heaven and earth to raise a staggering ransom, travelling to Germany herself to buy the release of her favourite son. But it was not to be that easy. At the eleventh hour, Heinrich announced that he had had a better offer from the French king, Philippe, and Richard’s own treacherous brother, John, offering Heinrich an even larger sum to continue Richard’s captivity – or to turn him over to their tender mercies.

Grab a copy of A King’s Ransom here

Alexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Alexandra Cameron

author of Rachael’s Gift

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Sydney. We lived in Paddington until we moved to Mackay in North Queensland. When I was eight we moved to a small town in country NSW called Currabubula where I attended the local school. There were forty-eight children from kindergarten to sixth grade and all in one classroom. We then lived in Willoughby, Vaucluse and Randwick. I went to high school in Rose Bay.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be an architect. My father is a builder and we were always living in a house that was being ‘done’ perhaps I wanted to design our house my way. When I was eighteen I wanted to be a film director and decided to study film at university. When I was thirty I was writing.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Alexandra Cameron

When I was eighteen I firmly believed that if you were married and your partner cheated on you then you should leave them immediately. I did not understand the complexities of marriage. Things at eighteen were very black and white.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

There were so many books that I have loved over the years and that have stayed with me. So much so that it is only when I come across them again that I think, Oh yes, that book meant a lot to me at the time. Tim Winton’s, The Riders, has always stuck with me because it is fast paced and yet has so much depth and plus it is a tragic story – I could never understand how a mother could abandon her child. I also loved the writing – I hadn’t known colloquial language could be so poetic and beautiful; it was ground breaking to me as an Australian.

My parents’ collection of LPs was limited to say the least but they did have one Simon and Garfunkel record and this is where I first heard the song, America. It’s a catchy song about a guy who escapes on a bus with his girlfriend to look for ‘America’; it starts out light-hearted but then becomes sad when we realise the guy feels so disillusioned with his world he can’t even voice it to his girlfriend. Mostly, I love how one line can paint an entire story. “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”

Breakfast At Tiffany’s is probably a film on every girl’s rite of passage. It’s the pinnacle of Hollywood sixties glamour and the dresses, the parties, Holly Golightly’s French idioms, Audrey Hepburn at her most stylish and the sweet love story are captivating. The film barely resembles its novella roots and is much much darker, but I couldn’t help love the candy-coloured version…

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I love the intimacy of a novel. It’s just you and the reader. Everyone takes something different away. As an author you have the space to create an entire world, whereas many other art forms require a team of people (like film etc…) I enjoy the solitary process.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The novel begins when gifted artist, fourteen-year-old Rachael, accuses her teacher of sexual misconduct, but the principal has suspicions that she is lying. Her father, Wolfe, is worried about his daughter’s odd behaviour but her mother, Camille, will not hear a bad word against her. A fraught investigation ensues, culminating in a showdown on the other side of the world in Paris. The story is about ambition, art, talent, truth, how we pass unresolved issues from one generation to the next and a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter.

Grab a copy of Alexandra Cameron’s novel Rachael’s Gift here

 7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they enjoy the story and perhaps reflect on their own lives in some way. What would they do if they were in a similar situation as the characters?

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

There are so many! Margaret Atwood is a good one. She is a longstanding brilliant writer with stories ranging from the historical to the bizarre – what an original and clever mind.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Gosh. I hope to always learn more about writing and life and to consistently produce work of a high standard – I guess that is quite ambitious. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

If you have the desire to write then sit down and do it. Everyday.

Alexandra, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Rachael’s Gift here


Rachael’s Gift

by Alexandra Cameron

Rachael is a child prodigy, a talented artist whose maturity and eloquence is far beyond her fourteen years. She’s also energetic, charming and beautiful, beguiling everyone around her. To her mother, Camille, she is perfect. But perfection requires work, as Camille knows all too well.

For Rachael has another extraordinary gift: a murky one that rears its head from time to time, threatening to unbalance all the family has been working towards. When Rachael accuses her art teacher of sexual misconduct, Wolfe and Camille are drawn into a complex web of secrets and lies that pit husband against wife, and have the power to destroy all their lives.

Set in contrasting worlds of Australia and Paris, told from the perspective of husband and wife, Rachael’s Gift is a detective story of the heart, about a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter and a father’s quest for the truth.

 Grab a copy of Rachael’s Gift here

Sophie Hannah, author of The Monogram Murders, answers Ten Terrifying Questions.

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sophie Hannah

author of The Monogram Murders, The Telling Error and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Manchester, England. Raised and schooled there too! I lived in Manchester until I was 25.  At that point, after publishing a book of poetry, The Hero and the Girl Next Door, I was offered my dream job – Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge.  (This basically meant Writer in Residence.)  Working at Trinity was like a dream come true – such a beautiful place, and I fell in love with Cambridge too.  I now live there, and have no intention of leaving!

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve: I think I wanted to be a writer. By eighteen, however, I was going through a phase that involved doing and saying nothing my parents could possibly approve of, and they approved a bit too much of my writing, so at eighteen I announced that I was going to give university a miss and train to be a hairdresser instead. By thirty, I was already a writer and wanted to carry on being one.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Sophie Hannah

I used to think that in order to be a good person, you had to make an enemy of bad people and fight them and their influence throughout your life.  I later realised that fighting anyone or anything – even those who richly deserve it – cannot have a positive effect.  If you spend your time fighting and hating, you’re only emitting more negative energy and, ultimately, making things worse.  The best way to be happy and make the world a better place is to be kind and compassionate, to everyone, always.  (Of course, I’m not a saint and can’t always manage to put this lofty ideal into practice – and when I can’t, I just shut myself away in the house and swear and chainsmoke until I’m able to be civilised again!)

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
See Jane Run by Joy Fielding
The Memory Game by Nicci French

I love music and paintings too, but books have always come first.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Novels are, and have always been, my favourite thing to read – and crime novels/mystery novels in particular.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Monogram Murders is a mystery featuring Agatha Christie’s superstar detective, Hercule Poirot.  It starts with Poirot encountering a distressed young woman in a  coffee house.  The woman, who is obviously terrified, says someone is trying to kill her, but insists that she doesn’t want Poirot to try to save her life, or for her killer to be caught.  Then three guests at an exclusive London hotel are murdered…and, because of something the woman in the coffee house said to him, Poirot suspects a connection and sets out to investigate.

Grab a copy of Sophie’s latest novel The Monogram Murders here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

More than anything, I want readers to be gripped by the story and desperate to find out the solution to the mystery.  I want them to be unable to guess until all is revealed!

murder-on-the-orient-express8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Agatha Christie.  Because she had all the best ideas, and kept having them, decade after decade. She is and will always be the Queen of Crime.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My ambition is that each of my books should be better and more satisfying than the one before it.  I want to become a better writer.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Keep at it. And be very choosy about whose advice you take.  Not everyone is as clever and helpful as everyone else.

Sophie, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Monogram Murders here


The Monogram Murders

by Sophie Hannah

The bestselling novelist of all time.

The world’s most famous detective.

The literary event of the year.

Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s novels have been sold around the world. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand-new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London – a diabolically clever puzzle sure to baffle and delight both Christie’s fans as well as readers who have not yet read her work. Written with the full backing of Christie’s family, and featuring the most iconic detective of all time, this new novel is a major event for mystery lovers the world over.

 Grab a copy of The Monogram Murders here

What Cathryn Read – The August Round Up (by bestselling author Cathryn Hein)

Australian novelist Cathryn Hein, author of The French Prize, Heartland and much more gives her verdict on the books she’s been reading.

A rather mixed bag this month, with everything from an unputdownable epic fantasy romance series to a fabulous sports romance and a gruesome murder mystery. Great fun!


Days of Blood and Starlight / Dreams of Gods and Monsters

by Laini Taylor

This series… I’m not sure I have the words. It’s incredible. The first, Daughter of Smoke and Bone enthralled me deeply enough, but parts two and three? I honestly couldn’t stop reading. These are big fat bricks of books and I devoured them. Which is amazing because fantasy is not something I often read.

I’m not sure I can tell you anything about the plot of these two without giving away too much of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I wouldn’t want to spoil this series for anyone. What I will say is that the scope of the overarching plot is breathtaking in its complexity, the writing is rich and mesmerising, and the themes are huge. As for the love story between the chimera-raised Karou and seraphim hero Akira… heartbreaking and beautiful. Sigh.

Start with Daughter of Smoke and Bone and keep going. This series is a triumph.

Grab a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy here


We Were Liars

by E. Lockhart

I did not realise this was a young adult book when I bought it. It appeared in the publisher Allen & Unwin’s newsletter and I liked the sound of it so decided to give it a whirl. I can’t say I’m sorry I did because it was a very enjoyable read with a nice twist at the end. The writing style was interesting, using single words and brief paragraphing that some might find irritating but worked for me because I felt it reflected the narrator Cadence Sinclair’s fractured mind.

We Were Liars is coming of age story with a suspense element. Cadence is from an old money family who spend their summers on a private island. There, she hangs with her cousins – the self-labelled Liars – living a spoiled life. One summer something goes terribly wrong but Cadence can’t remember what it is. Her mind blocks it out. As she narrates her story and tries to resurrect her memory, she relives the lead up to that time; the family’s acute dysfunction, her friendships and loves. The moment when everything clicks into place in the end is nicely satisfying.

 Grab a copy of We Were Liars here


The Devil in Denim

by Melanie Scott

Dark fantasy readers will know Melanie Scott as M. J Scott, of Half Light City series fame, but the Melbourne based author has turned her hand to sports romance. And what’s not to enjoy in that!

Maggie Jameson’s dad has owned the New York Saints major league baseball team forever. She grew up breathing the Saints, the team acting as a surrogate family after the death of her mother, and the players stepping into the role of protective elder brothers. She, in turn, is like the team’s mascot, and is affectionately known as Saint Maggie. All she wants is to take over the running of the team that is her life, except her dad throws a curveball and suddenly sells the Saints to a trio of rather hunky, super-successful men. Conflict ensues!

I loved how this book started. Maggie slamming down tequila in a bar only to be rescued rather manfully by our hot hero Alex Winters. This had a nice rawness to it and told me I was in for a rollicking adult romance. The rest didn’t disappoint either. The dialogue between Maggie and Alex was fantastic – witty and sexy – and the racy bits suitably so. A perfect read to relax with.

This is the beginning of a related trilogy featuring the Saints’ three new owners , with Angel in Armani coming in January. Can’t wait!

  Grab a copy of The Devil in Denim here


The Devil’s Workshop

by Alex Grecian

I adore Victorian era set stories, in particular mysteries and crime and the more gas-light atmospheric the better. A legacy, I expect, from my deep love for Sherlock Holmes (hurry up Anthony Horowitz with Moriarty).

This is the third in Grecian’s Murder Squad series and probably his goriest. The Yard and The Black Country contained their fair share of icky murders but in resurrecting Jack the Ripper Grecian has made this book particularly blood-soaked. With some of the plot carrying over from the previous books I suggest reading books one and two first to get the most out of this.

The Devil’s Workshop sees Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith investigating a suspiciously imaginative breakout from Bridewell Prison. Now some of the nation’s worst murderers are on the loose and one of the sickest knows where Day and his heavily pregnant wife Claire lives. During the ensuing man-hunt we’re sent twisting and tripping over and under London, following not only Day and Hammersmith but Grecian’s collection of evil-minded monsters. The conclusion had me fretting badly. Not one for late night reading!

Grab a copy of The Devil’s Workshop here


Hein, CathrynThanks Cathryn Hein, we look forward to seeing what you have read next month!

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

Now living in Melbourne, Cathryn writes full-time.

Click here to see Cathryn’s author page

The French Prize

by Cathryn Hein

An ancient riddle, a broken vow – a modern-day quest for a medieval treasure.

Australian-born Dr. Olivia Walker is an Oxford academic with a reputation as one of the world’s leading Crusade historians and she’s risked everything on finding one of the most famous swords in history – Durendal. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the sword is fabled to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court, and Olivia is determined to prove to her detractors that the legend is real. Her dream is almost within reach when she discovers the long-lost key to its location in Provence, but her benefactor – Raimund Blancard – has other ideas.

For more than a millennium, the Blancard family have protected the sword. When his brother is tortured and killed by a man who believes he is Roland’s rightful heir, Raimund vows to end the bloodshed forever. He will find Durendal and destroy it, but to do that he needs Olivia’s help.

Now Olivia is torn between finding the treasure for which she has hunted all her life and helping the man she has fallen in love with destroy her dream. And all the while, Raimund’s murderous nemesis is on their trail, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.

Grab a copy of The French Prize here

Simon Rickard, author of Heirloom Vegetables, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Simon Rickard

author of Heirloom Vegetables

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Port Macquarie, NSW, but my family moved to Canberra when I was four, so I consider myself a Canberran.

Growing up in Canberra in the 1970s was utopian. In the afterglow of the Whitlam era there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the Arts and Sciences, and we had a public education system second to none in the world. I count myself very lucky that I grew up in Canberra at that time.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, I wanted to be a botanist; at eighteen, a musician; and at thirty, a gardener. I have always loved plants and nature, as well as early music. I have found it difficult to confine myself to one career, so I have taken two: music and gardening.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

It has taken me most of my adult life to realise that the world does not exist in black and white; that between those extremes lies a vast area of grey. This is an ongoing journey for me, and I feel it’s going quite well!

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Moving to Canberra at the age of four was probably a defining event in my life. Although I missed out on growing up on the beach, I had access to the best public education imaginable. Without the free public education opportunities I received in Canberra in the 70s and 80s, I suspect my life would be considerably less rich than it is now.

Living in the Netherlands for three years was a transformative experience, which really broadened my horizons.

Being offered a job as a gardener the Diggers Club was an important turning point for me. At that time in my life I was about to embark on a PhD in music and a career in academe, which would have been wonderful, except for the fact that academics are continually forced to spend too much of their time, cap in hand, begging for money, rather being allowed to concentrate on doing what they are good at. At least mowing lawns and clipping hedges for a living I would not have to suffer that indignity.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Books are anything but obsolete. They work well as a technology, and I can’t see any viable alternative for replacing them soon. Think about it: you can no longer access the information stored on a floppy disc or cassette tape from 15 years ago, but you can still read a book from the year 1500.

One particular quality I like in books is that they are scrutinised by many sets of eyes before they get into print. With the internet, by contrast, anybody with a computer can publish any half-baked idea or half-truth they like. Gardening websites are awash with absolute twaddle, which reproduces itself at a rate of knots and then comes to be accepted as ‘fact’. I wanted to publish a book in part to help counter this alarming trend.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

My latest book, Heirloom Vegetables, is a celebration of the beauty and diversity of heirloom vegetables. It is predominantly a social history of vegetables, telling the stories about where humans and vegetables have been together, and where we might go in the future. It puts vegetables into their broader family contexts, as a way of showing just how much humans have manipulated and changed vegetables to suit our own ends over many millennia of domestication. The final section of the book gives readers advice on how to grow their own heirlooms, based on my experience as a gardener.

Grab a copy of Simon’s latest novel Heirloom Vegetables here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

I would like to see greedy, rapacious and self-interested people excluded from holding positions of power.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Can I have three?

I admire the 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, for the dignity and forbearance he has shown in the face of some very ugly provocation.

I admire Julian Burnside for speaking up for human rights, and calling out the mean-spirited, inhumane policies of successive governments.

Most of all I admired my late grandmother, who showed me how few possessions you need to be happy, and how to be thankful for what you have got. She lived her life very simply, but she radiated love and contentment.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To give away ambition and live like my grandmother.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Be yourself, and write what you know.

Simon, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Heirloom Vegetables here


Heirloom Vegetables

by Simon Rickard

‘Vegetables are masterpieces of human ingenuity – their pasts and futures are in our hands.’

How often do you hear someone complain that tomatoes don’t taste like they used to? It’s becoming a common concern, as food production is increasingly controlled by multinational corporations more interested in profit than flavour. People who care about their food are growing their own vegetables in droves – and especially heirlooms for their wonderfully diverse flavours, shapes and colours. Not to mention their rich history and weird and wonderful names – who could resist a lettuce called ‘Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed’, not be intrigued by the potato that ‘Makes the Daughter-in-Law Cry’, or fail to be moved by the ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ bean?

In this lively, passionate and at times political introduction to the world of heirloom vegetables, gardener Simon Rickard describes the history of many of his favourite varieties, encourages you to get growing yourself, and explains why he believes edible gardening is so important to our future – and the future of the planet.

 Grab a copy of Heirloom Vegetables here

Kimberley Freeman, author of Evergreen Falls, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kimberley Freeman

author of Evergreen Falls, Wildflower Hill and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in London to Australian and New Zealand parents who brought me back to Australia when I was three. I was raised at Redcliffe, which is a city just north of Brisbane on the way towards the Sunshine Coast. I attended Humpybong state school, which is famous for having schooled the Bee Gees. It’s directly across from the beach, and during whale watching season we would often find ourselves down at the back fence watching the passing migration.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At all those ages I wanted to be a writer, because I just didn’t think I would be good at anything else.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I was a bit of a rebel and I strongly rejected the suburban lifestyle, the barbecue on the patio, the ordinary life. I never wanted to have children. Now I love all those things and I love my two children.

Author: Kimberley Freeman (aka Kim Wilkins)

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Studying English literature at university brought me into contact with some of the most amazing poetry. I can’t and don’t write poetry but I have certainly been influenced by the works of writers such as Tennyson and Keats and Shakespeare, the way that they put words together, the rhythm of their sentences. I must have read Tithonus by Tennyson one hundred times and I’ve yet to make it through without sobbing. Recently I read Beowulf in the original old English with the group of colleagues at the University and it was one of the defining moments of my intellectual life. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of my all-time favourite novels, and I love that puts a woman’s experience at the very centre of the story. Jane is a fabulous character with a strong moral compass.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I actually did muck around with music for quite a while, I studied opera, and I played in rock bands. But what I love about writing is that I can express myself in private and edit and polish my thoughts before I have to put them in front of anybody. Performance really isn’t for me, though I do still love music and I still sing a lullaby to my children every night.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Evergreen Falls is a novel set in two time periods: 1926 and the present. In the 20s, a naive young waitress at a luxury hotel in the Blue Mountains falls in love with the wrong man entirely, triggering a set of tragic circumstances that are covered up by everyone involved. In the present, a woman who is searching for meaning in her own life comes across a bundle of old love letters that seem to hint at a long buried secret.

Grab a copy of Kimberley Freeman’s novel Evergreen Falls here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

What I want most of all is for people to feel how I feel when reading a good book: the world goes away and you’re falling through the pages, wishing you could slow down but unable to stop, and afterwards feeling is that you’ve been on an adventure.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire Marian Keyes, because her books make me laugh and cry, because she has suffered such a public battle with depression, an illness which afflicts so many but which so few talk about.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My goals are not ambitious. For me the practice of writing is its own reward. I get to spend a lot of time in my imagination, with my imaginary friends who are always fascinating. I just want to be able to keep writing, and maybe one day have a house with a view of the sea. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read a lot, write a lot, and enjoy the process. If you’re not passionate about it, don’t bother.

Kimberley, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Evergreen Falls here


evergreen-fallsEvergreen Falls

by Kimberley Freeman

1926: Violet Armstrong is one of the few remaining members of staff working at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel as it closes down over winter. Only a handful of guests are left, including the heir to a rich grazing family, his sister and her suave suitor. When a snowstorm moves in, the hotel is cut off and they are all trapped. No one could have predicted what would unfold. When the storm clears they must all keep the devastating secrets hidden.

2014: After years of putting her sick brother’s needs before her own, Lauren Beck leaves her home and takes a job at a Blue Mountains cafe, the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel’s renovations. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect who is overseeing the project, and an attraction begins to grow. In a wing of the old hotel, Lauren finds a series of passionate love letters dated back to 1926, alluding to an affair – and a shocking secret.If she can unravel this long-ago mystery, will it make Lauren brave enough to take a risk and change everything in her own life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother’s life, a rich and satisfying tale of intrigue, heartbreak and love from the author of the bestselling Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill.

Grab a copy of Evergreen Falls here

 

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