Joanna Courtney, author of The Chosen Queen, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

the-chosen-queen

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Joanna Courtney

author of The Chosen Queen

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 St Andrews in Scotland, so definitely consider myself a Scot at heart even though we moved to England when I was only a few months old. Bar lots of lovely visits to grandparents over the border, I’ve been in England ever since, growing up in a village in the Midlands with my parents, and my brother and sister.

I then headed off to Cambridge University to study English literature and from there took a sideways turn into factory management, helping to run an old-fashioned textile mill in Lancashire. In my spare time, though, I was always writing and when I met my husband and gave up full time work to have children, I turned to writing to keep me sane between nappies, as well as to fulfil a lifelong dream.

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

Easy – I wanted to be a writer, a writer and a writer! Why, I’m not so sure about – I just have this itch to shape the world into coherent narratives!

Joanna-Courtney-Barnden1-200x200-circle3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I think that, in common with many eighteen year olds, I believed it was possible to create a ‘perfect life’. I now know that there’s no such thing really and you just have to make the most of everything that you do have that’s good. Right now, for me, that’s a wonderful family, a lovely cosy house and the publication of my first novel.

Becoming ‘a writer’ has been my dream all the way, so whilst it’s crazy juggling being a wife and mother with my work, I’d still say that it’s pretty perfect in a messy, wonderfully bonkers sort of way!

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 am an avid reader and always have been so any number of books have had a strong influence on me, but my favourite is definitely Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles for its rich sense of journey for poor, brave Tess.

I love music, though I’m no connoisseur and generally like it best for dancing to! One piece that did really inspire me, though, was the slightly obscure ‘Liar’s Bar’ by The Beautiful South from the 90s. I loved this song so much that I wrote a whole novel inspired by it. It hasn’t yet made the light of day but perhaps at some point I’ll be able to go back to it.

As far as art goes, I’m even less of a connoisseur than I am of music. I do, however, have this innate love of pictures with paths leading off into the horizon and as a writer that’s the way I approach my stories – as paths that are going to lead both me and, hopefully, the reader somewhere enticing.

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

I didn’t actually start out writing novels. For many years I published short stories. This was mainly because I was bringing up small children so only had the odd hour here and there in which to write but it was also a wonderful way to hone my writing, to find my voice, and to learn the vital skill of pleasing a targeted audience.

I’ve had over 200 short stories published in the English women’s magazines and have loved my time crafting shorter fiction but I’ve also always had a strong pull towards the novel as there is something deeply satisfying about the longer format. It gives you a chance to develop a character and really draw the reader into their world. It also offers so much scope for twists and turns and, when it comes to historical fiction, I love the space that it gives me to bring a period to life and to create a narrative that can lead a reader through a complicated set of events in a coherent and exciting way.

the-chosen-queen6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Chosen Queen is not just my latest but my first ever full novel and I’m so very, very pleased to see it out on the shelves. It aims to tell the tale of the time leading up to 1066 from the women’s side – a long neglected and hopefully engaging way of looking at a year of battles that shaped England’s history forever.

It’s the story of Edyth of Mercia, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, whose family were exiled to the wild Welsh court where she was married to the charismatic King Griffin of Wales. This match catapulted her into a bitter feud with England in which(in my interpretation of her story) her only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana. But as 1066 dawns and Harold is forced to take the throne of England, Edyth – now a young widow – is asked to make an impossible choice that has the power to change the future of England forever…

The Chosen Queen is the first in the Queens of the Conquest trilogy, with the next two following the same period but from the viewpoint of two others – Elizaveta of Kiev, wife of Harald Hardrada, the Viking king; and Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the eventual conqueror. They will come out in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Grab a copy of Joanna’s new book The Chosen Queen here

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

I really hope that my books will give readers a strong sense of the period leading up to 1066 and allow them to experience life back then through the pages. I also hope they might learn something that surprises them a little, but above all else, I hope that they are just able to get carried away by the heroine’s journey.

Getting the history right is very important to me and I do a lot of research to try and ensure that I do so, but above all else I want to write a good story that involves and satisfies the reader. If readers can come away feeling that they have known and loved Edyth I will be delighted.

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

the-king-s-curseMy contemporary writing heroines are Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory as they both write such well-researched, lively and gripping novels.

If I can grab readers as those two writers do, I will consider myself successful.

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

I suppose I want to be a bestseller. I’d love above all else to be one of those writers whose next novel is eagerly anticipated by readers. I’d love them to rush out to buy it feeling that they can trust me to deliver a wonderful story and I intend to work very hard to achieve that.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Just write. Courses can be good, ‘how to’ books can be good, market research and reading everything that’s out there can also be good, but at the end of the day you won’t be a writer unless you write and you won’t have a book to sell unless you put your head down and start the first chapter, then the next, then the next.

There’s nothing more frightening than a blank page, so just start filling them and enjoy it!

Joanna, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Chosen Queen here


the-chosen-queenThe Chosen Queen

by Joanna Courtney

As a young woman in England’s royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.

When Edyth’s family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales – but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth’s only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.

As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.

Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .

The Chosen Queen is the perfect blend of history, fast-paced plot and sweeping romance with a cast of strong female characters – an unforgettable read.

About the Author

Joanna Courtney has wanted to be a writer ever since she could read. As a child she was rarely to be seen without her head in a book and she was also quick to pick up a pen. After spending endless hours entertaining her siblings with made up stories, it was no surprise when Joanna pursued her passion for books during her time at Cambridge University – where she combined her love of English and History by specialising in Medieval Literature.

 

 Grab a copy of The Chosen Queen here

Lucy Treloar, author of Salt Creek, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

salt-creekThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Lucy Treloar

author of Salt Creek

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 Malaysia, where my family lived for several years. My schooling was in Melbourne, England and Sweden, and I went to Melbourne University (Fine Arts) and RMIT (Prof Writing and Editing).

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

I realize now that I always wanted to be a writer (I can still recite a horrible poem in rhyming couplets that I wrote at seven or so, which I’ll spare you) but it took me years to find that out. In any job I held I always gravitated towards writing. I love words. How can you not?

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

At eighteen, I believed without even knowing it that the world would continue in much the same way as it always had, with a few technological developments. Life has become more precarious andLucy Treloar the world’s fragility better understood in the intervening years. I’m more fearful, I think, partly because I worry about the future for my children.

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?

The hardest question. Only three? The Emigrants – a gripping historical series by a Swedish writer, Vilhelm Moberg, the first really adult books I read; Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse (the first time I saw that books could be about ideas, not only character and plot) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (I felt as if I’d become a different person after I read it). These books were so much part of my growing up (read between the ages of 11 and 17) and my thinking that I can’t separate them from me. They and the universes of human existence that they contained were like explosions in my life. I longed to be able to do that.

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

I’m just not very good at other things. I would love to be an artist, but all I can do is appreciate art longingly, enviously from a distance.

6.    Please tell us about your latest novel

salt-creekSalt Creek is the story of Hester Finch, an educated, highly intelligent fifteen-year-old of the 1850s whose family moves from early Adelaide to a remote and spectacular part of South Australia where over several years her father tries (and fails) to improve the family’s fortunes, destroying the indigenous culture as he does it. It’s about love in its many forms, power, and civilization and its failings.

Grab your copy of Salt Creek here

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

For people to care and wonder about the world and the people of Salt Creek, even the ones who behaved badly.

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

It’s very hard for me to go past Marilynne Robinson. The scope of her fiction is apparently small, yet the range of human emotion and experience that she is able to explore, and the generosity of her understanding, is vast. Cormac McCarthy (especially his Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian) is another writer I read and reread. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is extraordinary. Among writers of historical fiction, Hilary Mantel, Kate Grenville and Geraldine Brooks are the benchmarks for me.

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

All I really want is an excuse to keep writing, for my skills to develop, and to continue to be published. That feels wildly ambitious to me.

10.    What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Getting negative feedback goes with the territory of being a writer. But don’t let that feedback stop you; don’t let anyone else decide for you that you’re not a writer. Let that be your decision. The other piece of advice is from Marilynne Robinson: ‘Forget definition, forget assumption, watch’.

Lucy, thank you for playing.

Barbara Hannay, author of The Secret Years, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

the-secret-yearsThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Barbara Hannay

author of The Secret Years

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 Sydney and at the age of four I moved Brisbane, where I attended The Gap State High School and the University of Queensland. I began a Bachelor of Arts degree, which I later completed in Townsville while I was teaching.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?

At 12, I wanted to be a star netballer. At 18, my focus was on becoming a high school teacher, although I was a closet poet and nursed secret longings to be a ‘real’ writer. At 30, I was immersed in motherhood and writing stories to entertain my small children, but the dream of publication was still there.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

At 18, I was convinced that people in the city led much more exciting lives than country folk. I had the nerve to feel sorry for people in regional or rural towns. I left Brisbane when I started teaching, and I soon realised how wrong I was. I had a lot to learn.

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?

Books, paintings, sculpture and music have provided inspirations throughout my life, and looking back, I can see that my preferences have always been romantic.

The impact of Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians, which I read at the age of seven, has been a lasting one. Judy’s death rocked me and taught me so much about emotional punch in writing.

As a teenager, I was fascinated by Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss, and by the paintings of the French Impressionists.

I love most classical music and I often listen to it while I’m writing. A standout for me is the Brahms’s violin concerto. There are sections in the first movement that literally stop me in my tracks. Every time.

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

I think this form chose me. When the time was right – and I’d been waiting a long time to fulfil my creative dreams – it finally felt inevitable.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

the-secret-yearsThe Secret Years is about three generations of one family. There’s Lucy, a female soldier who’s returned from Afghanistan and finds her life at a crossroads, Ro, her under-confident mum who feels she’s made a mess of her life, and Harry, Lucy’s grandfather, an outback cattleman and WW2 hero, who won the heart of a London debutante.

The story moves from the Aussie outback to England and also to New Guinea during the war, so there’s plenty of romance and heroism.

Grab your copy of The Secret Years here

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

A big happy sigh.

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

I admire so many published writers. The best thing about becoming a writer has been meeting wonderful and interesting people around the world who “get” my passion.

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

I’m happy if I can continue to publish a new book each year.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read widely and deeply until you find the right kind of story telling that suits your writing voice. Have fire in your belly and be prepared to work hard. It’s not easy, but don’t give up. Too many aspiring writers give up at the first rejection.

Barbara, thank you for playing.

VIDEO: Steve Toltz on his brilliant new novel Quicksand

Steve Toltz’s first novel, A Fraction of the Whole, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the 2008 Guardian First Book Award. He chats to Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach.

Quicksand

by Steve Toltz

The literary event of 2015. Steve Toltz follows his extraordinary debut, the Booker-shortlisted A Fraction of the Whole, with a novel that’s just as edgy, hilarious and compelling: Quicksand, at once unmistakeably Toltzean and unlike anything that’s come before.

‘Why should I let you write about me?’

‘Because you’ll inspire people. To count their blessings.’

Aldo has been so relentlessly unlucky – in business, in love, in life – that the universe seems to have taken against him personally. Even Liam, his best friend, describes him as ‘a well-known parasite and failure’. Aldo has always faced the future with optimism and despair in equal measure, but this last twist of fate may finally have brought him undone.

There’s hope, but not for Aldo.

Liam hasn’t been doing much better himself: a failed writer with a rocky marriage and a dangerous job he never wanted. But something good may come out of Aldo’s lowest point. Liam may finally have found his inspiration. Together, maybe they can turn bad luck into an art form.

What begins as a document of Aldo’s disasters develops into a profound story of love lost, found and betrayed; of freedom and incarceration; of suffering and transcendence; of fate, faith and friendship; of taking risks – in art, work, love and life – and finding inspiration in all the wrong places.

Quicksand is a fearlessly funny, outrageously inventive dark comedy that looks contemporary life unblinkingly in the eye. It confirms Steve Toltz as one of our most original and insightful novelists.

Grab a copy of Quicksand here

VIDEO: Amy Bloom on her new book Lucky Us

Amy Bloom is the author of three collections of stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, Come to Me and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, and two novels: Away, Love Invents Us, and now, Lucky Us.

Lucky Us

by Amy Bloom

A thrilling and resonant novel from the author of Away, about loyalty, ambition, and the pleasures and perils of family, set in 1940s America.

When Eva’s mother abandons her on Iris’s front porch, the girls don’t seem to have much in common – except, they soon discover, a father. Thrown together with no mothers to care for them and a father who could not be considered a parent, Iris and Eva become one another’s family. Iris wants to be a movie star; Eva is her sidekick. Together, they journey across 1940s America from scandal in Hollywood to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island, stumbling, cheating and loving their way through a landscape of war, betrayals and big dreams.

Grab a copy of Lucky Us here

VIDEO: Stephanie Bishop on her breathtaking new novel The Other Side of the World

A stunning emerging Australian writer, Stephanie Bishop’s first novel was The Singing, for which she was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. The Singing was also highly commended for the Kathleen Mitchell Award. This, her second novel, was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award under the title Dream England. She chats with Booktopia’s John Purcell.

The Other Side of the World

by Stephanie Bishop

A story of melancholy beauty that proves the only thing harder than losing home is trying to find it again.

Cambridge, 1963.

Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and the energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, wants things to be as they were and can’t face the thought of another English winter.

A brochure slipped through the letterbox slot brings him the answer: ‘Australia brings out the best in you’.

Despite wanting to stay in the place that she knows, Charlotte is too worn out to fight. Before she has a chance to realise what it will mean, she is travelling to the other side of the world. Arriving in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on both Henry and Charlotte and slowly reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte is left wondering if there is anywhere she belongs and how far she’ll go to find her way home . . .

Grab a copy of The Other Side of the World here

VIDEO: Kate Mayes on her beautiful new kids book Daddy Cuddle

Kate Mayes is the author of Daddy Cuddle, and Count My Kisses, Little One and Stew a Cockatoo: My Aussie Cookbook under the name Ruthie May. She chats to Booktopia’s John Purcell.

Daddy Cuddle

by Kate Mayes, Sara Acton (Illustrator)

An undeniably adorable new picture book for dads everywhere, from bestselling author Kate Mayes and award-winning illustrator Sara Acton.

‘Daddy up?’

It’s early in the morning and one little rabbit is wide awake …

From bestselling author Kate Mayes and award-winning illustrator Sara Acton comes this gorgeous tale of an early riser who just wants to play!

Grab a copy of Daddy Cuddle here

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