Sally Gardner, author of The Door That Lead to Where, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sally Gardner

author of The Door That Lead to Where

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 Birmingham, raised in London and went to quite a few schools due to the fact I was dyslexic. It’s one part of life I have no regrets about leaving. I remember it exceedingly well and didn’t like being a child. We’re all brought up by giants, some more monstrous than others. In the end we become giants and the art is not to forget what it felt like to live under them.

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

We all have dreams. We have dreams that our parents put on us when we are young, we have conventional dreams that we think we should have, and then we have the main dream, the thing we really want to do, which we sort of know from the beginning. What I told people at the age of twelve was that I wanted to be an artist. At eighteen, I told people I wanted to go to theatre school, and be the best set designer in the country. What I wanted to be at thirty was a children’s illustrator, and what I never told a soul ever, was my main dream, and that was to be a writer and tell my stories.

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

Sally Gardner, June 24, 2013.

Author: Sally Gardner

That I would find the love of my life. I didn’t, but I did have three wonderful children and other amazing things have happened to me, but the love of my life never appeared. Maybe it did in a way in the sense that it is now writing.

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

Edith Sitwell’s Facade. I first heard it with my father in his study and I just adored the jamboree of words, the jumble of sounds, and the joy of language. Mixed with William Walton’s music I thought it was absolutely fabulous. I think a book that had a profound effect on me was The Lost Domain by Alain Fournier. It is a coming-of-age story, is completely magical, and is a book that made me want to be a child again just so that I could read it for the first time again. The illustrator and writer who had a profound effect was Edward Gorey. I discovered him when I was 16 and that love has never waned.

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

They weren’t necessarily open to me. I am severely dyslexic and to this day people find the idea of writers being dyslexic a contradiction. I was very artistic though, and went into theatre mainly because I love story. I couldn’t imagine working without a story. I was very lucky to have been taken to the theatre a great deal when I was younger and I had a huge love of the theatre. When I went into illustration, I still thought the main dream I had to be a writer was impossible and I would never achieve it.

6. Please tell us about your novel, The Door That Led to Where

I always start a book with a question, even if it’s just to myself. The question I asked was: Would three boys, who I would call ‘Govian failures’ after our ex-education minister Michael Gove, fare better if they went back to 1830s England, than they would do here in the present? I was thinking about a particular lad who had been educated from age three to five, and then again from fifteen to seventeen, who was mainly self taught. He wanted to be a correspondent at the Houses of Parliament, and I was wondering if he stood a chance of getting a job at, say, The Times. Would they even let him though the front door? The resounding answer was no, they wouldn’t. That young man happened to be Charles Dickens. Where are they young men of today who are the future Dickenses, and are we over looking them in favour of a tick-box education? In London particularly boys at the age of seventeen are either mummified or villainised. The one thing they’re not seen as is young men. I think we make a terrible mistake in doing this. We leave too many pathways open for fanaticism, radicalisation and anything that would give a young man a sense of power and respect.

Grab a copy of Sally’s new book The Door That Led to Where here

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

I always hope that if my work does anything it encourages people to ask questions, to think a bit more about where we are going. If it does that I feel I have achieved quite a lot.

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

I absolutely adore Angela Carter, I love magical surrealism in all its formats. And I would have to say the book that’s been my bible has been the Grimms’ Fariy Tales. I think basically all my stories are fairy tales. The other writer that I stand in awe of is Charles Dickens.

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

My goals are to have good, original ideas, and try and stay true to the world novel, which in the 18th century meant something new and unexpected; a novelty. I still think my ambition is to have original ideas and thoughts and to play as much with language as I can. As well as the vague hope that one day I might win the Carnegie Medal, which I am absolutely over the moon to have done.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

My main advice is to not get published too young. There is a horrifying trend at the moment of finding two year olds who are trying to write Proust. I would encourage everyone to grow up, work on their ideas and publish them a little later. When people ask me about how to become a writer, I always suggest that they read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is one of the best books he ever wrote, and is also a very true and direct story about being an author and what that might entail. I also think you need to read a great deal, and try not to use the word ‘like’, if you can help it. I have a slight aversion to ‘like’. If I read a book and in the first paragraph there is a ‘like’, I think to myself, can I manage another 300 pages? I think that a ‘like’ asks you to stand outside the story, when you should feel like you are all the way inside it. The other thing I feel very strongly about is that you don’t need an adjective with ‘said’. Whatever is being said has to hold all the power.

Sally, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Door That Led to Where here

The Door That Led to Where

by Sally Gardner

When the present offers no hope for the future, the answers may lie in the past.

AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – but he could never have imagined how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the UK’s finest writers, The Door That Led To Where will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

About the Author

Sally Gardner grew up and still lives in London. Being dyslexic, she did not learn to read or write until she was fourteen and had been thrown out of several schools, labeled unteachable, and sent to a school for maladjusted children. Despite this, she gained a degree with highest honors at a leading London art college, followed by a scholarship to a theater school, and then went on to become a very successful costume designer, working on some notable productions.

 Grab a copy of The Door That Led to Where here

John Larkin, author of The Pause, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

John Larkin

author of The Pause

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 Yorkshire England (1963). My family emigrated to Sydney when I was six years old. We were ten pound poms. I happily and proudly call myself a boat person. I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney (in Toongabbie to be more accurate). I attended Toongabbie Primary School and then Pendle Hill High School. As to whether or not I actually did any schooling during these wilderness years remains something of a moot point.

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

Twelve – professional soccer player, because I was good at it.
Eighteen – professional soccer player, because I was really good at it.
Thirty – author, because my soccer career was over.


Author: John Larkin

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

That I would pretty much amount to nothing and spend my life alone.

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

Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James. Clive James taught me that you could be both funny and literary, which is something I secretly aspired to but didn’t think was possible.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read this at uni when I was doing my English degree (ditto above).

The Scream (painting) by Edvard Munch. The perfect representation of madness. And to be a writer you have to be a little bit (or in my case, more than a little bit) mad.

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

I don’t even know where to begin to answer this question. This might sound kind of naff, but I truly believe that I didn’t have a choice. Writing chose me. I had an unquenchable desire to write and no other art form (other than soccer – and I’m being deadly serious) came close to giving me that creative high that writing does.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

In January 2012 I had a complete mental breakdown and spent several weeks in a psychiatric hospital. The Pause was born of this awful period of my life. I wanted to write an uplifting novel about suicide but doubted that it could be done. It had to be hard hitting but hopeful. It took me three years and many drafts but the journey was worth everything. I hope The Pause helps others in the same way (its writing) helped me.

Grab a copy of John’s new book The Pause here

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

I hope they take away hope. We will all go through dark and desperate times but we will come out the other side but in order to do that we have to stick around. We have to ride out the dark times and that it is not a sign of weakness but rather one of strength to seek help because we cannot fight our way out of the darkness alone. We need help. We all need help.

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

Jane Austen. Her life was short but her magnificent work lives on. Reading Pride and Prejudice is like being massaged by words.pride-and-prejudice

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

I want The Pause to save lives.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Never give up. If you want this badly enough you will get there. But it’s not enough to just want it. You have to put in the hours. Good writing isn’t written it’s re-written.

John, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Pause here

The Pause

by John Larkin

I watch the train emerge from the tunnel.
It will be quick.
It will be efficient.
It will be final.

Declan seems to have it all: a family that loves him, friends he’s known for years, a beautiful girlfriend he would go to the ends of the earth for. But there’s something in Declan’s past that just won’t go away, that pokes and scratches at his thoughts when he’s at his most vulnerable. Declan feels as if nothing will take away that pain that he has buried deep inside for so long.

So he makes the only decision he thinks he has left: the decision to end it all. Or does he? As the train approaches and Declan teeters at the edge of the platform, two versions of his life are revealed. In one, Declan watches as his body is destroyed and the lives of those who loved him unravel. In the other, Declan pauses before he jumps. And this makes all the difference. One moment. One pause. One whole new life.

From author of The Shadow Girl, winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2012 Prize for Writing for Young Adults, comes a breathtaking new novel that will make you reconsider the road you’re travelling and the tracks you’re leaving behind.

About the Author

Sydney-based author John Larkin was born in England but grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. He has, at various stages of his writing career, supported his habit by working as a supermarket trolley boy, shelf-stacker, factory hand, forklift driver, professional soccer player and computer programmer. He now writes and teaches writing full-time. John has a BA in English Literature and a MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University. John’s The Shadow Girl won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2012 Prize for Writing for Young Adults.

 Grab a copy of The Pause here

Georgia Madden, author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Georgia Madden

author of Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

Ten Terrifying Questions

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

Here, there and everywhere! I was born on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, but moved to Hong Kong with my family when I was five and lived there until 18. I came back to Australia for university, and moved to London a few weeks after graduating. I lived there for 12 crazy, glamorous, fun-filled years, working in PR and magazines, before returning to Sydney with my family 10 years ago.

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

At 12, I had dreams of a being an actress, but one disastrous and very embarrassing audition in front of my entire year at school put an end to that. At 18, I had visions of becoming a very serious political journalist, reporting for a Hong Kong newspaper on what was happening across the border in China. I still have no idea why. At 30 I was quite partial to the idea of becoming an editor of a magazine. But always, always, in the back of my mind was the dream of writing fiction. I just never really believed it was possible.


Author: Georgia Madden

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

That in order to pursue the things you really want, everything in your life has to be just so. But life doesn’t work like that; if you’re waiting for all your stars to line up perfectly, you’ll be waiting forever. I’ve found that it’s better – and braver – to just jump right in and get the ball rolling, whether you’re ready or not. Fake it till you make it!

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

As a child, anything by Enid Blyton. Her stories swept me away, and they still do today when I read them to my kids. The song Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds. I’m a true child of the 80s, and whenever I hear that song on the radio my mind starts bristling with ideas – always romantic in a tragically teenage kind of way. The beautiful aria in that scene in A Room With A View where George kisses Lucy. I’m not sure whether it was the music or the poppies, but it stayed with me for years.

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

I’m not really sure I ever really had a choice! Despite all the twists and turns I took in my career (a used car parts auctioneer in a grotty part of east London at one point) the idea of writing was always there in the background, a steady hum I couldn’t switch off.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum follows new mum Ally Bloom, a dedicated fashionista with a very clear vision of the yummy mummy she’s meant to be – a glamorous Angelina Jolie-type, wafting along red carpets, with her latest accessory, baby Coco, tucked up under her wing. Then reality hits – her marriage is in crisis, her mother-in-law-turns up unannounced for an open-ended stay, the dishwasher won’t stop making that weird banging sound, and she’s pushed aside at work by a 22-year old airhead. Ally suddenly finds herself thrust into her own version of hell – life on the suburban SAHM circuit. Here, she begins to ask life’s bigger questions on motherhood, identity, friendship and whether it’s socially acceptable to leave the house in Havaianas after 7pm.

Grab a copy of Georgia’s new book Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

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

I would love to think that after getting through one of those nightmarish days with the kids, where every single thing has gone wrong, they can curl up with Confessions and it puts a smile on their face, maybe even makes them laugh. See? There’s a little bit of paying it forward, right there.

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

I tend to develop crushes on whoever I’m reading at the time. Most recently it’s been Hannah Kent, Elizabeth Gilbert and Rainbow Rowell. I’ve just finished ‘Dietland’ by Sarai Walker – a sort of gutsy feminist manifesto that sends an arrow straight at the heart of the diet industry. I think I’m in love.

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

To be able to support myself and my family doing what I love. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

We’ve all done it – picked up a book and been blown away by the scale of the story, the beauty of the prose. It’s enough to make you want to give up on the idea of writing before you’ve even begun. But I can’t imagine that anyone’s work resembles the finished product in its early stages. To me, writing a book is a bit like making one of those multi-layered French desserts; it’s a long and time-consuming process of building from the ground up, layer by layer. So my advice is, don’t waste precious time trying to perfect that opening paragraph. Get the bones of your story down – as fast as your fingers can type them – before you even think about trying to turn it into a masterpiece.

Georgia, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

Confessions of a Once Fashionable Mum

by Georgia Madden

Successful hubbie? Tick. Facebook-worthy baby? Tick. Bikini-body six weeks after giving birth? Um . . . not so much.

Fashion PR exec Ally Bloom got her happy ending. Okay, her marriage might be showing the odd crack, her battleaxe mother-in-law might have come to stay, and she might not be the yummy mummy she’d imagined, but it’s nothing a decent night’s sleep and a firm commitment to a no-carb diet won’t fix.

But when Ally returns to work and finds she’ll be reporting to a 22-year-old airhead, she decides to turn her back on life as a professional fashionista and embrace her inner earth mama instead. So it’s out with the Louboutins and champagne and in with the sensible flats and coffee mornings with the Mummy Mafia.

From attending her first grown-up dinner party only to discover that placenta is top of the menu to controlling her monster crush on local playgroup hottie Cameron, Ally must find her feet in the brave new world of the stay-at-home mum.

About the Author

Georgia Madden began her career in journalism at Homes & Gardens magazine in London, before returning to Sydney with her young family to work as a freelance writer. She writes for House & Garden, Inside Out and Home Beautiful, as well as a number of interiors websites. She lives in Sydney with her family. Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum is her first novel.

Grab a copy of Confessions Of A Once Fashionable Mum here

Drum roll…. We’re announcing the winners of our April Competitions!

In April we had a myriad of prizes and promotions for you to sink your teeth into.

Let’s wrap a few up and announce the winners of these great prizes, shall we?


All you had to do to enter was order The Anzacs 100 Years On : In Story and Song by April 30th!

the-anzacs-100-years-on-order-now-for-your-chance-to-win-The Anzacs 100 Years On : In Story and Song

by Ted Egan

The Anzacs 100 Years On: In Story and Song is a unique contribution to the commemoration of the centenary of the Anzacs. Ted Egan weaves personal stories and songs into a highly readable history of the Anzacs and the two nations, with amusing anecdotes and tales of great courage and ingenuity serving to leaven somewhat the brutal truth exposed, of a tragic and senseless war.

The soldiers, nurses, politicians, wives, and the mothers who lost their sons, or welcomed them home severely damaged, all feature in this book and its songs.

Egan’s stories and poignant songs infuse the facts with the more…

…and the winner is:

P.Hawkins, Exeter, TAS

Grab a copy of The Anzacs 100 Years On : In Story and Song here


All you had to do to enter was buy anything in our Bolinda Anzac Day collection by April 30th!

1914 : The Year the World Ended – Re Issue

1914-order-now-for-your-chance-to-win-Author: Paul Ham
Read by: Robert Meldrum

Few years can justly be said to have transformed the earth: 1914 did.

In July that year, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Britain and France were poised to plunge the world into a war that would kill or wound 37 million people, tear down the fabric of society, uproot ancient political systems and set the course for the bloodiest century in human history.

In the longer run, the events of 1914 set the world on the path toward the Russian Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of more…

…and the winner is:

A.Poad, Northampton, WA

Check out our Bolinda Anzac Day collection here

9781921383595- Sujet-Saenkham- Rotating-Homepage-Banner

To celebrate the release of Spice I Am, a book of recipes from Sydney-based Thai chef Sujet Saenkham, we gave customers the chance to win a prize, worth $255!

The pack includes to dinner for two at any of Sydney’s Spice I Am restaurants, valued at $150 and the opportunity to attend a Spice I Am cooking class, valued at $105.


Spice I Am

by Sujet Saenkham

In this much anticipated cookbook Sydney-based Thai chef Sujet Saenkham shares his family recipes for the fresh flavours of regional Thai cooking so you can enjoy authentic Thai food at home.

Leave the Thai takeaway menus in your kitchen drawer, as you learn how to make restaurant favourites such as Sujet’s signature stir-fried crispy pork belly with basil, roasted red duck curry with eggplant, tomato and pineapple and crispy prawn and lemongrass salad, as well as traditional classics like pad Thai, fishcakes and a massaman beef curry from scratch. Throughout, Sujet offers practical advice on finding the ingredients and mastering the cooking techniques you need to create your own Thai feasts at home.

…and the winner is:

P.Chen Matraville, NSW

Check out Spice I Am here

Congratulations to the winners!

Missed out on the prize? Hey, turn that frown upside up, we’ve got so much more up for grabs, not to mention limited editions signed copies and 2 for 1 offers!

Head to our Promotions and Competitions page, where you could be a winner every day!



The 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival In Focus – Andrew’s Highlights

Can you hear that?

Pages being briskly bookmarked, notepads scribbled on frantically, publicists sweating over author schedules…

The Sydney Writer’s Festival is nearly here!

And because I’m getting all excited, I’ve picked out some of my highlights for the 2015 edition, take a gander. For more details head to

Continue reading

Buy Emily Bitto’s award-winning The Strays in Paperback and receive the eBook free!

For a very limited time when you buy the paperback edition of The Strays, winner of the 2015 Stella Prize,  you will receive the full ebook edition, absolutely free!


The Strays

by Emily Bitto

In The Strays, Evan Trentham is the wild child of the Melbourne art world of the 1930s. He and his captivating wife, Helena, attempt to carve out their own small niche, to escape the stifling conservatism they see around them, by gathering together other like-minded artists.

They create a utopian circle within their family home, offering these young artists a place to live and work, and the mixed benefits of being associated with the infamous Evan. At the periphery of this circle is Lily Struthers, the best friend of Evan and Helena’s daughter Eva.

Lily is infatuated by the world she bears witness to, and longs to be part of this enthralling makeshift family. As Lily observes years later, looking back on events that she still carries painfully within her, the story of this groundbreaking circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham’s art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.

Grab a copy of Emily Bitto’s The Strays here

Caroline Baum’s Review

Inspired by the bohemian art world of 1930s Melbourne this is a marvellously accomplished and assured debut, announcing a major new talent. Rich in atmosphere and beautifully observed, it tells the story of only child Lily who makes friends with Eva at school and then becomes infatuated with her family, particularly larger-than-life painter Evan and his glamorous wife Helena.

Lily tells the story of her progressive enchantment with their home, their garden, their friends and their expanding creative circle of strays from a retrospective point of view, as an adult now faced with the prospect of reunion with Eva after a long separation: a gallery opening invitation brings back sharp and painful memories of intense relationships.

Poetic, richly visual and faultlessly judged in terms of pace, character and atmosphere, this is writing that has the rich patina of an enduring classic. A stylish and mature addition to the rites of passage, coming of age genre.

Grab a copy of Emily Bitto’s The Strays here


Kate Morton to release new novel – The Lake House – in October

r336631_1526364Australia’s highest selling international author, Kate Morton, will be releasing a new book in 2015. Her fifith novel, The Lake House, will be released in October.

In 2013, Kate Morton was voted Australia’s Favourite Novelist in a Booktopia readers poll, narrowly beating out Tim Winton and Monica McInerney for the top spot.

Morton has sold over nine million books in 33 languages across 38 countries. The Shifting Fog, The Forgotten GardenThe Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper have all been number one bestsellers around the world, with each novel winning the Australian Book Industry Award for General Fiction Book of the Year.

Lake House coverThe Lake House

by Kate Morton

An abandoned house…  After a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police and retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall.  There she finds herself at a loose end, until one day she stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

A missing child…  June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party.  For Eleanor, the annual party has always been one of her treasured traditions, but her middle daughter, Alice, sixteen years old and with literary ambitions, is especially excited.  Not only has Alice worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t.  But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night sky, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great they leave Loeanneth and never return.

An unsolved mystery…  Seventy years later, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes.  Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past and seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape…

Click here to go to Kate Morton’s author page on Booktopia


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