GUEST BLOG: Sulari Gentill On Imaginary Friends

sulariYasser Arafat is notoriously credited with having said that a war about religion is like having a fight over who has got the best imaginary friend. As provocative as the statement is to people of faith, it cannot be denied that human beings have long been capable of intense personal relationships with figures who have no objective existence. Whether such a person is called devout or insane depends often on the social acceptability of the said imaginary friend.

But such friendships are not just the domain of the pious and the mad. Writers, too, can lay claim to relationships with people they’ve made up. Of course, the zealot, the deranged and the author, are not mutually exclusive conditions. The latter two may in fact be interchangeable.

For me, writing is a kind of glorious madness, a descent into the world in my head where it is me who is the figment, the ghost, the imaginary observer. It is a seductive world which I often leave only reluctantly to engage with the real world to which I was born.

The relationships between writers and their protagonists are intriguing, not for the least part, because they can be so varied in intensity and quality. There are writers who insist their protagonists are merely literary constructs, and others who set a place at the table for the hero/heroine of their latest novel.

I have known my imaginary gentleman sleuth, Rowland Sinclair, for five books now, two years of his life, four years of mine. In that time he has always stood in the periphery of my vision, regarding me with a kind of amused resignation, watching me as I watch him. We have an understanding, he and I.

With each book I have, admittedly, become increasingly involved with Rowland, to the point that he is now all but real to not just me, but also my family. My husband and I will often talk about Rowland as if he were an old friend with a tendency of finding trouble. You know the kind. We will argue about the rights and wrongs of Rowland’s actions, as if those actions were fact. Every now and then, I hear our conversations as a third party might, and find myself both alarmed and vaguely embarrassed by the extent to which this figment of my imagination has insinuated himself into our lives. But I reassure myself that I am a writer, and as such a certain level of delusion is not only acceptable but possibly necessary.

My personal writing process is quite instinctive and impulsive: there is no form or formula to my method, just a pursuit of story. I simply sit down and make things up, allowing the words of come out as they will. I write chronologically, beginning with the first word of the novel, and proceeding with little idea of what is coming until I write it. This is undoubtedly dangerous, and risks an outcome that has no structure or resolution or rambles interminably. Somehow though, my work seems to find a natural structure and rhythm, and an internal consistency with ensures it makes sense. I never work in a quiet or serene place, writing instead in the midst of my noisy family, or in airports or cafés, or half listening to the evening news or some late night television show. I used to think that was out of necessity—I was a mother with a demanding day job and I had to multi-task if I ever hoped to find time to write. But I realise now that there may in fact be a purpose to this insane way of working. Writing in the midst of noise and movement, where I am not completely focussed, allows me to engage my subconscious in a way that absolute concentration cannot.

It is not uncommon for a writer to gain new insight into his/her or own work through reviewers or readers, who point out nuances and themes which we ourselves hadn’t noticed. Of course, we’re usually quite happy to claim them after the fact! Because I write without plotting, I have always been surprised at the serendipity by which the details of my narratives fall into place, asides I wrote in chapter one on a whim, by chapter thirty prove crucial as if I had laid the thread on purpose. Both the above, I think, owe more to the storyteller’s subconscious than they do to chance or luck. There are many things we do as writers for reasons, about which we not consciously aware, but which have a purpose and a design nonetheless. Somewhere in our subconscious is stored everything we know and have read, every revelation of research, every image, every sound and every feeling. It’s not surprising then that this is cradle of our creativity, where stories are born. The writer’s trick is tapping into that and then trusting it.

Though I don’t consciously plan or plot, there probably is a subliminal design to my work. What I see as Rowland Sinclair leading me through his world and his story is possibly just my subconscious guiding a story it has planned without needing to bother the poor beleaguered and limited conscious part of my brain which has to deal with the realities of the world.

So what I’m trying to say is that we “pantsers”, we writers who just go with the story and allow our protagonists to do as they choose, are probably not as unruly and unstructured in our writing as we may seem.  It is just that we elect not to look too hard at what exactly is at work to produce our plots and our characters. We trust that part of ourselves which tells us “this is the way it was”.

The lawyer in me feels the need to insert a disclaimer at this point.  I am telling you what I think I do. It’s my best guess… but I really can’t be sure, and I haven’t tested the theory in any way. Some part of me feels that examining a spell too closely, articulating it too precisely, will break it, rob it of its magic. And I can’t risk that. After all, I have got the best imaginary friend.

Sulari Gentill’s Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is a Booktoberfest title. Buy this book now to go in the draw to win Booktopia’s weekly giveaway – a $250 Booktopia voucher – AND order by 31st October 2013 to go in the draw to win the fantastic publisher prize.

Click here for prize details and to see the full Simon & Schuster Showcase

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed

by Sulari Gentill

After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe. But they are wrong.

A bizarre murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies.

A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be… more

REVIEW: Paving the New Road : A Rowland Sinclair Novel by Sulari Gentill (Review by Sarah McDuling)

The only thing better than discovering a new series of books is realising that the author is not going to make you wait too long for the next instalment.

Having been introduced to Sulari Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair novels earlier this year with Miles off Course, and then devouring books one and two with all the gusto of a confirmed historical fiction addict, I was pretty much ecstatic when I realised that book four, Paving the New Road, was due to be released in August this year. My reaction to this news was not quiet. It was not calm. It may have involved a spontaneous happy dance. Imagine a hyper active child being told that Christmas will be coming twice in one year and you might then begin to grasp my level of excitement.

Paving the New Road sees Rowland Sinclair and his band of bohemian eccentrics back in full force. For those unfamiliar with this series, Rowland “Rowly” Sinclair is Gentleman/Playboy Adventurer/Artist/Amateur Detective. Now, as of Paving the New Road he can also add “International Spy” to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

Wherever Rowly goes (in this instance, Nazi Germany) he is accompanied by his entourage – Clyde the landscape painter/staunch Communist, Milton the flamboyant poet and Edna the dazzlingly beautiful sculptress. Having been sent to Germany in the capacity of unofficial spies, Rowly and his friends soon find themselves knee deep in intrigue and subterfuge. The best part about all this is that none of them are even remotely qualified for the role of “secret agent”. They approach the mission almost as though it were a game and their unorthodox methods are both refreshingly original and highly entertaining. Together, Rowly and his friends take a ride on the Orient Express, masquerade as German soldiers, accidentally aid in the escape of a German Communist and become involved in an underground network of Anti Nazi activists. And at the heart of the mystery that slowly begins to unfold is a sad and fragile girl named Eva…

Much like the first three books in the series, Paving the New Road is a light and charming read full of adventure and humour. This book is pure fun. Better yet, it is consistently clever. One of the best aspects of this series is the imaginative way in which the author plays with the historical setting. Gentill is a master at seamlessly weaving real historical figures into her plot. This can be a dangerous conceit when not handled properly. The appearance of a well-known historical figure in a work of fiction can often be the kiss of death, breaking the spell of make-believe by pushing the reader’s credulity too far. Luckily, Gentill knows just how to blend fact and fiction together in a way that is not only completely believable but so delightfully inventive as to provide endless treats for history buffs.

Fans of television’s Underberlly: Razor will be tickled by cameo appearances from notorious Sydney madam Tilly Devine and gangster Phil “The Jew” Jeffs. Similarly, Rowly & Co. are flown to Germany by none other than famous Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith – a journey that takes an astonishing 14 days and sees them crossing paths with author William Somerset Maugham.

Other notable historical figures that play key roles in Paving the New Road include German Communist Party member Hans Beimler as well as notorious British aristocrat and Nazi sympathiser Unity “Lady Bobo” Mitford. Gentill is in top form when writing Mitford, who leaps off the page in all her horrifying glory. This is a woman who stalked Hitler like a crazed fan-girl before eventually becoming his mistress. Described by Rowly as “a lunatic, from what appeared to be a family of lunatics” Mitford only makes a few brief appearances in the novel, however, they are memorable for being almost as hilarious as they are disturbing.

By far my favourite guest star, however, is the indomitable Nancy Wake. Anyone who has not already read Wake’s memoir, The White Mouse,will be rushing for a copy after finishing Paving the New Road. The novel is set before the outbreak of WWII when Wake was working as a journalist, however, Gentill imbues her character with so much sparkling vim and vigour than one can easily see how she ends up becoming a kickass lady-spy, fighting Nazis with the French Resistance.

When all is said and done, I cannot recommend the Rowland Sinclair novels enough. Paving the New Road is the most entertaining instalment yet in what was already a great series. Anyone with a taste for classic crime writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh is bound to fall in love with Rowland Sinclair. And with the success of the recent television adaptation of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, I’m hoping (i.e. seriously considering starting an Internet petition) that it won’t be too long before we see a Rowland Sinclair miniseries.

In the meantime, I rest easy in the knowledge that Sulari Gentill is currently averaging two books a year and that it won’t be long before I find out what Rowly and his friends get up to next.

Review by Sarah McDuling

Click here to buy Paving the New Road

Find The Rowland Sinclair Novels here

Click here to read an extract from Paving the New Road.

Read Sarah’s review of Miles Off Course here

REVIEW: Miles off Course by Sulari Gentill (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling)

There are few things more gratifying than discovering an author whose books seem so perfectly suited to your tastes as a reader that it feels as though they may have been written especially for you.

After devouring Sulari Gentill’s Miles Off Course in a whirlwind reading session – a reading session interrupted only by a quick break to jump online and purchase A Few Right Thinking Men and A Decline in Prophets (being the previous two installments in the Rowland Sinclair series), I knew that Sulari Gentill had made it onto my list of top ten crime writers.

Set in Australia in 1933, Miles Off Course is a lively and consistently action-packed Historical Crime novel. It could also be classified as a rollicking Outback Adventure or thrilling Spy Drama, or even a witty “fish-out-of-water” comedy, plucking a set of fashionable dilettantes from a bohemian art scene and dropping them in the rugged, rural countryside of the Snowy Mountains.

Gentill opens with the line, “Norman Lindsay is a complete and utter bastard!” and things only get better from there on in. The plot dances inventively around actual historical events and there is more than one cameo appearance made by famous Australian historical figures, one of which remains cleverly incognito until their true identity is revealed in the epilogue. Meanwhile, the historical Australian setting makes for a fascinating backdrop and will appeal to fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels.

Like all the best crime writers, Gentill has created a brilliantly idiosyncratic protagonist in Rowland Sinclair. Fans of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn will be bound to appreciate a character like Rowland Sinclair.

A well-bred and wealthy Australian gent from a privileged background, Sinclair is somewhat the black sheep of his family.  A renowned painter of naked ladies (gasp!), considered by some as a protégé of Norman Lindsay, he has an unfailing talent for causing scandals and landing himself in life-threatening situations. It is this delightful combination of different roles – Gentleman, Artist, Amateur-Detective and Adventurer – that makes Rowland Sinclair such an entertaining leading man.

Like any self-respecting, wealthy eccentric, Sinclair is accompanied wherever he goes by his very own entourage of equally eccentric fellow artists – condemned by Sinclair’s older brother as a “troupe of unemployed hangers-on.”

Sinclair’s entourage is made up of three companions. Milton Isaacs – a flamboyant poet and arbiter of fashion, Edna Higgins – a beautiful and independent sculptress and Clyde Watson Jones – a painter who honed his craft as something of a wandering vagabond.

The aforementioned older brother, Wilfred Sinclair, is an influential businessman with conservative, right-wing sensibilities who cannot help but disapprove of his younger brother’s less-than-respectable lifestyle. The relationship between the two brothers is rather touching in that while they continually disagree and disappoint each other they are nevertheless very loyal and protective towards each other.

The plot opens with the disappearance of Harry Simpson, an aboriginal stock-hand who has been employed by the Sinclair family since he was a child. Both the Sinclair brothers are convinced that there is something sinister about Harry’s sudden disappearance, despite the fact that his co-workers believe he has simply gone “walkabout”. Harry is more than just an employee to the Sinclair brothers, however, and they are determined to find out what really happened to him. And so Sinclair and his entourage pile into his beloved yellow Mercedes Benz and head for the Snowy Mountains to investigate.

What follows is a madcap adventure of murder, betrayal, abduction, theft, political intrigue and a dash of romance. And just in case that doesn’t sound exciting enough to capture your interest, there is also a Communist spy conspiracy and a hunt for bushranger’s treasure.

The plot of Miles Off Course is a brightly splashed canvas, one that Gentill takes obvious delight in painting. This is the kind of book that is so fun to read that one can’t help but feel that the author must have gotten a real kick out of writing it.  Little wonder then that she should write so quickly. Between the Rowland Sinclair series and her YA fantasy/adventure series, The Hero Trilogy, Gentill is releasing an average of two books a year. Which means that by far the best part about having read Miles Off Course and discovering a new favorite author is that I can now go and devour her earlier novels, safe in the knowledge that there will be many more Rowland Sinclair adventures to come.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Sarah McDuling

Click here to order a copy of Miles Off Course from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

John M. Green, author of Born to Run, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

John M. Green

author of Born to Run
Nowhere Man

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Thank you. Born to Run is a rags-to-riches political thriller, with murder, terror and treason.

Isabel Diaz, born in squalor in America to a Bolivian widow, shakes off poverty and shocking abuse to become an inspiration to the nation, and is set to be the first woman to win the White House.

But her chances plummet when a Muslim protégé is accused of syphoning funds to terrorists and, seemingly unrelated, an Australian software whiz is tossed off a London skyscraper. Then, an investigative journalist digs up a dark secret from Isabel’s past, and her presidential hopes shatter.

With the public stunned, and only days before the vote, terrorists use the Australian’s software to Continue reading

Sulari Gentill, author of A Few Right Thinking Men and Chasing Odysseus, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sulari Gentill

author of A Few Right Thinking Men, Chasing Odysseus and coming soon, A Decline in Prophets

Six Sharp Questions


1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Thank you. Chasing Odysseus is a retelling of both the Iliad and the Odyssey from an alternative perspective – a new story written into the world’s oldest one. It is the tale of a terrified girl and her three brothers who set out in pursuit of a legendary king, and in search of a truth which will vindicate their people. It is a story of monsters, sorcery and warring gods, of courage, loyalty and friendship.

I wrote Chasing Odysseus for my teenage self. Into it I tried to pour all the sense of adventure, the humour, the courage, the drama and the idealism that was so much a part of me then (not that I’m entirely devoid of those things now…they were just rampant then). Writing Chasing Odysseus allowed me to be sixteen again for a while.

2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have Continue reading

A Few Right Thinking Men – reading on location with Sulari Gentill

If Sulari Gentill didn’t end up being a writer, she certainly could have been an actor. She held her audience spell bound on Tuesday night when she read the pivotal second chapter of her book, A Few Right Thinking Men, in art deco hall in which the action was placed.

Now Cello’s Restaurant, the room is a newly refurbished 1927 heritage jewel, complete with high ceilings, chandeliers, fabulously detailed plaster work and even potted aspidistras and palms. You can’t get anything more 1930s than aspidistras! If it felt authentic, it is because is was, for it was in this room, in a building stamped with masonic symbols, that the scene is set for the intriguing action that is played out in the rest of the book.

Gentill clearly is a woman of many talents. She can hold an audience in her thrall, no doubt a skill honed by her years as a champion debater and public speaker. In fact she is a surprise package. This debut novelist is former student of astrophysics, a lawyer by profession and a truffle farmer by occupation. Somewhere in all of that, she found the energy to be one of the five authors (of 700 so far) whose manuscript was chosen to be published by the newly formed PanteraPress, whose mission is to be the new home for the next generation of Australia’s best-loved authors.

As an aside Pantera has a refreshing approach. They thrive on unsolicited manuscripts, they refer to the “diamond mine” rather than the “slush pile” and they have a strong philanthropic foundation at their core. Who could argue with all that?

A Few Right Thinking Men is a crime novel set in Great Depression Australia. There is plenty of intrigue and just the right amount of romance and two very appealing protagonists – the well-connected and artistic society man Rowland Sinclair and his gorgeous muse Edna, who takes him out of the squattocracy and into bohemia.

What is more interesting to me, is the evocation of Australia at that time. Gentill’s fascination for the period comes from “her marrying the 30s”, a reference to her historian husband’s specialisation, not his birthdate! While fascism and communism battle it out in Europe, this country was riven by huge political differences. Armed militia from both the left and the right threatened law and order. Communists, unionists, the old guard and the new guard all contested political ground as plot, counter-plot, all supported by thugs of various persuasions,  foment secession movements and the country hovers on the brink.

Gentill has written an immensely readable first novel, and has the second Rowland Sinclair story under her belt already. Get used to her name. We are going to be hearing a lot more of it.

Click here for Gentill’s answers to Ten Terrifying Questions.

Click here to for an extract and the book trailer

A Few Right Thinking Men is available now. RRP $29.95, Booktopia price $23.95

Sulari Gentill, author of A Few Right Thinking Men, Answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Sulari Gentill,

author of

A Few Right Thinking Men,

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 Sri Lanka though I didn’t stop there long. My family migrated when I was still a baby, and we embarked on what seemed like a trek around the planet. I started school and learned to speak English in Zambia, and we arrived in Australia when I was six. That’s longer ago than I care to admit. For the most part I grew up in Brisbane, at a time when it was still really an overgrown country town. I attended my local school, built cubbies in the mulberry trees by the Brisbane River and plotted world domination with my friends.

In time, I went to University to study Astrophysics and came out with a law degree. Whilst practising law can, on occasion, be creative, they don’t really like you to just make things up…or admit to it anyway. Writing seemed liked a better way to indulge my fondness for fabrication.

Nowadays I live on a small truffle farm in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains with my husband, and two wild and fearless boys whose plans for world domination are more advanced than mine ever were.

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

When I was twelve I wanted to be a writer, an artist, a movie star, a poet, an astronaut, a dictator of some sort, and a dozen other things. That’s the glory of being twelve—the world is full of possibilities and your courage is boundless.

When I was eighteen I was studying astrophysics at University and I desperately wanted to be doing anything but studying astrophysics.

When I was thirty, I think I wanted to be twenty-nine again. I’ve gotten over that…I’ve had a few years to do so.

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

There are so many. I believed that science had all the answers. I was convinced that shoulder pads were a good idea and I thought I looked cute in hats. All wrong…so completely wrong…

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?

· Book : Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird…it moved me as a lawyer, a writer and a human being.

· Painting:  I most admire artists who are sparing with the marks they make on the canvas; who know when a line, a shadow, a stroke is enough; who can still their brush at that precise moment and place where the mark conveys what’s needed but nothing more. Suggestion is such a moving technique, and I think so much more powerful than explicit detail. I try to do this when I write, particularly when sketching characters.

· Piece of Music:  A Mystery Writer’s Lament by Parnell Hall…  I just found it on YouTube a few days ago.

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

Writing allows you to achieve all sorts of things vicariously. Rowland Sinclair, the protagonist in my latest novel, paints like I wish I were able to. Other characters of mine have been actors and orators of acclaim. I may even write a character who can sing—an artistic avenue that is closed to me for good reason. A fiction writer needs only one talent to lay claim to all the others.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

A Few Right Thinking Men is a crime fiction set in the tumultuous world of NSW in the 1930s. It was an amazing time of extreme politics and social upheaval. Communism appealed to the unemployed and working classes and the establishment gathered in secret fascist armies.

The story follows Rowland Sinclair, artist, gentleman and unrepentant black sheep of Sinclair pastoral dynasty. Rowland blithely flouts the expectations of conservative Sydney, courting scandal and keeping company with entirely the wrong crowd. Adamantly indifferent to politics, Rowland walks a fine line between his conservative birthright and his more libertine associations, until a brutal murder embroils him in treason and conspiracy as Australia moves to the brink of revolution.

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

Hopefully, the feeling that I’ve taken them away for awhile. I’d also be ecstatic if they took a line or an expression that made them think, or laugh, or both.

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

Harper Lee, for her ability to capture the deepest passions subtly. Oscar Wilde, for the genius and wit of his dialogue.

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

One day, I’d like to have an office with heating.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Try and figure out what it is about your writing that you really love, what makes it truly yours… that’s harder than it seems. Take advice on everything else, be willing to change everything else. Always, always, always be polite. Artistic temperament gets old very quickly.

Sulari, thank you for playing.

Thank you for having me.

Click Here to Buy A Few Right Thinking Men for $23.95 SAVE 20%*

*(Offer Available For a Limited Time Only)

Click here to read “Q & A with Sulari”

Click here to read an extract from this book.

Click here to see some READING GROUP NOTES for this book.


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