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.

Alex Hammond, author of The Unbroken Line, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Alex Hammond

author of The Unbroken Line

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 Johannesburg. Raised in Melbourne. Studied Arts/Law at Melbourne University.

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

To be a writer. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories.

Author: Alex Hammond

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

Naively, that law was the best career for me. I spent too much time watching gripping courtroom scenes on film and TV. It was only after I spent time working in law firms that I realised the reality was very dry and monotonous. In many ways my books are a wish fulfilment – exciting cases, challenging clients, cherry-picked drama.

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?

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – such a viseral, well relaised world. The library tower of the Superme Court of Victoria – its light-filled bookstacks planted the first seed for what became by first novel, Blood Witness. The Cure’s fourth album Pornography – a template for the kind of dark, emotional richness I aspire to in my writing.

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

They were never innumerable. I dabbled in theatre directing when I was younger, but nothing quite captured my imagination like writing. To have created a world, to have crafted a engaging story, is both the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Unbroken Line is a crime thriller. Melbourne lawyer Will Harris begins to uncover a dark legacy from Australia’s founding and the violent shadow it casts today. It deals with corruption and the misuse of power, the lengths that people will go to when driven by revenge.

Grab a copy of Alex’s new book The Unbroken Line here

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

To have readers is a privilege. I hope to give them a gripping story that gets their hearts racing but also asks bigger questions about the law and our preconceptions of justice.

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

Other Australian genre writers. Not only do the have to compete with international books with bigger marketing budgets but the cultural elitism that dismisses all but ‘literary’ fiction as trivial.

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

In the current climate very few authors can make a living off their writing. This is my ambition.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Hone your tenacity. There will always be distractions and set backs. You will have some very dark days. Push on. Push on.

Alex, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Unbroken Line here


The Unbroken Line

by Alex Hammond

The violence of the past casts a long shadow – a dark legacy with lethal consequences.

When defence lawyer Will Harris is attacked by masked men with a clear message to back off, he has no choice but to listen. If only he knew what they were talking about.

Under siege as his fledgling law firm struggles to get off the ground, Will agrees to defend the troubled son of a family friend. But the case is far from clear-cut, and the ethical boundaries murky. Instead of clawing his way out of trouble, Will finds he’s sinking ever deeper.

At the same time, his search for his attackers unearths an unexpected source that points him towards Melbourne’s corridors of power. But motives, let alone proofs, are hard to find. It is only when those close to him are threatened that Will realises how near he is to the deadly truth.

Gripping, sophisticated and strikingly atmospheric, The Unbroken Line creates a remarkable portrait of power, revenge and corruption, rooted in a vivid and unmistakably Australian setting.

About the Author

Alex Hammond was born in South Africa and emigrated to Australia with his family as a child. He graduated with an Arts/Law degree from the University of Melbourne and worked for several Melbourne law firms. His first novel, Blood Witness, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for crime writing.

Grab a copy of The Unbroken Line here

Nicole Trope, author of Hush, Little Bird, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Nicole Trope

author of Hush, Little Bird

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 and raised in South Africa. I came to Australia at eighteen and went through university here. I have a Master’s Degree in children’s literature and I was a high school teacher before I had my first child. I originally went to university to study Law but gave that up after writing my first essay. I was more interested in the drama of ancient Greece and less interested in what that all meant for the study of Law. While trying to figure out what to do I wrote a short story for the university magazine and flippantly thought, ‘If this gets published I’ll switch to an English degree.’ It did and I did.

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

I always wanted to be a writer. Even when I couldn’t even conceive of writing a novel I knew that immersed in a book was my favourite place to be. At eighteen I wanted to write children’s literature and I think I stuck with that idea until I came up with the plot for my first published novel.

At thirty I wanted to be able to say that I was a published writer, not just an aspiring author. It took many years after that for my dream to be realised.

Author: Nicole Trope

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

I believed that there would be a time when I truly felt like an adult and where I was in control of all aspects of my life. Now I know that maturity brings with it the realisation that this will never really be the case. Very few things in life are clear cut and absolute control of anything is really just an illusion.

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?

I am, as most writers are, a great reader. Because I have read so widely I can’t really say that any novel in particular has had a great effect on my writing but rather that certain novelists have taught me some things about the craft. I love Fay Weldon and Terry Pratchett for their dark humour and Joanna Trollope for her light touch when it comes to domestic drama. I love the music in Alice Hoffman’s language and the spare prose of Australian writers like Olga Masters. Over time I have read everything from romance novels to crime series. Now when I read and am struck by a sentence or an idea I will take time to look at how the author has been able to create that feeling and learn from that.

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

Stories have always been my preferred form of expression. It never occurred to me to try anything else.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Hush, Little Bird is the story of two very different women; Rose who has lived her life in the spotlight and Birdy who has lived her whole life hiding from the truth. It takes an act of violence for Birdy’s secrets to overwhelm her and then fate steps in and brings the two women together. The novel unfolds through the eyes of each woman and the reader gradually learns what connects them and why Birdy is determined to have her revenge.

Grab a copy of Nicole’s new book Hush, Little Bird here

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

I always hope that readers wish they didn’t have to put the book down and that perhaps they have been able to think about something in a different way.

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

Just a few of the authors I admire are: Fay Weldon, Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, Peter Goldsworthy, Douglas Adams, Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood. Every couple of weeks I pick a letter of the alphabet at the library and try to find a new author to admire.

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

I just want to keep writing and keep getting published and hopefully have readers say that each book is better than the last.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

The obvious ones-which are to read all the time and to write all the time, even when you don’t want to or are feeling despondent about your latest rejection. Also there are a lot of organisations you can join and competitions you can enter that will get your novel or short story in front of someone who can see the potential in a writer’s work. Give everything a go!

Nicole, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Hush, Little Bird here


Hush, Little Bird

by Nicole Trope

A celebrity wife. A damaged young woman. How did they both end up in prison and what is the secret they share? White-knuckle reading from the queen of domestic suspense.

Birdy thought she would have to wait until she was free again to see Rose, but now Rose has been convicted of a shocking crime and she and Birdy will be together. Birdy has been saving all her anger for Rose. It is Rose who should have protected her and kept her safe. Birdy was little but Rose was big and she knows Rose could have saved her.

This is a story about monsters who hide in plain sight and about the secrets we keep from ourselves. It is about children who are betrayed and adults who fail them. This is the story of Birdy who was hurt and Rose who must be made to pay.

A provocative and compassionate read from the queen of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama. You won’t be able to put it down.

About the Author

Nicole Trope is a former high school teacher with a Masters Degree in Children’s Literature. In 2005 she was one of the winners of the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. In 2009 her young adult novel titled I Ran Away First was shortlisted for the Text Publishing Prize. The Secrets in Silence is Nicole’s third novel. Her previous titles include the acclaimed The Boy Under The Table and Three Hours Late.

 Grab a copy of Hush, Little Bird here

Rochelle Siemienowicz, author of Fallen, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rochelle Siemienowicz

author of Fallen

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 Geelong, Victoria, but my family moved so quickly and so often that I have no memory of it. My parents were Seventh-day Adventist missionaries and we lived in various parts of New Guinea and Fiji until I was 14 and then we moved to Perth where I finished High School. I moved to Melbourne to start University in the early 1990s and have been here ever since.

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

Twelve: A schoolteacher because although I really wanted to be a writer I didn’t think it was possible.
Eighteen: A journalist because it seemed the likeliest way of making a living as a writer. Or an academic, because I was good at writing essays and this seemed a continuation of that.
Thirty: A film journalist and sometime novelist as this combined all my passions – cinema, literature and connecting with communities of likeminded creative people.

Author: Rochelle Siemienowicz

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

I was raised in a strict religious household and believed that the end of the world was imminent – that Jesus Christ was going to return in the clouds and rescue his chosen people while the rest of the earth burned. These days I’m an atheist, though I still harbour apocalyptic fears – now related to environmental destruction.

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?

1. The huge changes in Australian Higher Education during the late 1990s and early 2000s meant that an academic career seemed too hard and too precarious to pursue. I was surrounded by bitter academics and underpaid sessional staff, so I finished my PhD on Australian cinema and fled academe, never to return.

2. Becoming involved in The Big Issue magazine’s family of writers and editors from 1997 until the present has been life changing. The Big Ish was the first publication to pay me for my words and so many of my closest friends and associates are people I met there.

3. Reading Andrew McGahan’s searingly honest, funny and distinctively Australian Vogel-winning debut novel Praise (1991) changed my life. I fell in love with McGahan’s candor, courage, and skilful blending of autobiography and fiction. This was controlled confessional writing at its most deceptively simple – unafraid to get dirty, but also able to rise above the grime into pure poetry and wry philosophical reflection.

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?

I was raised on books, especially the Bible, and I always wanted to have my name on the cover of one. I love to hold the physical objects and there’s nothing quite as immersive as a really good book. Also, you can read them during take-off and landing when flying on an aeroplane.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Fallen is my first book. It’s a memoir about sex, religion and marrying too young, and it traces a crucial period in my early twenties when I broke away from everything I’d been raised to believe. Raised as devout Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that the end of the world is near and premarital sex is a terrible sin, my husband and I married at twenty while still at University. But after leaving the parental nest, we started experimenting with all the things that were forbidden to us – alcohol, meat, rock and roll, cinema and literature that stretched the boundaries of ‘decency’. We loved each other sincerely and took our marriage vows very seriously, but part of this experimentation involved having an open marriage. My book is about three weeks at the end of that marriage when I revisited my hometown of Perth and broke the rules of our agreement. It’s a sexual coming of age story, a tale of first love and innocence lost.

Grab a copy of Rochelle’s new book Fallen here

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

Telling the truth about the variety and detail of female sexual experience is still a radical act – even in our supposedly liberated and highly sexualised culture. If my book could counter some of the shame around sexual desire, and make readers feel less alone, less dysfunctional, and less ‘sinful’, then that would be a huge achievement.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Right now I’m full of admiration for the people close to me who are enduring heartbreak, divorce, unemployment and depression. These are the supposedly ordinary people who keep on doing what they have to do, with kindness and generosity, even when getting out bed in the morning feels like the most courageous and impossible act. Life is tough a lot of the time and there’s a lot of everyday heroism. Being human is hard.

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

I want to be as honest as I can be, in both my life and my work. I also want to spread pleasure. There’s really no higher achievement than writing something people enjoy reading for the pure pleasure of the language, the characters and the rich, beautiful world you’ve created. Pleasure should be an end in itself.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read. Read all the time. Stay off social media long enough to become absorbed in the words of others. Read the great books. Read them aloud. Hear how they work, or don’t work. Read your own work aloud. Feel where it gets boring or sticky. It’s not just that you’re tired of it. The writing is bad when that happens. Good writing is good even when you’ve read it fifty times.

Rochelle, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Fallen here


Fallen: A Memoir About Sex, Religion and Marrying Too Young

by Rochelle Siemienowicz

“Call me Eve. It’s the name I call myself when I think back to that time when I was a young wife – so very young, so very hungry. I picked the fruit and ate and drank until I was drunk with freedom and covered in juice and guilt.”

In this frank, compelling and beautifully written memoir, Rochelle Siemienowicz provides an intimate portrait of the last days of an open marriage.

Raised as devout Seventh-day Adventists, who believe that the end of the world is near and that premarital sex is a terrible sin, Eve and her husband marry young. Rebelling against their upbringing, and in an attempt to overcome problems in their relationship, they enter an agreement that has its own strict rules. But when Eve holidays alone in her hometown of Perth during a hot West Australian summer, she finds her body and heart floating free. Fallen is a true tale of sex, love, religion and getting married too young – and about what it feels like when you can’t keep the promises you once sincerely made.

About the Author

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a writer, film critic and former editor at the AFI | AACTA. She has a PhD in Australian cinema and was the long-time film editor for The Big Issue. She currently reports for Screen Hub, reviews for SBS Film and is Film Columnist for Kill Your Darlings. She very occasionally blogs at It’s Better in the Dark, and is currently working on her first novel, which has nothing at all to do with movies.

Grab a copy of Fallen here

Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Annie Barrows

author of The Truth According to Us

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, raised, schooled, and pretty much everything else in California. I grew up in a town just to the north of the San Francisco Bay called San Anselmo, which has grown alarmingly elite in recent years, but was just a plain little town during my childhood. I spent most of my youth at the library. I went to college at the University of California in Berkeley, where I studied medieval religious history (how practical!) and later got an MFA in Creative Writing (also practical!) at Mills College nearby. With all this California background, why did I write a book set in West Virginia?  Sheer mulishness.

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

That’s easy! When I was twelve I wanted to be eighteen. When I was eighteen, I wanted to be thirty, and when I was thirty, I wanted to be twelve again.
Okay, okay.
I think at twelve, I was still clinging to the hope that I’d somehow be transported back in time to 1880, so my career planning was confined to reading 19th century etiquette books in order to blend in. I’m sure this will come in handy someday.
At eighteen, I had a fantastic career plan. I was going to be an art restorer—one of those quiet, delicate-fingered people who spend years pasting together shards to make a single Grecian urn. Oh boy, was that going to be great! Except then I did it and found myself restringing thousands upon thousands of teeny glass beads on six inches of an Indian headband and almost lost my mind.

At thirty, I had attained every career goal I had set for myself in the previous ten years: I was the Managing Editor of one the largest book publishers on the West Coast and I was the acquiring editor of their first New York Times Best-Seller. Everything was great, everything was swell—except that I had just realized that what I really wanted was to be a writer.

Author: Annie Barrows

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

When I was eighteen, I thought that the most important thing in the world was to be right.  Now I think the most important thing in the world is to try to think that other people are right.

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?

Literary influences are such an enormous can of worms—there were so many of them, they were so influential—that I’d better focus on other art forms. (Though I’m pretty sure I would not be a writer if I hadn’t read, at about age 12, J.D. Salinger’s description of the Glass family’s bathroom medicine cabinet in Zooey.)

Three major artistic influences are:
1. Dumbo
Back when I was a kid, our grubby local movie theater held kiddie matinees on Saturdays. These events were strictly kid-only; no grownup ever entered the theater during them (even the ushers stayed out unless someone threw a chair). As a result, kiddie matinees were mayhem. The kids on the balcony rained spit and chewed candy on the kids below. The kids below hollered threats at the kids on the balcony. Children wailed and sobbed. It was like Lord of the Flies with Milk Duds. But there was no avoiding it; our parents made us go. They’d shove us out of the car and speed off, gravel spraying, to enjoy a quiet afternoon.lord-of-the-flies
Regular kiddie matinees were pretty bad, but one Saturday I was dropped off at a matinee of Dumbo with my older sister and my cousin. It was one of the most terrifying episodes of my life. Dumbo is about death and loss; specifically, it’s about a little elephant whose mama is tormented to death, leaving him to wander, alone and in despair, through various dire misfortunes. There I was, at age six, watching Dumbo’s mother die in agony while children wailed and sobbed around me. I tried to run out of the theatre, and my sister grabbed me and told me to sit still.

That afternoon was the foundation of a lot of neurosis, but also—and more to the point here—the foundation of a profound distrust of anything that calls itself children’s entertainment, a species that, in my opinion, rarely wants for children what they want for themselves. It was this distrust that ultimately led me to write for children.

2. The Hunt in the Forest
I stumbled on this painting one day in Oxford, and I can’t get over it. Paolo Uccello kills me in general, but this particular combination of precision and mystery completely mesmerized me. Uccello loves, loves, loves lines, but he doesn’t love lines more than he loves what he can’t see. It’s very instructive. Hilary Mantel does the same thing in writing.

3. Enrico IV
I am not recommending this play. It’s by Pirandello, and it’s kind of tedious. But in 1981, I saw a performance of it that blew me out of my seat. By the end of the show, the stage had been ripped apart—we could see more or less into the dressing rooms—and everything that signals Theater was in ruins. It was definitely the performance, not the play, that held the power, and for me, it was an astonishing lesson about the delivery of story through form, which I had always thought was cheap. I mean, mostly it is cheap, but when it’s on, it’s pure power.

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

I had to. Nobody would ever in a million years read—or publish!—what I’d most like to write, which is story without end, a literally endless following of, say, three lives (not mine) from beginning to—the moment I drop dead. It would be volumes and volumes and volumes long; it would tell story after story after story. Wouldn’t that be great?!
What?
No?
Oh.

This is why I wrote a novel.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Truth According to Us is set in the summer of 1938, when the town of Macedonia, West Virginia, is celebrating its Sesquicentennial, an occasion that will be commemorated with parades, picnics, and most importantly, a book recounting its history. Its reluctant author, the debutante Miss Layla Beck, recently disinherited by her father, arrives in town with one goal – to get out of it as quickly as possible.

Macedonia’s history seems simple enough, easily disposed of, easily understood. Then Layla meets the Romeyns—Jottie, Willa, Felix, Emmett—a family at once entertaining, eccentric, seductive, and inextricably bound up in Macedonia’s most impenetrable historic event.

Grab a copy of Annie’s new book The Truth According to Us here

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

I have to admit it—what I want most is for readers to love my darling people. They’ve been my dearest friends for years now, and I feel a little uncertain about them going out in the world without me. I felt exactly like this on my daughter’s first day of kindergarten.

On a more theoretical (and less insane) level, I’d want readers to question the possibility of veracity, the endlessly receding goal of knowing the past in order to possess it. Time is a tragedy from which we hope to protect ourselves by believing in the existence of facts.

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

How many days do you have? My problem here is that there’s not one realm of writing. There are lots of realms and sub-realms. For instance, there’s the realm of children’s writers, and within that realm, there are picture books, chapter books, novels, and young adult novels. I can deeply admire the work of a picture book writer, but my admiration is influenced by fact that I can’t write picture books myself. So that admiration is different than what I accord to people working in the same genre that I work.

And then, there’s the issue of variability in a single author. I don’t mean that the author’s skill is variable. The variable is my ability to be acted upon—I’m just way less engaged by some things than others. Take murder, for instance. It mostly bores me, so a book that’s centered on a murder has to be really good to overcome my apathy about the topic. An example: what Kate Atkinson is addressing in Life after Life is completely fascinating to me. Her books about Jackson Brodie are probably equally accomplished, but they’re accomplished at something I’m less interested in. Now that I think about it, I should probably admire her more for the Jackson Brodie books than for Life after Life because I liked them so much even though I don’t care about murder.

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

To finish my next novel in less than seven years.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

There are as many ways to be a writer as there are writers.

Annie, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Truth According to Us here


The Truth According to Us

by Annie Barrows

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck is forced out of the lap of luxury and sent by her Senator father to work on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Assigned to cover the history of the little mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, Layla envisions a summer of tedium.

However, once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is completely drawn into their complex world.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to acquire her favourite virtues – ferocity and devotion – a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business with which her charismatic father is always occupied and the reason her adored aunt Jottie never married.

Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family’s veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a different tale about the Romeyns and their deep entanglement in Macedonia’s history. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s story, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed – and their personal histories completely rewritten.

Quirky, loveable, and above all human, this novel of small-town life in the 1930s is an immersive experience that will leave readers reeling and wanting more.

About the Author

Annie Barrows is the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean, as well as The Magic Half and Magic in the Mix; she is also co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Annie lives in Northern California with her husband and her two daughters.

 Grab a copy of The Truth According to Us here

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