Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Peter May

Coffin Road

Coffin Road by Peter May ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.

 

About Peter May:

Peter May’s books have sold several million copies worldwide and have won awards in the UK, the USA, and France. He is the author of:

  • the internationally best-selling Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
  • the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell
  • the critically-acclaimed Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France
  • several standalone novels including – the multi award-winning Entry Island, Runaway, and his latest, entitled Coffin Road, which sees a return to the Outer Hebrides (January 2016, Quercus UK, Hachette Australia).

 

Peter May was named Scottish Young Journalist of the Year Award when he was twenty one.

 

Television Work

Peter May had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.

One of Scotland’s most prolific and successful television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest-rated drama serials in his homeland before quitting television to return to his first love, writing novels.

 

Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.

  

Let me extend a big Australian welcome to Peter May.

Peter May

 

 

Let’s talk childhood. What aspirations did you have as a child?

 

I knew I wanted to write from the moment I picked up my first pencil. My father was an English teacher and my mother was an avid reader. They taught me to read and write before I went to school, and at the age of four years I wrote my first book. It was only a few pages long but it turned out to be the first in a long line of attempts to write a successful novel. I discovered the evidence of that first foray into writing when many years later I rediscovered the manuscript, if one could call it that, in a dusty box in my parents’ attic when I was clearing out their house. It was called The Little Elf. My mother had shown me how to sew the pages together just like a real book and I had made a cover for it, colouring it red and writing the legend “designed in England and made in Scotland”. I have since scanned all the pages and made a short slideshow with a musical accompaniment which I have put on YouTube for anyone to read. So clearly my aspiration was and always has been to write. Here is a link to my first story: http://youtu.be/XTxOEfwclh0

 

About your writing. How long has the road to becoming a successful writer been for you?

 

The road to success has been a long one. When I left school there was no career path to becoming a writer and so I turned to journalism as a way of making my living by writing. And it was only then that I took the advice that everyone had been offering me for years, which was to write about what I know. So I wrote about a journalist, and that was the first book which I had published, at the age of 25. But even then my course towards becoming a novelist was subverted by a career change which took me into television. Having published my first book, I developed the character and idea for a television series which was taken up by the BBC. I went on then to become a screenwriter and spent most of the next 20 years working in television. It was not until 1996 that I finally quit the world of television to try and make my living writing books. Even then it was nearly 15 years and 12 books later before I had my first major success with “The Blackhouse”, since when I have never looked back.

 

Let’s talk journalism, scripting writing/producing and novel writing. In Australia you are well known for your crime novels, in The UK you are a Richard and Judy superstar, a talented television scriptwriter and producer and a Scottish award winning journalist. Is there nothing word related you can’t do?

 

Ha ha ha, I don’t know about that. But words have always been my stock in trade, they have been my means of expressing myself, not just verbally but visually, using those words to paint pictures for my readers, as well as exploring the human psyche.

 

What do you love about writing?

 

I love that when I am writing I am transported from my desk and my study by the power of the imagination to anywhere in the world that I may choose to go.

 

Who is your favourite author? Do you have a favourite book?

 

I do not have a single favourite author but several who have influenced me over the years, including such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, H.E. Bates and others. My favourite book is probably “The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B” by the Irish-American writer J.P. Donleavy, because it taught me how to break the rules of grammar and freed me to develop my own style of writing.

 

Do you have a favourite band/song? The song, album and video you recorded, Runaway, depicts a major life changing event in your teenage years “also providing the inspiration for the new book which I am currently writing. I have already clocked up 45,000 words as I blog this. And what is the working title of the book? Well, “Runaway” of course!” Has music inspired any of your other books? (And we can we see another video please?)

 

The most influential band during my formative years was, without doubt, The Beatles. They provided the soundtrack to my growing up years. All of my earliest experiences, particularly in affairs of the heart, were related to one Beatles song or another. But I loved much of the music of the 60s and 70s. It was an exciting time, and music was breaking new ground at every turn of the record. My earliest books were all written to the sounds of my favourite bands. But I found, in the end, that music was proving too influential, colouring the mood and content of my writing, and I gave it up and now write in silence. I cannot say that music has influenced any of my books other than “Runaway”, but I still write, play and record music today. Here is an example. The song is called “Big Bad Wolf”, and it tells the story of the initial rejection of my breakthrough book “The Blackhouse”: http://youtu.be/IR1SR9afWSI

 

Tell us more about the eco warrior within you. (My reference is to Coffin Road – bees and science) and I believe the China novels have an eco/conservation theme.

 

I believe that writers have an obligation to address matters of universal importance. Much of my writing in the China Thrillers, and in my latest novel “Coffin Road”, has involved warning of danger in the unfettered exploitation of science for purely financial gain. Many scientific advances such as the development of genetically modified foods or pesticide and herbicide-resistant crops, are sold to us as being beneficial to mankind when very often they are exactly the opposite. “Coffin Road” was motivated by my concern about the effect on bees of a breed of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Bees are vanishing at an unprecedented rate and their disappearance altogether would be a disaster both for the planet and the human race. Bees are responsible for producing anything up to half of all the foods that we eat, and the link between their demise and the use of these pesticides is now irrefutable. Having thoroughly researched my subject I felt that both the bees and the silent majority of the human race needed a voice, and “Coffin Road”, I hope, has given them that.

 

Let’s talk about the settings of your books. France, China, Canada, Scotland, Hebrides….all so different. What attracted you to these particular settings for you crime novels? Are you also a master of languages? Gaelic? Chinese? French?

 

Ha ha. No. I speak and write in English, I have become relatively fluent in French, but I speak no Chinese or Gaelic. Languages are not my strong suit. As far as settings are concerned I go where my stories take me. I never write about a place I have not been to, so I have travelled widely, and hopefully in my books I take my readers on those same journeys with me.

 

How did you research your books?

 

All my research is conducted in depth, on the Internet, in books, and in journeying to the settings of the various stories. I also enlist the advice of various experts in the different fields about which I am writing in any given book. Being fearless in my research is something I learned as a journalist and now I almost enjoy the process of research more than the actual writing.

 

Are you currently writing a new novel? Where will it be set?

 

I have just finished writing the sixth and final book in the Enzo Files series which is set in France. It will be out next January.

 

If you want to know more about Peter check out his social media sites here: http://about.me/petermayinfo

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Kathryn Ledson

Grand Slam

Kathryn Ledson is  the author of three titles in the fun to read Erica Jewel mysteries. (In my opinion Grand Slam is just perfect – love the plotting, the characters, the fun), it made laugh out loud.

A Bit About Kathryn Ledson:

In 2005 Kathryn took a deep breath and left her 25+ year career in the corporate arena, returning to study with relief and a great sense of homecoming. What emerged from that professional writing and editing course was a huge surprise in the form of hapless heroine Erica Jewell, lead character in Kathryn’s series of funny, romantic, action-packed novels, which so far includes Rough Diamond, Monkey Business and the recently released Grand Slam.

Kathryn Ledson

Welcome to my blog Kathryn.

 

Let talk childhood. What aspirations did you have as a child?

To survive! No, really. I was the most terrified kid ever. My bedroom was at the end of a hallway, and that hallway seemed like a thousand miles from my parents and safety. I was convinced monsters lay in wait for me under the bed, in the cupboard. I’d dash from the doorway onto my bed so they couldn’t reach out and grab me. The idea of going to the toilet in the night filled my mind with the most unthinkable horrors. Apart from that, I wanted to be Anne from the Famous Five books. (More recently, Lara Croft.)

 

Who were your heroes?

Prince Charming, The Silver Brumby and Gilligan. More recent heroes? My husband Paul. And my Dad. Until the day he died, just a few months ago.

 

Let’s talk writing. How long has the road to becoming a successful writer been for you?

I’m not sure “successful” is the right word. I mean, the reason we can afford to eat is because my hubs works like a dog. But the road to getting from there to here has been relatively short, in fact (compared to other writers’ stories I’ve heard). There were some pot holes, however I think I’ve been very lucky. I reckon life throws at you only what you can handle, and if I’d had too many rejections, where others persist I would have given up long ago and gone to work at the local IGA. But I digress. I started writing Rough Diamond at the end of 2008 – having just completed a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing that included know how-to-write-a-novel classes – submitted it to Penguin in January 2011 and it was published two years later. I think they thought it was rubbish at first, but that the “voice” of Erica was fresh. My gorgeous editor took a chance she could coach me into producing something worth reading.

Do you have an agent? How did you get the attention of a publisher?

Yes, I do. Having an agent is very helpful in getting your manuscript before an editor. Mind you, getting an agent is sometimes more difficult than getting a publisher. That said, I managed to get a meeting with Penguin without help, having written a thoroughly proof-read (by writer friends) proposal, and between setting up the meeting and attending it, I signed with an agent. I think it was having that planned Penguin meeting that won me an agent, and it was in turn having an agent that got Rough Diamond over the line with Penguin. It’s all very tricky business, and helpful to know how things work. Networking is the most useful thing a budding author can do if they want to be traditionally published.

 

What do you love about writing- it is so obvious to me you love what you are doing.

I ADORE what I do and I laugh my head off all the time. Erica constantly surprises me. She comes up with these fabulous lines and just feeds them to me from God-knows-where. When writers talk about having a muse, I think Erica must be mine. I do hate to be interrupted when I’m writing and I’m furious with anyone or thing that stops me. For example, my need to eat, and hang out the washing. The toilet that must be cleaned because some rude person wants to visit. And this – at 4.30 every day, my dog Ella sits by the fridge and barks at me. I tell her, “Hold on, I’m writing a crucial scene. Erica’s got a gun to her head!” Ella will give me exactly 10 seconds to wind it up before she starts her very loud I-want-my-dinner nonsense. It’s very irritating (but she’s so cute).

 

Let’s talk books and influences. Who is your favourite author? Do you have a favourite book?

There are SOOOO many authors and books I love it’s almost impossible to pick just one. But I’ll say that when I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, I was moved by that story and her writing in a way that I’ve never been before or since. I then read Atlas Shrugged, which had the same effect on me. Although I later researched Ayn Rand and discovered I didn’t like her much, which was disappointing.

 

Let’s talk about life. What lessons did you learn from working in the corporate world?

I learned not to work in the corporate world. I’d rather clean toilets. Maybe not that. But I’d definitely weed gardens instead. The pressure on corporate people to perform is so intense, I’m sure if I’d stayed I would have developed some horrible stress-induced disease and dropped dead by now.

 

Let’s talk about the characters in your Erica Jewel series? Who inspired Erica?

My sister says Erica is me, then she turns to someone and says she finds Erica annoying in the way Jeannie from I-Dream-of-Jeannie was annoying. What does this say? Anyway, what I say is that while I was trying to get on with a new career as an editor or some form of non-fiction writer, Erica tapped me on the shoulder and demanded a life. I say that Erica is her own person and I have no idea where she came from. Erica is NOT me. She’s not. *pout*

 

Who inspired Jack?

No-one inspired Jack Jones. He’s perfect, which of course doesn’t exist. Oh, we could choose some AFL footballer’s body and say that’s Jack’s. And we could find a pic of a younger Hugh Jackman (photo-shopped, airbrushed and all the works) and say that’s his face. Who’s got the best manners and the most money and the greatest integrity and the kind of patience one needs to tolerate Erica’s mother? No-one apart from Jack Jones. He’s a fantasy character, don’t you think? (My husband was the inspiration behind Erica’s friend, Steve.)

 

 

Lets’ talk about dogs. What sort of a dog do you have? We know Erica has a cat – is a dog ever going to feature in your books?

YES! I’m so glad you asked because I have plans for a novella about a poor abandoned dog Erica finds. She decides Jack needs a guard dog but Jack will tell her, “I don’t need a dog. I’ve got Joe and enough guns to supply a small country’s army.” Erica can’t keep the pooch because Axle would feed it to the rats, but she does convince Jack to look after the little sweetie. (That plot is still brewing, but I’m imagining Jack walking the dog in the park, and women fighting each other for the privilege of picking up Jack’s dog’s poo.) And my dog? My husband Paul tells people Ella is a “golden retriever cross”, and I say it’s pretty obvious what she’s crossed with. She looks like a giant poodle. We adore her equally. She sleeps in our room, has breakfast with Paul and he feeds her inappropriate things like bread, which she brings into my bed and drops on my face. Sometimes it’s a meaty bone she’s dug up from the garden. We then have cuddles for a couple of hours when really I should be writing, walking Ella or doing yoga. (That gives the impression I actually do yoga sometimes, which I don’t.)

 

Last question – I know I can’t count!

Lets’ talk next book?

I’m thinking Jack needs to return to New York to deal with the pain of his loss (wife and parents in the twin towers on September 11). He’ll probably not invite Erica (because of the potential danger … something to do with the CIA … I’m thinking Homeland …) but she can’t just let him go alone, can she? Maybe her Mum will want to visit New York. Erica’s dad certainly doesn’t want to go – he might miss episodes of Family Feud. I’m also thinking a little research trip to NY is in order. (Darling hubs? How’s our FF points situation?)

Carol, thanks so much for inviting me to your blog! This has been great fun and I’ve learned a few things about myself along the way. I’d be happy to take questions from your readers about writing, the publishing industry, whatever they’re curious about.

 

If you want to know more about Kathryn follow her here:

Please insert links to your social media sites her Kathryn.

WEBSITE: http://kathrynledson.com/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/Kathryn-Ledson-Author-285397188245057/?ref=hl

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/kathrynledson

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2015

completed challenge

 

Congrats! You have read 200 books of a goal of 200!

Now that wasn’t so hard was it? It is the reviewing 200 books that is the hard work.

 

In Converstaion With… J M Peace

In Conversation with J M Peace

JM Peace (c) Sheree Tomlinson

JM Peace (c) Sheree Tomlinson

 

Welcome Jay to my blog and thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this discussion about all things reading and writing.

 

Carol: Can you tell me a little bit about how the road to publication was for you? Did you enter any writing competitions? Do you have an agent? How did the contract come about? On the 9th February this year you wrote about getting a publishing contract – and here it is a few months down the track and I am already reading the fully formed, ready for market, completely finished, paperback novel – how amazing is that? That turn a round is unbelievable!

 

Jay: My manuscript initially languished in slush piles all over the country. My breakthrough moment was being accepted onto the Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2013, run by the marvellous people at the Queensland Writer’s Centre. Although Hachette went on to reject the manuscript, it had some recognition. Then I nearly had an agent until the agent decided to quit the job. I don’t think it was because I once threatened to Taser her. I really was only joking. After that, I just couldn’t bear all the interminable waiting and approached Pan Macmillan directly. Things moved fairly quickly after that.

I think it was about November last year when the lovely people at Pan Macmillan made me an offer. They initially had some reservations about the legal side of things, so that took a little while to sort out. By the time I actually signed the contract in February, I think some of the wheels had already started turning. The manuscript had passed through many professional hands by then. By the time Pan got it, they decided it didn’t need a structural edit so it was straight onto the line edit and full speed ahead.

 

Carol: I see you have a blog, www.jmpeace.com Cops and Novels. Do you think blogging benefits your writing process?

 

Jay: Blogging is simply my chance to have my say about things that catch my attention. But I believe the author platform is very important for anyone attempting to get work published. I was strongly encouraged by several industry professionals to start a blog. The industry is so competitive that I don’t think ‘just’ a strong manuscript is enough these days.

 

Carol: I loved your debut novel – A Time to Run and can’t wait to read your next book, police procedurals are one of my favourite genres to read and as a Serving Police Officer your voice is authentic and real.  It seems however that this relationship with the law comes at a cost, I quote your blog www.jmpeace.com  – Cops and Novels, A publishing Contract (Feb 9 2015) “What I am doing is actually bound by legislation. If you are a police officer, you are always a police officer. What you do in your spare time is (to a certain extent) the Boss’s business. You have knowledge and information which is not for public dissemination, you are an agent of the Government. There are issues with secrecy, public comment, accountability, improper use of information, professional conduct and numerous other pieces of law, directives and policies.” How do you ensure that what you write about does abide by these regulations?

 

Jay: Thank you for your kind comments about my story!

I sought advice from my police union and spent some time trying to come to grips with the legislation. I believe I have covered myself in regards to the procedural information I have given in the book. There’s nothing in there that is not public knowledge or couldn’t by discovered through a little judicious googling. And if someone thinks I have overstepped the mark, then I’m hoping the fake name gives me some sort of protection.

I did actually try to get Boss-type approval to write the novel. The official reply was basically that writing a book was a hobby and I didn’t need approval to do it. Whether they change their minds about that one is yet to be seen. I don’t think anyone quite expected my story to get this far.

 

Carol: One of the things I loved about your novel was the details of policing/investigating that you shared with the reader.  Too often crime fiction novels or movies/TV series based on crime fiction skip a lot of these type of details, giving their protagonists the power to do as they please, how they please. You reveal the reality of the work, for example, having an official witness to the unoccupied house search who is vested to protect the rights of the home owner. Your protagonists get the job done whilst adhering to the rules. Was it a conscious decision to share these elements of the investigation with the reader?

 

Jay: Yes, definitely. This is my point of difference. This is why I write crime, I’m hanging my hat on having that voice of authority. I know what I’m talking about in regards to procedures, legislation and internal directives. My benchmark will be if other police officers can read through my novel and nod in agreement.

 

Carol: Another element I particular enjoyed was the inclusion of the apparitions/angels in the narrative and the optimism, hope and courage they delivered. Where did this idea for this device originate?

 

Jay:  I’ve been thinking about this and I can’t say when or why I decided to add angels to story. I think if you get pushed into an impossible life-threatening situation like the character in the story does, you start to look for something outside yourself. I did leave it open to interpretation on whether the angels were real or hallucinations.

It’s odd, because I’m not a particularly spiritual person but an angel popped up in the sequel too.

 

Carol: What sort of books do you read Jay?

 

Jay: At the moment? I’ve just finished the ‘Treehouse’ series by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton. I’m also reading one of the Beast Quest novels and we’ve started the Wishing Chair. Yes, all kids books. My son isn’t quite old enough to tackle these sorts of books by himself and whenever I start reading aloud, my daughter will appear and get comfortable too. Adult books? I wish I had the time. I like chick lit and popular fiction.

 

Carol: And my last question for you – tell me more about lateral vascular neck restraints? Why didn’t you use this method of defence when you were the subject of an attack? And did this experience inform your writing?

 

Jay: I didn’t expect that question! A lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR) is basically a chokehold. Except you have to be careful not to hit the person’s windpipe. So when you place your arm around the person’s throat, you need to make sure the inside bend of your elbow lines up with the centre of the person’s throat. Then you squeeze, using the muscles in your bicep and forearm to apply pressure on the veins on either side of windpipe causing the person to pass out. If you apply pressure to the windpipe, you can damage it causing it to swell, preventing the person from breathing and making you consider whether you can do an emergency tracheotomy with a pocket knife and the barrel of a pen. We do them regularly in training. The restraints, not the tracheotomies. The trainer will say – this is considered lethal force, now go practice on each other…

I know the theory behind LVNRs, but I am not good at them. I have never done one in real life. It is the sort of restraint you might try if an offender was focussed on something in front of them and you could approach them from behind. But, as with many of the things I write about, even though I may not have experienced them directly, I think I have a better than average understanding of them.

 

Carol: Thank you for taking part in my “in Conversation With” blog posts J M Peace and good luck with the release of A Time to Run. I cannot wait to read your next book. 

 

In Conversation With Fiona Palmer

Welcome to Fiona Palmer

fiona1

Welcome Fiona to my blog and thank you for taking time from your busy schedule of farming and writing and family responsibilities to participate in this discussion about all things reading and writing.

 

Carol: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started on your writing career? Were you always interested in writing? How was the road to publication for you? Can you share some of your memorable experiences about the process? I know many writers – in – waiting will be eager to hear about your journey.

 

Fiona: Thanks for having me Carol, it’s my pleasure. I fell into writing. Being a student who couldn’t spell very well and was lucky to get a C in English, writing never entered my mind, yet I did get immense pleasure from writing stories in class. But my teacher was very literary focused. So fast forward a few years, a toddler, a baby and a full time job running the local shop and I start to write down this story that had been growing in my mind. It encompassed everything I loved about rural living, about our way of life and some of my dreams. I think it was also my escape from such a busy life of work and nappies. Three years later I had the finished product after I’d had help with the ASA (Australian Society of Authors ) mentorship I’d won also. I sent the first three chapters off to Penguin, and it found a publishers desk. She, Ali Watts, emailed requesting the rest and then a few months later I was offered a contract. Amazing. And Ali Watts was Rachael Treasures publisher at the time also and she works with many amazing authors who I aspire to. I had a whirlwind ride into publishing and haven’t looked back.

 

Carol: What does a typical day in your life look like?

 

Fiona: Get kids off to school, housework, sit down and write (if I’m not out on the farm driving a tractor) and then I stop when kids get home from school. Sometimes if I have edits, I’ll spend weekends and after school hours getting it done. But if I have no book work to do then I’m busy doing community work, volunteer work for various sporting clubs and then work out on the farm if they need me. 

Fiona Palmer and Ruby

Fiona and “Ruby” the tractor.

 

Carol: What inspires you to write?

 

Fiona: That is easy. It’s all around me. My home, the country, the rural lifestyle, the people. Our little town has a motto on its personalised number plates and it is: Pingaring, the place, the people. It pretty well sums it up for me. And when I go off to work at the farm I come home so inspired after spending time in the wide open paddocks, watching the kangaroos, birds, sheep or smelling the fresh turned dirt. It’s all around me. So many stories. I love sharing my passion with everyone through my books.

"The Farm"

“The Farm”

 

Carol: I loved your book The Sunnyvale Girls, the links to local history and the Italian POW’s interred in Western Australia made your narrative unique and engaging. Can you give us a little peak into what we can expect in your new book?

The Sunnyvale Girls

Fiona: I’m editing my new book now. The Saddler Boys. It’s based on a small town called Lake Biddy who may lose their Primary School. Our town lost it’s school in 1998 and it changes everything, effects the town. So that is one of the main threads, with a few other bits thrown in.

 

Carol: What’s in a name? Do you categorise your writing as Rural fiction or Romance?   Or a hybrid of the two?

 

Fiona: I like to call it rural fiction or rural romance, either one is fine. At least the readers know what they are going to get. I’m not embarrassed to say I write romance. It’s in a lot of books, even those that don’t class themselves under a ‘romance’ heading. 

 

Carol: You will presenting a session at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival (May 29-31 2015) A Season of Love – what can we expect to hear about in this session?

 

Fiona: I’ll be sharing my journey to publication and the story behind The Sunnyvale Girls, plus answering any questions people may have. I love questions, fire them at me.

 

Carol: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

 

Fiona: Just that I hope when you pick up one of my books you can feel the passion and love I have for the country and that I can take you on an emotional journey to escape to a new place for a while.

 

Carol: Thank you for taking part in my “In Conversation With” blog posts. I look forward to seeing you at the Margaret Rivers Readers and Writers Festival. I’ll bring my camera.  🙂

In Conversation With Jenn J MCleod

Welcome Jenn to my blog and thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this discussion about all things reading, writing, Riesling and travel. But first congratulations on the release of your new book Season of Shadow and Light, a powerful Australian narrative of secrets, trust and complex family relationships (no spoilers here Jenn).

Season of Shadow and Light

Jenn I have discovered that you are now travelling the country in a fifth wheeler – how exciting. Last year we (husband and dog) spent eight months on the road in our pop top caravan yet I can’t imagine packing up my life and living in a caravan permanently.

Carol: Can you tell me a little bit about how you transitioned from Sydney corporate world to running a dog friendly B & B in a small town (double points from me for it being dog friendly) to life on the road in a fifth wheeler? What was the impetus for this last huge lifestyle change?

Jenn:

Travelling with pets should not be so hard. Our B&B was all about the dog. Our motto: “We prefer fluffy dogs to fluffy robes.”

For me, life has been a series of stepping stones, knowing I would end up back on the road. It was thirty years ago and three years camping around Australia, living out of a converted ford F100 and tent, that I discovered my affinity with country life. And no one was more surprised than me! (I’d started my career as a hairdresser and a make-up girl in a department store. My friends at the time had to almost break my fingers so I’d let go of the hairdryer I couldn’t take on the trip!) Fast forward through twenty years spent in corporate roles with long hours and good pay (and a few overseas trips) and I knew I had to get back to the country. In a way I have come full circle, but with the luxury of a fifth wheeler – with hairdryer and coffee machine! 

The Fifth Wheeler

The Fifth Wheeler

 

Carol: What does a typical day in your life look like?

Jenn:

My days probably sound pretty boring. But right now I am in a lovely beachside van park, so the view is spectacular. (It helps that my current work is set in a beachside caravan park in a small coastal town!) I wake at about 7AM (van parks are surprisingly quiet, except during the school hols!) and after breakkie we take the little one-eyed, 15 y.o dude dog (aka my muse) for a ‘walk’. By then it’s about 9AM and time for coffee and social media hour (or answer blog questions J ). After that I start writing. I write anywhere, mostly outside if the weather is good. I did get a small desk and large monitor installed in the van for winter and for editing (the big screen helps, plus I get to sit in a proper office chair – occasionally!)

I chat to people a lot. I observe people a lot. I am finding just being out of the house has heightened my senses and the way I use them in my writing. “Get out from behind the computer and experience ‘life’” has always been the advice I give writers. I guess you could say I took my own advice — to the extreme!

Jenn J McLeod

Jenn in action

 

Carol: Is the town Coolabah Tree Gully based on any particular town or region you have travelled to or visited?

Jenn:

My Seasons Quartet novels (House for all Seasons, Simmering Season, Season of Shadow and Light, and my 2016 release) have all been inspired by the north NSW countryside – inland. (Dorrigo and north to Kyogle.) The area of Bonablo/Kyogle inspired Paige’s road trip at the start of the book.

Carol – We drove through that region (Dorrigo) last year – on our way home and said we would love to visit that spot again -so beautiful.

 

Carol: How many kilometres have you travelled so far on this trip and where are you heading next?

Jenn:

Due to an unexpected family situation (and selling the house faster than we anticipated) we’ve had to stay close to home (Coffs Harbour area). As of June we are heading north, to Queensland and onto some Rockhampton friends who have a paddock we can park in. (We love free/cheap camping!) What I hope to do while travelling through smaller regions/towns is drop into local libraries to say ‘hi’ and offer to do an author event with locals, or even writing sessions. I did an author chat at Casino last January and it was fabulous. Small towns rarely get authors dropping by for a chat. I’d like to change that. Readers on Twitter can follow my #WriteRoundOz hashtag.

 

 

Carol: Is there a particular region that you yearn to discover?

Jenn:

I’ve seen very little of QLD. Thirty years ago our trip was cut short due to family illness so we never did get to QLD or Tassie. We also sped (figuratively speaking) around the Victorian coast. Oh, and also Margaret River and Esperance. And . . . and . . . .and . . .

 

Carol: Do you have a favourite caravanning destination? Do you prefer to stay in caravan parks or free camp?

Jenn:

We are well set up for free camping. Unfortunately, a writer’s imagination can be a scary place. (I curse the day I watched Wolf Creek – you may have noticed a few references to the movie in Season of Shadow and Light!) The world is a different place from thirty years ago when we would park anywhere for a night or two. These days there are ‘rules’ for free camping that makes it a reasonably safe prospect and I am sure I will feel better about it as time goes by. But right now I am finding caravan parks very comforting.

Jenn at work

Great spaces to write – life on the road.

 

Carol: Where can we expect to see Jenn J McLeod on this book tour? Are you heading to WA?

Jenn:

I wish a book tour would take me to WA soon. I have so many wonderful writer friends and readers over there. In fact, I spent more time in WA than any other state on that first trip and still saw so very little of such a magnificent state. I will make it over there in the van one day and I may never leave. Stay tuned!

 

Carol: What sorts of books do you read for enjoyment Jenn? Can you share with us 5 books you have recently enjoyed?

Jenn:

Easy:

Helene Young’s Northern Heat

Kylie Kaden’s Missing You

Margareta Osborn’s Rose River

Dianne Blacklock’s The Best Man

Loretta Hill’s The Maxwell Sisters

 

Carol: Now a very important question Jenn, what style of wine will we find in your caravan cellar? Does your fifth wheeler have a cellar? Ours does – a box under the bed J

Jenn:

*snap* We actually love saying . . . “I’ll go to the cellar and select a wine.” Our choices, however, are limited to what was on special at the time of purchase. We live a frugal life these days: food is simple and we rarely eat out (owning a café turned us off eating out anyway!), our designer clothes (ie shorts and sarongs) come from opp shops, as do our fave flannelette shirts (perfect for happy hour when the sea breeze cools and the mozzies come out). Our motto these days is ‘make do’ (and hope readers keep buying those books!) But the one thing we don’t go without is our happy hour. My favourite white would be a Semillion and red would be a Shiraz. (Hmm, it’s now only 10AM and I am hanging out for happy hour! But I have a few thousand words to get down first.)

 

 

Carol: Thank you for taking part in my “in Conversation With” blog posts Jenn J McLeod and good luck with the upcoming book tour. Cheers. Safe travels.

Thank you, Carol, and we must ‘talk’ about your dog friendly van park experiences. Our little one is 15 years old. We lost her mate last year, after only a couple of months in the van. We know having a dog while travelling can be difficult, but we can’t imagine life without a canine companion. Like our wine, some things we cannot go without.

 

Book information and BUY links – Simon & Schuster Australia. http://authors.simonandschuster.com.au/Jenn-J-McLeod/404929874

I love connecting with readers and other writers, especially aspiring authors. Connect with me on Facebook www.facebook.com/jennjmcleod.author and Twitter www.twitter.com/jennjmcleod  @jennjmcleod or www.jennjmcleod.com where readers can sign up for my ‘Odd and Occasional Newsy Newsletter’ for book updates, excerpts and offers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Conversation With K J Steele: Inspiration For The Bird Box

Recently I read and reviewed K J Steele’s The Bird Box, I was very impressed with this novel that has opened up some frank and useful discussions regarding  abuse, domestic violence, the treatment of the disempowered, mental health and what it means to seek refuge/asylum, to name but a few of the issues raised by this novel.

In this interview K J Steele talks about her inspiration for writing the novel.

PS

K J Steele will begin sharing a series of short posts next week on her Facebook author page. She will be posting (twice a week) the 86 reasons why a person could be committed to an asylum in the late 1880’s; “the various, mundane and novel reasons why you could have found yourself in the asylum along with the characters of ‘The Bird Box’. Think it couldn’t have happened to you? Well . . . let’s just wait and see what reasons for committal are all included on the list! 🙂 ”

 

A big welcome to K J Steele.

 

 

Suitcase Secrets

Finding inspiration for ‘The Bird Box’ in unexpected places.

When a dead man speaks people listen. There is just something compelling about a voice that reaches out to us from beyond the grave. I’m not referring to spooks here, but rather to mankind’s phenomenal ability to impress ourselves onto the fabric of this world even long after the physical self has departed.

Music, literature, art, etc., are some of the common daily communications we have with the dead. The emotive essence lingers on. But for one fragment of society their voices came forward in a much humbler way.

When I set out to write my novel The Bird Box I spent some time on the grounds and in the buildings of a former insane asylum. Although the physical location was beautiful it was best described as a melancholy beauty. The memory of the former patients lingered.

I began to wonder about them. Not as patients but as people. Who were they? Before and during their committal’s? What had their lives been like? Their childhoods? Had they flown kites? Liked kittens? Plums? Had they been bold and adventurous or shy and cautious? What had formed their hopes and dreams and secret fears?

I went to the Mental Health Archives in search of answers. I found none. Researching patient files was often heartbreaking. Not so much by what was written there, but by the lack thereof.

After the initial admittance notes there was very little new information. Staff were busy and it was not uncommon to have whole lives –40–50–60– years condensed down to a few brief notes.

The brevity of it haunted me. Not that I blamed the staff. Their hands were more than full with practical matters. But still, it felt inhumane to me that whole lives had been pared down to a few paltry lines. I wanted to know who these people were. Above and beyond the narrow label of psychiatric patient.

I was soon to find out. Their voices began a torrent of stories into my mind. They demanded a place on my page. They had stories to tell; lives and loves, laughter and tears. They too had experienced great joys and devastating loss. They had suffered deeply as well and yet none of these things fully defined them.

Synchronistically, as I was writing their stories I was sent a link to Jon Crispin’s stunningly evocative photographs of the Willard Asylum Suitcases. Jon’s photographs visually dovetailed so perfectly with my written efforts to portray the person behind the label of psychiatric patient that I knew immediately I had to travel to the exhibit The Changing Face of What is Normal in San Francisco to further explore his work.

What followed was an astounding opportunity to speak with the dead. Or rather – listen. Displayed alongside some of Jon’s photographs were the original suitcases and their contents. Each suitcase, no matter how carefully or haphazardly it had been packed for that initial trip to the asylum, spoke volumes to me. Each one was a virtual time-capsule illuminating the individuality of its owner. Bibles and poetry books, family pictures, lotions, musical instruments, detailed diaries, loving letters. Objects as seemingly disparate from one another as mending kits and (in one case) a small hand-gun. Items that symbolically spoke of the desperate need to either mend or end the suffering.

Few people in our society’s history have been so reviled and disenfranchised as the mentally ill. Our discomfort and fear of those we could not understand or control led to some less than glorious years.

Those committed to the care of an asylum were in some ways excommunicated from the rest of humanity. They were held in institutions where their sense of autonomy was met with resistance. Their personal mail was opened and relieved of any unsettling or dissenting content. Their objections were routinely overruled. Not only did they become powerless they became voiceless as well.

Obviously it was far easier to silence people back then in an age before today’s instant and ubiquitous technology. Problematic dissenters were easier to erase; sometimes permanently.

And sometimes not so permanently as evidenced with the Willard suitcases. The contents of the suitcases serve to form an intimate choir of ghostly voices. They speak of each person’s individuality. Of their uniqueness. Some of them give evidence of seemingly competent minds while others show an obviously distorted grip on reality. Mental illness can be frightening. Perhaps to no one more so than to the person caught within its shifting shadows.

The people who filled the wards of the former insane asylums were as individual as they were unique. To paint them all the same would be but an erroneous reverse stroke of history. The contents of the suitcases they left behind now speak formidably for these long dead patients.

I have listened to their stories and endeavored to capture the echo of their hearts and minds in my novel The Bird Box. These were people who contributed to the diversity of life. And their lives mattered.

 

http://kjsteele.com

 

http://www.willardsuitcases.com

 

 

 

 

Interview With Helen Garner: This House of Grief – Melbourne Writers Festival/ABC 2014.

 

After reading the book This House of Grief by Helen Garner I was directed to this interesting interview with the author which was recorded by the ABC at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2014. (Thanks Tracey at Carpe Librum  for alerting me to this.)

 

This was an interesting book, an interesting interview and I can see this come to  life on screen…so many interesting facets…characters and procedures.

 

 

 

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/10/01/4098308.htm