Hi Averil! Thank you so much for being my first ‘Author Talks’ feature on my new Book Blog! Welcome!
Hello, Mel! Thank you so much for this fabulous opportunity to chat about my first novel, Those Hamilton Sisters. I remember your lovely review in the early days of publication, and I’m forever thankful for your warm and enthusiastic response. It is very daunting launching your first book into the world, and readers & booksellers like you make the transition from writer to debut author such a joy!
How does it feel to be a published Australian Author? Tell us about your book journey.
I first decided I had to be an author at five years of age, and I pursued that goal devotedly right through school, university, work in the tourism industry, and the arrival of four children, until I finally accomplished it on my 41st birthday. My aim had been to be published by my 40th birthday, so I think I did all right!
To be perfectly honest, it’s still hasn’t truly sunk in. (Please don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up.) I think some of the surrealness owes to my regional location in Far North Queensland (FNQ). I am very removed from the ‘publishing world’ here – and I haven’t yet been able to meet my publisher and agent in person, nor any of the amazing and talented people who worked on my novel. Add to this the varying COVID restrictions of 2020/21, and it can feel very isolating as a regional author. Thankfully, we have the wonders of modern technology so the whole publishing and publicity process has been incredible, with so many opportunities thrown open to me. Walking into a local bookstore and seeing my novel on the shelf was the dream come true and every bit as magical as I imagined it would be. I was on a shining high for several weeks as readers and booksellers were sending photos of my novel in stores all over the country! That meant the world to me all the way up here.
‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ was a standout Australian fiction from the get go for me. I found myself immersed in the environment of northern Queensland, the sugar canes, the humidity, small town drama and gossip. Why did you choose this setting and when did Sonnet, Fable and Plums’ story come to you?
Having lived in the lush tropics since I was 8 years old, there was no place I’d rather write about! I still remember being utterly enchanted by this place upon my arrival from the South Coast of New South Wales, and I haven’t lost that sense of wonder since. It really is a place of such immense natural beauty and danger, amazing colour and quirkiness – like another world! Given how long I’ve lived here, and how much I adore the area, I knew I’d be able to bring this region to vivid life for readers. I worked in tourism for many years, guiding international tourists around the region, so I have an appreciation for how North Queensland is marvelled at through the eyes of visitors. I also have a deeply personal understanding of the way our tropical weather and environment shapes us and informs our daily lives. I have often said that the landscape of FNQ is a major character in the novel itself – playing its own crucial role in the plot, and acting upon each of the main characters.
Sonnet, Fable and Novella (called ‘Plum’) were suddenly ‘given’ to me by their mother, Esther Hamilton, when I was still a new mother myself. I felt very strongly that I was being asked to take care of these three, beautiful red-haired sisters, and the story seemed to take off from there. I just sat down, holding my newborn baby girl in my arms, and began to write out the first chapter in a hardcover journal. From then on, over many years, I let the girls lead me in their growing up. Although I knew the ultimate ending already, I was open to whatever direction Sonnet, Fable and Plum wanted to take.
I really enjoyed reading from Sonnet’s perspective. She’s headstrong, protective, determined and forward around her family and in the community, but deep down she’s so soft-hearted and empathic. Which character perspective was your favourite to write?
Choosing a favourite character is like choosing a favourite child. (Isn’t it whichever child is best behaved that day? Haha!) In truth, I loved and empathised most with whomever I was writing at a given time. The chapters alternate between perspectives, so I would go constantly between the two older sisters – Sonnet and Fable. I sometimes felt the characters influenced my life, and not the other way around. When I was writing Sonnet, I would become more assertive and headstrong, more like a mama bear with her cubs. Writing Sonnet made me feel powerful, capable and strong. Writing Fable, on the other hand, put me most in touch with my creativity. I always say, Fable has my dreamer’s heart. When writing Fable, I was channelling that part of me which swoons at natural beauty; believes in the ephemeral; finds endless inspiration in the lush rainforest; and embodies girlish love and longing. Plum plays a much smaller part in the story, partly because we first meet her as a very young child, but this was also a decision made for brevity, the novel being already so large at over 450 pages. I was always maternal towards Plum, she felt more like my daughter, whereas Sonnet and Fable felt like my sisters, and became my dear friends.
How long did it take you to write ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’? Did your initial draft and story bone structure change incredibly from then to now?
It took me approximately 15 years from when the beating heart of the story first revealed itself to me – when I was an expectant mother, living in a tiny villa overlooking sugarcane fields – to when it was published, in April 2021. The opening chapter remains largely the same as when I first sat down to pen it many years ago, newborn baby in arms. I was very much a ‘pantser’ in writing this novel, which allowed Sonnet, Fable and Plum to direct the story. I knew the ultimate ending of the novel from the very beginning, but not how we would get there. This worked in a ‘coming of age’ story, as it allowed the sisters’ lives to unfold organically. I loved that they had so much agency in the telling of their own stories.
My manuscript, when first finished, was about 160,000 words – far too long for commercial fiction. I worked steadily to bring this closer to a publishable state, over several years. At the start of 2020, I had a wonderful freelance editor – Alexandra Nahlous – take my manuscript on. Alex helped me to see how I could further reduce my novel to a commercially viable size, which was crucial to my success. Part of this entailed cutting Plum’s portion in the novel right down. This filled me with sadness at the time, but was unquestionably the best choice for the story as it stands today. My Beta Readers had all expressed some measure of frustration at having to cut away from the perspectives of Sonnet and Fable to that of a very young Plum. A child’s perspective didn’t fit well in my narrative and plot. Plum’s growing up, cut out, will remain a novella – boom tish – for me to cherish and keep.
I was aiming to self-publish my novel on my 40th birthday, in March 2020. My editor was key in encouraging me to approach a literary agent instead. I was incredibly lucky then to be taken on by stellar literary agent, Selwa Anthony, and when we first went out on submission, Echo Publishing and Bonnier Books UK offered me a two-book deal. Squeal!
Oh Averil… When is your next novel coming? I’m desperate and need to know just a peek of what it may be about, is this something you can share with us?
I am currently in the throes of a structural edit on my second novel, which is coming in 2022. I can tell you it is historical fiction set in a magnificent part of Far North Queensland in 1958, and features gutsy, spirited women solving a dark mystery together. Whereas ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ dealt with small town judgement, my second novel centres on community spirit and camaraderie. It is a novel about strong female friendship, love, juicy family dynamics, going after your own happiness, and most of all: courage found in deep waters. My second novel has more thriller elements than the first, which I really enjoyed tackling. It is a stand-alone novel; with a whole new cast of colourful characters that I hope you’ll love!
Thank you so much for your time Averil! ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ is available via the link below (connected to my local bookshop).