Author Talks with ‘Sandie Docker’

Sandie Docker is Australian Contemporary Women’s Author. She is the author of four novels with Penguin Books Australia and has two more on the way. Her latest novel ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’ was released on the 31st of August 2021.

Sandie Docker is Australian Contemporary Women’s Author signed and published with Penguin Books Australia. She grew up in Coffs Harbour and now resides in Sydney with her family. Her debut novel, ‘The Kookaburra Creek Cafe’ was published in 2018 with great success. Her second and third novels closely followed, those being ‘The Cottage at Rosella Cove’ in 2019 and ‘The Banksia Bay Beach Shack’ in 2020. We now celebrate ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’ as it was published and released on the 31st of August 2021.

Hi Sandie! Thank you so much for joining me and taking the time to answer my questions during your busy virtual book touring for ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’. Congratulations and welcome!

Sandie – look at you! A successful Australian Author published four times with Penguin Australia! Tell me, where did your initial love and development for reading, storytelling and writing come from?

Whodda thunk, right? Four books in and more coming. I feel so lucky. I was a bit slow to reading/writing game, unlike most authors who seem to either have written their first book when they were 7, or emerged from the womb reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. As a child, I hated reading. Yep. It’s true. I couldn’t think of anything more boring to do with my time. But my dad was an avid reader across many genres and when I was in my late teens, he put a fantasy novel in my hands, Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings, and said, ‘just give it a go.’ Wanting to please my dad, I did give it a go and I was hooked. Why hadn’t anyone told me before that, that book could transport you to another world and the characters within the pages could feel like friends? From then on I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on, and then when I was doing the HSC I was introduced to Jane Austen and my love of women’s fiction was born. But it wasn’t until I was at uni that I even thought about becoming a writer. My Mandarin lecturer suggested I had a knack for writing, and I sat with that advice for a long time before I tried to write my first manuscript. That first manuscript, which was an abject disaster, was when I fell in love with writing. And it was twelve years later before my first novel was published

What inspired you to write about all things book clubs, reading lists, art and islands in your latest book, The Wattle Island Book Club?

I was on tour with my first novel, The Kookaburra Creek Café, when I was chatting after an event with the librarian at Port Macquarie library, Leanne, and she mentioned sending over book club sets to Lord Howe Island on the supply boat, and I was like, an island book club – there’s something in that. So that was the spark of the idea. And as I wrote the story – because I don’t plan anything – the story and characters told me where to take them and the bucket lists and art themes came out then.

Your novels always feel like a warm and familiar hug to me. What are your favourite character qualities, experiences or perspectives to write?

Awww, thank you. That means a lot to me. Hmmm, I’m not sure if there are specifics here, more just anything or anyone with heart. I hope my characters aren’t too perfect, because none of us are, so a flawed character is relatable, and you don’t have to look very far to find heart-wrenching experiences to draw on for your characters’ lives. Again, experiences that are relatable – something you or someone you know could have been through. And as for perspective, whether I write female or male POV (point of view), young or old, or even through letters (Ivy in The Cottage At Rosella Cove), it’s the story telling me how it wants to be written that dictates this. Though I’ll always have predominantly female POV, as I write women’s fiction.

I have loved all four of your novels (and dream of more and more to come!). I have happily followed online and instore as each has been released and absorbed by the world of Aussie readers. Have your writing, drafting, publishing and touring experiences been different for all four of your books?

Thank you. You’ll be pleased to know that I have another 2 book contracted! The short answer is yes, vastly different each time! The Kookaburra Creek Café and The Cottage At Rosella Cove were both finished manuscripts before I signed a publishing contract, so they took forever to write (5 and 3 years respectively). Then I was contracted and with that comes deadlines. So The Banksia Bay Beach Shack and The Wattle Island Book Club were written (first draft before the editing process) in about 5 months.

Publishing with Penguin has been a dream, but I have worked with different editors and that brings a different dynamic each time. And as for touring – my first tour was definitely nerve-wracking, my second was bigger, my third got scuttled by COVID and everything moved online, and I’m waiting to see what happens this year with my tour and COVID. Through it all though, the joy of readers finding your work and connecting with you is just the most wonderful experience.

I’ve got a tricky and fun question for you! We are set to see The Wattle Island Book Club hit shelves on the 31st of August this year. If you were a bookseller, how would you recommend, suggest and sell your book to readers?

Is it bad for me to admit that I actually did this once? I was in a store, saw someone pick up my book and read the blurb, and leaned over and said ‘Oh, I can highly recommend that one.’ I did end up telling her I was the author, so it was full disclosure in the end. And she did buy it!

If I was legitimately recommending it in a book store, I would say something like, if you want a read that’s going to rip your heart out and then put it back together, with a wonderful cast of fun , warm characters, all set on an island with a book club theme, then this is the book for you.

Thank you so much for your time Sandie! It’s been an absolute pleasure and such a fangirl moment conversing with you 😍 All four of Sandie’s novels are available and linked to purchase at your convenience from my local bookshop 📚

Book Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

I gave into the hype, I did it and I’m telling you … I really, really don’t regret it. If you have been hesitant like me about reading the ridiculously loved, discussed and recommended novel ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owen – I am here to vouch that this book is great! Buy it, loan it, read it and let’s talk about it 😍✨

Clever. That is my overarching word, expression and summary for this book. Not only has Delia Owens written in a descriptive yet simplistic way, she has allowed us as the reader to connect with Kya who is our main character. We are also strongly invested in the death, or supposed murder of Chase Andrews.

Kya’s life isn’t easy. Her father has strong symptoms of PTSD, domestic abuse and alcoholism. Due to her family living within the deep marshland of North Carolina, the neglectful family environment goes unseen and unknown. Kya’s mother walks out on her uneducated, poor and scared children. Eventually, Kya is left to fend for herself and her father – constantly in a state of pining, grief and hoping her mother may return to the marsh. Eventually, her father also leaves and so Kya is left to completely fend for herself. We see her develop hands-on environmental intellect, sufficiency and resilience from a very young age and well into her teens – where she meets Chase Andrews, ‘the town golden-boy’.

Shifting back and forward of time is something I really enjoy in period novels. Delia Owens has perfected the technique as it provided the reader with suspicion, curiosity and a number of motives as to why/when/how/who may have been involved in Chase Andrews’ death.

The love expressed throughout this book – oh, how good it is!! Over time, Kya was exposed to and learnt how to feel supported and cared for by multiple people. It wasn’t just the assumed modern ‘love story’ scenario. Slang, twang and small town community culture/gossip held this novel in a different light. As the story takes place in the mid-1900’s, African American culture is hugely ostracised and rejected. Kya finds that her reputation as the ‘Marsh Girl’ pockets her in the same category – largely leading to the accusations and theories that spread about her and Chase.

Poetry, mother nature and the interesting scientific facts of insects, birds and animal relationships, really do complement the story. Clever – as I said at the beginning. Trust me, it will all make sense when you read it (which I throughly encourage you to do)! Reece Witherspoon was also behind the push for movie production/ book adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing. I can’t wait to see this on film in 2022 📽🎞

Book Review: ‘Thread Needle’

August 2021

If you’re looking for a magical, witchy and addictive read, Thread Needle by Cari Thomas definitely needs to go on your TBR 🔮

Thread Needle was recommended to me by a new friend out of my book club. Her and I have similar reading style and have bonded over our mutual love for everything Sarah J Maas. She said that Thread Needle was one of her favourite witchy books she’s read in a long time and … I have to agree with her.

Anna is our main character and has lived a quiet, simple and restricted life with her Aunt. Anna has always been told that her parents died due a tragic scenario of love and murder, where her father was held guilty of killing her mother. Aunt says the feeling of love is a curse and her parents deserved what they got. But why does her Aunt keep doors locked, wants to stop Anna using her magic and refuses to ever give her a straight answers?

Soon to turn sixteen, Anna is aware that the time to ‘bind’ her magic is inching closer. By binding her magic, Anna will be unable to cast spells, explore magical languages or tap into her Hira, a witches personal thread to their own unique magic. Anna can feel her magic resisting, twisting, knotting and itching to come out, but Aunt insists her magic will have deadly consequences. Unsure of her magical fate, Anna hides behind her ‘Nobody’ status at school until she meets Effie and Attis.

Effie and Attis open her eyes up to the magical London within Anna’s grasp if she refuses bind her magic. Anna explores secret shops that sell memories, rumour spells, evil curses, magical libraries and covens. Her confidence grows leaving her quiet non-magical life behind. I think this magical adventure was well-paced, unique and refreshing for the genre of ‘witchy fantasy’. I am always wanting to read a good witch story as I think they make for such interesting and creative plots, language and characters. Thread Needle is expected to be part of a series and I really think I will be quick to pick up the second book. There was a YA feeling to this story but with the addition of some sex scenes and romantic angst, I see why it has been categorised as Fantasy. However, I would recommend this book to mature readers, 16 and up. Overall, a really enjoyable read ✨

For the love of Beth O’Leary

August 2021

Contemporary romance is a favoured genre of mine – if it’s done well! One of my favourite authors to recommend in the bookshop is Beth O’Leary. She is an English author who can bring spice, relationship pining and romance into the perfect novel! In my eyes, I believe she can do no wrong. Let’s go through her titles and why I’d recommend each one 📚

The Flatshare – published in April of 2019

OHH how the relationship of Tiffy and Leon spun my reading and had me up until all hours of the morning laughing, gushy and desperate for more!

Tiffy and Leon share a flat. Tiffy and Leon share a bed. Tiffy and Leon have never met… until one day they do and my gosh it is funny! One of them may be exiting the bathroom naked while the other may entering. A towel is nearly dropped and a horrific initial meeting starts a whirlwind of events.

Tiffy works during the day and Leon works night shift, therefore they never cross paths. They leave food in the fridge for each other, bottles of wine out and post it notes on the fridge, keeping one another up to date on their personal lives and work. This book is gushy and romantically wholesome but still has depth. That’s what I really like about Beth’s writing. She hits topics of mental health, unhealthy romantic relationships and disconnection from family members, yet they aren’t pushed on you as the reader or felt overdone. This is my favourite of her novels.

The Switch – published in April of 2020

Okay I want you to think of the old school Lindsey Lohan movie, Freaky Friday. Remember how they switches lives and suddenly had to figure out how to navigate a different lifestyle, generation and technology. That’s ‘The Switch’ all over – but replace the body swapping with a Grandma and her Granddaughter swapping lives for a couple of months.

Leena Cotton is made to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work. She decides to escape to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest and relaxation – or so she thinks. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen. I mean there is her grumpy next door neighbour but her is far from an eligible bachelor. Leena decides to set Eileen off on an adventure to London, go enjoy the city lights, shop and maybe even her on a dating app or two. This warming and funny swap of lives throws you into fits of laughter. Grandma gets her sexy pizazz back and Leena has a group of oldies in the Yorkshire village setting her up with a single school teacher. I would re-read ‘The Switch’ in a heartbeat!

The Road Trip – published in April of 2021

Now … The Road Trip is going to be up there with one of my favourite books of 2021 thus far. After loving her two previous novels, I was and am at the point now that whatever Beth O’Leary writes – I will automatically purchase and read. I had higher expectations for this novel as I had seen it hyped everywhere and it defiantly did not disappoint.

Picture a Mini Cooper. A wedding in Scotland. A road trip. Then imagine a whirlwind romance in Europe that developed into a two year relationship to then end traumatically. That previous couple haven’t spoken in over a year and they are now suck in this tiny car together road tripping to a mutual friend’s wedding. You’ve also got the ‘trouble-maker’ friend who contributed to the couple breaking up in the first place. Then you’ve got a new mother with an express breast pump, trying to bottle milk on the way to a wedding, all while her sexual desires and fantasies are overtaking her every normal thought (hilarious)! Lastly, you’ve got this random guy/friend of the bride who hitched a ride and nobody really knows who he is or how he got invited. These 5 fabulous characters in a Mini Cooper spells disaster!

The quick witted humour, flicking back and forward in time periods, dramatic relationship building and streamy scenes really made this novel a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 star read for me. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy and desperately continue to recommend this to all my regular readers who want to pull an all nighter, laugh so hard you frighten the people around you and crave that buzzing feeling of old flames lighting back up again.

The No-Show – possible date of publication in April of 2022

By now, I think you’ve probably gathered that I am excited, highly anticipating and cannot WAIT for the publication for Beth O’Leary’s next novel. The No-Show follows three women, three dates and one missing man …

Extract from Good Reads:

“8.52. Siobhan’s been looking forward to her breakfast date with Joseph. She was surprised when he suggested it – she normally sees him late at night in her hotel room. Breakfast with Joseph on Valentine’s Day surely means something … so where is he?

14.43. Miranda’s hoping that a Valentine’s Day lunch with Carter will be the perfect way to celebrate her new job. It’s a fresh start and a sign that her grown-up life is finally falling into place: she’s been dating Carter for five months now and things are getting serious. But why hasn’t he shown up?

18.30. Joseph Carter agreed to be Jane’s fake boyfriend at a colleague’s engagement party. They’ve not known each other long but their friendship is fast becoming the brightest part of her new life in Winchester. Joseph promised to save Jane tonight. But he’s not here…

Meet Joseph Carter. That is, if you can find him.”

Book Review: ‘The Tribute’

August 2021

John Byron is a debut Australian Crime Author. The Tribute was our August book for my Crime Fiction Fanatic Book Club. We were all excited and anticipating this read as it’s out first ‘serial killer’ esk type of crime fiction. The Tribute has also been shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards of 2021. This inaugural award recognises Australian literacy for its writing, reading and standout factor.

The Tribute surrounds seven killings taking place in modern day Sydney. Each murder is displayed as a dissection, with a specific body organ or system being focused on by the serial killer. His planned, professional and sickening murders are inspired by and recreated from the Fabrica, the 16th-century foundation text of modern European anatomy.

This multi-perspective thriller/murder mystery had be gripped at the beginning. We meet Murphy who one of the main homicide Detective’s on the case. Murphy was a challenging character to read from as his air of male dominance, feminist-hate type behaviour, coercive control in his marriage to Sylvia, and persistent alcoholism makes him quite an unlikeable voice. As I believe, John Byron has purposely done. Flipping and seeing the story from Sylvia’s perspective at times also encourages the reader to gain insight into the manipulative control, questioning and uncertainly domestic abuse can inflict on a woman. Jo, who is Murphy’s sister is also a main character. She is a well educated woman in the field of Art History and teaches at the local university. Due to her increased knowledge around the Fabrica, the State Commissioner has funded her as a resource on the serial killer case – much to Murphy’s dislike as he refused to be shown up by any woman, including his sister.

The use of the Fabrica, I have to say was extremely clever, well researched and a unique element of this novel. I throughly enjoyed how interwoven the serial killers thinking patterns, plannings and actions connected to this historical resource. Sadly, at some points I did feel that aspects of the plot were predictable. I wasn’t kept at a gripping pace or in a page-turning frenzy to get to the end of this book.

I am interested to hear the thoughts of my book club soon. Did they feel slightly let down as I did? Did the despise Murphy as much as I did? Do they think that the women of this story got the justice they deserved in the end? Were they shocked by the ending?

Have you read this book? Comment below!

3 Memoirs on my 2021 TBR

What is a Memoir you ask? A Memoir is a historical account of a person or groups personal knowledge, predominantly written in a narrative style.

I resonate with memoirs that are from a female perspective. I enjoy reading about themes of mental health, work place hierarchy challenges, feminist POV’s and outcomes or changed life paths due to a particular experience or conflict. Here are 3 Memoirs that I would like to read by the end of 2021.

Emotional Female by Yumiko Kadota

“I never thought I would say this, but I broke. I give up. I am done. I am handing back my dream of becoming a surgeon.” In February of 2019, Yumiko blogged about her experiences as a trainee in the health system and she opened with these words. Talking all things Asian heritage and educational expectations she experienced growing up, male domination in particular health fields and being called ’emotional’ or ‘too confident’ about her work, Yumiko couldn’t take it any more. Her mental health deteriorated and so did her goal of practicing as a Plastic Surgeon.

I listened to Yumiko on an ABC Conversations Podcast and her story sounds incredibly important.

The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar

‘Gripping, transcendent, tender and, at times, infuriating. With a daughter’s heart and a lawyer’s mind, Amani Haydar maps the territory that connects the wars we fight abroad to the wars we endure in our homes.’ Jess Hill (Author of See What You Made Me Do)

I initially learned of ‘The Mother Wound’ via social media. I could not take my eyes off the cover for one but then I discovered what it was really about. Domestic violence, as I agree with the words of Jess Hill’s Stella Prize book ‘See What You Made Me Do’, a national emergency. In Amani’s memoir, she reflects on what kind of mother she hopes to be when her life experiences are scarred by the horrific murder of her mother – at the hands of her father. Deep diving into witnessing and living with coercive control growing up, as well as reflecting on her parents emotional relationship, Amani sounds like an incredibly strong human being.

*READ* Heartsick by Jessie Stephens

‘Heartbreak does not seem to be a brand of grief we respect. And so we are left in the middle of the ocean, floating in a dinghy with no anchor, while the world waits for us to be okay again.’ (except from Heartsick)

I was recommended this book by a dear friend who had read the short story type memoir herself. Jessie Stephens actually focused in on three seperate stories and allowed the people to tell share their individual experiences in a narrative type retelling. You would not believe that these three people were strangers as their experiences, traumas and whole body reaction to the feeling of heartbreak are all so similar. We all at some point on our lives feel heart sick, it’s a form of grief yet we don’t socially accept or recognise its impact. Here is my GoodReads review:

“I was undecided if this was the type of book that would grip me. We learn about three different stories about being in love, the high, the heartbreak, the grief, the up and down challenges of relationships and that burnt feeling you get after being let down over and over again. The disjointedness of each biographical recount actually reads so well and you can only lend a piece of your heart out to each person in this book. I feel understood, I am resonating with some stories, feelings and experiences. I really think this is a universal read for all human beings” – Mel (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5/5)

Book Review: ‘The Wattle Island Book Club’

August 2021

Sandie Docker’s novels always feel like a warm, comfortable and familiar hug to me. I am immersed in them within the first 3 chapters and next thing you know, I’ve been reading for an hour and have myself totally invested in the characters, their challenges and their experiences to come.

The Wattle Island Book Club is a dual perspective story following the wonderful Grace and Anne (with an e, just like Anne of Green Gables 😊). We’re initially introduced to Grace and she is strapped in to bungie jump off a cliff! Writing and curating ‘Bucket Lists’ has always been a tradition for her and she believes that life is full of unexpected curve balls and challenges, therefore it is time to start ticking off some of these adventures. Grace is a librarian and prides herself in the founding and organising of library bookclubs. She gives regular recommendations, offers support and lives to help her members. One day she receives a call from Anne in need of her immediate assistance.

Anne’s character is multi-dimensional as we follow her life in present time, as she works to resurrect her Wattle Island Book Club, and in the past through the period of the 1940-50’s Australia. Anne is made an orphan from a young age and is shipped off to Wattle Island to live with her Aunt. The small, quiet and isolated island prompts her love for reading to grow. Anne’s life has been full of love, loss and trauma as we learn throughout the book and I really resonated with her character – she was so strong and still so kind!

The elements of book clubs, reading lists, book shop and art were so well woven into The Wattle Island Book Club, that I wouldn’t have asked for a better lockdown read. Sandie’s writing takes me away and puts my mind at ease. I always find myself finishing her novels too soon (this one before it is even published!!) and desperately craving more!

Sandies other books are:

The Kookaburra Creek Cafe

The Cottage at Rosella Cove

The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

All of which I have throughly enjoyed and would highly recommend 📚

Monday 16th August 2021

Where am I? My family home in Regional NSW

What am I drinking? A good old instant coffee with almond milk (who doesn’t love one of these in the morning?!)

What am I thinking? My life, as have the lives of many people living in NSW, has been a whirlwind the past few days. I am grateful to be safe. I am grateful to be healthy. I am grateful to have company in lockdown. I believe that many people, including myself, will and have taken this lockdown as a hit to their mental health. I am trying to stay focused and breathe through the overwhelming thoughts of feeling lost and unstructured. I am a rigorous planner and love my routines, therefore this week and possibly weeks to come will be a new challenge. I’m trying to see through to a hopeful future and one where our whole state can come out of disarray. Stay safe everyone.

Friday 6th August 2021

My first ‘Coffee’ post! We’re here – we’re doing this!

Where am I? Thorne Street Cafe (82 Thorne Street, Wagga Wagga, NSW, 2560)

What have I ordered? A Long Black w/ a side of Almond Milk & a Raspberry and White Choc Muffin

What am I thinking? How friendly the staff are and how lucky I am to be sitting in a coffee shop freely enjoying a coffee and food without lockdown restrictions of Covid-19. In regional NSW we are legally obliged to ‘Check-In’, yet in places such as Sydney, sadly they cannot even leave their homes unless it is classed as essential.

Author Talks with ‘Averil Kenny’

Averil Kenny is an Australian Author based in far north Queensland. Her debut novel ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ was published in March 2021.

Averil Kenny is an Australian Author based in Northern Queensland. Her debut book ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ was published in March 2021 by Bonnier Echo and Allen & Unwin Australia.

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 Sistersis available via the links provided within our discussion. All links are connected to my local bookshop 📚