Author Talks with Meg Gatland-Veness

Meg Gatland-Veness 📸 by Dane Howell via Pantera Press

Meg Gatland-Veness is a powerhouse of a modern woman. She not only inspires and teaches children in her day to day life, but she also produces works of fiction, targeted to youth and inquisitive adults, that have such feeling, motivation and passion. Meg is the author of two published novels, ‘I Had Such Friends’ & ‘When Only One’.

Welcome Meg, to Mel Reviews Her Books 🌸🎙

Meg, I’ve found the experience of reading your novel extremely compelling, funny and moving. At what point did you decide to write such a prevalent, timely and frightening topic in an Australian setting? 

When I teach creative writing to my students I give them two pieces of advice. One, write what you know and two, write about the things that make you mad. And When Only One is a combination of these two things for me. My novels are all set in an Australian context because it is where I live and where I grew up and I think we need more fiction, especially YA fiction, set in Australia, especially regional and rural Australia. And secondly, it makes me so mad that in places like America, someone can buy a gun, take it into a school and shoot a bunch of children. And maybe that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Australia, but violence still does, every single day. Women are killed by their husbands, children are abused by the people who are supposed to protect them and teenagers are still taking their own lives. So, I’m not under the misconception that this novel will end violence, but if even one person who picks up this book thinks twice before enacting violence on another human being, then it will have been worth it.

How did you take care of yourself while writing on such a topic?

I actually wrote this book during lockdown, which I know was a tough time for a lot of people, but I actually really enjoyed it! I went for walks or kayaks everyday, I spent a lot of time with my partner and my three cats, I read lots of books, I got really into gardening. So, I was in a really good place mentally while I was writing the novel which helped a lot, I was able to do some writing in the morning and then spend the afternoon in the garden or out on the water.

Seeing Australian teenage life through Samson’s eyes was a perfect, well-rounded perspective. What was it about Samson that made him stand out as your main voice and lens? When did he come to you?

My first draft pages of the book were actually from the point of view of a third person omniscient narrator, but it wasn’t personal enough and it was too removed from the tragedy, so I rewrote from Sam’s perspective. I think one of the nice things about Sam as a narrator is that he is such an optimist and even though a lot of terrible things happen during the novel, his positive outlook on life helps to make the future not seem so bleak. I also wanted to buck that typical Aussie, surfer stereotype by making him quite sensitive and empathetic. Sam is a very loving person, he really cares deeply about his family and friends which I think is also something that is important to show some of our male readers that it’s okay to show affection.

Samson’s relationship with Emily is brotherly, deeply emotional, loving and romantic in ways. Did you always plan and foresee the events that would happen in Emily’s life, or did they unfold as your writing progressed? 

The first idea I had for this story was the relationship between Sam and Emily, before there was ever a school shooting or anything else. The very first scene I wrote was Emily and Sam at the front door handing over the shoe to Emily’s mother and the idea of them making paper boats to send down the gutters was another initial idea I had. Emily was always going to come from a family that was struggling to keep things together and Sam was always going to be the opposite, having a classic loving family, loads of brothers running around, a mother who cooks all his meals and washes his clothes and a father who works hard to pay the bills. Their relationship is really at the heart of this novel and everything else that happens is grounded by them.

What’s next on your agenda Meg? You’re an accomplished writer, dedicated high school drama teacher, and a woman who holds a large passion for advocating and creating topical conversations about the adversities faced by young Australians. Where can you see this all leading you?

Well, When Only One and I Had Such Friends are actually just two books in a set of ten that I plan to write in the same universe which span from about 1965 to 2018. I am currently working on another novel set in between the first two, but there are lots more that I have planned out as well. I also want to learn to sail!

Thank you Meg for your time, thoughts and responses on the blog! I look forward to seeing the next novel 😊💫🌸

Author Talks with Maya Linnell

📸 Maya Linnell w/ Allen & Unwin

Maya Linnell is a bestselling Australian rural fiction author. Her writing career launched into the lime light in 2019 with the successful publication of her first novel ‘Wildflower Ridge’ with Allen & Unwin. From that year on, Maya’s has written 3 more books, she’s been backed by huge recommendation platforms such as Better Reading, and launched a fantastic blog, digital newsletter and reading community.

Welcome Maya and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be hosting one of my favourite Australian rural fiction writers on the blog 💖

Maya, when did you fall in love with country romance writing? And what was your turning moment that influenced you to write your own novels?
In my 20s I was lucky enough to score a cadetship at a rural newspaper, which provided the perfect base for my love of words and country stories. I covered everything from school news and netball reports to front stories and advertising features, but the longer feature pieces, where I was allocated 3000 words to tell the amazing tales of local residents, quickly became my favourites.
This enthusiasm for long-form writing put me in good stead for fiction, although it wasn’t until mid-2016, following a late-night conversation with my husband, that I decided to write a novel. I’d been a stay-at-home mum for eight years at that stage, we’d almost finished owner building our home and our youngest child was about to start kindy. It was the first time I’d shared my dream of writing a novel and from that moment on, I did everything in my power to make it happen!

Taking a step back to ‘Wildflower Ridge’ your first novel published with Allen & Unwin, how would you have described that time in your life? Debut novelist, book deal and expectations?
It was a whirlwind of excitement, and I celebrated so many momentous steps along the way; finishing my first draft, making finals in writing competitions with Romance Writers Australia and sending my manuscript out into the world. I was thrilled to score a two-book deal with
Allen & Unwin a few months after I’d started pitching my novel. The contract offer burst into my inbox when I was grocery shopping with the kids on a midwinter’s afternoon, July 2018 (cue cries of delight in the fruit and veg aisle). We threw an impromptu party with our neighbours
that night. Champagne never tasted sweeter!
In terms of expectations, as a debut author, I just hoped that someone other than my school pals, family and former colleagues would buy Wildflower Ridge and enjoy it! Seeing the novel in bestseller lists and award finals was phenomenal the first time, and to experience that success again with the following three books completely exceeded my expectations. I’m so grateful for the generous support from readers, booksellers, bloggers and fellow authors, plus my fabulous publishers, Allen & Unwin.

Describe your life now for me and those reading, 4 years on from the publication of ‘Wildflower Ridge’
Nowadays, I write full time and juggle my author life with family commitments, book blogging and our small property in rural Victoria. Letters from readers are one of my favourite things and it’s a joy to share snippets of our country life on social media @maya.linnell.writes, in my
monthly newsletter and with occasional podcast takeovers. I’m also an advocate for authors and libraries and host a free online show called ‘Library Lovers’ on the third Wednesday of every month. We talk all things books, baking and gardening during the show, and I’ve just
locked in Jane Harper for October. I couldn’t be happier!

‘Paperbark Hill’ is the final story in the sister quartet you’ve created, written and published with Allen & Unwin. Has it been hard bringing the McIntyre sisters’ stories’ to an end?
The McIntyre sisters have been wonderful company these last four years, and after such a warm response from readers, it is hard to farewell them. I’ve had plenty of requests for future stories using minor characters from this series, so perhaps one day I’ll revisit Bridgefield and
check in on them. But for now, I’ve got a whole new series to write!

Maya, you are a powerhouse of a woman and I have been honoured to meet you in person, therefore I can easily say you’re a loving mother, incredibly humble and kind being. You’re also a flower enthusiast, poddy lamb mumma and skilled baker. Among all of these jobs, what is next on the agenda for your successful writing career? 
That’s very kind of you, Mel, it was lovely meeting you when we passed through Wagga Wagga and it’s clear you share that same passion for books! My main focus this month is redrafting my 2023 manuscript – A Place in the Vines – before submitting it to my publisher, Annette Barlow, in August. Then once that’s done, I’ll dive straight into writing my 2024 manuscript. And of course, there’s always plenty to be done around the property with three busy kids, rambling gardens and bottle feeding our latest intake of orphaned lambs!

(Images below are courtesy of Maya’s Instagram page @maya.linnell.writes 📸🌸)


Thank you Maya for your time, generosity and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖📚💫 One big thank you to you, Maya, and Allen & Unwin for sending me this copy of ‘Paperbark Hill’ for review.  
Thank you for having me, Mel! And on behalf of the Aussie writing community, a big thanks for all your enthusiasm and good work getting our books into the hands of readers.

Author Talks with Nell Pierce

Nell Pierce is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. This award is presented to an unpublished author and their manuscript, in the hopes of finding Australia’s next BIG literary author and launching their writing career. Nell Pierce was this year’s winner. Nell is already topping charts and our very own Literary Lovers Book Club is very excited to read Nell’s ‘A Place Near Eden’ for the month of July.

Welcome Nell and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute privilege and pleasure to be discussing your debut novel and writing experience with you 😊

Nell, how does it feel to be a debut novelist and award winner all wrapped up in one? Congratulations 🥳

Thank you! It feels pretty great!!

I wrote a lot of A PLACE NEAR EDEN when I was living in New York. I was working as a literary agent, which was fun and fast paced (and also sometimes quite stressful) and before work I’d go to a Pret near the office to do a little writing. My job involved working with authors and helping them get published, so it was very inspiring but also sometimes a reminder of how hard publishing can be. I made my peace with the fact that my novel might end up only being read by my mum and dad. I just enjoyed the process of writing and having that part of the morning that I dedicated to myself. It was nice to have a project to work on that was just for me. I’d sit down with a coffee and sometimes some oatmeal or a yogurt and get out my laptop and that half hour was a little luxury.

When I found out I’d won the Vogel I was pregnant with my daughter, who was born around the same time the book published. It was funny timing, because I’d kept my pregnancy a secret for the first trimester, and had just started telling people, and was feeling really relieved not to have the burden of a secret anymore. I’m a terrible secret keeper, especially with happy secrets, like having a baby, I just want to tell everyone. So then, just when I thought my secret keeping was over, I got another happy secret when I found out I’d won the Vogel. I found out in September but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until the announcement was made in May of the next year. In the meantime, I worked with Allen and Unwin to edit the book, which was a fantastic experience.

I guess in summary I’m feeling really lucky!

What was your turning moment that made you click “submit” on your manuscript for The Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award?

It was my partner, Mark, who convinced me to submit to the Vogel. I’d been working on the manuscript for so many years, I think I could have kept working on it forever! The Vogel’s Literary Award was a great deadline to help me stop working on the manuscript and start thinking about moving onto something new. And then when I won, I got to go back into the manuscript and start editing. It was very hard to part with the pages when it was time to finally turn them in. Even now, I’ll be in the shower, and I’ll think of a paragraph or passage that I wish I’d included.

Have Tilly, Sam and Celeste’s story always been with you? How did they come about and then their written stories come to fruition?

I really love the area around Eden on the south coast of NSW. I used to visit there a lot as a kid, and I love the ocean, the contrast between the calm inlet waters and the surf beaches, the gum trees and bush, and the sense of wildness in the rugged landscape. When I was living in New York I really missed that landscape, and so I started writing something set there so that I could mentally visit even though I was physically so far away. So I started with the setting even before the characters. Maybe because I spent a lot of time around Eden when I was a teenager, I started to think about a coming of age story in that setting. And, I think, the landscape around there is beautiful but also, especially in the context of ocean rips, sometimes dangerous, and so I think that gave rise to some of the darker themes in the novel.

After I had the setting, the characters of Tilly, Sem and Celeste came next. When I was coming up with their characters I was thinking a lot about the ways that we’re responsible for other people, especially the people we love, and also about the ways we can fail in that responsibility. I think Michael Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT touches on this in a way. Ondaatje’s characters claim that they are not ‘beholden’ to each other, despite their romantic relationships. I think about that a lot, perhaps because I struggle to understand it. I’m not able to have cool and detached relationships like that. So in my novel I wanted to explore the ways that we are all beholden to each other, and what it looks like to fail in those obligations.

From your experiences of working in Family Law Court of Australia, do you feel this has influenced your writing, depictions of characters and behaviours?

One thing that struck me when I was working at the Family Court was the way the parties to a relationship can have such different understandings of shared events. And I see it all the time in my own life as well. My partner and I have fought because he thought I was giving him unsolicited advice about his career when I thought he’d directly asked me for my input. Or there was the period he didn’t cook me mushrooms because he thought I’d said I don’t like them when in fact I love mushrooms and have no memory of saying anything to the contrary. And there’s nothing more frustrating and lonely than getting to the place where you just have to kind of ‘agree to disagree’ when you both just remember things differently. Those are small examples, but miscommunication and misremembering can easily turn into something much bigger. There can be a kind of horror in not knowing what the truth is, or having your idea of the truth disputed or disregarded, or not knowing who to trust.

I was captivated from the moment I started ‘A Place Near Eden’, until the moment I put it down. My favourite quote came from Sem and it surrounded his desperate need to make his own choices in a world where before the age of 18, jumping around homes and changing environments – he didn’t hold a lot of autonomy. My question to you is, where are you choosing to take your writing career from here? Are you a planner or choosing to let your creativity lead the way?

I am a planner! Some people can sit down and write a novel in a burst of passionate inspiration, but unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I like to take my time getting to know my characters and the setting and themes for the novel before I start writing. And I keep the first draft in handwritten form to remind myself that it’s just a draft and won’t be turned in or shown to anyone. That way I feel like I have the freedom to experiment and take risks. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment for my next novel. I’m experimenting with a few characters who knew each other in high school but are now in their thirties, and thinking about Melbourne, Amsterdam (where my family lives) and New York City. It can be tricky because sometimes I have ideas that I struggle to fit into my idea of the novel I’m working on. Like yesterday I had a vision of one of my new characters in her sixties, but I’m not sure if there’s room for that period of her life in the book. I try to hold all those ideas loosely and just see where it goes.

Thank you Nell for your time, care in response and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖🎙 Another big cheer for Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’ for review and recommendation 🥳 To check out my review of Nell’s book, click here!

Author Talks with Isobel Beech

Isobel Beech is an up and coming, young Australian writer. Her first fictional novel ‘Sunbathing’, was published with Allen & Unwin this month (May, 2022). 📸 by Claire Summers

Isobel Beech is going to take Australia by storm! With a background in copywriting, creative and internet news media, she is well versed in the book world. Her first book titled ‘How To Be Online and Also Be Happy’, was published in 2021. Her spectacular debut fiction called ‘Sunbathing’, has been published with Allen & Unwin this month (May, 2022).

Welcome Isobel and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be discussing your new novel and writing experience with you 😊💬

Isobel – wow congratulations on such a moving debut novel! How long has it been in your heart to write fiction? Have you always seen fiction in your writing journey?

Well, I only started doing writing stuff around ten years ago but the first few things I ever wrote were fiction because I was studying a Bachelor of Creative Writing at RMIT. A lot of the curriculum revolves around poetic and narrative-based writing techniques, so I suppose I learned how to write – or learned how I might someday want to write – with fiction.

 I’ve done a fair bit of non-fiction writing since then for online and print media but fiction writing is just less of a pressure cooker I think. It’s so much more open-ended, so much more creative, you can really go wherever with it and say whatever needs to be said. And with it you can build the worlds you wish you lived in, or the worlds you wish you had access to. Like with Sunbathing, so much of the driving force behind the story there is about having a final conversation with a person you’ve already lost. That kind of closure you can only dream about. Writing this book gave me that.

The feeling of your writing style had me captivated from the very instant I started reading Sunbathing. That feeling of connection didn’t waver and had me finishing your novel in less than 48 hours. How long did it take you to plan, write and have Sunbathing published with Allen & Unwin?

Thank you! I’ve heard that people are finishing it quickly which I definitely take as a compliment; I love being able to read a book in a couple of days, I think it really helps to feel like you’ve been transported and lived it yourself.

And I didn’t plan the writing process at all really, I just began. I was at a writing residency in Italy and just wasn’t sure what to do with my time; I wasn’t feeling very motivated or like I had anything worthwhile to say at the time, so I just started writing some stuff down to pass the time. Things I saw that day, dreams I had, the smells and sounds around me. Then the document gained momentum and I began to find bits I liked in it that I wanted to interrogate more. And then I realised I wanted to bring the grief stuff into it – something I was kind of wading through at the time. 

The writing of the first manuscript took around three weeks, then probably six months to sort out and edit and rearrange on my own. Which is remarkably quick for a novel, but I think I just had this spare time and was obviously really invested in telling this story and a lot of it wasn’t fiction – not the feelings or the essence of it – so it kind of tipped out of me. That was in 2019.

By the time I decided it was finished, I actually didn’t know if I wanted to share it with the world at all. Because it felt like a pretty big thing to write about and I was afraid of putting it out there, I guess. But I met with Kelly (from A&U) and we talked about how we saw the book and what it might mean to me or to others as a published thing and she just made the decision really easy. We edited it in 2021 between March and December, and so all up it was probably just under a two-year project. 

So, quick to write and quick to read as it turns out.

I really enjoyed the namelessness of the main female character. She is one person healing from grief, yet she is many. She is one 21st century woman, yet she is many. Through this, I ultimately felt extremely connected to her. What does her namelessness mean to you in the story? Did you begin with a character name or was she always nameless?

She was and absolutely for that very reason. I’ve always enjoyed being able to step right into a character and I feel like the less information you’re given about them – particularly the superficial stuff – just makes that easier.

In the beginning she was genderless, too, and a lot the talk of ‘women’ and ‘men’ stuff included ideas and feelings on gender identity and how there’s so much outside of that binary and what that means for us and our relationships. But in the editing process I was convinced, and rightly so, that these ideas weren’t being given enough air time within the narrative to be doing them justice. So we culled that stuff and she became a she. 

I think it works and is good, particularly for the function of her experiences as a daughter of a dad and what that means for their dynamic, but I’ll have to save the gender dysphoria for the next book.

What has the feeling been like for you, to walk into a bookstore and see your debut fiction novel on the shelf? Or turn on your social media to see your novel pictured, shared and reviewed with so much love?

It’s just a total smoothie of feelings right now! I feel lucky, confused, delighted, exposed. I had no idea what this time was going to be like but thinking about a few months ago, I realise I was being super pessimistic (my editor will attest to that). I just had this idea in my head that it was going to be really challenging, I guess because I’m writing about something that makes me feel vulnerable, and I was thinking I’d be having a hard time with it out there in the world, being consumed by people and commented on. But it’s just been the total opposite of that. It helps that people are saying really nice things about it, like I haven’t really been hit with any criticism yet so maybe ask me again then, but so far it’s felt like a really worthwhile thing to have done. 

A friend said to me the other day, like, how great it is that somehow, this thing that used to cause me all this agony is now the source of all this solace and warmth, and that’s true. I’m suddenly associating this pretty painful thing with good feelings, with these incredibly meaningful conversations and connections. And that’s just the most beautiful, strange, incredible thing.

Thank you Isobel for sharing a piece of your time with me on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖

Author Talks with ‘Katrina Nannestad’

Katrina Nannestad is an Australian Children’s Author who spent a number of years of her childhood in Wagga. She is a multi-award winning writer and is pictured here with her beautiful pup.
📸 by Rebecca Rock

Hello Katrina and a warm welcome to melreviewsherbooks! It is an absolute pleasure to have such a talented and articulate children’s writer such as yourself featuring on my ‘Author Talks’. Katrina is the author of over 10 published children’s novels and we will be talking about two of her recent historical releases in this interview, those being ‘We Are Wolves’ and ‘Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief’.

Katrina, congratulations to begin with on having your novel, We Are Wolves, awarded the winner of ARA’s Historical Children and Young Adult Novel of 2021, winner of the Book Links Award for Children’s Historical Fiction 2021, and winner of the ABDA’s Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book of 2021. Wow – when writing We Are Wolves, did you know you were onto something big?
I really enjoyed writing We Are Wolves. I found the research fascinating and fell in love with my characters as I wrote their story. But I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I’d created something worthwhile until my agent and publisher had read it. Their response and that of the early readers was encouraging. But still, I was most anxious to learn what young readers thought of the story. Once I got the thumbs up from my target audience, I was able to relax and get excited about writing further historical fiction.

Did you follow the same planning, research and writing process for Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief as you did with We Are Wolves? If not, how was it different?
Yes, it was a similar process. I began by doing some reading around the topic before deciding what form my story might take. I spent some time developing my main characters, then took them with me – holding their imaginary hands – as I continued my research. Their presence helped bring the facts, the details and the big historic events alive, and helped me to decide what was relevant to their journey. Finally, I refined my plan and got writing.
But of course, the process is not quite so linear as that. There’s a lot of scrambling back and forth between all the steps, and extra research takes place right through to the very end.

World War II is known as such a dark, emotive and traumatic time in our world history. What has inspired you to write two novels set in this time period?
I stumbled across the story of the Wolfskinder (We Are Wolves) by accident. I hadn’t planned to write a war story, but what I read about these children amazed me – that they survived on their own in a hostile environment, sometimes for years after the war. I was also surprised that I’d never heard of these children before. I thought perhaps others were unaware of the Wolfskinder, too, in which case it would be meaningful story to tell.
I really enjoyed the challenge of writing We Are Wolves, and the response of readers was positive, so I was keen to attempt a second war novel. Again, with Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, I have tried to share a lesser-known aspect of the Second World War.
I think it’s really important that young people are aware of the events that have shaped our world, and many are keen to explore big issues. Historical fiction allows them to discover these stories in a format that is accessible – interesting and age-appropriate.

In Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, Sasha is a 6-year-old boy thrown into a war-torn and violent journey that will shape him forever. How do you ‘get into character’ per-say and write from the perspective of a young male child?
I always try to live in the story with my main character, whether I’m writing comedy, mystery, adventure or history. It’s the way I work, and I don’t really know any other way to do it. I can’t dip in and out. I need to be emotionally involved, to feel like the characters and setting and events are real.
I had to do a lot of research for Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief, because I knew so little of the war from the Soviet point of view. My head became filled with details about Russian village life, the sufferings of the Soviet people, the Red Army, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the westward advance all the way to Berlin. But the thing that was most helpful in gaining an understanding of how a child might experience these events, was Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories. This book records Soviet people’s personal accounts of what they experienced as children during the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War). I have never been so affected by a book in my life.

My goodness Katrina, I have to admit, the last line of this novel broke me! Did you always know how Sasha’s story would end at the beginning of your writing process?
I had a fair idea of how it would end but played a lot with those last lines so they’d have maximum impact.
As I got towards the end of the story, I did consider a different conclusion. I actually wrote two endings, but my original idea won out!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Katrina for joining me on ‘Author Talks’! It has been an absolute pleasure 💐 What’s next for you?

I am currently writing my third historical novel. It’s also set during the Second World War and tells the story of a little Polish girl. More will be revealed later!
At the same time, I am writing a lighter adventure series for younger readers (7-10-year-olds) called The Travelling Bookshop. Book 1 is out now and I’ve written the next two. You can take a peek at books 1 and 2 at www.harpercollins.com.au/cr-110017/katrina-nannestad/ 📚
This year has been very quiet, of course, but I have some lovely bookish adventures penned into my 2022 diary already – writers’ festivals and school visits. I can’t wait to be out and about once again, sharing the delights of reading and writing and daydreaming with fellow enthusiasts.

You can find a number of Katrina’s books at Collins Booksellers Wagga Wagga online or in person.

For more information on Katrina and her books, you can visit her website, Facebook and Instagram 📚

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 📚

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 📚

1 Week in …

Wow!! One week in and I’ve already had the ABSOLUTE privilege of chatting with debut Australian Author, Averil Kenny.

Averil wrote the book ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’, which I devoured over the Easter Long Weekend here in Australia. Averil instantly responded to my picture and short review of ‘Those Hamilton Sisters’ on Instagram and well … look at us now!

You can find our discussion in ‘Author Talks’. Thank you so much Averil!