Nina Dall is one half of Sydney pop-punk band The Dolls. Have they got what it takes to stay on top or are they just a one hit wonder? Told through the eyes of a young singer who’s seen it all, CHERRY BOMB is celebrated rock journalist Jenny Valentish’s debut novel – a wild ride into Australia’s music scene.
It’s a pleasure to welcome Jenny Valentish to my blog. I was lucky enough to see an early draft of Cherry Bomb and it was clear this book was going to be something special. The novel will be released by Allen & Unwin in July, but if you order here or enter the give-away below, you could be one of the first to get your hands on a copy! Read on to find out more about Jenny and her inspiration for the life and times of Nina Dall.
Cherry Bomb is your first novel – congratulations! What inspired you to write it?
Well, we’ve unwittingly kicked off with a heavy question! I actually wanted to write about childhood sexual abuse within a broader context – in this case, a band trying to make it in the music industry. That may sound pithy in the extreme, but my aim was to write about a tough subject in the most accessible way possible. As a journalist who’s written a lot for women’s and teen magazines over the years, I’ve been frustrated that sexual abuse, which affects one in three women (according to CASA), is put in the too-hard basket. Or perhaps it’s the ‘nobody will buy that’ basket. In Cherry Bomb, the issue is raised quite briefly, but you then see the sort of chaotic trajectory the protagonist grows up to embark on and the preconceptions she has of people and situations – preconceptions that are quite different to that of her cousin in the band, Rose. This plotline isn’t announced anywhere on the cover (see: the ‘nobody will buy that’ basket), but it’s an important part of what drives Nina Dall.
What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
I’ve never had this experience before, but it seemed as though I was constantly being handed all the material I needed. I’d walk down a street and hear a snippet of conversation that was relevant – perhaps even one word – or hear a meaningful song, or catch a glimpse of something that turned out to signify a missing piece of plotline. I put it down to intense focus, almost like a year-long state of hypnosis.
Now that Cherry Bomb is about to reach the shelves, are you working on anything else at the moment?
Yes – I’m in that excited, honeymoon phase again. This time it’s a noirish crime novel with a much slower pace and no hidden agendas. It’s about as different as can be, actually. Publishers love that, right?
What has been the most exciting part of your publication journey so far?
I would say my first coffee meeting with my publisher-to-be, Jane Palfreyman at Allen and Unwin. After I’d had a few rejections from agents, she told me everything I wanted to hear. I felt like putting out a press release: ‘Publisher gets it’.
What insight did your experience as a music journalist give you into the story of Nina and Rose Dall?
I’ve written for everything from guitar mags to music technology titles to street press to the NME to glossies (I edited Triple J’s magazine for four years), so those experiences informed much of the book – like accompanying bands on TV shows, on tour buses, in studios, to radio stations, etc. But I also quizzed my tour manager boyfriend and friends from record companies, and drew on my couple of years as a music publicist, and of being in a few bands myself, and finally, got someone who’d been a pop artist signed to a major record company to check the finished manuscript.
Did you hit any roadblocks while you were writing Cherry Bomb? If so, how did you get over them?
Yes, I am an impatient person, so I sent half the manuscript to you to read at the three-month mark, and the whole thing to MJ Hyland at around six months. I chose to get feedback from established writers because I’d never taken a creative writing class and considered this approach to be a crash course.
At this point I realised I needed to do some serious restructuring – or, more accurately, I realised I needed a structure. Everything’s got a structure, I thought – we learned that in chemistry class – but apparently commercial novels need to have a special structure. I have a Word doc called ‘Removed’ with about 60,000 words in it that are cut scenes. I got rid of the first three chapters on the advice of an agent, so that the book starts with action rather than backstory.
A good way to restructure without getting hopelessly lost – and this is the advice of MJ Hyland – is to write out the key scenes in each chapter in just a short sentence each. So under each chapter heading you’ll have perhaps six sentences. Then you colour each sentence according to which character or topic it relates to – so the protagonist might be all in red, for example. The result is a document in which you can easily see the narrative arcs of each character or topic. That saved me.
What else are you feeling passionate about right now?
The current non-writing project is finding a bigger property with a dam or two, so I can add non-edible alpacas, pigs and donkeys to the portfolio of rabbits and chickens.
I love book recommendations. Can you tell me about one book you have loved in the past year?
Funemployed by Justin Heazlewood (Affirm Press). He uses himself as a case study and interviews many other established musicians, including Tim Rogers and Sarah Blasko, about the difficulty of making a living in Australia as an artist.
And what are you looking forward to reading this year?
I’m actually going to work through Andrew McGahan’s back catalogue. I grew up in the UK, so I missed out.
Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
Thank you for visiting the blog, Jenny!
FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF CHERRY BOMB, SIMPLY SIGN UP TO MY NEWSLETTER, AND THEN LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TELLING US WHAT MUSIC YOU LISTENED TO AS A TEENAGER! Competition closes 30 June 2014 and the winner will be announced and notified the following day.