Cherry Bomb

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’.

J valentish long-2What 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?

The book isn’t out till July, so if you’d like a sneak peak you can read the first chapter here and you can also pre-order it here. Thanks!

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.


Wendy James is an author I admire. Her plot lines are instantly intriguing, and she is a master at exploring the nitty-gritty of families in crisis. Her book THE MISTAKE was on my ‘want to read’ list as soon as I read the blurb, and it kept me up late at night until I’d finished it.

I am thrilled to have Wendy on the blog, telling us all about her latest release THE LOST GIRLS, and giving you lucky readers the chance to win not one but TWO of her books – THE MISTAKE and THE LOST GIRLS – just by leaving a comment below! Make sure you don’t leave without commenting once you’ve read the interview. 

9781921901058Welcome to the blog, Wendy! THE LOST GIRLS is your latest novel – what inspired you to write it?

The spark of the idea for The Lost Girls came from an old newspaper interview from the nineteen-eighties that offered up an interesting new perspective on the unsolved murder of a teenage girl in Newtown in the 1940s. I originally thought I’d like to write a novel set in that era, and in Newtown, but for various reasons – partly because of our own move back to the coast, which triggered a flood of reminiscences about my own adolescence  – the work evolved into something rather different. The Lost Girls ended up being set in the Sydney beach suburb of Curl Curl, and time-wise it moves between 2010 and the late nineteen-seventies – so the period and place of my own early teenage years.

 And now that THE LOST GIRLS has hit the shelves, are you working on a new novel?

Of course! It’s another suspense novel about families and crimes – but this time children are the perpetrators and the victims. I’m having fun playing with all our ideas about good parenting… Actually, from the perspective of a mother, it’s pretty scary stuff.

I recently had the pleasure of reading THE MISTAKE, and I was fascinated by the way you held the tension right until the last few lines. When you write, do you know the plot before you begin, or does it reveal itself as you go along?

I usually have a big idea in my head – some major plot element that I’m moving toward. But other than that, I’m pretty much hacking out the path as I go. And sometimes it really takes some forceful, sustained, exhausting hacking to get anywhere …

 9780143568568Are you aware of any common threads running through your novels?

Looking back over my work, the short stories and the suspense novels as well as the historical fiction,  I think the one thing that they share is a fascination with families undergoing some sort of crisis. What happens when something major  goes wrong (a death, a crime, a disappearance, a betrayal), and the whole structure begins to warp or even crumble? It’s what we all dread… I like to think that the other thing common to my work – it’s what I’m aiming for, anyway – is an element of suspense, a sense of mystery and revelation, that keeps the reader guessing, and reading.

Tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

I really love being able to work at home. I’m quite disciplined about using all available time for writing, and some days the hours are ridiculous, but it’s good to be able to run your own race – especially when you’re juggling family responsibilities as well. The downside of this is the occasional feeling of loneliness… sometimes I’m desperate for those water-cooler conversations. I know the internet can provide aspects of that, but that can be very addictive, so I tend to avoid it…

When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

When I’m about 50,000 words into a novel, the work generally starts to feel really really bad, the writing journey impossible, and I want to throw the whole thing into a drawer – or a dustbin. At this point a fascinating new premise will magically appear  – the premise of my next novel – and I decide that I’m going to stop writing the book I’m on and begin a new one, which is infinitely more interesting, and will be an absolute breeze to write. I inevitably get about 5000 words written before reality hits (it’s hard! It’s boring! I’ve got another 80,000 words to go!), and I slink back, chastened, to the old manuscript – which is relatively advanced, and really not all that bad…  Now that I’m aware of the pattern, I’m ready for it. This time I’ll just wait for the desire to pass, and not send my publisher and agent into a panic.

_MG_0975_2 - Version 4

Wendy James

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I don’t know that I’m passionate about it – in fact it’s probably more terror than passion –  but I’ve just started playing hockey. After years of wistfully watching my children play sport, wishing that I’d played a team sport in my childhood, I’ve signed up. I’m pretty hopeless, but it’s providing a few laughs. And I really like having an excuse to wear a short skirt and long socks at my advanced age… (the mouthguard not so much).

 I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

I’ve just finished Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, which was thought-provoking, hilarious – and heartbreaking.

And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m really excited about the upcoming release of Cooper Bartholomew is Dead, by YA author Rebecca James. (Allen & Unwin, September). I’ve read bits and pieces of this in draft form (Bec’s my sister) but I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished work. What I’ve read so far is scary and sad and gritty and real – and I have to know what happened!

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

I have a website – – and also a Facebook author page – drop by and say Hi!

Thank you for visiting the blog, Wendy, it’s been a pleasure!



10 book giveawayMany congratulations to Amanda Barrett, winner of our Writers Ask Writers ten-book giveaway and Jennifer Saunders tickets!

Many thanks to all who entered, and wishing you all a very Happy Easter!col-md-2

I’m delighted to have teamed up with my Writers Ask Writers friends, Annabel Smith, Amanda Curtin, Dawn Barker and Emma Chapman, to bring you the mother of all giveaways – an eight-book bonanza which contains each of our latest novels plus a book we would choose to give to our mum for Mother’s Day.

10 book giveaway

You can enter this contest up to five times by visiting each of our pages and following the instructions. For this page, all you have to do to be in with a shot is to sign up to my newsletter, where you’ll find all my latest news plus other book giveaways too – AND leave a comment below telling me which author you would recommend to your mum/mother-in-law/grandma.*

Beaufort St Books

Jennifer SaundersThis prize has been generously sponsored by Beaufort Street Books, one of the finest independent bookshops in Australia, based in Mount Lawley, WA. They have also added a bonus prize of two tickets to see Jennifer Saunders discussing her autobiography My Life in Laughs at the Octagon Theatre in Perth on 28 April 2014, 7.30-8.30 pm. If the books are won by someone interstate we’ll draw an additional Perth winner who’ll receive these tickets – HOWEVER, we will need to know if you live in WA, so please add a comment on one of our blogs letting us know you’re a local!

My pick for the Mother’s Day giveaway, The Light Between Oceans, is the story of Tom Sherbourne, a young lighthouse keeper who lives on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia in 1926. He and his wife Isabel lead a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world, until a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant. What they choose to do next sets off a chain of heart-rending consequences.

Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.

9781742755717I chose The Light Between Oceans as the book I’d give to my mother on Mother’s Day, although I’m being a bit sly as I already gave it to her last year, and she loved it! She said the story was so unusual and the predicament so tragic and understandable – and I would add that I was blown away by ML Stedman’s writing. I found myself underlining paragraphs because they were just so good that I wanted to go back and savour them. I was lucky enough to meet ML Stedman at a writer’s dinner and she was incredibly gracious and down-to-earth. She had obviously spent a lot of time focused on learning the craft of writing, and the effort she put in shines through on every single page. Not only did I love this book, I learned a lot from it too.

Here are the links to the pages of Amanda Curtin, Emma Chapman, Dawn Barker and Annabel Smith for more chances to win. Good luck!

*Competition open to Australian residents only. The giveaway ends on Tuesday 15 April and the winner will be announced on the 17th.col-md-2

Jenn J McLeod

Jenn J McLeod

Jenn J McLeod’s debut novel  House for All Seasons reached No. 5 on the Nielsen Bookscan list of bestselling debuts of 2013.  Her success is all the more lovely to watch as she is a particularly gregarious and generous writer and blogger, as I found out when she interviewed me on her blog some time ago. I’m thrilled she has agreed to be my guest today and tell us all about her latest release, Simmering Season

Welcome to my blog, Jenn! Tell us what inspired you to write SIMMERING SEASON?

Two (weird) threads combined: Reality TV and school reunions!

The Susan ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ Boyle after her Britain, You’ve Got Talent audition (and the You Tube clip that went viral). Sure, I related to the song and her situation. I, too, was not getting any younger and hoping someone would discover I had talent – writing, not singing! The media frenzy that turned the woman’s life on its head almost overnight made me fearful of the consequences. Who was looking out for her? The trolls were horrible and she was never going to fit the mould or the industry’s crushing standards: how to look, act, speak. It made me wonder …  “How does someone cope? What would happen if …”

I have a love/hate relationship with reality TV shows that get people’s hopes up then discards them and this comes out in one Simmering Season character, Brian Henkler – a kind of man so desperate for his is fifteen minutes of fame he’s prepared to forget his family. The kind that reminds me of a balloon pumped full of air that floats so high you stick your fingers in your ears in anticipation of the inevitable “pop”? He’s like that; so is the situation I create with a school reunion that brings home more than memories for his wife, and local publican, Maggie Lindeman.

As mentioned, the other thread in the story is school reunions. As Maggie says in Simmering Season

The idea of a school reunion is both terrifying and fascinating.” The thought of summing up her achievements in a synopsis and spruiking them does not sit well with Maggie. To her, a school reunion was like a swollen river about to burst its banks; just going for a look could be dangerous, while staying away was impossible.”

 What did you enjoy most about writing the novel?

Creating the characters and letting them write their own stories. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? I admit to scoffing when I’d hear published authors talk about their characters taking their own direction. I’ve since learned it does happen – well it does with us pantsers! It happened that way for me with House for all Seasons, with secondary characters refusing to stay in the background – like Maggie Lindeman. While I’d love to one day write a House for all Seasons prequel (Gypsy’s story), it was Maggie who won this time.

Simmering Season Jenn J McLeod lgeNow that SIMMERING SEASON is on the shelves, what are you planning to write next?

Simon & Schuster have contracted books three and four in my Seasons Collection, so I’m very excited to say I have typed THE END on book three, SEASON OF SHADOW AND LIGHT (Out April 2015.) Also, book four has moved from swirling around my head, to actual words on paper. Even though I was sad to leave Calingarry Crossing behind after book two, a move seemed right. Besides, I didn’t move too far away. I’m slowing moving east though! (Time for a little coastal fling by book four.)

Tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

Apart from the creative process (creating personalities and places and bringing them to life) I’d have to say the camaraderie and mutual support I’ve found among writer friends – both f2f and online. It’s almost tribal. We are only missing the secret handshake and code words.

What? What do you mean there’s a secret handshake? Nobody told me about it. L

When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I included a favourite Elizabeth Edwards quote in Simmering Season, which tends to sum up my roadblock strategy:

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”

When I face turbulent times (yes, I have been knowN to get quite hysterical!) I walk through the storm – but not alone. I have a silent partner, a ‘J’ – as in Jenn ‘J’ McLeod – who is my wise reader and ego buster. I don’t think I’d manage a book every year without a plotting partner who digs me out of big black writer holes, calms me, believes in me, and lovingly tells me to “get real” and ditch the writer ego (along with all that flowery prose of the first draft).

Then, of course, there’s Facebook. I have THE BEST author friends online who really understand the highs and lows of this biz. I get so much enjoyment out of watching their successes. Supporting aspiring authors is a great way to remember how far I’ve come and how lucky I am. Positive thoughts help shift roadblocks pretty fast.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

Two things:

1.    Book three – Season of Shadow and Light. (In the back of Simmering Season, readers will find a sneak peek and I am super-excited about this one.)

2.    De-cluttering and simplifying my life – see answer to next question!

Tell us about one of your favourite places, somewhere you like to go when you need to relax and recharge.

Home is where I relax the most, with my two little fluffy heartbeats at my feet. Where I’ve lived for the last decade is a touch of country on the Coffs Coast – a property tucked away in a rural hamlet in the Coffs hinterland, but only ten minutes to the beach. However …

Home is going to change soon. A plan is afoot to sell-up and downsize and make a fifth-wheeler motorhome (with writing desk!) a portable abode so I can see this big brown land that is chock-a-block with small towns keeping big secrets. Thirty years ago I travelled around Australian in a F100 and a tent. I cannot wait to return to some favourite spots, while also discovering new places (and I’ve earned a little luxury this time).

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

It is a toss up between the prolific Dianne Blacklock (her latest, The Best Man, has such a great collection of characters) and a debut author, Anna Romer, who wrote Thornwood House. Both these authors deliver on various levels. I enjoyed the storylines immensely, but when the writer/writing teaches me something – either craft-wise or general knowledge …  Bonus! Dianne Blacklock always teaches me something about character development and Anna Romer’s book is a sensory journey into the Aussie bush.

And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I seriously need to start working my way through my e-reader. While such devices are convenient (especially when you are de-cluttering and downsizing) without the physical teetering tower of print books on the bedside table, the e-reader can be a case of out of sight out of mind. But there are two authors in particular with books out right now: Helene Young has a new book (Safe Harbour), plus there’s a debut from Kylie Kaden (Losing Kate) that looks really interesting.

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

My website has book blurbs, videos and reviews. I also have the “Odd and Occasional Newsy Newsletter” and love it when someone signs up.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Sara. Readers can find out about my books and me (including a snazzy DIY book trailer) on my website

Jenn is also to be found on Facebook at and on Twitter (@jennjmcleod). Thanks so much for your visit, Jenn!

This month I’m giving one reader the chance to win a copy of Jenn’s latest novel, SIMMERING SEASON, and all you have to do to be in with a shot is to leave a comment below telling us which song you’d choose to sing on a TV reality show!  I’ll start it off by choosing ‘Let It Go’ from the movie Frozen, since it is ‘performed’ regularly in our house at present, and I know it pretty much off by heart! Make sure you’re also subscribed to my newsletter here – and look out for more giveaways in future.

Competition closes midnight, 30 April 2014, and the winner will be announced the following day.



Anita Heiss (Photo: Amanda James)

Anita Heiss (Photo: Amanda James)

Anita Heiss is a powerhouse in Australian literature, and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales. She has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books, and her autobiography Am I Black Enough For You was a finalist in the 2012 Human Rights Awards. If you follow Anita via Facebook or Twitter you’ll know that she is also extremely busy at festivals, in schools, as an Indigenous Literacy Ambassador, and so much more that you might wonder how she finds the time to write, let alone sleep! Therefore, I’m delighted that she has popped by to answer my questions about her new novel, Tiddas

Congratulations on your latest release, Anita, and welcome to my site. Could you tell us what inspired you to write TIDDAS?

Two things inspired me to write Tiddas – one was my desire to acknowledge the strengths, challenges and value of life-long friendships, and how we grow and change over time as individuals, but also within our circle of friends. I wanted to pay tribute to the role my tiddas have played in my life over time, and how they continue to enrich my life everyday. The best way to do this was by writing about a group of friends who support each other, love each other unconditionally, and even though they can disagree on many things, their shared values will nearly always keep them tight.

Secondly, I wanted to write about a place that brings me an unusual sense of peace, and that’s Brisbane. I had already written novels set in Sydney (Not Meeting Mr Right), Melbourne (Avoiding Mr Right) and Canberra (Manhattan Dreaming & Paris Dreaming), but Brisbane is my home-away-from-home. I was inspired to showcase all that I love about the city-with-the-country-style heart and hospitality. And I hope my readers fall in love with Bris-Vegas too.

 TiddasWhat did you enjoy most about writing the novel?

This was the first novel where there were five characters that all had equal importance to the story. It was five women’s lives I wanted to follow – their own personal journeys as well as their collective journey. And so, I really enjoyed getting into the heads, hearts and quirkiness of each of the women. As a method writer I loved having to go through their daily routines and emotional highs and lows. I cried writing some scenes, I laughed writing others (don’t want to give anything away here). I also really enjoyed the research process: catching the ferry from West End to Southbank, wining and dining in various cafes and restaurants, sitting at the general store in Brookfield, running along the river front like my characters Ellen and Izzy do.

Now that TIDDAS is about to hit the shelves, what are you planning to write next?

Good question. As I write these answers I am about to start penning a short story about love. I am nervous because I am known for my verbosity and I find it easier to write 10,000 words than 3,000 when it’s fiction. It will be a challenge. Aside from that I don’t really have a plan for another book right now, and I think as this is my fifth novel in seven years, I should probably give my brain a break. An idea will present itself soon enough and the process of researching and writing will start all over again.

Tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

Being able to create the world that I wished we lived in.

When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

This is a common question but the truth is that because I am a plotter – I map out the entire novel chapter by chapter – a roadblock doesn’t really bother me that much. Because I know what will happen in the novel before I sit down to start writing in full – I know what happens next chapter and even at the end – then if I get stuck on something, I just move onto the next chapter and write, going back to the problem scene later. I can’t remember really having writer’s block in recent years. Having said that, I may write a lot of text that eventually gets deleted, but I am a huge advocate of plotting to solve the potential problem of ‘road blocks’. Of course, when that fails, I reach for the chocolate.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I’m feeling passionate about the ongoing denial of human rights for Aboriginal people living under the NT Intervention / Stronger Futures legislation ( I cannot believe more Australians aren’t angry about it.

You’ve travelled a lot – tell us about one of your favourite places.

I’ve often commented that Manhattan was my all time favourite holiday destination for it’s soul and excitement, but I’ve just returned from my sixth visit to Barcelona, and it really is a place I feel I could live in. I stay in El Born which is walking distance to the port, the Picasso Museum, Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park), the zoo, fantastic restaurants and bars. The local Catalan people are friendly, the food is always memorable, the vibe relaxed and cultured. I do believe Barcelona is the new Paris for it’s romantic aura and style.

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?

I highly recommend Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby – it’s got everything: romance, history, family dramas, Aboriginal culture and politics, and she’s very funny!

And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

2014 is my ‘catching up on reading year’ as I’m not working on a major project, and flying a lot means I can read on planes and at airports. So I am looking forward to reading lots of titles including the ones by my bed right now: Toni Morrison (Home), Julie Wark (The Human Rights Manifesto), Georgia Blain (Darkwater), Lisa Walker (Liar Bird), Stephanie Dowrick (Everyday Kindness), Us Mob Writing (By Close of Business). My writing tidda Lisa Heidke is releasing two novels, Tennis and Friday’s Fortunate Life, in coming months and she hasn’t let me even look at drafts of those, so I’m psyched to read them. I’m also looking forward to reading Ellen van Neerven’s collection of short stories (September, UQP).

Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?

There are no really mysteries about me, and you can see more at I’m also on Twitter and Facebook .

Thanks so much, Anita!

NOW IT’S YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A COPY! Every month I offer my newsletter subscribers the chance to win books, and this month you can win a copy of Tiddas!  Since Tiddas is all about friendship, all you have to do to enter is to give a shout-out to one of your friends and tell us why they are great in the comments below. The winner will be drawn at random after the competition closes at midnight WST on 1 April. And don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter here, if you haven’t already. Good luck!col-md-2

NatashaLester001 reduced

Natasha Lester

Last week Natasha Lester kindly invited me to take part in a blog hop on writing processes. Natasha is the author of two brilliant works of fiction – What is Left Over, After and If I Should Lose You – and teaches writing at UWA Extension and the new Writers Centre which has recently opened in Perth. You can read her blog here to find out why she plans to diversify this year and more on the novel she’s working on. Now she has passed the baton to me, and although I’m still feeling a little fuzzy headed having only just declared maternity leave over, I will do my best to explain what I’m up to this year and how I write…

What am I working on?

A new novel called The Spirit Road. Set in the Lake District, it’s about teenage secrets and family betrayals and has numerous twists and turns. There are some serious issues in there, but I’m having a lot of fun trying to fit it all together. Fortunately, I wrote half of the book before my youngest was born, so it’s nice not to have to start from scratch. I’m sure all my books benefit from resting time, but that isn’t always possible when writing to deadlines, so I’m pleased this one has had chance to sit for a while. Some distance has given me the chance to assess how it’s going a little more objectively, and I am delighted that I’ve only felt the need to cut 4,000 words so far!

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Indie Side cover 4My books straddle a few different genres, which I think is a good thing until we try to market them! I like to write fast-paced family/relationship suspense dramas, almost thrillers, and I’d say that readers of Kate Morton, Jodi Picoult and Heather Gudenkauf would, hopefully, find much to like in my stories. Although you’ll discover some common narrative threads in my novels, I like to experiment with narrative strategy too. So, for example, Shallow Breath is told from seven people’s point of view, whereas Beneath the Shadows is from only one perspective.

Like Natasha, I also have plans to diversify – I love a challenge and it’s exciting to explore new ways of creating stories. My most recent work is a short story with an apocalyptic twist for an anthology of independent writers, including Hugh Howey, Jason Gurley and Michael Bunker, called The Indie Side.

Why do I write what I do?

Natasha had a great response to this question last week, and mine is similar. I write the stories that nag away at me and don’t leave me alone until I’ve finished them. I have heaps of ideas, but most of them naturally fall away. It’s the ones that stay with me that I begin paying attention to, because I realise I have found a topic or character that I want to explore, and hopefully if I feel that way then readers will too.

How does my writing process work?

First of all, I try not to let things get in the way of writing time. It’s a never-ending challenge, with children’s needs and all the duties of daily living, not to mention trying to keep up with websites and social media and promoting a backlist of books.

When I sit down to write I work to a loose plan, but if the writing is flowing then I go with that, and I only go back to reconsider my plan if I get stuck. I edit as I go – one of the bonuses of having a tandem career as a book editor is that I’m used to critiquing work so I try to look objectively at what I’m doing and make those painful cuts if necessary.



Jason Gurley


Kate Danley

And now, I am very excited to tag in three of my fellow Indie Side writers, who will join the blog hop next week to tell you all about their writing. Jason Gurley is a star of the indie scene with a whole host of well-received novels, and not only that but he’s a talented cover art designer too, and designed the beautiful cover for our anthology. Kate Danley is a USA Today bestselling author of fantasy titles, whose debut novel, The Woodcutter, was honoured with the Garcia Award for Best Fiction book of the year. Finally, Mel Hearse is a journalist and fiction writer who is releasing a series of short stories this year as well as working on her first novel. I’ll link up to their posts next week.col-md-2

Indie Side cover 4Last year, a succession of stars aligned. I met a warm and enthusiastic author and reviewer, Susan May, who had kindly attended one of my speaking events. As we began chatting it became clear we were both very interested in the changing nature of the industry, and a friendship blossomed. When I mentioned my admiration for Hugh Howey and the way he had taken control of his writing career, Susan decided to investigate. A few months later, after interviewing Hugh, she told me she’d had an idea. An indie anthology of short stories in the thriller/speculative/sci-fi genres. Hugh was on board. Would I like to be involved?

You bet I would! What a wonderful opportunity for me to stretch my writing direction and try to write a short form thriller. This one little project snuck into the maternity leave I’d vowed I would take, and so I wrote my story, Cipher, with my newborn sleeping (and sometimes not sleeping!) in the background.

Cipher is the story of Beatrice, who leaves her family behind to visit her father. She never imagines she might not see them again, but then a bomb goes off close to home. Beatrice has to rely on a stranger’s help to find out what’s happened – and whether or not her husband and children have survived. When I’d finished writing I had the pleasure of reading the other stories in the anthology, and they are wonderful without exception.  Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in From the Indie Side:

The Winter Lands (Jason Gurley)

Jonathan Froestt lives alone in a retirement home. His family is gone. His friends are all dead. For over sixty years, he has been writing a novel, the pages collecting in his apartment in stacks. Nobody has ever read it. Until today.

Going Gray (Brian Spangler)

When their community is engulfed by a deadly, caustic fog, sixteen-year-old Emily and her family decide to escape to the one building they can think of that might be able to withstand the fog’s corrosive force: the shopping mall. But a trip to the mall has never been so desperate, or so terrifying.

Queen Joanna (Kate Danley)

Thrust into a loveless marriage of state, Queen Joanna soon discovers her new palace is home to many dark secrets. And when a face in the mirror confronts her with a dire warning, she realizes her life is at risk. Has she awakened a curse—or been struck by madness? “Queen Joanna” presents a haunting twist on the legend of Bloody Mary.

Mouth Breathers (Hugh Howey)

Moving to a new town, starting off at a new school, meeting new kids… it’s never easy. And it only gets harder when the new town and the new school and the new kids are on a different planet. But sometimes, something happens that makes it worth all the trouble.

The Man With Two Legs (Ernie Lindsey)

Many winters ago, the man with two legs managed to escape the oppressive maiming rituals of Tritan’s government. Now he stands on a hillside overlooking the city, a bomb in his rucksack, determined to bring about two impossible results: his mother’s rescue and freedom for his people.

Made of Stars (Anne Frasier)

A genius vampire named Sinclair creates an alternate world where vampires can experience a traditional human life of love, marriage, and children. Sixteen-year-old Gabriel is Sinclair’s beta tester and volunteers to fall in love with a coffee-shop girl. But when the pain of love becomes overwhelming, Gabriel questions his decision. “It’s too real,” he tells Sinclair. “You made it too real.”

Gyre-Witchery (Kev Heritage)

All Tam wanted was to be loved. Was that so hard? Made outcast because of her green eyes—the sign of witchery—Tamina, a well-meaning simpleton, is shunned by a superstitious people who blame her for the ills that have overtaken their small island. It was not her fault that she put on weight while the others starved, or that wild animals slunk at her side, or that men and women both desired and despised her. But change was coming, brought upon the back of a terrifying squall…

The War Veteran (Susan May)

For seventy years, World War II veteran Jack Baker has endured vivid flashbacks to that horrific June day on Omaha Beach. But tonight, the flashback will be terrifyingly different. Tonight it becomes real. Tonight, Jack’s seventy-year-old secret will come back to claim him.

The Greater Good (Mel Hearse)

When Lanie wakes up in a hospital bed with no idea how she got there, she tries desperately to work out why she was on the old loop road that’s been all but abandoned by the locals. Thinking there must be an obvious answer, Lanie leaves no stone unturned in her quest for an explanation. But when all is revealed, she is left with only one question—and no good answers.

REDOUBT (Michael Bunker)

Phillip is a militia commander who has planned for a decade to defend the pacifist Vallenses of Central Texas with his army if ever the world tips over and goes to hell. He never thought he’d be on a skiing trip to New Mexico when the end comes.

The Man Who Remembered Today (Peter Cawdron)

Kareem wakes with a headache. A bloody bandage wrapped around his head tells him this isn’t just another day in the Big Apple. The problem is, he can’t remember what happened to him. He can’t recall anything from yesterday. The only memories he has are from events that are about to unfold today, and today is no ordinary day.

You can’t go wrong with this collection, and what’s more for a short time it’s on sale at 99 cents on Kindle! In day one it has hit the No. 1 spot in the Science Fiction anthologies section and is heading up the charts! You can also find it on Kobo and NOOK. And if you would rather win one of those old-fashioned copies you can hold in your hands, then all you need to do is sign up to my newsletter, and leave a comment below, telling me whether you prefer paper or e-books… easy!col-md-2

At the beginning of last year I signed up for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. This fantastic challenge began in 2012, and was devised by Elizabeth Lhuede to focus attention on literary works by Australian women. You can read all about the background here. I entered at the middle level – Miles – which asks you to read 6 titles, and I was aware that, considering the year ahead, even this might prove a challenge. Nevertheless, I made a strong start, and I had read three titles by February – Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Searching for the Secret River, and Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper.

In February I entered an intense researching and drafting period for my new book, which is set in the Lake District, and so my reading veered away from Australian literature for a few months as I focused on Northern England. However, during this time I also read and enjoyed The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I stopped writing in July, and I had a lovely period of reading, adding The Good Wife by Emma Chapman, and Elemental by Amanda Curtin to my tally. I was absolutely engrossed in both these books. Emma’s novel is a hugely impressive debut which absolutely deserves the praise it received in the New York Times recently! Elemental was the second Amanda Curtin novel I had read (The Sinkings was the first), and I was swept up in the story of Scottish Meggie. If you’re looking for beautiful, poised and poignant writing, and unique stories, go no further than Amanda.

So, by the end of July I had read all the titles I needed to complete the challenge. Surely I would read lots more by the end of the year.

Then, this happened:

Sara Final Edit-22



Yep, since August reading has been very restricted. My two girls have kept me extremely busy in the latter half of 2013. If I had the chance to sit down with a book the chances were that I’d be asleep within five minutes.

However… I also work occasionally as a freelance book editor, and I have been on Bronwyn Parry’s editorial team for a while now. During 2013 I worked with her on Darkening Skies, and editing Bronwyn’s books is always a pleasure. I also worked on Jenny Bond’s Perfect North (Hachette), a beautifully written epic tale about a doomed hot-air balloon expedition to the North Pole, and Jenny Valentish’s fabulous and hilarious debut My Life in Reviews, which will be published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.

So that takes my final tally to 9. Hurray!

My reading wish list for this year includes anything I haven’t read that’s on the AWW wrap-up list or the impressive inaugural 2013 Stella Prize long list. That’s before I even look at the new releases. So it’s a no-brainer to sign up again for the AWW challenge in 2014. Care to join me? col-md-2