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Welcome, Nicole Alexander! Discover THE GREAT PLAINS

I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander to my blog this month. Nicole and I published our first novels at a similar time with the same publisher, Random House, in 2010, and since then Nicole has been a prolific writer – The Great Plains is her fifth novel! Nicole covers an astonishing breadth of topics in her books and skilfully absorbs all her painstaking historical research into her stories. It was a pleasure to chat to her and find out more about her new novel. Before we begin, here’s a taster of what you can expect from The Great Plains:

It is Dallas 1886, and the Wade Family is going from strength to strength: from a thriving newspaper and retail business in Texas to a sprawling sheep station half a world away in Queensland. 

Yet money and power cannot compensate for the tragedy that struck twenty-three years ago, when Joseph Wade was slaughtered and his seven-year-old daughter Philomena abducted by Apache Indians. 

Only her uncle, Aloysius, remains convinced that one day Philomena will return. So when news reaches him that the legendary Geronimo has been captured, and a beautiful white woman discovered with him, he believes his prayers have been answered.

Little does he know that the seeds of disaster have just been sown. 

Over the coming years three generations of Wade men will succumb to an obsession with three generations of mixed-blood Wade women: the courageous Philomena, her hot-headed granddaughter Serena, and her gutsy great-granddaughter Abelena – a young woman destined for freedom in a distant red land. But at what price . . . ? 

 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, NicoleTHE GREAT PLAINS is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?

My aim was to write an epic narrative that told the story of two lands, two frontier worlds, Australia and America, and the people both settlers and indigenous who inhabited those countries. With that background in mind in plotting the novel I asked myself this initial question: what would it feel like to be displaced in the world? What would it be like to be lost to the world you were born into, only to find that on being reunited with loved-ones that you truly didn’t belong? During the American Civil War, a confederate soldier, Joseph Wade, gets caught in a skirmish and is killed, his young daughter, Philomena, abducted by the legendary Geronimo of the Apache Indians. This is Philomena’s story, and that of her descendants, strong-willed women, whose destinies are altered by fate and whose lives are hampered by the prejudices of society and the mixed-blood that runs in their veins. It’s also the story of the powerful Wade family across two continents and the men who became obsessed with these women and the families, both in Australia and America, struggling against adversity during periods of enormous change.9781742759852

Your novels have covered The Great Depression, World War One, and now the American Wild West. Can you offer us an insight into your research process – how you tackle it, and keep it under control?

 To date I’ve had a previous interest in every topic I’ve written about, so that’s made it easier to pinpoint timeframes and include specific historical events. It is easy to get carried away with the research side of things and I have to be quite disciplined in what and how much material I read. I find the best thing is to read widely on the subject area first and then begin writing. Getting the story down is fundamental. I then research along the way as specific points come up and again when the manuscript’s completed. This is part of double-checking facts to ensure accuracy.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE GREAT PLAINS is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

 I never plan an entire novel. I don’t like the restrictions that places on the work. Novels grow organically, characters change, situations can be improved on, or the chapter order may need to be altered. I start with an idea and usually plan the first quarter of the work and then I begin writing. Once I have a feel for the work I wait for the characters to start talking to me, for my imagined world to come alive. The Great Plains was a major undertaking, the story changed, as did the characters, but the kernel of the novel, that initial idea, remained constant.

THE GREAT PLAINS is your fifth novel. If you could revisit yourself when you were working on your first novel, THE BARK CUTTERS, what advice would you have to offer about writing and publishing?

Writing is about redrafting, refining and re-polishing, making a seed into a pearl. Make life your muse and writing your passion and with luck and timing you’ll create something worthwhile. I’ve been telling myself the same thing for over twenty-five years now.

As well as writing, you are also a busy with rural property and numerous farming projects. How do you combine these two occupations?

 With great difficulty. There’s no writing or editing while I’m on-farm, the place is pretty busy. I tend to turn off my writing brain and concentrate on the work at hand. A typical property work day for me starts at 7.30 am and could involve anything from mustering sheep and cattle, working in the stockyards, doing bookwork in the station office or checking cultivations with our agronomist. I’m a 7-day-a-week person, which includes 3 full days for writing as well as nights, although work-related injury has slowed me down this year on both fronts.

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

 I usually re-read what I’ve previously written, or read about the subject I’m writing about. If all else fails I go and do something else and hope the muse returns. It may take half an hour or a week, but eventually I’ll get back on track.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

 Red wine and chocolate, but then I always feel passionate about red wine and chocolate. I’d like to emulate Oscar Wilde who only seemed to work half a day and partied the rest of the time, but luckily or unluckily my work commitments don’t allow it!

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

On the literature side I really enjoyed Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North. My guilty pleasure? Phillipa Gregory’s The White Queen and The King’s Curse by the same author which I’m currently reading.

 And now THE GREAT PLAINS has been published, what are you working on next?

My current work-in-progress is set in Australia on the northern NSW frontier in the 1830s when settlers went beyond the designated counties to the outer limits.

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

They can head to my website www.nicolealexander.com.au

 

 

 

 

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Welcome, Annabel Smith! Discover THE ARK e-book

I’m delighted to welcome Annabel Smith onto my blog this month. Annabel is the author of the digital, interactive novel/app The Ark, and the novels Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe (shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards). Her short fiction and non-fiction has been published in Southerly,WesterlyWheeler Dailies and Junkee.

I admire Annabel for all sorts of reasons: not only is she an extremely talented writer, she has a great work ethic, and she reads zillions of books I’ve never heard of and introduces me to them via her fantastically detailed blog! On top of all this she holds a PhD in Writing, is an Australia Council Creative Australia Fellow, and is a member of the editorial board of Margaret River Press. In summary, she’s one busy lady! Therefore, I’m very grateful she found time to visit and tell us about her new book THE ARK.

The ArkTHE ARK is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?

The Ark is a digital interactive novel and app in which a group of scientists and their families retreat into a bunker inside Mount Kosciusko during a post-peak oil crisis, alongside a seed bank which holds the key to the future of life on earth.

I began making notes for the novel after reading Adrian Atkinson’s foreboding essay ‘Cities After Oil’, about the likely collapse of society as we know it, in a period of chaos following post-peak oil. Then, in the ‘environmental lifestyle’magazine G, I saw a snippet about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, also known as the Doomsday vault. These two ideas came together in my mind and The Ark was born.

THE ARK plays with narrative, as the story is told through emails, news articles, blog posts, text messages and conversation transcripts. Why did you choose this structure, and were there benefits or drawbacks to it during the writing process?

Initially I thought these documents would form a supplementary thread to the main narrative, offering a different, less subjective viewpoint. But I was having so much fun writing them that they took over and eventually I decided to tell the whole story through documents. I like to give myself a new challenge with each book I write, and I’m interested in structural experiments – I wanted to see if it was possible to tell the entire story this way. There were some difficulties – how do you show a character’s inner life, for example, or an action sequence, without descriptive prose or a narrative voice. I was stimulated by overcoming these challenges.

9781922089144_WHISKYCHARLIEFOXTROT_RGBYour published works are noticeably diverse in content and structure, much more so than those of many other writers. Do you feel that there are themes or other elements that bind your novels, or is each project unique?

I think all my novels are connected by a preoccupation with the effect of secrets or what is left unsaid. In A New Map of the Universe and Whisky Charlie Foxtrot this theme is explored through the impact of secrets on family relationships; in The Ark, it is explored more broadly in relation to access to information and how that relates to questions of power and manipulation.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE ARK is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

I didn’t have a plan with The Ark – I wrote it organically, letting it unfold as I went along so I really had no idea where it would end up. The most surprising aspect of the process was the revelation that I was not writing a book ‘about’a seed bank, which is what I thought for the first couple of years. The seed bank was just the setting, the book was actually about the way humans behave in extreme circumstances. It took me a long time to see that.

Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith

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

One of the things I love most is making up small and silly details, like names for businesses or products. Unlike the greater story arcs or character arcs, writing these tiny details brings instant satisfaction and allow for a little playfulness. For example, when writing The Ark, I created a fitness schedule for the bunker inhabitants and I amused myself making up names and descriptions for fitness classes which might take place twenty five years from now:

Yogatronics: Achieve perfect posture AND enlightenment via intelligent pressure pads which assist with self-correction of those tricky asanas!

TaeKwonBop: Defend your vitality! Contemporary robo-dance meets the ancient Korean martial art TaeKwonDo: be prepared to bop til you drop.

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

I go back to the last place I felt confident things were working and see where I might have made a wrong turn. Failing that, I show it to a trusted writer friend who might be able to see it with clear eyes.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I’m horrified by the way the Australian government is treating asylum seekers and plan to volunteer to ease their suffering and make them welcome and comfortable, wherever possible, or even just convey that not all Australians are heartless. On a much lighter note, I am very excited to be planning a trip to the states with my husband and son next year, to meet the US publisher of my novel Whiskey and Charlie and travel through Yosemite in a camper van, with dear friends of ours who live in Seattle.

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book youve loved in the last year.

My favourite book in recent memory is Patrick Somerville’s This Bright River. It is beautifully written, funny, poignant and extraordinarily suspenseful – basically everything I look for in a book.

And now the ARK is complete, what are you working on next?

My current work-in-progress is the first in a trilogy called Monkey See; an epic quest with a speculative-fiction twist, in which a trio of unlikely heroes must unite to overthrow a sadistic cult before their city is destroyed by the mother of all tsunamis. It is wild! I am having an absolute blast writing it.

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

I love to connect with readers on my blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I also have a website for The Ark.

Thanks for visiting, Annabel!

Would you like to win an e-copy of The Ark? Leave us a comment telling us your favourite dystopian work of fiction, and make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter to enter the draw. Competition will close 11.59 pm on 14 November 2014, and the winner will be notified the following day. Please note this competition is to win an e-book edition of The Ark, which is downloadable for Kindle, Kobo, iPad or iPad mini.

 

 

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Welcome to the blog, Favel Parrett! Read about Favel’s new release When the Night Comes.

It’s an honour and a pleasure to welcome Favel Parrett to my blog this month. I’m sure that every single person who read Favel’s debut novel Past the Shallows has been eagerly awaiting her next publication.  Past the Shallows (shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, and winner of numerous other accolades) was set in a remote part of Tasmania, and for When the Night Comes Favel went a few degrees further, to Antarctica, to immerse herself in a book which is fast acquiring as many accolades as its predecessor. Congratulations, Favel, and welcome!

 

Favel Parrett 1WHEN THE NIGHT COMES is your latest novel – what inspired you to write it?

It sounds strange – but I was inspired by a Danish ship called Nella Dan. I loved her as a kid and I love her even more now. I wanted to bring her back, bring her home. I wanted people to remember her.

 You won the Antarctic Arts Fellowship and travelled to Antarctica during your research for WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. What has stayed with you most from that experience?

Getting to be a sailor – an old dream come true. I love being at sea. I sleep so well and wake excited every day. I love everything about sailing the southern ocean. I would do it for the rest of my life, if I could.

Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that WHEN THE NIGHT COMES is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?

I never have a plot – a story arc – a strategic plan. I just write scenes from character as they come. It’s a jumble, a puzzle, a mystery for me to solve.

Tasmania features in both your books – do you have a special connection to the place, and why do you think it sparks your imagination?

I never meant to write about Tasmania. It just keeps coming up – for better or worse, part of me is stuck there. I am fascinated, scared, and both love and hate the place. It’s where I grew up – an island that I was desperate to leave, but desperate to stay at the same time.

When the Night ComesCan you tell us one of the things you love about being a writer?

Sometimes I hate everything about being a writer. Sometimes I love it absolutely. I like when I work something out that I didn’t know about my book or my characters. I get satisfaction from problem solving.

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

I think, as writers, we just have to keep turning up. We just have to keep reading, keep thinking, keep trying. We have to give our work space and time and 100%.

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

So many things… dogs, live music, ships, sea birds, surfing, growing veges in my back garden, sharks…

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

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke.  Just so so so so so good!

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

www.favelparrett.com.au

Thank you again, Favel, and wishing When the Night Comes a safe and steady passage into the world.

If you would like to win a copy of When the Night Comes, all you have to do is make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter, and leave a comment below telling us which place or places in the world you think make(s) a brilliant setting for a novel. This competition closes 25 September 2014 at 11.59 pm, and the winner will be notified the following day.

 

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Welcome Jaye Ford! Read about Jaye’s new release Already Dead

It’s a pleasure to welcome Jaye Ford to the blog this month. Jaye’s first novel, Beyond Fear, was published in 2011, and she is about to publish her fourth (yes, fourth!) book, Already Dead. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jaye’s answers to my questions, and I defy you not to want to pick up her book after you’ve read this blurb:

Journalist Miranda Jack is finally attempting to move on from the death of her husband by relocating up the coast with her young daughter, Zoe. Then a single event changes everything.

On a Monday afternoon as she waits at traffic lights, a stranger jumps into her car and points a gun at her chest.

Forced to drive at high speed up the motorway, Miranda listens to the frantic, paranoid rants of Brendan Walsh, a man who claims he’s being chased and that they’re both now running for their lives.

Two hours later her ordeal is over in the most shocking fashion. Miranda is safe but she can’t simply walk away – not without knowing the truth about that terrifying drive.

As a journalist Miranda has always asked questions. But this time the questions are dangerous – and the answers might get her killed . . . 

Jaye Ford Author ImageCongratulations, Jaye, on the publication of Already Dead. The blurb is terrific  – how did you come up with the idea for the story?

Like all my books, Already Dead is a compilation of ideas.

The main character, Miranda Jack, had been percolating for years as someone who investigates but who isn’t an investigator, who has skills for asking questions but no professional reason to get involved, who is pulled in by her circumstances – and who would bring to life my own fondness for asking too many questions.

I had seen a lot of media coverage about soldiers with PTSD and wanted to recognise some of the battles they face at home, as well as explore some of the issues within a crime setting.

The carjacking that begins the book came from a real incident – a woman was carjacked at knifepoint near where I live a few years ago. While I watched the helicopters overhead and listened to the sirens of the police chase, I was thinking, how awful, but also what is that like? – which is the place most of my stories start.

Your books are all described as suspense thrillers. Do they have any recurring common themes, and did you always plan to write in this genre?

I love to write about ordinary women thrust into danger who must find the strength of will to survive. That theme is in all my books as a kind of analogy – a scary, dramatic one – of the tough times in our lives and what it can take to dig deep enough.

I also cast women as the ‘hero’, giving them a chance to do all the fun running and hitting and brandishing of weapons. I was tired of reading about women that were either waiting to be rescued by the cool guy or playing his sidekick. I also wanted to write about women like me (mothers, friends, colleagues, neighbours) so my stories are often about why and how an average woman might be pushed to doing that.

I’d always wanted to write a thriller but my first attempts at a full novel were in romance – I thought it would be easier to get published and I didn’t think I had a calculating enough brain to write crime. But after about seven years of not getting published, I decided it was possible I was going to be the only person who ever read my own words so I might as well have a go at the book I really wanted to write. That was my first published novel, Beyond Fear, and the lesson in that was to write what I want to read. By the way, one of my romantic comedies was later published (Just Breathe by Janette Paul).

 

Which other writers inspire you?

Nicci French for being queen of the ‘every woman’ thriller. Michael Robotham for putting heart in the psychological thriller. Lee Child for writing great action and justifying a tough-man’s rules. Wendy James for using women and their domestic lives for edgy crime stories. And Raymond Chandler for just being cool.

 

Already Dead Cover ImageAlready Dead is your fourth novel in about as many years. Have you hit on any secrets that help you write to a deadline?

The twelve month deadline is hard work and real life has a habit of whittling back the time even more – I have children in far-away cities and aging parents who need me around. I spend most of my year writing the first draft, leaving about a month for rewrites, and trying not to panic about time running out.

I’m not sure there’s any way to making the writing part easier. Stories are complex, messy, intricate things – and they should be, it’s what makes good fiction. But after experiencing the creative process over a few projects, I think I’m getting better at dealing with the ebb and flow, and not panicking about it – too much!

I try to remind myself that the beginning is always slow, the word rate increases in the back quarter, the ending often writes itself … and that there is always a black hole when the story falls apart.

That sense of ‘Oh my God, I’ve only got that long’, can really kill the creativity so I also try to keep to my writing schedule as much as possible, not beating myself up if I don’t get down a thousand words in a day but not slacking off either if I double it.

The rest is just tying myself to a chair and writing – that seems to work.

 

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

I try to figure out what the problem is – whether it’s with me or the story. Usually it’s me so I start there. I have a tendency to sit at my desk too long and sometimes I just need a break, so I go for a walk or do something non-writerish for a while. If I’m having trouble concentrating and it goes on for a while, I try a new work routine to freshen up the creative process – exercising at different times of the day, writing at a café or somewhere else in the house, finding small jobs to break up my time at the computer.

If that doesn’t help, I figure it’s a problem with the story. Sometimes it’s a quick fix to go back over my character motivations and conflicts and straighten it up. Other times it’s the ‘black hole’ and I realize a major element of the story has fallen apart.

The black hole used to freak me out but I know now to just keep picking at it, both on the screen and in my head. I write extra bits and pieces to sort through ideas, like character backstories and the secrets I’m keeping from readers, and just keep drafting with new dialogue or action. I also keep scenes going around and around in my head when I’m not at my desk, letting my mind find different pathways. Mindless activity is great for that – chopping vegetables, ironing, walking, driving. The process has taken weeks at times, but, man, it feels great when a ladder is finally chucked down the hole and I can climb my way out.

 

Now that Already Dead is about to hit the shelves, are you working on another book?

Yes! I’ve been signed by Random House to write my fifth thriller, called Dead Sleep and scheduled for release in September next year. It’s about a woman who keeps dreaming about a man breaking into her apartment. She’s trying to start her life over and learning that she can change surroundings but she can’t change herself.

It’s a bit of a crazy time really. I finally get to talk to readers about Already Dead but my brain has already moved on to another story. I feel like I need two heads.

 

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

My kids. Possibly it’s a little strange now that they’re in their 20’s but they both moved out of home not all that long ago and it’s great seeing their very different paths to independence. My son has been travelling the world for almost two years and I’ve been able to live vicariously through him and use him as an excuse to go to Europe twice. He’s coming home soon and bringing a keepsake from Germany – his lovely girlfriend! My daughter moved to Melbourne at the beginning of the year with plans to make lots of friends and get a cool job in the city – both of which she’s done!

 

I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you have loved in the past year.

The Lost Girls by Wendy James. Wendy is a friend and I got to hear some of the story as it was being written but it did nothing to dampen the experience of reading it. It’s engaging and intriguing to the end, it made me feel for every character and is just beautifully written.

 

And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I read mostly crime, both because it’s my job and I like it. At the moment, I’m looking forward to reading Michael Robotham’s new book, Life or Death. I’ve also got Sue Grafton’s last installment to her alphabet series, W is for Wasted, waiting for me. I enjoy trying new authors but it’s always great to go back to the ones I know and love.

 

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

For information about me and my books, go to my website at: www.jayefordauthor.com

To see what I’m writing and doing, go to my author Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/JayeFordauthor

 

Win a copy of Already Dead and the suspense 3-in-1 Secrets and Lies, which includes Jaye’s first novel Beyond Fear, and my own Come Back to Me, along with Caroline Overington’s I Came to Say Goodbye. All you have to do is make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter, and leave us a comment below telling us which book you are looking forward to reading next. The winner will be announced on 1st September 2014. Best of luck!

 

 

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Hello Dawn Barker! Introducing Dawn’s new book LET HER GO

DawnBarkerHeadshotWelcome to a very special July interview with fellow WA writer Dawn Barker. I first met Dawn at the Perth Writers Festival eighteen months ago when she had just published her debut novel Fractured. I thought I was doing well at the time, managing to write with one preschooler – but that’s nothing on Dawn, who produced her first book with three young children at home!  Now we talk often, as we are lucky enough to be part of the same supportive writing group, which also includes Annabel Smith, Natasha Lester, Amanda Curtin and Emma Chapman. It’s a real pleasure championing each other to the finish line and giving support where we can along the way. Therefore I feel like a very proud soul sister when I say congratulations on the release of Let Her Go, and welcome to the blog, Dawn!

Let Her Go is your latest novel. What inspired you to write it?

I first thought about writing Let Her Go after watching a documentary about a woman with a medical illness who used a surrogate mother to have a child. In the show, her husband was very much in the background, and when the surrogate mother attended the child’s first birthday party, it was clear that she was still very much attached to the child she had carried. There was something in the body language of both women that made me wonder how they both really felt, behind their smiles.


9780733632228-196x300I then heard more and more about the advances in fertility treatment, and read stories in magazines about people buying eggs and embryos overseas, then paying women to carry the children for them. Around the same time, I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and saw that the world she imagined in a speculative fiction novel – where an underclass of women are used for reproductive purposes – is not that far removed from the one we live in now.

I personally felt conflicted: being a mother myself, I would never deny anyone the right to experience the joy of being a parent, but there are ethical issues to consider. I wanted to write Let Her Go to explore my own feelings about this complex issue.

And now that Let Her Go is hitting the shelves, are you working on a new novel?

I should be! I find it difficult to start working on a new project when I’m still involved with another, and with Let Her Go hitting the shelves, I do still spend a lot of time thinking about it and talking about it as people read it. So, once everything settles down in the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to locking myself away and starting the third novel!

Within your writing, are you aware of any common themes, and why do you think they recur in your stories?

I like to write about ethically complex issues that we face today, issues that make me feel uncomfortable, and often issues where I don’t know where I really stand. With my background as a psychiatrist, I am inevitably drawn to write about mental health and complex family dynamics, whether I mean to or not!

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

From a practical point of view, I love the flexibility of the job. I have three young children and I love that I can still be with them when they need me, and don’t miss out on all the small, but important things, like school excursions and being there every day for them. But what I’ve loved most about writing is being able to connect with other people who love books and stories as much as me: other writers, and of course, readers. I feel incredible flattered and privileged to be able to talk at an event with readers who have read and thought about my words and characters!

If you could have a tete a tete with any writer in the world and quiz them on their writing secrets, who would you choose and why?

It would have to be with one of my favourite writers, Lionel Shriver. I love her bravery in tackling big social issues in fiction, and how she manages to do that without losing the vital aspect of a good read: a gripping plot. I was so excited to see her talk several times this year at the Perth Writers Festival, but was too star-struck to go and meet her!

16269642When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?

I’m pretty disciplined when I start writing a new project – I have to be, with three children and a day job! I set myself a daily word limit and stick to it, no matter what. If I get stuck in the scene that I’m writing, I’ll just switch to another, or even just describe a setting that my characters might be in, just to keep the word count moving forwards. I also like to run, and I often find that when I’m concentrating on the physical discomfort of running, ideas will come to me and I can solve my writing problems!

What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?

I don’t have much time for anything other than the family, work and writing! But I am training for my first half marathon at the moment and while I’m not sure I feel completely passionate about it, it certainly takes up a lot of my physical and emotional time!

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

I’ve just read and loved Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You. It’s about a female veteran who returns from Iraq to her small hometown in the USA. Through her, the reader sees some of the reasons – often economic – why people sign up for the armed forces, and the mental health effects of combat. It reminded me a lot of another brilliant book, Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds.

 And what are you looking forward to reading this year?

I have such a big pile of books waiting to be read! I’m hoping to get to some that have been recommended to me: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Humans by Matt Haig and Kevin Powers’ poetry A Letter Composed During A Lull In The Fighting. Locally, I’m excited about the release of Annabel Smith’s The Ark which looks so unique – a story told though multimedia, including a smartphone app! I love to see how people are redefining traditional storytelling.

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

I love to hear from readers. People can find me through my websiteFacebook, or on Twitter @drdawnbarker.

Thank you, Dawn, it’s been a pleasure.

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Want to win LET HER GO? My newsletter subscribers can enter the draw to win a copy of Dawn’s new release. Simply leave a comment on this post telling us who your favourite Australian female writer is, and subscribe to my newsletter here

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Hello Jenny Valentish! Meet the writer of CHERRY BOMB

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.

 

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Hello Wendy James! Read about Wendy’s latest book THE LOST GIRLS

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.

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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 – wendyjames.com.au – and also a Facebook author page – drop by and say Hi!

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

FOR A CHANCE TO WIN COPIES OF THE MISTAKE AND WENDY’S NEW RELEASE THE LOST GIRLS, SIMPLY SIGN UP TO MY NEWSLETTER, AND THEN LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TELLING US WHICH BOOK YOU’VE ENJOYED THE MOST SO FAR THIS YEAR! Competition closes 31  May 2014 and the winner will be announced and notified the following day.*

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED, THANK YOU TO ALL WHO ENTERED*

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Hello Jenn J McLeod! Read all about Jenn’s latest book Simmering Season

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 www.jennjmcleod.com

Jenn is also to be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JennJMcLeod.Books 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.

 

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Hello Anita Heiss! Celebrating the launch of TIDDAS

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 (http://stoptheintervention.org/facts). 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 www.anitaheiss.com 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!