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Nicole Alexander’s Next Big Thing

I’m delighted to be hosting Nicole’s answers to the Next Big Thing book meme. I have been following Nicole’s books right from the start, and her wonderful, epic stories, set in Australia, are in hot demand. In the last two years she has published The Bark Cutters and A Changing Land, while her latest release is Absolution Creek. Read on to find out what Nicole has got planned for Book 4:

1) What is the working title of your current/next book?

Sunset Ridge

2) Where did the idea come from?

My paternal grandfather was a Lewis Gunner during WW1 and was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery. I have a deep interest in military history and long wanted to write a story set during The Great War. My grandfather, whom I never met, inspired me.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Although I started within the Rural literature genre my works now fall into  popular fiction. The term is broad, however all my works to date have included both historical and contemporary narratives which I guess have broader appeal.

4) Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm, let’s get the work optioned first. I’m not fussy!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

I am keeping this under wraps at the moment….

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Represented by Curtis Brown Australia Pty Ltd

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft? 

I am on a book a year contract which means I am continually re-drafting as I write.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

I have been told the work is a cross between Legends of the Fall and War Horse.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

See answer to Q.2

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 

Once again I have been fortunate to be able to draw on my family’s archival material, which include my grandfather’s war diary and many original publications from the period.

Thanks Nicole! Sunset Ridge sounds wonderful, and I’m already looking forward to reading it. Find out lots more about Nicole by visiting her website here.

Last week I also tagged Annabel Smith, and you can find out about her fantastic new project The Ark here.

Nicole and I would now like to pass the baton on to Lisa Heidke – keep an eye on Lisa’s website to find out what she’s planning next. 

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GUEST BLOG: Steve Rossiter, co-author of Possessing Freedom, and editor of Australian Literary Review

My guest today is Steve Rossiter, the editor of the Australian Literary Review, and one of the authors of a new supernatural thriller called Possessing Freedom. Read on to discover more about this fascinating fiction project, collaborative writing in general, and the fan fiction competition now open for entries, with a prize of $2000! 

You have contributed two stories to Possessing Freedom, one of two collaborative fiction books released in the past month. What is Possessing Freedom about?

Possessing Freedom could be considered paranormal suspense or supernatural thriller fiction. Set in Melbourne in 2026, the book starts out with 17 year old Alice who discovers that her ‘imaginary friends’ are actually ghosts. The POV shifts between 6 characters, with 2 stories told by each POV character.

The book explores themes of freedom and confinement on numerous levels. It deals with life and death, friendship, despair, love, responsibility, and courage.

Tell me more about the processes involved in collaborative fiction? How do the authors work together?

We all got together around a table at a café and discussed the story direction, characters, etc, and came to a shared understanding of some of the big picture elements. Through fortnightly meetings and staying in touch online, we discussed story drafts, character profiles and ideas until we had developed enough detail to have all 12 stories written with a decent level of consistency and integration. Then it was my role as editor to do some tidying up of details between stories.

For anyone considering collaborative fiction, I recommend that each person be flexible and not get too attached to any particular idea, as it has to all fit in together as a whole. It is typically a good idea, especially for groups of more than two, to have one person with the final say on details so a coherent big picture is maintained and so clear decisions are made in a timely manner.

Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? What are the main challenges of each?

I am currently writing my first novel with the aim of publishing in 2014. I prefer writing novels. in the sense that the longer form of a novel provides a more sustained experience which is more rewarding for most readers, and more rewarding for me to create. This also means that novels are a more solid foundation for a writing career, as people tend to read and purchase what they find more rewarding.

There is a sense in which an integrated or themed short story collection can approximate a sustained novel-like experience, which is the general idea behind both Possessing Freedom and The Life and Times of Chester Lewis.

When US novelist Lauren Kate came to Australia last year, I asked her whether she liked writing short stories and she said that she naturally prefers the longer form of a novel where there is room to develop characters and a story more fully, but that part of her wishes she was more suited to writing short stories too so she could participate more in the social aspect of working with different authors.

The two short story books recently released are designed to strike a balance between providing entertaining and thought-provoking novel-length experiences, serving as author-development initiatives for Australian writers, and engaging emerging fiction writers to develop their skills and meet like-minded writers through the fan fiction competition for each book.

What habits do you think make you most productive as a writer? (and those that make you least productive if you’d care to share!)

An important fiction writing skill, which helps productivity by both improving the focus of the large-scale storytelling and improving the clarity of finer details, is to understand the difference between story and characters (what happens and who does it) and discourse (how a writer conveys what happens), and to have good idea of how each works for the story you are writing.

Retreating into a character’s head for a lot of introspection with little happening in the story, or lots of action with unclear character motivations or unsatisfying character development are the kinds of passages which are likely to be cut or to require a major rewriting later. On one hand, a rough draft of a chapter is better than no draft, but, on the other hand, a confused draft is nowhere near as good as a draft with at least a basic level of coherence which makes a clear contribution to the overall story.

I have come across plenty of fiction writers who don’t have a firm grasp of their subject matter or who have only a vague story concept in mind, who find they keep running out of ideas, second-guessing themselves or meandering, with no clear story direction, character development or theme to unify the story into a satisfying experience for readers.

A little forethought can go a long way, and knowing the subject matter, along with having a clear idea of both the big picture details and the way in which you are telling the story does a lot to help the writing process flow smoothly.

The books each have fan fiction competitions – what do you think are the key elements of a good piece of fan fiction?

The word range for the fan fiction competition stories is 2000-4000 words. With that in mind, I suggest picking a character to focus on and a significant episode in their life with a clear connection to something important in the book. The fan fiction stories just have to be recognisably set in the same story-world as those in the book and have a recognisable connection to a major character in the book, but something which also builds on a key aspect of the overall story or further develops the personality and life story of a major character seem likely to result in stories with greater impact and meaning, which also draw added depth from the other stories.

Beyond that, write something original, with clear character motivations, and stakes which matter to the characters.

I have an article with some fan fiction idea-starters and discussion on PossessingFreedom.net.

Thanks for coming on to the site, Steve, and best of luck with your books.

This blog is part of a blog tour for Possessing Freedom. Read other interviews here, purchase Possessing Freedom here, or find out more about the fan fiction competition here. Good luck!

Interview with Kylie Ladd, author of Last Summer and After the Fall

I’ve been a big fan of Kylie’s ever since reading After the Fall, her first novel. Her latest release, Last Summer, begins with the death of Rory, the heart and soul of  Yarra Yarra cricket club, and explores the fallout among his extended group of friends. Told from an impressive nine points of view, Kylie addresses themes of love, grief, aging, marriage, and parenthood, and the story is full of Kylie’s hallmarks: psychological insight, beautifully crafted writing, and characters you feel instantly connected to, despite their flaws. You can find out more about Kylie and her books at www.kylieladd.com.au, and I’d highly recommend following her on Twitter (@kylie_ladd). I’m thrilled that Kylie agreed to answer my questions, and I’m already looking forward to her next release. Over to Kylie…

1. Why did you decide to write Last Summer?

The book was inspired, for want of a better word, by the unexpected death of one of my husband’s close friends, a guy he had played cricket and footy with for many years – and I’ve actually written a whole blog about this over at Lisa Heidke’s website. But as well as that, having written about romantic love in my previous novel, After The Fall, this time around I wanted to write about friendship. My husband has played club cricket for over three decades now, and is still going strong. Some of the relationships he has made in that time are like blood to him, and how he and his mates can still seem to need to dissect a game six hours after it has finished never fails to amaze me. I find the whole group psychology thing fascinating… a long established group, be that of Uni friends or teammates or work colleagues, is almost like a marriage, with all the compromises and resentments and deep understanding that entails, and I wanted to dive into that.

2. What do you find essential to sustain or encourage your writing brain? (e.g. food, drink, music, etc.). Do you have any other writing habits?

I have no writing habits other than, it seems, stuffing around for hours at the start of my writing day (of which I have three a week) then finally getting into gear when I suddenly realise I only have a few hours until 3:30. The threat of the school bell is the greatest incitement to write I have ever come across – once that goes, it’s all over for the day. Other than that, there’s nothing special I do to get the muse to show up. I’m quite used to starting without her.

3. If you could live the life of any fictional character (book or film), who would you be and why?

Robinson Crusoe. I really love the beach.

4. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you like to be?

A hairdresser. Or a bank teller. In fact, I dream about these professions on a regular basis, usually when it is 3 o’clock and I am still 550 words off my 1000 words/day goal…. Oh, how I long to be doing something productive and straightforward and that you can go home from feeling good about yourself, rather than lying awake that night wondering if you dare re-read over the chapter you’ve just finished and if it’s even more rubbish than you already suspect. Swimsuit model would be good too (the beach again), but so far I haven’t been able to find an agency.

5. Who inspires you in life?

Big question! My mum has always inspired me – she decided to become a doctor at the age of 40, with three young kids, and having left school without passing Year 11. That she went on and did so is a constant reminder that dreams can come true – particularly if you’re prepared to put in years of hard work. In terms of authors, Toni Morrison is unable to write a bad sentence. Every one of hers is as exquisitely turned as a Bentwood chair, supple and strong. Also Joanna Trollope, who I suspect is often under-rated, simply for how well she can pin characters to the page and make them squirm.

6. How would your ideal day go?

Any day where I get 1000 words I am happy with is a perfect day, it really is. That probably sounds like a cop out, but I came to writing in my thirties, after eleven years studying for another profession, and I’m just so grateful to be finally doing something I truly love and occasionally even get paid for. The only way it could get any better would be if I could find a way to write on the beach… but I keep getting sand in my laptop.

7. You’re about to get parachuted on to a desert island for a month, Survivor style – and you’re allowed to take three books. What would you take and why?

This sounds like my Robinson Crusoe fantasy! If it really was in Survivor style I guess I’d need Robison Crusoe, so I could see how he survived, plus 101 Tasty Ways With Turtles And Other Easy To Catch Aquatic Species, and my Girl Guide handbook, so I could brush up on my knots and semaphore.  If, however, I’m being parachuted into Club Med I’d pack the biggest, thickest books I could find – War and Peace, definitely, all of Proust, and maybe Of Human Bondage. All a bit intimidating, I admit, but I could get through a lot of books in a month doing nothing, and I’d hate to run out!

8. What have you learned during the course of writing and publishing your novels?

That EVERYONE hates their novels at some stage of writing them, and often on a daily basis. That the muse is utterly unreliable and not to be trusted. That Twitter will sing such a sweet siren song to you that the only way to defeat it will be to unplug your laptop and go and work in the kitchen where you can’t get wifi (pathetic, I know). That being published won’t automatically make you happier, richer or a better person… but also that the first time you see your name on a book is right up there with the first time you see your children, although with the added bonus that you won’t need stiches afterwards.

9. What do you hope people take away from reading your book?

An overwhelming desire to buy 100 more copies to pass out to their family and friends, and particularly that great-uncle who is the literary editor at the New York Times. Otherwise, though, I simply hope people come away from my books having enjoyed them, and, while they were reading them, having believed in their world. Being asked about my characters as if they were real people is the greatest compliment I have ever been given.

10. What’s next on the horizon for you?

Finishing my next book! By some fluke of timing (and the fact that publishing moves at a pace that can make glaciers look reckless) I should complete the novel I am working on, Into My Arms, not long after Last Summer comes out. A first draft anyway… Finishing a book is almost as scary as starting one, and right up there with having one launched. To be honest, it’s all terrifying… but I still love it.

It’s been a pleasure chatting to you, Kylie (and your mum sounds incredible!) Good luck with your writing, and I’m really looking forward to reading Into My Arms.

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An interview with Kerri Sackville, author of When My Husband Does the Dishes…

In the world of blogging, few are as engaging or endearing as Kerri Sackville. Over the past few years, she has built up a huge following thanks to her comic, candid style, and her devotion to Simon Baker and Nutella. Today sees the release of Kerri’s first book, When My Husband Does the Dishes….a memoir of marriage and motherhood, and if you’ve read her blog you’ll already know that we’re in for a treat. I’m delighted that she agreed to answer a few of my hard-hitting questions… 

Kerri Sackville

1.  Why did you decide to write When My Husband Does the Dishes?

I really believed that there was a gap in the market place for a tell-all memoir of marriage and motherhood. Nearly everything that’s been written on these subjects to date has been didactic, or really grim, or really flip, and I felt that I could write about it with honesty and humour. And I had masses of material. My life is really, really funny, in a tragic kind of way.

2. What do you find essential to sustain or encourage your writing brain? (e.g. food, drink, music, etc.). Do you have any other writing habits?

Mess and chaos. Truly. The more I have to do, the more creative I am. Sit me down at a neat desk with all the housework done and the evening meal prepared and I am likely to go blank. (Of course, this is purely hypothetical, it has never happened.) Sit me down at a desk piled with bills to pay and papers to file, surrounded by laundry to sort and groceries to unpack, and I can write for hours.

 3.  If you could live the life of any fictional character (book or film), who would you be and why?

 Julia Robert’s character at the end of Notting Hill. A Hollywood superstar with a gorgeous, down-to-earth devoted husband and a baby on the way??? It doesn’t get better than that.

4.  If you weren’t a writer, what else would you like to be?

 A Young Talent Time team member, but sadly the time for that has long since passed. Seriously, though, I’ve tried a dozen different careers and none of them stuck. The only thing I’ve ever loved doing is writing.

5.  Who inspires you in life?

I’m inspired by brilliant writers, particularly novelists as I have NO idea how they do it. How do you make up a world inside your own head? I’m also constantly inspired by people with a broad general knowledge – writers, journos, my husband… It makes me want to go out and learn things, which I try to do until I get distracted by the laundry.

 6.  How would your ideal day go?

I would wake up in a gorgeous hotel and call my kids who are having a lovely weekend at their Nana’s. My hubby and I would go for breakfast in a nice café, then I’d go shopping in several gorgeous boutiques with the hundreds of dollars that magically appeared in my pocket. We’d have a light lunch then go back to the hotel where I’d sleep all afternoon as my husband reads the papers. Then I’d spend an hour or two on Twitter and Facebook, and then we’d head out for drinks and a nice dinner, followed by an ice cream on the way back to the hotel. We’d get into bed, watch The Big Chill again, have some quick but multiple-orgasmic sex, then sleep for another 12 hours. Bliss.

 7.  You’re about to get parachuted on to a desert island for a month, Survivor style – and you’re allowed to take three books. What would you take and why?

1. Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying And Start Living, as I would be absolutely panic stricken and would need help calming my anxiety.
2. Garp by John Irving, which is my all-time favourite book; I’ve only read it about 100 times so I could easily read it 100 more.
3.  My friend Kylie Ladd’s new novel Last Summer. It’s not being released till July, but I’m sure if she knew I was being dropped on a desert island, she’d get me an advance copy.

8.  What have you learned during the course of writing and publishing When My Husband Does the Dishes?

EVERYTHING. I knew nothing about editing or publishing. Nothing! I didn’t know how a book was pitched or sold. I didn’t understand how the editing process worked. I had no idea how a cover was designed, what a normal print run was, what was involved in publicity and marketing, what an author talk is about, what one signs on a book! NOTHING. It’s been an amazing learning curve.

9.  What do you hope people take away from reading your book?

 I want people to read my book and say ‘YES! That’s exactly what it’s like!’ To know they are not alone in their challenges. To know that they are normal. To know that their partners and kids are normal. And to have a big laugh at me and at themselves. Because we’re all going through the same thing.

10.  What’s next on the horizon for you?

I’m going to keep blogging, and I’ve started writing my next book, which is not about marriage or motherhood! And I am very open to other offers. Johnny Young – I’m talking to YOU!

 Thanks, Kerri, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Wishing you every success with your book, your blog, and your future writing.

To visit Kerri’s blog, Life and Other Crises, click here.  To find her on facebook, click here. Or follow her on Twitter – @KerriSackville.

 

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Welcome to the blog, ANITA HEISS!

Dr Anita Heiss

It’s great to be involved in Aussie Author month, and what better way to begin than by having a brilliant Aussie author visiting my blog. Anita Heiss is an inspiration  – her books are fabulous, her work rate incredible, and  her gratefulness blog perfectly reflects her positive take on life. Her energy is at whirlwind level, as I discovered first of all at Perth Writers Festival, where I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her. I’ll always remember how supportive she was to this first-time author.

Anita’s latest book, Paris Dreaming, has just been released. Here’s a teaser:

Libby is on a man-fast: no more romance, no more cheating men, no more heartbreak. After all, she has her three best girlfriends and two cats to keep her company at night and her high-powered job at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra to occupy her day – isn’t that enough? But when fate takes Libby to work in Paris at the Musée du Quai Branly, she’s suddenly thrown out of her comfort zone and into a city full of culture, fashion and love. Surrounded by thousands of attentive men, nude poets, flirtatious baristas and smooth-tongued lotharios, romance has suddenly become a lot more tempting. On top of it all, there’s a chauvinist colleague at the Musée who challenges Libby’s professional ability and diplomatic skills. Then there’s Libby’s new friend Sorina, a young Roma gypsy, desperate to escape deportation. Libby must protect her work record and her friend, but can she protect herself from a broken heart?

I asked Anita what Libby was most grateful for in life, and here’s what she said:

1. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: Libby is grateful for her circle of friends she calls her ‘tiddas’. In Canberra her bestie is Lauren, a visual arts curator who believes in romantic love. Her ex flat-mate Denise is a primary school teacher, who’s witnessed both Libby and Lauren’s relationship sagas over the years, and yet she still believes in ‘the One’. And the latest addition to the posse, Caro, is a lawyer with a dry sense of humour who likes to wet-her-whistle often. Together they unpack the serious issues of life: relationships, careers and good food! When Libby moves to Paris, her new tidda is Canelle, a sleek-bobbed black woman from Guadeloupe with a passion for bling, who ups the fashion-and-fella-anti!

2. A COMPLETE LIFE: Libby has her core group of friends and an active Canberra social life. She has a healthy long-distance relationship with her mum and five brothers in Moree. She’s got a tertiary degree and has excelled in her job as Manager of Educational Programs at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra. Libby isn’t that interested in children just yet, but loves her two cats – Bonnie and Clyde. She’s fit from running and riding her bike around the streets of Braddon, on a total man-fast and is grateful for her complete life, until…

3. PITCH FOR PARIS: Libby is grateful her Pitch For Paris – to work at the stunning Musée du Quai Branly – is successful. She gets to do what she loves best: promoting Indigenous arts, this time on the international stage. But once arriving in the city of love with its cravats, culture and classy men, the ‘man-fast’ isn’t that easy to stick to. But she’s grateful that at least she’s a long way from home… and so no-one will ever know what she gets up to, or will they?

4. NUDE POETS: Libby is grateful to a new friend, Ames from Burgundy, because he introduces her to the revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre. But the most revolutionary thing about their English and French poetry readings is that they are all done in the nude. Libby says: ‘I liked the feeling of freedom in being without clothes just for the sake of it.’

5. MOULIN ROUGE: Libby goes to the Moulin Rouge with staff from a job she ends up doing through the Australian Embassy. While she gets a tad jealous of the barely covered dancing girls, she’s grateful she won’t have to do any can-can moves to impress her fella. She simply says she can’t can’t and won’t won’t.

To find out more about Anita, visit www.anitaheiss.com and http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/ I’d highly recommend going to one of her events – you’re guaranteed a fun evening.

Thanks for dropping by, Anita, and wishing you every success. xx

GUEST BLOG: NICOLE ALEXANDER, author of A Changing Land

I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, author of the bestselling debut novel The Bark Cutters (Bantam 2010), which I had the  true privilege of reading before it was published. Her travel, poetry & genealogy articles have been published in Australia, America and Singapore and her first volume of poetry, Divertissements-Love·War·Society (Kre8 Publishing) was published in 2008. Nicole is the business manager on her family’s rural holding north west of Moree and is a regular contributor to New England Country Living Magazine. A Changing Land, her second novel, has just been published, and is already climbing the charts. Over to Nicole to tell us more:

When I signed my contract with Random House for my rural novel, The Bark Cutters, I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel. I was still getting over the excitement of landing a major publishing contract when the publisher said they would like one. However as the initial contract was for two books I excitedly wrote a one page synopsis and sent it off. Then reality set in. I had twelve months to write it. Twelve months less the editorial process involved in turning The Bark Cutters from manuscript to novel form, twelve months less a month touring for the first novel, less my normal work commitments on the property where I live 110km northwest of Moree in north western NSW.

While the concept of bringing two novels out in quick succession in order to cement your reading audience makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, from the author’s perspective suddenly your days are measured in terms of how many words you put down on paper: In an hour, a day, a week. Eventually I wrote A Changing Land in eight months. Along the way I suspect I wrote and deleted approximately thirty thousand words, suffered from cramping in my fingers and right hand, developed a healthy fondness for merlot and became acutely conscious of how much faith a publisher must place in a new fiction writer. Publishers invest many hours and thousands of dollars in establishing new authors and I’m sure Random House were holding their collective breaths hoping I wasn’t a one book wonder. So was I!

Luckily they liked A Changing Land. The writing of this novel was made easier as I already knew the world my story was set in. I knew my environment. I can still mentally wander the landscape that is Wangallon and I can draw a mud map in the dirt as to the exact location of the Wangallon homestead, creek, aboriginal camp and river. I could envisualise my characters talking to each other and through them the plot gradually unfolded, a natural progression of the original story. The environment was so real to me I could smell it and I realised how important it is to know your created world even better than your real one, for otherwise how can you make it believeable?

For those of you who have not read The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land is a stand-alone work. You can certainly pick it up and be thrust into the continuing legacy of the Gordons. So for a brief story rundown it is about four generations of a rural family, the Gordons. The work has an interweaving narrative with the story split between 1909 and 1990.

It’s 1909 and Hamish Gordon has a large rural holding built on stock theft. Determined not to bow to his wife Claire’s genteel need for respectability, he embarks on a final stage of land acquisition. His ruthless plan, triggered by an antagonistic English neighbour nearly destroys Wangallon and has serious repercussions eighty years on.

In 1990 after the death of her grandfather and family patriarch Angus, fourth generation Sarah Gordon now runs Wangallon with her fiancé, Anthony. Their relationship begins to deteriorate when a power struggle develops between them, Sarah’s problems escalating with the arrival of her Scottish half-brother. Jim Macken is intent on receiving the thirty percent share of Wangallon bequeathed to him by Angus. Stunned by her grandfather’s will which effectively destroys the family legacy of a strong succession plan, Sarah discovers that Anthony has embarked on a project that will ultimately change the face of the property forever. Unable to buy Jim out and with the possibility of losing one third of Wangallon, Sarah finds herself fighting the law, her half-brother and her beloved Anthony.

Sarah knows she must continue in her forefathers’ footsteps, however has she the same unescapable Gordon qualities that will ensure both her and Wangallon’s survival.

I’m touring NSW/QLD to chat about A Changing Land during March & May (while trying to write book 3!) so please visit www.nicolealexander.com.au for details or contact me through my site. Enjoy!

Thanks for popping by, Nicole, and wishing you the best of luck with your novels.

GUEST BLOG: FLEUR MCDONALD, author of Blue Skies and Red Dust

I’m very excited to introduce Fleur McDonald, a fellow West Australian, as my guest blogger today. Fleur has written two brilliant books, Red Dust and Blue Skies, and is currently busy working on a third, called Purple Roads. Please check out her fantastic website and blog at www.fleurmcdonald.com. Over to Fleur: 

I love thunderstorms. To me they represent unbridled power and helplessness all in one. The power they produce, we humans can’t harness, which makes us at the mercy of the storm, therefore the power/helplessness.

Thunderstorms always seem – well on the coast, anyway, to be in layers. First of all there is the high, white strips of cloud that streak, in wisps, across the sky. As the storm starts to stream in over the hill, huge indigo coloured rollers make us stop and watch. I’m often unable to tear my eyes away from what is about to happen. Lastly, and this does really only seem to happen on the coast, the cold, scuddy, murky grey clouds seem to come up from the sea and lay across the menacing clouds, giving the storm three sections.

And then as these clouds roll through, we wait. The sky darkens, the atmosphere, the humans and stock all tense in anticipation.

At the first crack of thunder we all jump, even though it’s expected, the lightning sheets across the sky or forks and hits the ground. Again we hold our breath, watching for fires, but when the rains start, we laugh and lift our faces to the heavens. No fires, nothing destructive, just life-giving rain.

Creating a book is much like this, believe it or not! The book holds the all the power and, as the writer, I feel helpless, until the setting and characters emerge and introduce themselves to me. It starts in layers, the first one being the setting, like the high clouds, it doesn’t do much, but it creates the atmosphere. For me, as both a reader and a writer, I want to be immersed in the place that the story is being told. I want to breathe the air my characters are and see the things they do.

The second layer is the plot. The very thing that gives the book the control to draw the reader in.

The third layer is the characters. They are what makes the book – who they are, how does their setting effect them, make them the people they are and have the relationships they have. Now my issue is getting it all to mesh together, weaving the suspense and action into normal peoples lives. It takes time and it can be frustrating, but as it all comes together, then comes the anticipation – what is going to happen next, we’re all waiting…

Bang! A thunder clap – or a pivotal point in the book.

Lightning strike – gasp, hold your breath! Is there going to be a ‘fire’?

Then the rain is the ending, we’re happy to see it because now we know what is going to happen, why it did and how we got to the finish line.

So to me, writing a book is a lot like a thunderstorm; a rollercoaster of emotion, plots, characters and settings. Although sometimes frustrating,  I love every minute of it!

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for visiting, Fleur!

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GUEST BLOG: LISA HEIDKE, author of Claudia’s Big Break

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Lisa Heidke to my blog. Claudia’s Big Break, her most recent bestselling book, is a hilarious and heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down. I asked Lisa what she thought were the linking themes running through her work so far. Over to Lisa:

I have written before how my characters are formed first before I consider plot but I have been forgetting a crucial element, theme.

The theme in Claudia’s Big Break — women, generally in their thirties, who are at a cross roads in their lives —is a theme that runs through my other two books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next as well.

When starting a new manuscript, I’ll think about the general theme and develop it more specifically, for example infidelity and its’ repercussions, and then create a character to embody that crisis. Whilst the characters in every book are very different, they are all struggling with real issues women face such as aging, betrayal, divorce, teenage sexual awakening, career frustration, loss of independence, friendship, etc.

In each of the novels, the characters start in a difficult place but by the end of the 85,000 words they are on their way to resolving those issues. They are not going to lead perfect lives but the characters have developed the strength and determination to keep going and moving forward in a positive direction.

I always write in the first person so while developing Claudia, Kate and Lucy’s stories, I imagined living inside their heads to make their personalities, motivation and dialogue as emotionally authentic as I could.

While Claudia is the main character in Claudia’s Big Break, the story revolves around the relationship between three long-time best friends: Claudia, Tara and Sophie. All are in their thirties and are struggling with personal issues: Claudia has a less than stellar career and love-life, Tara is trying to overcome personal demons so she can finish writing her novel, and Sophie is dealing with the transition from corporate lawyer to stay-at-home mother.

What excited me about writing this novel was creating the intricate and often tricky relationship these women have, and playing that out against the idyllic Santorini back drop.

With What Kate did Next, the focus is very much on Kate and her coming to terms with the fact that the dreams she had at twenty are no closer to becoming a reality as she approaches her thirty-sixth birthday.

Lucy’s husband in Lucy Springer Gets Even walks out on her in the first sentence, so her journey starts in a very bad place, that of being totally blindsided and having to rebuild her life.

I can’t see the general theme of my books changing. I like writing about women, what drives them to succeed (or fail), how they react to adverse situations and how, even though they may start from a dark place, their strength of character pulls them through in the end. My characters generally aren’t going to get ‘the happily ever after’ of fairytales, but I hope that they are interesting and inspirational regardless of how flawed they appear.

You can find out more about Lisa at www.lisaheidke.com. Thanks for visiting, Lisa!

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GUEST BLOG: NATASHA LESTER, author of What is Left Over, After

Why does inspiration never strike at a time when I can write it down?

I blame my children for this – they’ll end up blaming me for almost everything when they’re older so I might as well get in first. Except that, in this case, it’s true.

 Having recently had the luxury of nearly a whole week to do nothing but write, courtesy of my lovely husband who subjected himself full time to the 3 cherubs, I have discovered that I get the best ideas in the most uninspiring places. Places where there are no pens. And even if there were, it would be impossible to write anything down.

 The first day inspiration struck in the shower. I was washing my face and the solution to a major plot problem that had been niggling me for months suddenly and perfectly appeared. Short of inscribing myself with shampoo, there was no way to make a note of the idea. But I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it later. So I had to chant it in my head – Dan gets run over, Dan gets run over – while I jumped out and dried myself. My mental monologue was interspersed with shouted directions at the children: ‘Your headband’s in the doll’s cradle’ – Dan gets run over – ‘Your shoes are in the fridge’ (don’t ask) – Dan gets run over. I’m just lucky that, when I got to my study, I didn’t end up writing in my notebook: Dan runs over a doll with the fridge.

The next day we were at the Disney Live concert surrounded by a million mini Cinderellas and my two year old needed to go to the toilet. While I was holding her on the toilet seat, more inspiration struck. This time a brilliant plot twist that I knew would make the book impossible to put down at the critical halfway mark. ‘Please hurry, darling,’ I begged, desperate to get out of there and back to my notebook and pen. ‘But Mummy,’ she piped up, ‘I shouldn’t rush. I need to get it all out.’ Of course my oft-repeated advice, which was never remembered if she was in the middle of jumping on the trampoline, was thrown back at me the one time when rushing would have been very welcome.

 The day after that, the ideas came while I was driving on the freeway. No way to jot things down at one hundred kilometres an hour and I’m sure it wasn’t quite the emergency that the stopping lanes were designed to accommodate.

 Later, I realised that the reason I keep finding inspiration in unlikely places is because they are quiet places, places where the kids are either absent or silent – shower, toilet, car.

 I wonder whether this means that the ideas are there all the time but I just don’t hear them, drowned out as they are by the four year old yelling at the two year old, ‘She took my Barbie,’ and the baby delighting in his new found ability to shout Mum-mum-mum at the top of his voice.

 So my New Year’s Resolution is this: to somehow build a quiet moment into every day. The girls received a cubbyhouse for Christmas so perhaps I need to rig up some kind of lock on it – not to lock them in but as a place for me to hide! I know I won’t be lucky enough to dream up a new story idea, solve a plot problem or come up with an unexpected twist in every quiet moment, but the important thing is, I’ll be ready, pen and paper in hand, if the ideas do choose to come.

Natasha Lester lives in Western Australia and is the author of What is Left Over, After, winner of the TAG Hungerford Prize, published in 2010 by Fremantle Press. Check out her website, www.natashalester.com.au, or visit her blog, While the Kids are Sleeping.