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BOOK LOVE: The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns

 “If ever there was a tale for a moonless night, a high wind and a creaking floor, this is it … I don’t expect to read a more frightening novel this year.” STEPHEN KING

For decades, the faded, rural upstate New York village of Aurelius has lain dormant – until it is stirred to life when, one by one, three young girls vanish…

Nightmares are turned into horrifying reality when their corpses are found, brutally murdered, each missing their left hand…

As the search for a madman gets underway, suspicion shrouds the quiet streets of Aurelius when its residents soon realize that monster lives amongst them…

I don’t read much in the way of gory crime at the moment, but in the days when I did I thought this book was one of the best. The small town claustrophobia is brilliantly done, the narrator is fascinating, and the whole thing gave me the creeps all the way through. It’s been some years since I read it and I can still remember the chilling last few lines. Don’t read it on your own at night!

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Back from holiday and busy writing

I’m well into novel number 3 now, and looking forward to having a first draft ready early next year. I just spent ten days in Japan where I did a little bit of research as well as taking some family holiday time, but that’s all I’ll say for the moment. I hope to be able to put the synopsis/teaser for book 3 up on site early next year, so watch this space.

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The big picture – and what’s next

I’m still pinching myself that now I have two books out in the big book-buying world. Friends keep asking me how it feels, and to be honest I’m not sure I’ve really taken it in. What with the busy promotional blitz and caring for a toddler, I’m usually doing something work or child-related from the moment I get up until I go to bed, and when my head hits the pillow it’s lights out pretty quickly! But the publication of Beneath the Shadows marks the end of my first two-book deal in Australia, and already I am thinking about what I want to do next. I have two firm ideas that seem to be developing in tandem in my head, and I’m really excited about both of them. I don’t like sharing much of my writing until I’m finished – I’m a bit secretive like that – but my overall plan is that the first will be a complicated love story set around a passion for the sea, and the second is a family mystery with photography as an underpinning theme.  

It is both daunting and exciting to be very close to moving on from projects that have consumed the last few years of my life. I can’t wait to write something new, but thinking about what I hope to achieve next has led me to some reflection on what my overall goals are in my writing. Many aspects of my writing lend themselves to lots of other books too – most of us are touching on universal themes of love, friendship, journeys, psychology, freedom, fears and longing in one form or another. But I’m very interested in examining the psychology of traumatic events, and the different ways people try to cope with what fate deals them. I want readers to grow attached to my characters – not necessarily agree with them, but certainly relate to them, and recognise aspects of them in themselves or others.

I love to tell stories through the medium of suspense, with compelling chapters and twists and turns, because it’s what I want to read –there’s nothing better than a story that grips you. All that drama! The biggest compliment you can give me is saying you couldn’t put my books down – I want to grab my readers, pull them into the world I’m creating and completely absorb them until we’re finished. I hope I’ve achieved that in my first two books, but there is still plenty more to come.

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Sources of inspiration

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a question I am asked regularly. And my answer is ‘everywhere’. Considering my profession is writing, I spend much more of my time thinking about what I might write rather than actually noting it down. I am a compulsive thinker – not just that, but I like to replay, analyse, deconstruct, reconstruct, rewind and fast-forward. Occasionally I might even add a soundtrack. I find it difficult to switch off the whirring of my brain, though I have trained myself to get better at it, and my thoughts are widespread and random. I wonder what the cat is thinking on its morning prowl around the back garden. I wonder who made all the things in my house, which hands these objects passed through, and how curious it is that through them I am connected in some small way to hundreds of other stories I won’t ever know. I wonder who first thought of putting vinegar on a potato chip, or chilli in chocolate, and whether they received the recognition they deserved. These thoughts and others zip through my head all day long, and when I’m building a story, occasionally something will linger for a moment, and I’ll connect it to a character, and it eventually becomes part of my book. That’s if I can stop my thoughts long enough to find a pen and write them down. I often seem to have my best eureka moments just before I fall asleep, which is an endless source of frustration. I’m either constantly switching the light on and off to make notes, or trying to repeat ideas like mantras so I might remember them in the morning (which I rarely do).

I can’t ever imagine running out of inspiration, because I can’t see that I’ll ever run out of these streams of questions. And somewhere within my fascination with them, and the possible answers to them, is the place where a story begins to form.

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BOOK LOVE: Breath by Tim Winton

When paramedic Bruce Pike arrives too late to save a boy found hanged in his bedroom, the unusual circumstances of the death return him to his memories of adolescence, a turbulent time of unlikely friendships and recklessness that pushed him towards the darker edges of life.

I am a little ashamed to admit that this is the first Tim Winton I’ve read, since he is perhaps the most prestigious author in my home state of WA. I have long had Cloudstreet and Dirt Music on my list as well as this one, but when a friend suddenly gave it to me all other books were cast aside. I read it in a couple of days, and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, on reflection I think it was better. I am regularly disappointed by lauded, award-winning books – perhaps the hype kills them for me. Yet Tim Winton’s prose here is beautiful, stark and spare – it’s to-the-point, incisive fiction. The subject matter and the plot didn’t grab me all the way through, but the writing did – Winton absolutely lives and breathes his characters. I’m really looking forward to Cloudstreet now.

NB: At the moment, Save Our Marine Life (Australia)’s page on facebook features an open letter from Tim Winton about the importance of marine conservation. It’s well worth reading.