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How far would you go to save someone you love?

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Perth Writers Festival #1: Going… going…

I’ve attended the Perth Writers Festival every year since I arrived in WA back in 2004, and I always seem to forget just how damn inspiring it is – that is, until I’m back in the auditoriums, listening to beautiful, radical, compelling and disturbing ideas, whereupon it all comes rushing back to me. Last year I was caught up with the fact that I had events of my own to participate in – a particularly daunting affair as they were my first public speaking engagements as a ‘published novelist’. Therefore, this weekend it was lovely to sit among the audience and try to take in as much as possible by osmosis – as well as scribbling quotes and thoughts in my notebook too.

I was particularly interested in sessions concerning the natural world. I have found myself becoming increasingly drawn to and protective of untouched landscapes, and I’m fascinated and terrified by the commentary of some front-line thinkers and researchers on the state of the planet. In a session on landscape, Annie Proulx talked about how her surroundings inspire her, saying, ‘there’s something about striding out and looking at far distances that sets the mind on fire’, while Tim Flannery gave the best description of climate change I have ever heard, and I think most others agreed, as he got a major round of applause in the packed Octagon Theatre. In essence he explained that the earth goes through a predictable 100,000-year warming/cooling cycle, but what is happening now is a warming spike caused by man rather than the normal pattern of nature. As a result, the seas are predicted to rise one metre in the next ninety years. If they rise just half of that, then we can expect to see major events such as flooding, which have so far occurred approximately every hundred years, happening every month or up to ten times a month. I repeat: ten times a month. If that isn’t an impetus to look carefully at what we are doing at all levels from superstructure to personal, I don’t know what is.

Later in the day I listened to Tim again, this time with Dorothy Rowe, someone I’ve always admired for her ability to examine and explain the more difficult and disturbing sides of human nature. Her latest book, Why We Lie, looks at why we hide from unpalatable truths, such as the scale of climate change we could be facing. She was marvellous to listen to, and I was very moved by her comment on mourning and grief being the great themes of human literature. ‘If you love other people you will suffer loss. And if you want to avoid loss you will be lonely. To be a human being is to choose between these two.’ It could have been demoralising, but these speakers all talked with open minds, passion, and a brilliant sense of humour, and what came across most in the sessions is that while we can be ambushed by our fears and our feelings of helplessness in the magnitude of the problems we’re faced with, the irrepressible spirit of Hope keeps on finding a way through.

I’ll be writing more about the diverse range of PWF events later in the week, but tomorrow I am delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, who visits my blog to talk about her new book, A Changing Land.

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Bye bye editing, hello life!

Finally, after six long weeks of work, I have finished the structural edit of Beneath the Shadows. It’s lovely to put my head up again, as I’ve literally been working morning, noon and night, around my toddler’s waking hours, to get everything done. I am already thinking of things that need changing or tweaking, but I will get another chance to do that when the copy-editing begins. I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with this side of the editing process, which is ironic since I’ve been a book editor for the last ten years. But editing someone else’s work is fun. Editing my own novels seems to be much more gruelling, since I find myself continually re-examining every aspect of plot, characters and writing, and coming up with more and more problems or weaknesses that need fixing. However, I thrive on the challenge, and so far I’ve had two great editors who have really pushed me to make my books stronger.

So, while I’ve been taking a break, I’ve been dabbling with my bookshelf on goodreads.com.  I now have an author profile, which I’m still working on, and you’ll find my latest book reviews on there as well as on this website. You’ll notice they all tend to be rather positive, but I often don’t finish books I’m not enjoying, and as a result I don’t feel entirely qualified to comment on them! I’m currently reading and loving Water for Elephants, so you can expect another positive review soon!

Lately, quite a few aspiring authors have asked me for advice on what to do when you feel your novel is ready to go out into the world. So, while I have some downtime, I’ll shortly put up a blog or two with some general advice and information. Good luck to you all. Book publishing is a tough world, but it’s a very exciting and fulfilling one too, and I love being part of it.

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On pursuing publication

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.

Pages

Shallow Breath

NEW AUSTRALIAN EDITION

COMING JULY 2017

How far would you go to save someone you love?

Two years ago, Desi Priest made a horrific mistake and destroyed her family.

Now, she is coming home to make amends: to her daughter Maya, who’s nurturing her own dangerous plan; to her brother Jackson, who blames himself; and to her close friend Pete, who has spent years shielding her from a devastating truth.

But as Desi returns to her beloved house by the ocean, there is a stranger waiting for her. Someone who needs her help. Someone whose arrival will reveal a chain of secrets hidden for over twenty years.

And one by one the family will be forced to confront the possibility that they have somehow got things terribly, tragically wrong …

Set across five continents, Shallow Breath is a compelling novel of dashed dreams and second chances. But most of all it is a story about love, and what it really means to be free.

‘Gripping, touching, and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’

Favel Parrett

Australian ISBN: 978-1925533248

E-book ISBN: 978-1925533255

Available in Australia and New Zealand from this website, and in all good bookstores, including Booktopia, Dymocks and independent retailers.

Shallow Breath by Sara Foster

INTERNATIONAL READERS:

You can find the Kindle international edition of Shallow Breath on all Amazon stores outside Australia (ASIN: BOOCEXVEEW)

If you are overseas and you would like to purchase a print edition, please send a message of enquiry using the Contact form.

Book Group Questions

1. The shoutline of the book is ‘How far would you go to save someone you love?’. How did this resonate for you within the novel?

2. What does the pearl necklace symbolise?

3. Why do you think the author chose to put in one chapter towards the end of the book from Connor’s perspective, when most of the information is found elsewhere or could easily have been added?

4. Discuss Luke’s character and his role within the story.

5. Who was your favourite character? Which characters did you feel the most sympathetic towards, and why?

6. How did you feel about the decisions the characters made towards the end of the book? Are their actions justified? Is it ever okay to do something wrong if it makes something right?

7. ‘The thing that makes you is the thing that breaks you.’ What do you think of Pete’s comment, and how does it apply to the story?

8. Did you like the introduction of a new ‘voice’ in each part? Why do you think the author did this?

9. At the beginning of each part there is a short, italicised section from an unidentified perspective. How do you think these short pieces contribute to the novel? What effect would it have on the story if they were removed?

10. What did you think of the ending? What feelings does this book leave you with?

Reviews

‘Shallow Breath invites breathless anticipation, building towards a shocking climax. It is a really satisfying read.’ www.aussiereviews.com

‘…the steady unveiling of all that lies below the surface is suspenseful, complicated and deeply mired in oceanic metaphors … Foster is a gifted writer who has much to teach us in amongst this intriguing family saga.’ This Charming Mum blog, March 2013

‘a thrilling novel about love and freedom’ Green Lifestyle magazine, Feb/March 2013

‘compelling, emotional and graphic’ 5/5 stars Book Muster Down Under, February 2013

‘Shallow Breath is a beautifully written novel that quite easily draws you in to this somewhat broken family and the fragile relationships that are struggling to knit themselves back together … It further cements Sara Foster as a writer with a real talent for suspense and pacing and the ability to flesh out her novels with characters that are so real you can imagine yourself living next door to them.’ 1Girl2ManyBooks, February 2013

‘… with Western Australian author Sara Foster’s skilled pen, there is a vitality and urgency to the pace of Shallow Breath than catapults the reader right into the heart of the action.’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘set quite uniquely against a fascinating and intelligent backdrop of Australian wildlife and it’s struggle for survival in the modern world’ Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2013

‘…beautifully researched and written with enormous passion … the perfect holiday companion for those wanting to lose themselves in a good story.’ Writing WA review in the West Australian, January 2013

‘The narrative burden shifts between characters, all of whom have winning strengths and credible frailties, and the action emanates from these qualities with effortless suspense and dramatic power…’ Sydney Morning Herald PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘well-crafted psychological suspense’ Saturday Age PICK OF THE WEEK, December 2012

‘Shallow Breath is a fast-paced read which interweaves drama, intrigue, loss and the fate animals can face at the hands of humans. The author’s clever use of psychological suspense played out in this book reeled me in and delivered the animal conservation message with a powerful punch.’ Port Macquarie News, January 2013

‘SHALLOW BREATH is a modern Australian saga, written by an author who knows how to breathe life into characters. The story reaches through the pages pulling you into its watery depths and when it is over the characters will stay with you as if you’ve connected deeply with new friends.’ An Adventure in Reading, December 2012

‘An engaging novel that is sure to haunt you, this is an absorbing read. Dive into Shallow Breath – you won’t regret it.’ Book’d Out, December 2012

‘…an absorbing novel about the loneliness of secrets and how love yearns to be free of them.’ Canberra Times, December 2012

‘a double whammy of suspense coupled with some nicely nuanced characters…’ Geelong Advertiser, December 2012

‘Foster has such a knack for intrigue and is so engaging with her storytelling…,and this, her third novel – set in her adopted WA – is sharper and more mysterious than ever.’ The West Australian, December 2012

‘another taut, suspenseful read bursting with family secrets and hope…Shallow Breath is one of those books you want to dive into and not come back out of until it’s finished.’ Monique Mulligan, Write Note Reviews

‘a love letter to the ocean’, Bookseller and Publisher, October 2012

‘Gripping, touching and close to my heart. I was hooked from start to finish.’ Favel Parrett

For author interviews and general media, click here

About

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME

I live in Perth, Western Australia, with my husband and two young daughters.

Before I was a writer I worked as a book editor, at first in-house at HarperCollins UK and then freelance. I’ve edited and proofread well over 100 books, fiction and non-fiction, including novels by Paullina Simons, Kathryn Fox and Liane Moriarty.

My favourite authors include Maggie O’Farrell, Toni Morrison, Nicci French, Sara Gruen, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Wendy James, Kate Morton, Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.

My favourite books include The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, and After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell. The list goes on and on.

My favourite poetry collection is The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay.

I was one of the original editors of the Kids’ Night In book series, which has been raising money for War Child since 2003.

I’m very lucky to belong to a writers’ group that includes Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith, Yvette Walker, Dawn Barker and Emma Chapman.

I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and I’m studying the genre for my PhD at Curtin University. My favourites include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and Pure by Julianna Baggott.

As a kid, in addition to devouring Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books,  I loved the Sue Barton nurse stories and Gerald Durrell’s animal adventures. Later on I read everything written by the Brontes, and devoured the dark thrillers of Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike.

I was born and raised in England, but I’ve always had family connections to Australia, and we visited the east coast a few times during my childhood. My introduction to Australian literature was reading All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato, and after that I wanted to be Delie Gordon for quite a while. In 1999 I made sure I got to stand at the wheel of the Philadelphia paddle steamer  when we visited the Murray River region.

My first pop concert, aged 12, was a Stock Aitken and Waterman event featuring my first love Jason Donovan. I was on a high for weeks afterwards. Little did I know that twenty years later I would end up editing his autobiography.

I love marine animals, and in the past (before children!) I have been a keen scuba diver. I’ve played with baby sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas in the Galapagos and scuba dived with Galapagos reef sharks and hammerhead sharks. I’ve glided with manta rays in Coral Bay (WA) and the Similan Islands in Thailand, encountered huge potato cod and graceful minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef, and swum with the mighty whale sharks of Ningaloo. I have experienced the absolute joy of being surrounded by wild dolphins in New Zealand and WA waters, and had the very special experience of a dolphin ‘buzzing’ me while I was pregnant (using concentrated echolocation to ‘see’ the baby).

In 2011 I went to Japan while researching Shallow Breath, and visited Taiji, the town famous for its horrific dolphin drives. I was only there for two days, and I didn’t have to witness the brutal hunt up close, although I watched the banger boats drive the dolphins in from a distance. However, I did encounter the dolphins in captivity in the sea pens, being broken and starved while trained for human entertainment. Those images will stay with me forever.

I met my husband Matt when I was nineteen. We both love to travel, and we tend to pick places where we can pursue our passions for animal encounters and the natural world. Our highlights include four months in South-East Asia, including chartering a tiny vessel to Komodo Island and staying amongst the dragons. We got engaged on an island full of monkeys in Halong Bay, Vietnam, and  for our honeymoon we visited Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, the Galapagos Islands, and travelled into the heart of the Manu Biosphere of the Amazon to see everything from capybaras to caimans. Now our two girls are getting older, we are excited about planning our next adventures.