A warm welcome to the blog, Rowena. Your novels explore human nature, often at its darkest or lowest point, with your brand tagline being ‘Fractured Families; Killer Secrets’ - how do you delve into those emotional journeys, and keep positive?
When I began writing I was in a pretty unhappy place.
I’d quit my job, after a few traumatic years, and was floundering with self-worth and knowing who I was. Halfway through that first novel I remember thinking ‘This is going to be so bleak’. Then I read it back. It wasn’t too bad. (The writing was pretty florid, but that’s another story!)
I’d set out to write crime fiction, because that’s what I love to read, but what I ended up with was more about families and the skeletons in their closets. After a while of trying to avoid that inner voice and write what I thought I should write rather than what came up, I decided to just stop filtering my thoughts and go for it. Most of us have demons—bitterness; insecurity; anguish.
Walking helps me find perspective and I’ve discovered that writing about my demons is very cathartic. And catharsis is healthy. Catharsis is also extremely emotional. Sometimes I feel bad that I dump all that on my characters—though not bad enough to stop.
How much of your novels do you outline, and how much do you allow the story to develop on it's own while you're writing?
If you’d asked me that a couple of years ago I would have declared ‘Plotter and proud of it!’
I used to outline the story arc, the arc and backstory for every character, and even the arc of every scene. As you can probably imagine this resulted in lots of words. It wasn’t unusual to have 90,000 words and still only be one third of the way into the story.
When I’m really focused on output—like when I’m on a writing retreat—I still do that. I note what I want to cover in each scene and tick them off as I go. But I have learned to trust myself and go where the story takes me. The subconscious is at play all the time.
How do you research your novels - do you have expertise in the field, or do you rely on research? What sort of experts do you typically consult?
My preference is to obtain as much information through secondary sources as possible. Thank goodness for the immediacy of google and e-books. Where possible, I try to read personal accounts of incidents or experiences so I can get a feel for reality. I do as much research this way as I can and then when necessary I seek out experts—and this is where dog walking has become invaluable. I’ve met so many people from varied walks of life who are all too happy to help me out.
You've been a massive supporter of Australian writers through your blog over the years; what do you enjoy about being an Australian author, and what challenges do Australian authors face?
Sharing is caring, right? It’s such a competitive industry and so hard to stand out that I think it’s important to share what we love with others. I think exposure is doubly hard for Indie authors, which is why I don’t discriminate on my blog. A great story is a great story.
What do I love about being an Aussie author? Well, I have to appreciate a country where I have the freedom to be able to follow my dreams, where I have access to the technology and skills I need to do it professionally. When you see the news and how easily those advantages can disappear, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Most Aussie writers are supportive of each other. For the most part it seems writers are supportive of other writers, no matter what country we live in.
The challenges? Australia is a much smaller market than the US and to reach a wider audience we may have to make a choice about things like spelling or how much of our culture we include that doesn’t require explanation. Originally, I had a US editor and as much as he tried to respect my voice there were just some things that didn’t translate. Because I write about Australians I decided to be true to my roots. Another big challenge is the devolution of marketing and branding to the author. This isn’t an Australian issue alone, and affects traditional and indie authors alike. I have a marketing background and actually really enjoy that side of it, but do struggle to manage it all. My writing time over the last twelve months has been largely swallowed by marketing activities.
The book reviews you post to your website are far-ranging in genres and tastes; when you relax, what’s your go-to reading genre, and what are your particular favourite reads?
I love a puzzle so anything that engages my sleuthing skills is a must (so I can feel clever, haha). At the moment I’m hooked on psychological suspense. The more it messes with my perceptions the better. Once I’m done, I love turning it over in my mind and seeing if I can figure out any clues I missed. Ann Morgan’s Beside Myself is a current fave.
When I want something light and escapist I generally turn to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. Did you know she also wrote cosy crime novels? I love them, though Dorothy L Sayers is my go-to for a good puzzling cosy with rich characterisation.
When I want something a little more literary, I choose Maggie O’Farrell. I think that’s because she uses structure to build the puzzle of the story—something I admire greatly—and at some point she always takes me by surprise
Your two psychological thrillers have been wowing readers, and your next book, Ashes to Ashes, is out later this year. What can you tell us about the story?
Wow, thanks! Yes, I’ve been thrilled by reader response to my novels, particularly as these were the ones that came from shirt-fronting my demons. Ashes to Ashes has been my problem child, but I think it’s growing into a well-rounded adult. The publishing date is yet to be locked down, but it will be this year. Here’s a little bit about it.
Rowena, best of luck with the release of Ashes to Ashes, and thank you for being a guest on the blog - it's been great to catch up,
You say on your website that you'd written in other genres before settling on your favourite, crime. What other genres did you write in, and is that something that you'd like to repeat sometime in the future?
Before turning to crime - so to speak - I wrote character driven stories that focused on relationships that intrigued me. I’ve always enjoyed exploring character motivation and try to incorporate as much of this into my crime novels as possible. I wouldn’t rule out another character driven story in the future. I’m often guided by subjects that I’d like to explore so if a subject began to burn inside me I would have to explore it further..
How much of your novels do you outline, and how much do you allow the story to develop on its own while you're writing?
I often start with just a brief outline of the story and start writing. I once planned a novel by chapter. Not even a third of the way I had to abandon the project as I was completely bored as I had left no room for the story to develop. I like to research key subjects before I start the story but I have a notebook beside me as I write for plot development ideas that grow as I write.
You've got a Top 10 list of crime novels you've enjoyed on your website - which other novels would you add to that for anyone interested in writing in the genre and wanting to learn more about the way crime novels are constructed?
Although not crime a book that captivated me was Disclosure by Michael Crichton. This was the only book that has ever caused me to call in sick for work as I simply could not put the book down. I had to re-read it to understand how he had managed to do it. I found that the skill lay in the placement of questions and answers. Before giving me an answer I was desperate for he had already posed another and so on throughout the book. I think this is great construction in any genre.
How do you maintain such a great output of novels? Now that you're writing full-time, what does a typical day look like in your household?
The books have not been written as quickly as they have been published. I started writing the Kim Stone books in 2011 but was rejected by every traditional publisher so when my current publisher (Bookouture) signed me three of the novels were already written. I am now writing to schedule and will be producing a new Kim Stone book every six months. At first I tried to work to a routine as though I was writing as a job and tried set times but this hasn’t worked for me. I wrote for so many years around a full time job that I sometimes start early or write late. If I’m in the zone I try not to interrupt it.
It's often said that minor characters don't know they're minor characters - all your books have a great supporting cast; is there one in particular that you think you'd like to give his/her own story to, if you had time?
I think this is especially true of Detective Sergeant Dawson who doesn’t seem to realise he is a minor character and often has more to say than I originally planned. I would like to give each member of Kim’s team a little more ‘airtime’ as the series progresses.
What's next for you in 2016?
Play Dead is released on 20th May and I am now working on book 5 in the Kim Stone series. Once this is delivered in July I will be straight on to working on book number 6. I am also going to be doing some work on my self-published novels, with the help of Bookouture, to give them appeal to a wider audience. I think that will keep me busy for the rest of the year.
Yes, I've been guilty of not posting anything here for over a month now, and I blame Dan Taylor!
At the beginning of March, I set out to write and publish the short story, The Legacy Device - a prequel to the first novel in the Dan Taylor series, White Gold. It's a story that had been going around in my head for a few months, and something I felt compelled to write because the opening scene to White Gold was so fraught.
The more news stories I read about foreign policy, defence strategies, and cyber-crime, the more I find layers I want to find out more about - I love researching my novels.
The Legacy Device also enabled me to explore the three central characters of the series - Dan, David Ludlow, and Mitch Frazer - in their original setting once more; and so yes, it was a little self-indulgent too.
Of course, in between all of this, I was also completing the fourth in the Dan Taylor series. DT4, as it's affectionately known until I give my newsletter subscribers the first peek of the book cover in the coming days. DT4 was sent off to my editor last week.
With three Dan Taylor stories written in quick succession since last August, I find myself wanting to take a break from the series once more (nowhere near as long as last time, I promise!) to stretch my writing wings again.
So, right at this moment, I'm poring over my notes and extracts of stories I've jotted down ideas for, getting myself up to speed on some research, and will start to outline my next project in the coming days.
Yes, I did say on social media I was going to take a bit of time off before starting something new, but I love writing too much to actually stop completely - it's just not in my nature.
In the meantime, look out for some more exciting interviews here on the blog - and there are more amazing authors joining me here over the coming weeks, and I look forward to sharing their stories with you.
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