Author Rowena Holloway on shirt-fronting* her demons

This week, fellow Aussie Rowena Holloway joins me on the blog to have a chat about what life has in store for her writing-wise this year, as well as how she’s developed her writing style as an author.

Rowena is an amazing person, and well respected within the writing community here in Australia. A keen reader as much as a writer, I felt a heart-to-heart over here on the blog was well overdue.

*The word ‘shirt fronting‘ is an Australian termmeaning “a head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground” (Macquarie dictionary). ​Source:

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.

​Early versions of All That’s Left Unsaidwere too big with too much going on. Eventually, I went back to the main story and cut anything that didn’t contribute. This meant my intended baddie no longer existed. Panic! Then I looked at the characters, and wouldn’t you know it, one of them was perfect. All the clues I’d laid about a sub-plot with this character worked perfectly with the larger mystery. So, with a couple of small tweaks, this secondary character became a major baddie.

These days, while I always know where the story begins and where it’s headed, I will follow an emerging thread if it seems better than what I’d planned. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.
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.

For Pieces of a Lie I ended up talking to a fellow dog walker who is also a police sergeant. He’s also rather attractive. And he has that cop’s stare that for someone like me with ‘authority issues’ (according to my mother), it was pretty disconcerting.

​Naturally, I made a fool of myself. He was kind enough to overlook my weirdness and help me iron out a plot hole I hadn’t been able to resolve.

I also cold-called an antiques dealer who was very helpful with insights into the world of antiques dealing, which it turns out can be even murkier than I had imagined.

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.

Allie Forbes vanishes in the middle of preparing Christmas dinner, but when her best friend, Charlotte, calls in the police they don’t take it too seriously; adults go missing all the time, especially those with secrets.

Except the secrets aren’t Allie’s, they’re Charlotte’s.

Desperate to prove she’s capable of being more than a weather-girl-slash-travel-reporter for her London television station, Charlotte enlisted Allie’s help to expose a corrupt developer. Just before she disappeared, Allie claimed to have found something big, and the last person to cross the developer ended up dead. No one believed Charlotte then. No one wants to listen now.

As Charlotte unravels the clues to Allie’s fate she must confront her own past and question her certainties…

‘Death is just the beginning’


Because Charlotte isn’t the only one who lies
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,
Grab ​Strange Shorts​, a book of short stories by Rowena, including a taster of each of her novels here.

About Rowena:

​Rowena Holloway considers herself a reformed academic. She writes novels and short stories, reviews fiction, interviews writers, and blogs about books. Under the working title of Out of the Abyss, her first novel was a semi-finalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This was later published as All That’s Left Unsaid.

​Her short stories have been included in the Stringybark anthology Yellow Pearl and the 2011 Anthology of Award Winning Australian Writing. Her novels Pieces of a Lie and All That’s Left Unsaid have each been nominated for the Ned Kelly Crime Fiction Award. Her third novel, Ashes to Ashes, is due for release in 2016

Book Tour
If you live in South Australia, Rowena and fellow crime author, Sandy Vaile will be heading off on a ‘Double Intrigue’ book tour. Details here. 

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