Do you start with an idea and develop it from there or do you start with the characters?
I start with a combination of idea and characters. I love to take a character and her family out of their normal lives and plunge her (and them) into an unexpected situation, and the plot follows from there.
Do you plot your novels or do they develop organically as you write?
Lisa, I do a general synopsis at the start of each novel, but once I start writing, it always changes. I love that part of the process, watching characters develop, the story twist and turn and not knowing myself, even as the writer, what’s going to happen next.
Templeton hall – where did your inspiration come? I keep thinking of Martindale hall where picnic at hanging rock was filmed
Yes, the inspiration was absolutely Martindale hall. I grew up in Clare, SA, just a short distance from the hall and was fascinated with it as a child. we used to visit it often, and i could just picture myself living there, sweeping around the grand hall, up and down the magnificent staircase, with a tribe of maids and butlers (who looked very much like my brothers and sisters). I always wanted to live there myself, and with this book, i got to live in a fictional version of it!
Do you have a schedule for your writing? Writing so many words a day, or writing between certain hours?
Yes, I try to be very disciplined. It’s my fulltime job, so I am here at the desk every day, usually by 8.30 am, and work a full day. I aim to write a minimum of 2000 words a day, but as the book progresses, and the story flows, sometimes i write double that. It’s very easy to find excuses not to write, I find too, but that word count really keeps me on track. I worked fulltime while I was writing my first two books and can completely understand how difficult it can be to juggle your time.
How many words was at Home with the Templeton’s? And how long did it take you to write?
My first draft of at home was about 250,000 words, but I edited and cut and redrafted and edited again, and I think the final version is about 160,000 words. It took me about two years to write, a year of thinking (while I was also writing short stories for all together now, my collection) and then a year writing and editing.
How do you go about the novels? Do you plan and if so how? Do you pantser your way through it? How do you hold all those threads together?
I lock myself away for a year or so as I write each novel. Not literally, but I really do just bunker down and spend as much time as I can every day thinking about it, writing about, working out the plot in my head. I plan at the start, but after that, I love to let the story unfold and take its own turns.
Do you find that you have material that you can’t use (doesn’t quite fit) it a current book that you save and (re)work into another work?
Yes, I definitely do have ideas sometimes that won’t work in the current book but will spark the subsequent book – that’s actually how i get my ideas each time, I think.
Characters (May contain spoilers)
Henry and Spencer are similar characters, or at least tarred with the same brush! Where did they come from?
I loved writing Henry and Spencer – they both have the gift of charm, which can make life easy but it also comes with responsibility. Unfortunately, neither of them have that trait. Like father, like son…
How did Gracie get to be so normal and generous when all of the siblings were slight ‘crazy’… in a nice way!
That’s what I love about writing family stories – there’s always a big mix of characters and personalities in any family. Gracie was lucky to have a kind of innocence about her, I think, which protected her in some ways from the shenanigans of the rest of her family.
Had you planned for Gracie to take that role or did the character evolve?
Gracie was always the leading character for me – I wanted the reader to see the family through her eyes at the start, and learn as she does that they really aren’t all what they seem…
Why did Nina act the way she did – I understand the love side of things, but how did she think she’d get away with it?
I think Nina had grown so used to being defined by her grief, and feeling that it was her and tom against the world, that she had lost sight of what was acceptable behaviour. she was a very hurt person, and she also loved her son so much – he truly was her whole world – that she didn’t see that there was anything wrong with her actions.
Did Eleanor know deep down that Henry was a con artist?
I think Eleanor knew Henry very well, but chose to ignore his ‘bad’ points because she loved the good things about him so much – I thought of Hillary and Bill Clinton at times when I was writing about Eleanor and Henry’s marriage – until, of course, Eleanor’s patience ran out…
My favourite is still the alphabet sisters
I have to confess that is possibly my favourite too – and in fact I am writing a sequel to it at the moment. I’m enjoying writing the sequel so much, Lola the grandmother has always been one of my favourite characters to write, and it’s set in my home town of Clare, so it is a lovely way to spend each day – here in Dublin in reality, at home in Clare in my head. I’m about half way through and hopefully it will be finished and in bookshops by the end of this year.
Do you visit ‘home’ often? You do a beautiful job at contexting in your novels. You can see, hear and almost touch the Australian environment.
Yes, I try to get home once a year to see all my family and get a big dose of my nieces and nephews and all the things I miss about Australia – the light, the space, the smells, that big sky, pasties … I actually think sometimes it is easier to write about it from far away – because I miss it, I really like to think about it and picture all the elements I love, so I’m very glad to hear that comes through in the writing, thank you.
When you come to Australia, do you do many author talk fests?
Yes, I come back to do book tours as well as my family visits, and when I’m on tour I do lots of talks in libraries and bookshops around the country. I love that part of my job, it’s so nice to meet real people after all the months being locked away writing fictional humans.