It’s been a wonderful time of attending writers’ festivals and meeting readers.
Writers need readers! You honour me with your interest in my work.
Firstly, enormous thanks to popular independent bookstore Better Read Than Dead in Sydney’s trendy Newtown for hosting the launch of my latest novel, Summer Beach; to ABC producer Vanessa Gorman who interviewed me; and to all who were able to attend or share their good wishes. What a joy!
Like Vanessa, I dedicated most of my writing career to covering “fact” rather than fiction. I now relish the opportunity to explore people’s behavior in plausible yet fictitious settings and situations, unconstrained by the same deadlines and word counts.
Amid joy and laughter, Vanessa kindly described me as having “a beautiful moral compass, set to true north and made of love” and said she enjoyed escaping into the fictitious world of Summer Beach, where “you get to block out everything and just be with these lovely characters.”
“We are all people and we care about relationships,” said Vanessa. “We’re curious. We gain something from it.”
We explored how as a former journalist, I’d craved escape from the endless news cycle of tragedy. Through fiction, I love to “tap into the joy that’s all around me” and write about love, friendships and family.
My novels explore serious themes such as sustainability, women’s empowerment, homelessness, addiction and grief, yet with a light touch and positive resolutions.
“I’m interested in the choices people make; in what motivates us,” I said. “We can all make changes, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.”
I’ve described Summer Beach as a “love song” not just because the hero is a musician, but because love songs celebrate hearts and hope.
Vanessa and I discussed changes in books and writing since the 1950s, including the breadth of the romance genre. (I write at the sweeter end of the spectrum, also described as “wholesome” and young adult friendly.)
“The world has changed and novels have changed as well,” I explained. “They are now rich with diversity and empowered characters. We want the characters to come to decisions and make the best choices. Consent is essential. Mutual respect and inclusivity matter. The genre has expanded and its richness benefits us all.”
Summer Beach is my sixth published novel, and the first in my Escape to the Coast trilogy, inspired by almost a decade of working as a journalist on the beautiful NSW Central Coast. (For a glimpse of this new setting, enjoy this picture of effortlessly refreshing Umina Beach, snapped during the recent Words on the Waves Writers’ Festival.)
You can enjoy Summer Beach, whatever the season!
Deepest thanks to the North Sydney Sun which describes Summer Beach as “a perfect read for a long cold winter.”
Meanwhile one of my UK readers has kindly written this five-star review!
“If you want a great summer read look no further,” she says. “Absolutely loved this wonderful book & once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.
“This is one of those cosy feel good reads we all like to curl up with now & again. Beautifully written with a lovely interesting storyline & definitely one to lose yourself in…”
Let yourself fall in love with IT workaholic Sam and reluctant rockstar Jake!
Book cookies with book talk!
Enormous thanks, too, to Sarah Noble of Tea at Elevenses, at 49 Vincent Street, Cessnock.
It was an absolute joy to chat with local readers recently, about books and writing, including the characters of the fictitious Huntley family of jewelers featured in my House of Jewels series.
Please note the book cookies, made by clever local chef Claudia. While the Hunter Valley is famous for its vineyards, Sarah’s atmospheric café, open every day, offers brilliant cakes and beverages, beautiful craft works, and books for all ages. It’s really worth a visit.
In love with romance at the Sydney Writers’ Festival: A roundup
(This article first appeared in the July 2023 Romance Writers of Australia newsletter Hearts Talk.)
It was gratifying to see the Sydney Writers’ Festival honour the globally popular romance genre this year with a dedicated panel, In love with romance.
Under the festival theme, Stories for the Future, the panellists and compere discussed the breadth of the genre, along with their experiences of writing characters, settings, and tropes and beats, including the “meet cute”, “the breakup”, the “afterglow” and “happy ever afters”.
Echoing the diversity seen in many recent lineups at Australian writers’ festivals, the panel included novelists Dr Freya Marske, Saman Shad and Yvonne Weldon, who were billed to “reveal the thrills, spills and secrets of penning page-turning love stories”, with interviewer ABC Radio National Awaye! host Rudi Bremer, a self-confessed lover of romance.
Yvonne Weldon, the City of Sydney’s first Aboriginal councillor, is a proud Wiradjuri woman, born and raised in Redfern while maintaining strong ties to her homelands of Cowra and the Riverina. She has dedicated three decades to “driving positive reform in health, education and child protection”.
Her novel, Sixty-Seven Days, was published last year by Penguin. Yvonne said she wrote her romance, set mostly in 1990s Redfern, at the rate of 500 words a night, the bargain she set with herself each evening before allowing herself to watch mind-numbing Netflix.
“It was a labour of love,” she said, noting that her people were not represented in literature in the ways she thought they should be.
“I wanted these characters to be in the world. I was resigned that it may never have been published.”
Yvonne’s manuscript was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards David Unaipon Unpublished Manuscript in 2016 and was awarded a Faber Writing Academy Scholarship in 2017. The book was originally in third person.
“People come into our lives and remain,” Yvonne said, praising her editorial mentor Bernadette Foley.
“It’s the beauty of sharing … I was honouring so many that haven’t been honoured, including cultural practices and belief systems.
“The novel and all the issues are about exploring who we are as individuals and what difference we can make to each other, the impact we all have. We should have the opportunity to make others feel okay, not worse.
“Life is about change.”
Journalist and story teller Saman Shad’s The Matchmaker, released by Penguin earlier this year, features a match made in “her” Sydney.
Penguin describes much of Saman’s work as “inspired by her experiences as a third culture kid, growing up and living in Pakistan, the Middle East, the UK and Australia”.
Like Yvonne, in The Matchmaker, Saman wrote mostly “about something I hadn’t seen before in literature; my community, the Sydney I know, the Western Suburbs”.
“I wanted to try and bring that to life; two brown people with a similar background, but very different within our communities.”
Saman said writing romcoms was a way to bring a little bit of joy to people, to take them away from the real world for a while and give them an inside view into another community and culture.
“It’s about love and joy and hopefully a bit of lust,” she said.
Writing about a Sydney most people didn’t recognise worked in her favour, she said.
“We sit within our suburbs. I wanted to give people a little tour guide of these areas. It’s fiction. You have leighway. You colour it in, in ways you know these places to be. Hopefully people will go along with you.”
Saman said she loved the romcoms of the 1990s though she recognises that some are no longer politically correct.
“I also want to make people laugh. It’s tricky. With comedy, you just don’t know if it’s going to land or not.
“I love that unique blend of making people fall in love when they think they’re not falling in love. You need to be invested in the two people who are ultimately getting together.
“There’s a lot of art involved in writing something romantic and you have to balance that dramatic part. It’s very subtle… How do you bring in all the big and meaty topics, yet keep up the conventions? People don’t realise how hard it is.”
Saman said she’s been working on screen projects and continuing to write and “write better, learning every single day”.
Queer historical fantasy writer Freya Marske’s debut novel, A Marvellous Light, was an international bestseller; her second book, A Restless Truth, is described as “a sapphic adventure on the high seas”; and her next book, A Power Unbound, will be released later this year by Tordotcom Publishing and Tor UK.
Rudi described Freya’s books as “genre bending” and Freya agreed that she enjoys fantasy and sci fi as well as romance.
Romance was always “a place where queer stories have existed at the margins”.
“I am writing and reading in a time when there’s so much more happening in this space,” she said.
Freya said she enjoyed building up a family of people who find one another and come together, and her novels share some characters. All three are queer historical romance with fantasy elements such as magic.
A Restless Truth is set in Edwardian England, on a ship similar to The Titanic, steaming from the UK to the US.
Freya said she generally spent around nine months on each novel, and that “sex lessons” was one of her favourite tropes, with “the rake and the ingénue”.
She referred to the characters kidding themselves they are having sex without emotional attachment, though the reader knows better.
Other tropes and techniques discussed included fake dating, enemies to lovers, forced proximity, a shared project with a deadline, and exploring characters’ good parts and their flaws.
Freya said she enjoyed creating settings and scenes in which the characters saw each other at their best and worst.
“A really well crafted romance leaves you in awe of how it’s done,” Freya said. “You are trying to get people to buy into the angst.
“We are interested in the wounds people are carrying around with them. What is it that makes them think that everyone will leave them?
“It’s a careful back and forth of emotional progression, bringing them to the point where they will say ‘Yes, I deserve happiness’.”
The audience demonstrated their happiness with enthusiastic applause. I hope a romance panel will become a festival fixture.
Free and affordable feel-good fiction
I’m excited to let you know I’ll be among a host of popular authors sharing their books at Book Fair Australia on the weekend of 14 and 15 October 2023 at Sydney Olympic Park.
I’m also available for author talks at libraries, book clubs, writers’ festivals and more. Please email email@example.com to discuss.