Tor’s latest book, The Light Heart of Stone, is an epic fantasy novel that explores contemporary themes. Prue Bentley, of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, calls it ‘very Australian’.
I was 27 when I started writing what was to become my first published book. At that time, I was a general coordinator in a feminist refuge for women and children escaping family violence and incest.
In 1987, one of the duties of a refuge worker was to accompany residents who wanted to return home to collect essential belongings. We often found ourselves in the houses of violent men, without police presence, crossing our fingers and hoping our luck would hold.
I had returned to work after six weeks’ maternity leave. During my first week I helped a woman collect her belongings from her house. In my second week I sat with her in a meeting and we heard that her husband had boasted that he had dug 11 graves in their back garden. One for his wife, five for their children and one for each refuge worker.
I thought about my new baby, my older son and my partner and I quit my job.
I had a little bit of money saved and, with some financial help from my father, I began writing Taking Control: help for women and children escaping domestic violence and incest.
I knew an editor. I told her about the book. She immediately asked for three chapters and an outline. I sent in the material and I was offered a contract.
When the book was released in 1989, I was interviewed on TV and radio and in print and the title sold really well. In publishing and marketing terms, I was incredibly lucky: I had chosen a subject that was close to my heart but I had inadvertently chosen a subject that was about to break into the community’s consciousness.
In the aftermath, I realised that I loved writing and never wanted to stop.
It wasn’t until I began writing speculative fiction, some 20 years later, that I faced the publication barriers that are so familiar to new writers. My epic fantasy novel, The Light Heart of Stone, was ‘too long’, was ‘nearly’ but not quite there and didn’t fall within the currently popular genre, which was urban fantasy.
I self-published The Light Heart of Stone and ended up being very glad I did. I have had good sales, great reviews and lots of lovely feedback from readers.
In theory I write from nine in the morning until about two in the afternoon. In practice it is a lot more complicated. My partner and I run a public art business and a gallery in regional Victoria in Australia. I often find myself writing tenders and contracts and press releases instead of books. I also have to work in my publishing role (as a self-publisher). My creative writing tends to get pushed to the edge of my working life and I’m constantly making resolutions to focus on my current book project.
Share a writing quote/motto about writing.
I am going to give you a phrase that I often hear from the mouths of published writers. I’m repeating it so you can ignore it when someone says it to you: ‘Don’t give up your day job.’
I hate that expression. It pretends to have your best interests at heart but it’s actually a means to keep the ‘writing club’ exclusive. Try this instead: ‘Please write because the world desperately needs good books. You never know, you might be able to give up your day job.’
What is the one piece of advice about writing that has stuck with you?
What is the first book you read or what is the first book that made an impression on you and why?
The first book to change my thinking was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, a novel about migrant agricultural workers. I was about 14 when I read it and it was the first time that I understood there is a connection between politics, the economy and human suffering.
What are you reading at the moment or what’s the last book you read and what did you like/not like?
I’m a member of a couple of different online fantasy book clubs. I recently read Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning as a book of the month. I didn’t like the book because I felt it indulged in gender stereotyping. In its favour I can say that the drama was compelling and the writing was good so if you’re on the lighter side of feminist thinking and don’t mind your feisty girl protagonist holding traditional values or your romantic interest being domineering and a bit frightening, then you might like it. Don’t let me stop you.
What are you working on now?
The working title is The Long Sweet Song Gifted Hand Clinic. It is a fantasy murder mystery for young adults and it is set in Ballarat in regional Victoria in Australia.