Book Research Gratitude

Research is the bedrock of my novels. It is the place where I find inspiration, joy, meaning, characters and story. I am never happier than when I am in the free-flowing state of inquiry, following my curiosity and passion as it emerges, taking a right-angled turn here, or a big swooping deep dive there.

Many people help me along the way and never want anything in return (though I do always gift them something in gratitude); people who are passionate about what they do are more often than not, I have found, utterly delighted to share their knowledge.

I’ve collected a raft of people of late who have helped me with my future stories. So let me take a moment to thank them and perhaps you will find some inspiration here, or if you are able, you might be able to support their wonderful business.

Firstly, I visited Noosa’s only coffee farm, Noosa Black, in Kin Kin and was treated to a lovely luncheon on the deck overlooking Traecy and Peter Hinner’s plantation. They were so generous with their time, knowledge and passion. Their single origin coffee is sold through local IGA supermarkets on the Sunshine Coast and through their online store. The really beautiful thing about Noosa Black is how community powered the business is. Traecy and Peter’s vision from the start was ‘local’, and everything they’ve done, from planting the trees to roasting the beans has been driven by local labour, and then it is sold locally too, so the food miles are short! It is a vision that means all the dollars associated with the farm circulate within a small geography, which is really very cool.

Next, I got to travel to the beautiful Barossa Valley in South Australia and visit Trevallie Orchard’s fruit farm, with my expert guide Sheralee Menz, who knows the business and history of the farm from the ground up. The fruit orchard is a piece of living history, still growing heritage varieties of apples and with a magnificent fig tree over one hundred years old! To my greatest disappointment, I had a total camera fail and only got this one lovely shot of a fruit tree flowers (a pear, I think?). You can buy Trevallie’s beautiful fruit from their online store or in Farmland stores or at the truly magnificent Barossa Farmers Markets each Saturday morning in Angaston. (We had the BEST breakfast there!)

And most recently, I spent time at Padre coffee in Noosa, first with owner and coffee expert, Marinus Jansen, who shared so much information with me I truly couldn’t write fast enough. One of the most fabulous things about Padre is their ‘open door’ policy of information. They train people who want to be roasters and hold regular cupping sessions. Soon after my time with Marinus came to an end, I joined coffee roaster Vanessa Joachim for cupping, and then she invited me back the next day to watch a roasting session. And then barista, Kayla Byles, talked me through siphon brews, batch brews and V60s! Needless to say I was pretty high on coffee when I left!

Other than that, I have been chatting to some special people who are helping me with my next book; but I can’t quite tell you about them just yet. However, I want to say again how grateful I am that people are so willing to share their experiences and knowledge with me, which eventually comes out in my writing.

One of the things readers tell me frequently is how much they’ve loved learning about food in the books I write and behind it all are the people on the ground, with their hands in the dirt, literally and symbolically.

From me to you, thank you!!

 

 

Where Do Characters Come From?

Right now, I’m looking for characters. I have a new, delicious novel a-brewin’ and I’m looking for people to fill the pages. But where do they come from?

Main characters I have known and loved…

Kate Fullerton, the main character of The Tea Chest, arrived between the time it took for me to sniff a selection of teas in a tea shop and the two hours it took me to drive home. Her personality was pretty easy to pin down, which made life simple.

Maria Lindsay, the main character of The Beekeeper’s Secret, was such a strong ‘force’ that she pushed aside the novel I was trying to write and instead demanded a whole novel all to herself. She was a dream character, always on my shoulder, always ‘there’ in the space, waiting to talk. She made writing that novel the easiest of all my novels so far.

Tansy Butterfield, the other main character of Beekeeper’s, was based on a woman that sat opposite me on a ‘coast to airport’ shuttle bus I once took. I sat on that shuttle for several hours and she was diagonally opposite me and I had so much time to observe her that I created Tansy around her. The woman was tall, with long limbs, a long nose and dark hair, and she looked like a runner or a ballerina. She was around the right age (29) and I jotted down notes on my phone as we zoomed the highway.

Christmas Livingstone (main character of The Chocolate Promise), on the other hand, took a lot longer to come into ‘view’ and was in fact the third iteration of that character for that book, although she chose her own name very strongly when, one day, I asked her, ‘What is your name?’ Quick as lightning, I heard “Christmas Livingstone” in reply. I said, ‘Really? That’s your name?!’ But it had been delivered so decisively that I couldn’t tell her otherwise.

Supporting characters I have known and loved…

Supporting characters are generally my favourite ones to work with. They tend be the most clearly defined, often larger-than-life, and bring humour, or deep pain, or great adversity. I find that it is often the relationships between my main characters and supporting characters that allow us to see extra dimensions and great truth in our heroes, who will often speak of the unspeakable with a supporting character when it’s too difficult to do so with a close family member, for example. In my first draft, my supporting characters are generally a bit quiet, but start to really find their stride around the third draft, bringing so much more depth and richness to the story.

Often, supporting characters just ‘turn up’ as I’m writing, with little to no forethought at all. Caesar, the Golden Retriever in The Chocolate Promise was a great example of that. I was writing a scene between Lincoln and his father when suddenly I ‘heard’ a scratching on the back door. I thought, ‘What is that?’ So I sent Lincoln over to the door to open it to find a hungry, unloved old dog there. It was as though I saw it happening in the same time zone as Lincoln did. Caesar was a total star character, one who stole every scene he was in, I think.

One of the greatest joys I have with supporting characters is that, as they often turn up unannounced, I might not know why they are actually in the story at all until I’m halfway through the book, or later, and then all the threads come together and I have a truly satisfying moment of thinking, ‘Ohhhh, that’s why you’re here!’ I had that moment recently, while writing the first draft of The Tuscan Feast (to be published April 2018), with Sven, a young Swedish man who turned up unannounced and then later earned his place in the story so perfectly.

Lulu Divine, a fierce and fabulous nursing home character in The Chocolate Promise, was actually sixteen years old and a trick rodeo rider last time I’d ‘seen’ her. She was a character in a Young Adult novel (set in 1958) that I wrote many years ago (but was never published) and one day just popped up in a scene I was writing, surprising me greatly, both because she had walked so unexpectedly into a different novel but also because that wasn’t how I’d ever imagined her life would turn out!

So where do characters come from?

In short, characters come from anywhere and everywhere. They might pop out of the ether, like Maria Lindsay did, or they might be awkwardly wrangled out of thin air and onto the page and then worked and worked until they are ‘real’, like Christmas Livingstone. They might be someone on a bus who catches my eye, who I then take a mental picture of, like a template, and then build from there, like Tansy Butterfield. Writers always have troves of stories that have never made it to print and these can be absolute diamond mines of fully formed characters just waiting their turn for the right story, as was the case for Lulu Divine.

And then there is this man.

old man

I found myself walking behind him in the streets of Rome on my way to the Trevi Fountain and there was something (something!) about him that made me pull my phone out and take a photo. A week later, sitting under the trees out the front of a sixteenth century villa in Tuscany, the memory of this man came back to me.

Samuel.

Samuel was the way into the story of The Tuscan Feast for my main character, Lara Foxleigh, who finds herself following him on her way to the Trevi Fountain.

But that’s as far as my journey and Lara’s journey went together. After that, it was up to Lara to lead the way out of Rome, and a whole novel rolled out in front of me.

 

 

 

This year, my birthday wish is to work

Ah... the elegance of The Spotted Chook is waiting for me!

Ah… the elegance of The Spotted Chook is waiting for me!

Breathe in…. breathe out…. sighhhhhhhh…..

I’m starting to tingle already in anticipation of where I’m headed tomorrow: for three nights at the gorgeous Spotted Chook in Montville, on the Sunshine Coast hinterland. With much relief and joy, I’m heading away all by myself to work on my novel and this is my greatest wish for my birthday weekend, the best present a girl could have. Just me, the mountains, beautiful surrounds, my manuscript, my laptop and more chocolate than humanly possible to consume healthy food.

I need peace and quiet, no internet connection, and dedicated emotional space to finish the current draft I’m working on before it moves to its next stage towards publication. And it’s always about this time in a novel’s development that I begin to feel like it’s really maturing, so I’m excited to see in which directions it will grow in the next few days.

For me, writing retreats are not just a luxury (because sometimes they just involve locking myself in an office for extended periods of time) but an absolute necessity. It’s where the outer layers begin to peel away and I get to the core of my story, my characters and my abilities–What’s underneath that? And what’s underneath that? And that?? Push further. Go deeper. There! There it is!! Hooray!

Oh, and did I mention I’m going to high tea with my sister for the purpose of RESEARCH!? Ah huh… yep.

Happy days!