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.
I have often been heard to say that I feel like I’m running a marathon every day. And I hear a lot of other mothers say it too. What can we do? Here are some thoughts.
I am an unashamed ‘Swiftie’ (that is, a fan of Taylor Swift), and I once heard her say how much time she spent at the gym. Now, I’ve been to a Taylor Swift concert and trust me that entire performance is more than any gym work out could be. Why on earth did she need to go to the gym as well? I asked this of my husband, who is a physiotherapist.
‘It’s a huge misconception,’ he said. ‘I see it a lot in guys who work in labouring jobs. They think that because they’re active all day that they don’t need to do any more exercise. But what they don’t understand it that to work continuously at their optimum performance, they actually need to be fitter and stronger than what they are required to do.’
Big. Lightbulb. Moment.
To get through everything in my life I need to think of myself as an endurance athlete.
It’s not okay to be just fit enough to do our jobs. We have to be MORE fit so we can do it easily AND have energy left over to play with our kids and have quality time with our spouses and make awesome food and maybe even play and have fun.
‘Writer’ and ‘athlete’ don’t normally conjure up similarities. In fact, most writers I know complain about how sedentary their job is and how much weight they’ve gained and how unfit they’ve become. It’s not even just that we’re sitting at a computer for many hours a day, as many people do who work in an office. It’s also that we don’t have to leave the house, so there’s a serious decrease in all the incidental exercise you get if you have to walk to and from a bus or a train, or escape outside the building for a walk during your lunch hour, or have to walk from one side of the building to the other to talk to a co-worker. I noticed this dramatically when I gave up work that required me to leave the house. My weight bloomed, almost overnight.
After writing for thirteen years through full-time jobs, part-time jobs, and even unemployment, I finally got my agent just five weeks after my son was born, and three book contracts very soon after. Suddenly, I had to juggle first-time new motherhood with serious contractual requirements, severe sleep deprivation, renovating a house and moving, and living in the country and driving obscene hours in the car with a newborn. I coped, but only just. And with a lot of coffee and chocolate.
I’ve come to understand that if I’m going to have longevity in the game of being an author, and be energetically and emotionally present for my child, husband, family and so on, AND look after my self, my animals, house, friends and all of that, then I have to think of myself as an athlete. I need to train regularly — and yes, I do mean with physical activity. I need to fuel my body with the best resources possible: protein, vitamins, juices, power smoothies, organics, fresh produce. I need to put energy IN in order to get energy OUT.
It’s so simple, isn’t it? And yet it’s so easy to overlook. And the more tired we are, the easier it is to reach for coffee and a bowl of cereal for dinner rather than juicing vegetables and cooking energy-enhancing foods. It becomes a vicious cycle, one that’s very hard to break.
This is still a work in progress for me, but I’ve been steadily improving for the past couple of months. And here are my Top Ten Tips for what’s worked for me. Maybe some of them will help you too.
Design a daily checklist of everything you feel you need to (or want to) do to help your body. Most of the time, I get so lost in the work I’m doing that I truly and simply forget to take my vitamins, get on the cross trainer, do my physiotherapy exercises, make a fresh juice, defrost something from the freezer. Checklist. Get one. Leave it on the bench in the kitchen and tick it off over the course of the day. Write down everything you eat. You’ll start to see patterns and it helps keep you on track.
You don’t need an expensive juicer! You can do almost anything with a stick blender. I was feeling blocked about juicing because we didn’t have a juicer (cheap or expensive) and have no cupboard space or bench space to have one. Then I worked out that you can do almost anything with a stick a blender. Throw ingredients in and whiz. Simple. The only things it will struggle with are really hard vegetables, like beetroot or carrot. BUT, if you want them, grate them first and throw them in. Simple.
Protein for breakfast. Salmon, eggs, protein smoothies (as supplements, not as replacements), steak, baked beans, mushrooms. Get your high quality protein in early in the day (rather than at the end). It reduces sugar cravings and keeps you going longer.
Grow some leafy greens. Seriously, spinach, kale and chard are SO simple to grow (I’m growing them in styrofoam boxes), so cheap and quick to sow from seed, and so fabulous to pick fresh and throw into a juice or smoothie for some LIVING food that is packed full of vitamins and energy boosting goodness.
Start the day with a fruit bowl. In our house, as I know is true of many others, we have resistance to eating fruit unless it is chopped up. So we now start the day with a fruit bowl of freshly chopped fruit. We take turns at making it in the morning while the other person is generally tending to our toddler. Your fruit is done for the day and it is yum yum yummy. (We also like to top the fruit with extras like chia seeds, flaxseeds or goji berries — you can buy in advance and store in jars or paper bags and throw them on).
Exercise. 20 minutes. Any time, any where.Every day. There is always something you can do. Personally, I am challenged with multiple (and complicated) rheumatic conditions, I’m always carrying at least one severe injury at any given time (which usually lasts a good six months or more) and have to be so careful about how I exercise. But I married a physio. And what I discovered was that it is a (good) physiotherapist’s job (and calling in life) to find a way for you to move. And they will. Example, if I lift even 1kg weights, I sprain my wrists. So, my husband bought me strap on ankle weights and strapped them around my forearms so no load goes through the joint. Presto. Problem solved. Find yourself a GOOD physio (because, like all things, they aren’t all created equal).
Stop drinking coffee. Oh boy, this can be hard. I never really drank coffee until I had a baby. (True story: My husband had never had a coffee in his life until we walked into the hospital to have our baby and he decided that it was going to take a while so perhaps he should start. It took him the next two years to give up.) After I had Flynn, I was shattered, in every way. Coffee became the only thing that would keep me safe on the roads and even vaguely able to do my job. But by the time Flynn was two years old, I realised that I couldn’t keep drinking coffee. It stimulated my adrenals and gave me a false sense of energy when really it was just draining me even more. Now, my rule is that if I think I need coffee, I will make a chai. And if I still feel like having coffee after the chai, then I’m allowed to have one. But I never do.
Spirulina / Power Greens. When all else fails, throw a teaspoon of high-density greens in powdered form into a juice. You’d be amazed.
Vitamin B. You burn lots of vitamin B when you’re stressed. Make sure you’ve got enough, are getting enough, or supplement with enough. Iron. Same goes there. I’d fallen into a false sense of safety with iron. I used to have to take it all the time but I thought things had changed. Wrong. I didn’t even have a clue until a GP randomly tested for it and phoned to tell me it was below the line. Wow. What a difference to your life iron will make.
Dark chocolate! Oh yes indeed! Dark chocolate is good, good, good for you. It’s a power food, people. Eat it. (But it has to be dark! I can eat up to 85% cocoa quite comfortably, but if you’re just beginning, try something around 40 or 50% and build up.)
Have you ever dreamed of chucking in your ‘real’ job and owning and running a bookstore instead? Of being surrounded by endless books to choose from? A coffee machine whirring away next to you, book launches and that irresistible smell of new books? I did, all the time when I was working in a corporate job and trying to crack a publishing deal. My fantasy life was as a bookstore owner. So I thought it would be nice to ask a real person what that dream is actually like.
The lovely Lucinda Morley, co-owner with her sister at The River Read, answered some questions on what her day job is like.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself (and your sister) and your bookshop?
My sister Natalie and I bought The River Read 5 years ago. For a couple of years we had been on the lookout for an opportunity to go into business together. We had grown up in Noosa and are big book lovers, so when my husbands step mother told me that she was thinking about moving on and selling The River Read it was the perfect opportunity for us. 6 months after buying the shop we added the coffee side of the business which was another great learning curve for us. We had never run a cafe OR a bookshop! We came into the business with a lot of passion and energy, and took on board a lot of advice from experts in both areas. We get told by customers all the time that the shop has a great energy, which we think is a result if it being something we put a lot of love into.
I think a lot of us dream of quitting our day jobs and running a bookstore. Is it really as much fun as it’s cracked up to be?
It’s pretty fun! We still get a buzz whenever new release books arrive, especially from authors we love. It’s pretty great going to a work being surrounded by books all day. It’s especially great because we do it together. Obviously there’s a serious side – paying the bills, hiring staff etc. but overall we love it. What do you love most about your job?
Reading! It’s funny because people assume we come to work and get to read all day, but the opposite is true. We constantly have people (customers, book reps) telling us we MUST read this or that book and it can be really frustrating because you go home with a pile of books and not nearly enough time to read them. How many books do you read a week/month? On average I’d say a book a week – sometimes more sometimes less. It depends on the size of the books and how much spare time I get (which is often not much). What’s been the most challenging or unexpected thing that’s happened since you started? What really amazes me is that after 5 years running and working in a bookshop, there is still not a day that goes by that a customer asks about an author I’ve never heard of. There are so many books and authors out there! It used to really frustrate me but now I just listen and enjoy learning every day. You can’t read everything so we really take on board the wealth of knowledge our customers bring in.
What are your top three pieces of advice for someone who dreams of having their own bookshop?
Do your numbers. Having a bookshop is wonderful but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of money to be made from them. You need to have a variety of products to be successful.
Don’t try to be everything to all people – you will never win. You heed to decide what kind of bookshop you want to be, which is determined largely by your location. We are in a tourist area so we stock mainly the type of books people read or buy when they’re on holidays. We have a local customer base also, so we do cater for that too, however we don’t do for example a lot of reference books. There are literally billions of books out there and you can’t stock them all.
Keep reading books you love. When we first bought the shop I felt pressure to read outside my usual genres so I could sell them but reading really started to feel like a chore. I do read lots of different types of books but I’ve gone back to reading for pleasure. You can’t know everything about every type of book and you’re better off being honest to customers and saying ‘I don’t personally read a lot of that type if book, but….’ There are lots of ways to learn about different books without forcing yourself to read it all – listen to customers, friends, family, book reps. You need to keep loving books or you loose sight if why you started doing it in the first place.