The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Desert Flame
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
English-born, raised and schooled, I learnt to read early and insatiably. As a child on long car journeys, I would read out loud to my family, which may have helped to keep my three younger sisters entertained, but possibly not so my poor parents, given that my reading preferences at that stage were focused on The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. After school and against the wishes of my parents, I moved to London to study journalism, which was the only avenue I could envisage for a budding writer, and then relocated to Sydney in my mid-twenties.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I’m not sure if I had a clear idea of what I wanted to be although I was already writing short stories, but by eighteen, my ambitions were focused on a career in magazine journalism. I imagined an incredibly glamorous life of interviewing celebrities and writing insightful pieces on the state of the world. In reality, my first job was on a trade magazine for office equipment buyers! At thirty, I was already writing romance fiction, with more enthusiasm than expertise, and had a dream of making a career of it – although I didn’t really know how to make it happen.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
It’s not quite a belief, but at eighteen, I felt as if I had all the time in the world to achieve my dreams. At some point in my thirties, time seemed to speed up and I realised that you have a finite time on this earth so if you want to achieve something, you just have to make it happen. Imagining writing a book doesn’t make you a writer. You have to actually do it.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Firstly, I’d have to say the Australian film My Brilliant Career, which I saw at school when I was 16 or 17. It struck an immediate chord with me, making me realise I could be a writer, but that I was going to have to fight for it as other people had different career paths for me in mind.
I’m also very inspired by the sculpture of Henry Moore that sits outside the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s so evocative and sensual, which is the atmosphere I try to create for my readers (not sure if I’m quite there yet!). Lastly, I’d have to nominate Brett Whiteley’s Balcony 2, again for its sensuality and vibrancy.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I would probably see my writing as a craft rather than an artistic endeavour. Really, it’s been pretty much the only thing I was good at and was passionate about. I tried to learn the piano but was hopeless and my singing resembles a dying frog. I would love to paint or produce pottery, and maybe one day I will give them a go … but only for my own enjoyment and not to inflict on the world.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Desert Flame is a romantic suspense set against the backdrop of Australian opal mining. At the centre is Eliza Mayberry, whose privileged world comes crashing down around her ears when her father dies. On the verge of losing the business that has been in her family for generations, she has no option but to take over the last remaining case, which means tracking down the elusive Fingal McLeod in the harsh Australian outback and bringing him back to Sydney.
Fin, however, has other priorities – finding a valuable black opal that will mean redemption for his family. Eliza and Fin couldn’t be more different but – without giving too much away – both are trying to come to terms with their past and find their place in the world. And neither can resist the flame that burns between them.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I love books that sweep me away into the middle of a captivating place or situation or relationship so I hope that Desert Flame does that for readers. As it’s a romance at its heart, I also hope that readers fall in love with the characters and want them to work out a way to be together despite their differences. I wrote it purely as an entertaining story and didn’t realise until I’d finished that there was also an underlying message about forging our own destiny, which can be quite different from the life that is mapped out for us. So if it reinforces the idea that you can ‘change your stars’, that is great.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Haha – way too many to count! In the world of women’s fiction and romance, you have to pay homage to the incredible Nora Roberts for her consistency and longevity, her wonderful ear for dialogue and endearing secondary characters. She is definitely the gold standard there.
Secondly, for scorching sexual tension between heroine and hero, I would nominate Linda Howard at her best. In her romance Son of the Morning, the heroine and hero don’t get together until the final chapters but nevertheless it is the most passionate book of its kind I have ever read.
And I think in Kate Morton, Australia has unearthed a fabulous writer of gothic romance. Her work is delicious. Long may it continue!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Some days I want to conquer the world; other days it’s a triumph just to finish the chapter! My main aim is to grow as a writer, and develop those subtle touches that, for a reader, seem to give a book an effortless, page-turning flow. Being a great prevaricator if left to my own devices, this year I’ve also tried to be a lot more disciplined about my writing in terms of having a routine and sticking to it, which I’ve mostly achieved.
My other objective – to finish one book before starting another – is still a work in progress. You wouldn’t believe the number of partial manuscripts I have on my laptop. I blame all the characters in my head demanding their stories be told.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Being none too experienced myself, I wouldn’t really dream of giving anyone advice. The only thing I would say to anyone struggling to finish a book – and from talking to aspiring writers, this seems to be a constant refrain – there is no magic combination of talent and inspiration that will get it done; it takes routine, discipline, perseverance. Even if what you write initially isn’t great, it will improve with practice and your writing will become more second nature. You might even have the occasional moment where inspiration does elevate your work. But mostly it’s hard work, even when you love it.
Janine, Thank you for playing!
A sweeping Australian love story from the author of Southern Star.
When her beloved father dies, Eliza Mayberry’s privileged world comes crashing down around her. On the verge of losing the business that has been in her family for generations, she has no option but to take over the last remaining case: tracking down the elusive Fingal McLeod in outback New South Wales and bringing him back to Sydney.
Fin, however, has other ideas. Determined to find the legendary Dark Flame, a rare opal that has eluded opal-hunters for decades, he has no intention of leaving his mine to reunite with the family who abandoned him – even for the beguiling Miss Mayberry … Read more.
About the Contributor
Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.