Coffee, Cake and Contemporary Women’s Stories

Saturday was my big bookish day and after I had spent my morning up at the Wallsend book sale, I headed down to Lake Macquarie for a coffee, cake and books event in the afternoon. The event was held in a cute little café opposite the lake in Warners Bay and there was a wonderful view of the water from the tables. The authors in conversation were Trish Morey, Fiona McArthur, and special guest for the day Cathryn Hein with Jaye Ford as interviewer. Julie from Lake Macquarie libraries welcomed everyone and said that the event was the first of hopefully many like it. For a first time event it was well attended, the tables were full and there were delectable nibbles provided before and during the event from the café. The authors themselves were lovely as well. I’d met most of them at various other things before and being able to enjoy their conversations, their friendship and their stories was special and not only allowed you to get to know these talented women a bit better, but gain an insight into their craft.

Jaye, Cathryn, Trish, and Fiona

Jaye started the afternoon off introducing everyone and explained that this was part of their Summer With Friends Tour that herself, Trish and Fiona were doing, this time with an extra friend in Cathryn. Jaye spoke to each of the authors about their latest books, their inspirations and how the story developed. Trish explained how her latest book, One Summer Between Friends, got to be set on Lord Howe Island after a holiday there reminded her of its beauty. With a desire for a small town type setting, a place where everyone knows everything and you can’t easily escape, Lord Howe was the perfect location. She explained how she wanted to test the boundaries of friendship, wanted it to be fractured and see if it could be put together again. Trish also explained how life imitating art in her own world helped to make her book stronger because she was able to put personal experience into it. The hands on research she used didn’t change her story a great deal, she explained, but the detail and emotion she was able to now include was based on her real reactions, something which I thought was brave and amazing.

Fiona’s book, The Desert Midwife, came from a previous version which had been rejected from the publisher but had now been reworked into something similar but new. Jaye spoke with Fiona about the concept of love at first sight and Fiona admitted she knew three people who’d experienced the phenomenon, herself included with her own husband. This notion is explored in her novel and how a woman is able to cope when her loving husband suddenly no longer remembers her. Jaye asked about Fiona’s research and we heard stories of travelling around communities near Uluru and how interactions with the communities influenced Fiona’s story. She spoke about midwifery and how she always likes to promote that birth is natural, how if left to nature it usually sorts itself out and she joked that often midwives instruct doctors on better ways to do things. Their conversation turned to Fiona’s new endeavour into indie publishing with her book Midwife on the Orient Express and she expressed how nice it was to be able to select her own cover, keep the title she wanted and how she had been inspired by others, like Cathryn, who had gone out on their own.

Cathryn’s own story, Eddie and the Show Queen – the fifth in her series set in the Levenham’s area, goes to some emotional places but it is one filled with humour too. Jaye spoke to Cathryn about how she came up with her ideas for the various, amusing fundraising solutions in the story and Cathryn admitted it was the most fun she’d had coming up with all of those options. Bringing it back to the dual tones, Jaye asked how it felt to write both emotions and Cathryn said she enjoyed the contrast between the two. She said it wasn’t real if people were happy all the time and if she can make herself cry when she’s writing it, that’s good. Being the fifth book in a series, Cathryn spoke about how after writing the first – Rocking Horse Hill – she wanted to explore the stories of more characters. She explained how she comes up with the titles and then writes the book to that title. Cathryn explained with this new one, Show Queen was originally Show Girl but in an international market Show Girl means something different entirely and so she changed it.

Jaye spoke with the women about creative blocks, Cathryn explaining how some medical issues recently had halted her creativity, but she was slowly gaining it back as she got better. She explained the fear she had when she couldn’t write, she told us writing was her dream and not being able to write was horrible. One thing that really resonated with me was Cathryn saying that “100 words a day gives you a book in the end” which I think I might need to paint in large letters on my wall. It is a wonderful piece of advice and one I know I need. Trish spoke about how writing intense books was hard when her own life had become intense with family issues and so she needed to write a different kind of book, this also included not writing about sex all the time. Fiona told us that in the beginning she had trouble finding the time to write with children and a husband to care for and so she found some hours in the early morning that were all hers. Between 4:30am and 6am there was time no one wanted her for anything and it allowed her to write. Now she had retired she has all day which is even better. Fiona also offered some more fabulous advice telling us “if you keep going, eventually you get there”. Another for my wall.

Jaye spoke with the women about their routines and how they started their days, where their writing process took them. From long walks to doing Sudoku and taking afternoon naps there were numerous routines to get the brain kicked into gear and allowing time for plot points to be nutted out. Cathryn reminded everyone that you have to be disciplined because it is a business, and Jaye invited each author to talk about their writing process and how they gain their ideas and start planning (a plotter), or whether they make it up on the fly (a pantser). Trish acknowledged everyone has a different process, she likes to start with a ‘what if?’ situation and a character then venture into a story. Fiona is a pantser, and while Cathryn admitted she too is a pantser, she also mentioned that she needs to know how her story starts and she needs a crisis moment before she can start.

By now we’d all been served our afternoon tea and cakes and the audience was able to ask questions. There were some great questions like further clarification on the plotters vs pantsers and how do you start a story in the first place. Fiona sees her scenes like one would a movie and she builds on that first scene, Cathryn told us that the story takes as many pages as it takes to tell the story, whatever that length may be, as long as it doesn’t bore the reader.

Another question from the audience was how to identify and keep track of continuity. Fiona told us that when you start you don’t know your characters well, but you get to know them as you write the book. You get the story out then you can go back and fix it later. Trish said you need to keep your characters grounded, you give them a description at the start and use it as a reference and do the same for personality, find words and titles that go with the characters. I loved Cathryn’s approach, she mentioned she finds three things for her characters: something physical that sets them apart, some verbal tick/saying that is theirs alone, and a gesture that identifies them.

The two hours flew by and I easily could have sat there listening for two hours more. A whole lot more was spoken about, laughed about, and explored but I wrote eight pages of notes and to recap the afternoon in its entirety would be never ending. I will say though, if you ever get a chance to go to an event similar to this I insist you do; it is so wonderful to be allowed access into this world where authors discuss their work, their inspirations and to see the friendships and support that have formed over decades. I was entertained, I was moved, I was inspired not only in my writing but in many other ways too. It was a wholly delightful afternoon.

Wendy James in Conversation

Last week I attended an event at the library to see crime writer Wendy James in conversation with fellow writer Jaye Ford. It was a great evening, Jaye and Wendy have been friends for years so their conversation was informative and fun, with all the fun banter friendship throws in.

Jaye spoke to Wendy about her new book The Golden Child. James has been dubbed Queen of domestic thrillers, a term both Jaye and Wendy joke about often. What exactly is a domestic thriller? But this is a deserved title though because The Golden Child is incredible, and has already been optioned as a miniseries.

Wendy’s book is about bullying, social media, and parenting, but she is very good at not actually blaming social media or the parents for the events in this book. It’s a brilliantly complicated novel that looks at how issues of bullying can often come from nowhere. She told Jaye that she wanted the mother in the book to be unprepared, to not see where it had come from; that there are often no obvious signs. Social media, Wendy said, is so ubiquitous these days that you don’t notice it.

Wendy was asked whether it was tougher for girls these days and while she said it was harder for young girls, it is also harder to control older kids in regards to technology. One thing I really liked was that Wendy said it wasn’t about the social media or the bullying per se, it was about the women involved. She wanted it to be about how the mothers felt about the situation. Her character does everything she could to raise her kids right and yet still things aren’t perfect. What was also wonderful is there is no one person or thing to blame for everything, Wendy didn’t want to turn it into a book about how to parent or put the blame on a single entity.

The story is set in Newcastle but as Wendy said, it doesn’t mean it is a book about Newcastle. Being a newish resident there herself she wrote her idea of Newcastle, instead of the one that has the weight of someone whose whole life has been there which is something I think she did very well. It has the feel of someone who has just moved there, and not someone who knows everything there is to know about it.

The tail end of the discussion merged into a joint conversation which started with discussing each authors writing history and processes; something which I always find fascinating to hear about. Wendy spoke of her career as a teacher of creative writing and how it made her see things a bit differently, commenting that when you write you stop thinking about the craft after a while. The search and discovery for ideas was also mentioned and the pair joked about the best places to mullover ideas – driving and in the shower being optimal. The comment was made about needing a waterproof notebook in the shower and I forgot to mention it to them on the night, but there is one called Aquanotes if you’re interested, Wendy or Jaye. It’s ridiculously helpful for my own preservation of ideas.

The pair discussed research processes prompted by audience questions as well as their writing routines and styles. It was an interesting way to cap off a wonderful and informative evening. There is something wonderful about going to events like these that bring out your own inspiration and drive.

You can purchase The Golden Child via the following

Publisher | Booktopia | Kobo | Dymocks

 QBD | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld

or check out Jaye books and Wendy’s other work because it’s amazing!

Jaye Ford

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Wendy James

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