Saturday, 31 May 2014

Extract: Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

"In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France.  They swim, play bridge and drink gin.  But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife.  Fife is Hadley's best friend.  She is also Ernest's lover.

Hadley is the first Mrs Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last.  Over the ensuing decades, Ernest's literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit.  Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife ..."

About the Author

Naomi Wood is a writer based in London, England. She grew up in Yorkshire, but at the age of eight, her parents announced that they were moving to Hong Kong.  They had never been to China before.  In fact, none of them had ever been to Asia!  They lived in Hong Kong for ten years until Naomi moved back to the UK to study English Literature at the University of Cambridge.
After a short stint working for Random House, Naomi studied for the Masters in Creative Writing at UEA, where she wrote her first novel, The Godless Boys. This was published in the UK (Picador) and Norway (Font) in 2011.  The film option to The Godless Boys has been sold, and Naomi has been lucky enough to work with some wonderful people on the screenplay.

Naomi stayed on at UEA for a fully-funded PhD: this was where Mrs. Hemingway was born. Research took her as far afield as Chicago, Boston, Key West, Cuba, Antibes and Paris.  She also spent time as a fully-funded resident scholar at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and was the British Library’s 2012 Eccles Centre Writer in Resident.

She is very proud to teach Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University and is the judge of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum Short-Story Award.

Would you like to know more about Mrs Hemingway?

Read on for an exclusive extract that I have been authorised to publish thanks to Di at Pan Macmillan!

Chapter 12. Antibes, France.  June 1926

    They arrive at the party later than they would have liked; Scott is already very drunk, as is Zelda.  They greet everyone to reassuring murmurings:  they are so pleased Bumby is through the coqueluche, what a strong boy he is, etcetera.  Their friends say how much they have missed them, but they look tanned and golden, and Hadley suspects this might not be quite the truth.  Dinner has already been eaten: claws and shells are the leftovers of a bouillabaisse.  Sara and Gerald's kids are evidently still closeted away, just in case the infection has been carried on the Hemingways' coattails.
    Fife is nowhere to be seen.
    "We had to eat with the kids before they went to bed," Sara says.  "You have already eaten, haven't you?"
    Ernest says yes, even though they haven't.  Hadley gives her husband a look, which is meant to say: I'm starving, even if you aren't.  This performance shouldn't be done on an empty stomach.
    Sara wears so many pearls she looks positively bandaged.  Most people - and most of the people here - prefer Sara to her husband, but Hadley has always preferred Gerald.  Ernest thinks him a poseur, but it's precisely this that appeals to her.  Both she and Gerald seem miscast for their roles, while the others are pitch-perfect, delivering their lines pat.  He is a mortal, like her, among the gods.
    It had been Gerald who had laughed warmly when Hadley, at a café session in Paris, had gaily declared Ernest to be the first American killed in Italy.  "Amazing news that the man himself lives and breathes next to you, eh, Hash?"  She realized her mistake and blushed.  "Wounded," she'd said quietly.  "I meant wounded."  She caught Sara giving Fife one of those looks.  But she was thankful it was Gerald who had been on hand to deliver the gentler riposte.

Everybody is sitting around the table under the linden tree looking relaxed and handsome as spring.  "It's so good to see you two," Sara says.  "Have you been awfully pent up?"
    "It's good to be out," Hadley says in her best attempt at neutrality.
    "And Bumby's completely out of it?"
    "It's all out of him, thank God.  He was just too tired to come."  Hadley wonders why Ernest had to lie about dinner.  Her eyes travel the empty bowls; there's a bread roll left at Scott's place.
    "Well that's just wonderful.  I can't wait to be all together again."  Sara squeezes her hand and looks at Hadley, mother to mother.  She has an intense stare made more so by her bangs that come just short of the brows.  She is a handsome woman, though not like Zelda or Fife.  She isn't skinny; could not slip, eel-like, into tiny dresses or bathing suits.
    "Fantastic news, eh, Hash?"  Gerald emerges from the house with a tray of drinks.  Framed by the black satin sofas, white walls, and the vast vases of Sara's peonies, he could be emerging from a Hollywood set.  He could play a leading man, were it not for the creep of baldness.  "Cocktails!" he announces, and, as if on cue, he nearly trips on the step down from the house.
    "Do be careful!" Sara says but giggles.  She is never mean to her husband.

    The wind carries the smell of the citrus orchard from the bottom of the garden.  Heliotrope and mimosa flower by the gravel paths.  Gerald puts down the tray of drinks and cookies with a flourish.  Ernest looks embarrassed and barricades himself between Hadley and Sara.  Gerald kisses Hadley near the lips and Scott goes for another glass.
    "What number is that?" Sara asks.
    "I haven't drunk a thing all night."
    "Minus the aperitif before dinner."
    "And the bottle of wine during it," Gerald says as he passes drinks around the table.
    "So tell me, dearest Hadern," Scott says, with the moniker only he uses for her.  "What have you been occupying yourself with?"
    The table turns to look at her.  "Oh, you know.  Reading. Writing endless telegrams to my absent husband.  Looking after Bumby, mostly."
    "She is a doting mother," Ernest says, looking at her proudly, but then his eyes flit upward toward the house as if he has been, in a moment, transfixed.
    Fife walks from the house smoking a cigarette.  A vest plunges from her shoulders.  Her skirt is made of black feathers, layer upon layer from the waist, and it resembles the closed wings of a swan.  Their spines click against each other as she moves, her feet making no sound, as if she really did advance like a bird of prey under the lounge's electric lamps.  When Hadley turns back she notices her husband is entranced, as if only he has had the wherewithal to spot this goose no one else has thought to shoot.
    "Darling dress, isn't it?" Sara asks, with a plump wink for Hadley who feels dumbfounded, ambushed. What can an old serge frock do next to this bird's plumage?  Scott offers her a cigarette as if in consolation. She tries to recompose her features.  It's just a dress.  Only a dress.  And Ernest has always hated women who care too much for their appearance.
    Fife sits down with a broad smile.  "Hello, chaps," she says.  Her marcelled hair looks immovable.  She must have spent all afternoon getting ready after the abandoned game of bridge.  "Have I missed anything?"
    Tears feel like they will breach Hadley's eyes with nothing more than a blink.  How can no one else see how schlocky and cheap is this show of feathers and skin?
    Hadley tries to join in on the conversation at the table: Sara still seems to be berating Scott but now it's for his profligacy rather than his drinking.  "Surely you're rich by now, darling?"
    "Not as rich as you.  I don't think any of us can get to that dizzying height."
    "I heard your last book's advance was so big you've had to drink vats of champagne to get rid of it."  Sara plays with the length of her pearls and puts them for a moment in her mouth.  "Dearest, I'm only teasing you. Besides, it's old Hemingstein who's going to have to worry about this soon."  Sara drapes her arms around Ernest's neck and kisses him on the cheek.  Storm clouds gather on Scott's face.  He'd rather be teased than ignored.
    "Do you think so, Sara?" asks Ernest like an ingénue.
    "You'll have girls walking around Paris talking like Brett Ashley in no time."
    "What are you talking about?"
    "Talking?  Isn't talking simply bilge?  Doesn't Brett say that?  Did you steal that from me?"
    "Certainly not."
    "The Sun is going to make you a star, Ernest."
    "Of course it is," Hadley says, looking over at her husband.  "It's the best thing he's ever done.  And he's worked so hard at it."
    No one speaks.  Ah yes, she has forgotten that success should come effortlessly or not at all.  It's always got to be playtime.  Cocktail hour.  As if life were always a mooning adolescence or always blindingly fun. Hard work was for other people.  "I mean that it will be the great success we've been waiting for."  There, Hadley thinks, half-saved.
    Fife's feathers lift and fall in the breeze.
    "Wonderful title," Sara says.
    "The Bible gives and gives, as my mother would say."
    "And what does the Bible give, may I ask, aside from the obvious?"  A man has come up the gravel path from the direction of the sea.  He comes with a basket of fruit and a bottle of perspiring wine, like a figure from a Greek myth.  "Spiritual nourishment, the standard homilies, rolling papers for cigarettes?"

    The man looks to be in his late twenties, with short brown hair and a neat little mustache that does its bit to hide a large mouth.  A generous mouth.  Hadley thinks, though perhaps too full for a man.  "Harry, my dear!" Sara says, rising.  "We thought you were staying in Juan tonight?"
    "Oh no.  It's positively malarial there this evening.  I haven't ambushed the party, have I?"  Harry is handsome, though his eyes make Hadley think of the empty stare of geckos when they sun themselves at the top of the day.
    "But darling, we've eaten everything!  There's nothing left.  The kids were ravenous from being in the sea all day."  Hadley notices, as the man comes over to the table, that each step has a neat girlish bounce.  She can see Ernest grimace - he has never been one for queers.
    Harry places the basket on the table and Hadley eyes her supper in a couple of apples.  She notices his fingernails are very neat.  He kisses Scott and Zelda but shakes Gerald's hand.  "You have met the Hemingways, haven't you, dear?"
    "No," he says, "I haven't yet had the pleasure."
    "Harry Cuzzemano, this is Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.  Ernest and Hadley, this is Harry Cuzzemano, book collector extraordinaire."
    "Pleased to meet you, Harry," says Ernest, holding his hand in his own as he asks, "What type of thing do you collect?"
    This is when those eyes come to life.  "Oh, anything I can get my hands on.  Rare books.  First editions. Manuscripts.  Anything with a definable ..." - he seems to search for the precise word - "value.  I'm a sucker for anything that will make a killing in a few years or so."
    He flashes a grin at Hadley, as if this comment is meant just for her.
    "Does it have to have merit?"
    He laughs.  "Just value, sir, just value.  But I must say, Mr. Hemingway, I read in our time.  I managed to get my hands on the Three Mountains edition.  If you carry on writing like that you'll have given me quite the little nest egg.  I think it was a print run of a couple of hundred or so?"
    Ernest's color is high with the flattery.  "I'm only in possession of one myself."
    "Well, keep on to it man.  You know how expensive school can be nowadays."  Hadley wonders how he knew Ernest was a father.  "I can only hope your next book will have a similar print run."
    "I don't wish for the same thing, you'll be unsurprised to hear."
    "Any other publications?"
    "The Little Review did something a while back."
    "That should get your name out."
    "I shouldn't think so.  It's only read by intellectuals and dykes."
    "Dear man, it's the most stolen journal in the country!  America, that is."
    "Suits me fine," Ernest answers.  "I'd rather be read by crooks than critics."
    "Very right.  Very right."  Cuzzemano seats himself between Ernest and Sara and pours himself a glass of white wine.
    "You don't mind, Mr. Cuzzemano, if I steal a piece of fruit?"
    "Not at all.  Please."
    Hadley eats the apple and tries to listen to Zelda's conversation with Sara but she finds herself returning to watch this man.  Harry's eyes are always on her when she looks at him.
    As the night moves on, dancing starts on the terrace.  At one point the Murphys' kids, Patrick, Baoth and Honoria come down, rubbing their tired eyes, asking what's going on, but with an eye on the plaguish Hemingways Sara shoos them quickly away.  Ernest and Scott are too busy singing along in chorus to "Tea for Two" for anyone to notice the kids' dispatch.
    All evening Cuzzemano toadies up to her husband.  Ernest answers his questions cordially enough.  It is good to see Ernest behave well to someone he doesn't like.  Sometimes he can say such astonishingly vile thing she wonders if it's really him.  She knows he grapples with dark thoughts and low moods but that doesn't give him an excuse to treat people badly.  Most often it's the night-time when it's worst: when he enters a world where he can't find anything left that's meaningful.  And then, in the daytime, Ernest is fine, and cheerful, and immensely interested in words and art and how to make a new kind of text from the bones of language.  The two personalities seem as if from two different men.
    Though he evidently has no good feelings toward the collector, Ernest signs a piece of paper which Cuzzemano puts in an envelope and seals with a swipe of his tongue.  On the envelope he writes E. HEMINGWAY, JUNE 1926.
    Later, Cuzzemano scrapes a chair closer to Hadley.  She prepared to be flattered.  "Mrs. Hemingway?"
    "Hadley.  Please."
    "What a handsome name.  There's a South Hadley where I'm from."
    "And where's that?"
    "Where do you live now?  I assume it's not Massachusetts anymore."
    "Oh no.  I split my time between Paris and New York.  They're the only places to really live.  London is such a bore.  Too many English to make it a city worth spending any time in."
    Hadley wonders if he is queer, or married, or a bachelor.  Paris is full of all three, often doing all three at the same time.  Cuzzemano gives her an inquiring look, as if asking if the pleasantries have now been safely dispatched.  He has teeth that wouldn't look amiss in the gums of a fish.  "Can I be frank, Mrs. Hemingway? Hadley?"
    Cuzzemano drops his voice.
    "Sara told me about a valise, Mrs. Hemingway, a suitcase full of papers gone amiss: Mr. Hemingway's first novel, and several short stories.  Make no mistake, I inquire about this not to upset you, but because your husband's work is of lasting literary merit ... And whatever was in that valise will one day be worth a whole heap of money."  Cuzzemano's eyes wince, as if pained to think of its value.  "Now, my understanding is that it was lost at the Gare de Lyon?"  Four years ago, on a train bound for Lausanne?"
    Hadley is nothing but bewildered.  "I don't care to talk about it."
    Cuzzemano draws toward her.  His hands practically rest on her knees.  "Mrs. Hemingway, did anyone have any idea of what was in there?  Ernest, surely, would be so happy to see his work returned to him -"
    "Mr. Cuzzemano, I thank you for your interest in my husband's work, but I think you are grossly exaggerating his place in the world four years ago."  She keeps her voice to a fierce whisper.  "Mr. Hemingway had not even been published.  We'd barely been in Paris a year!  The case is lost.  Someone took it by mistake.  It's all gone: stories, carbons, novel; the whole kit and caboodle.  And I won't forget the horror of it."  She recomposes herself.  "Nor will I ever forgive myself.  Now if you would kindly let the matter drop.  I don't care to spend my evening furthering your enrichment."

    Gerald leaves the jazz and puts on a waltz.  Ernest asks her to dance but Hadley wants to listen to the piano.  It has taken her some minutes to recover from Cuzzemano's questioning, and now all she wants is to be quiet among this gang who will not quit talking.  Brett Ashley is right; all their talk is bilge.
    Ernest asks Zelda instead.  This is a safe choice.  No one is under any illusion of the mutual contempt they hold for each other and they dance together in a difficult embrace.  Zelda is stiff and unbending, and Ernest moves all of the wrong parts of himself to the wrong parts of the music.  He is pigeon-toed and jokey, but Zelda doesn't find it very funny at all.  Evidently she doesn't like to be caught in something so dumb and sentimental as a waltz.
    The music finishes and Zelda drifts back to the table to reclaim her sherry, but Ernest still has a hold of her wrist.  As a faster standard follows he attempts to whirl her around in a quickstep.  Zelda looks furious and the drink spills but Ernest still has a hold of her.  The Murphys, Cuzzemano, and Fife are laughing but to Hadley it looks as if everything is on the brink of turning sour; she knows Ernest when he is in this mood.
    "C'mon, Mrs. Fitzgerald!  Or are you only good for a cabaret?"
    Zelda disentangles herself but Ernest, for whatever reason makes sense in his drunk head, pulls her over his shoulder in a fireman's hold.  "Put me down!"  Ernest will not let go.  Hadley looks at the scene with disbelief. "You BRUTE, Ernest Hemingway!"
    Scott emerges from the double doors, a bowl of fruit in his pale hands.  "What are you doing with her?" he says, grabbing the figs at the top of the bowl.  "Get off my wife!" he shouts, the ends of the words lost in his chin.  "I said: PUT HER DOWN!"
    Scott throws a fig which arcs across the garden and smashes on Ernest's blazer.  He drops Zelda and has time to duck before the next one flies through the air.  Fife has leapt to his aid but then another one of Scott's thrown figs explodes on her hard white skin.
    "Oh, Scott," Fife says.  "What did you have to do that for?"
    Ernest glares at him as Zelda shuffles back to her chair.  Her lips press in a smirk.  He takes off his blazer and surveys the damage: two round purple spots where the figs hit.  "That wasn't right," he says.
    "For God's sake, Scott," says Sara.  "Why do you insist on behaving like a child?"
    Fife strides into the kitchen and Ernest follows the sound of the feathers.
    Hadley feels as if she wants to kiss Scott.  What a fine sense of grievance and possession!  How often had she felt like wringing Fife's neck when a dainty slipper had fallen off a dainty foot in their Paris apartment and caught the wandering eye of her husband!  Back at the villa over bridge or sherry she had never felt that she could throw a tantrum - never mind fruit.
    Zelda toasts Scott his chivalry and Sara looks fit to burst.  Scott is too drunk to really notice anything but his feet and the kisses administered by his admiring wife.  Then Sara tells him what she's obviously been dying to say all night.  She calls him a selfish infant who belongs in a kindergarten.  Children, Hadley thinks to herself, children are more civilized than this gang on the sauce.
    When she looks back, Fife and Ernest have left the kitchen.  The room is curiously formless without their figures in it.  "Well," says Hadley, now that Sara has had her say and Scott sulks in the corner to the overtures of Mr. Cuzzemano, no doubt kissing up to him after the glories of Gatsby.  "After weeks of no fun at all I think I've had more than I can take."  Hadley pushes back her chair.  "Will you excuse me?"  She goes into the house to fetch her things.

    Gerald has hung her shawl in the bedroom of his two sons.  If Sara knew about this she would be livid. Patrick and Baoth sleep curled around each other.  They are beautiful, just like their parents, and Hadley wonders what they'll become.  Something amazing, she's sure of that: they are of this boundlessly good and clever New England stock.  She'd like to kiss them good night, but if Sara caught her she'd be excommunicated entirely.  Especially after the debacle with the figs.  Though she is not a religious woman, Hadley thinks of a prayer her mother used to say over her at night to keep her safe while she slept.  These kids are intensely lovely.  They quite take her breath away.
    She's about to take the stairs when she hears a noise from the landing.  A bedroom door has fallen open and voices travel.  Through the slot between door and frame, she finds a couple standing in the middle of the room.  There's nearly no light and their faces are featureless.  The woman's bustle comes into view, all spiky feathers tearing down from her waistline.  Hadley hears her own intake of air.  Ernest's hand goes round between the two wings as if they have dropped open for him, like a swan's downbeat in flight.  He kisses her forehead, her eyebrows, the lids themselves.  A spot of fig still stains her skin.  The feathers being to tremble. She says, "Two weeks and nothing, Nesto.  It's been so hard."  Hadley can feel how much Fife wants him. She can see how little weight is on those legs.  Then they fall onto the floor and the feathered skirt falls open. Hadley slams the door as hard as she possibly can.

    She sits on the edge of the chess-tiled patio.  Sara and Gerald are cleaning up in the kitchen and discussing Scott's behavior and what should be done.  The Fitzgeralds and Cuzzemano are nowhere to be found.  A smell of camellias and oleanders wafts up from the garden.  Peonies rise from pots as big as fists. This garden is something else.
    So they've done nothing these past two weeks, and she realizes that it is Ernest and Fife who were under quarantine too, not just Bumby and herself.  That the whole fortnight has been sexless seems even more depressing.  Then the thought occurs that maybe what they have between them is only a sexual thing.  She had never felt particularly adventurous in bed.  Perhaps, if she could keep them apart, she might draw him off his attraction to Fife and make him see reason.  She would be like Emperor Tiberius: give them one hundred days of separation, and then Ernest would come back to her.  He hated to be alone for a day or even an hour when the horrors struck; he certainly wouldn't be able to stand a hundred-day quarantine.
    While Sara stacks the crockery on the shelves, Gerald sits down beside her.  "It will be all right," he says to her.  "You and Ernest ... you're hitched up to the universe.  You can't be parted."  No, she thinks, hitched up to a fresh decisiveness, but Fife and Ernest might.
    Ernest comes through the French doors looking sheepish.  He places a warm hand on her shoulder.  "Did you get the fig off?" she asks.
    "Yes.  All gone.  Time to go?"  His voice is cautious.
    And she says yes, time to go, and they hardly say a good-bye to the Murphys who seem, suddenly, full of understanding:  their features soft with sympathy, as if they had not realized quite how grave the whole thing had become.
    The Hemingways set off from Villa America down to the beach.  Fife will stay with the Murphys tonight. Hadley imagines there might be tears in both houses.  Soon they will reach the end of the beach, weave through town, then arrive at their villa, together or apart.
    This thought makes her tread slower on the sand.  She feels terribly sad, because she knows that the empty spaces inside her are the same as the empty spaces inside him, because they match, because their geographies correspond.  He does not match Fife, not like this.
    "No seaweed," Ernest says, and they laugh, because it's funny that Gerald has cleared the beach of its algae - to have gone to so much meticulous effort to please his friends!  He spent the whole of April at the task, removing the snaked green strands from the sand.  Perhaps they laugh for different reasons: Ernest thinks it's silly; Hadley thinks it's sweet.
    The waves leave their foam on the beach.  Smells of wet rope and fish hang on the air.  Draped over the landed boats are fishing nets, the moonlight crusting scales and shells on the threads.  Boat masts lean in the direction of the wind.  The night hides the far-off trees and the raft where they dived this morning.  Nothing is visible but their limbs going forward, long and brown.  "I'm sorry for acting like an ass.  I shouldn't have done that to Zelda."
    "It's okay," she says.
    They stop.  To carry on walking would somehow make this conversation casual.
    Hadley delivers this to the sea, not to him"  "When I saw you at the party in Chicago, I thought you were just playing up to me.  Interested only for the night.  I thought I was going to be a spinster in St. Louis forever.  Ernest, you changed everything for me."
    "That night changed everything for me as well.  Of course it did."
    Breakers come and go by her feet.
    "If you want to go, I accept that.  I don't regret any of this.  What you have showed me.  And what we have done in the five years we have had.  It has been another class of marvelous."
    Ernest doesn't say anything.
    Hadley clears her throat, committing herself.  "Do you love her?"
    "I still feel the same way about you."  The expression on his face changes completely.  She can't read it.  She wonders if it is love.  It just might be.  "But my feelings for Fife are there."
    "Are they very strong?"
    A pause, then: "Yes."
    "Strong enough to end us?:
    He doesn't answer.  Hadley walks on a little father and he follows her.  They come to a brightly painted canoe with big red letters:  DAME DE LA FRANCE.  The warm waves come over her feet and she leans on the boat's body.  She will be the one, then, to set out the terms.  "This is what we will do.  We will go back to Paris.  You will move your things out of the apartment.  You can marry Pauline, if that is your wish."  Ernest looks horrified and relieved all at once.  "But only after a hundred days of separation.  No more, no less.  If you want to be with her after that, then you have my blessing.  I will grant you a divorce.  But you have to prove to me and to yourself that this isn't a passing affair."
    "Hash."  The tide reaches his feet them pulls away.  She rises from the canoe and walks up to the end of the beach.  He follows, walking over the sand slowly behind her.
    The trees sound out into the night.  They walk back to the villa, tracing the same steps they made early this morning when they came out to the raft to swim, to play their game by the rocks, and to hope, while they held their silence, that things could always just continue as they always had been.
    Near the lavender, at the villa's porch, she says:  "I'm doing this for us.  A hundred days, Ernest.  It won't be long.  You'll work out what you need after that."
    Behind him their three bathing suits hang in the breeze.  Upstairs, with the window open, is Fife's room.  They tread quietly into the house alone.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Madeline Ash, The Playboy's Dark Secret

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Australian contemporary romance Author Madeline Ash to my blog, in celebration of her April release of, The Playboy’s Dark Secret.

Madeline has always lived in Melbourne and yet, while she’s emotionally allergic to spontaneity, doesn’t mind the weather that drags her into the rain when she’s planned for sunshine - she likes to call it her wild side!

She is a Virgo, vegetarian and, once had a romantic suspense style dream in which the hero was a shredded lettuce sandwich and the villain was a cherry tomato – the tomato got away!  She took that dream as a sign that she should stick to writing contemporary romance.

Her colleagues generally introduce her as “The Writer” and she quite enjoys the mystery that hides in such a title, such as “cloaked, puffing a pipe, hunched madly over a typewriter”, although there’s quite a stark contrast between herself and such mystery.

Madeline’s own family have inspired her to bolster the romance in her novels with the love of family.

Both Destiny Romance titles, Uncovered by Love, Madeline’s debut novel, was published on the 10th December 2012 and, The Playboy’s Dark Secret, her second novel, on the 14th April 2014.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a bit more.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Books Australia, more particularly Anna of their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Madeline, it’s really lovely to have you here, thank you for popping by.

Thank you so much for having me, Marcia.

Can you tell us a little about your latest release The Playboy’s Dark Secret?

Of course!  After leaving behind an international career and an elite party lifestyle, soccer star Dean Thorn has returned home to run the family vineyard after thirteen years abroad.  Tormented by a dark secret, he has vowed never to get close to a woman again.

No stranger to hard work, Rafi Dalton is too busy for love.  Since running away from her career as a professional ballerina, she has been building a new life for herself as a seasonal worker with little money and no fixed address.

Rafi is nothing like the women Dean left behind. She is strong, independent and uninterested in his money. The attraction between them pushes him right to the edge of restraint, but the darkness in his past makes it a struggle to trust her.

The Playboy's Dark Secret is a tender, sexy romance set on a beautiful Australian vineyard.

Wow, that sounds like some story and one that could possibly be enjoyed with a glass of velvety red!  But back to our subject.  Please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

I studied Professional Writing at uni, with no real idea of what I wanted to write – until a guest lecturer captured my interest.  She wrote romance.  Her writing life sounded so fabulous that I immediately tried to write a category romance novel – it was an achievable word length, I loved reading romance, and it was as good a genre as any to attempt.  Pretty soon, writing romance shifted from a goal to a passion.

It took me years and years to get it right, and over 10 rejections.  In the meantime, I joined a critique group, attended Romance Writers of Australia conferences, and became a better writer through practice.  In late 2012, I submitted Uncovered by Love to Destiny Romance, and received a call within the week, offering me publication.  The learning curve changed directions at that point!

What do you enjoy most about writing contemporary romance?

I love weaving humour, sadness, and sensuality into one emotional story.  There’s nothing quite like giving characters difficult pasts, but the strength of mind to find humour in the present.  I always call it a successful day when I leave the keyboard feeling emotionally drained.

Such breadth of emotion can be written in any genre, of course, but I happen to enjoy crafting it within the realm of contemporary romance!

I come from a family of only two sisters (mine is younger than me) so I’d like to know what it was like growing up as the middle sister?

Honestly, it was tricky.  There was a five year age gap between my two sisters – which is considerable when you’re young – and I was smack bang in the middle.  There were a number of years when they couldn’t really play together because of the age gap.  So I always had to choose: do I feel like playing dress-ups or pretend school today?  I also had to choose which sister I would ultimately upset by playing with the other, which was never easy.  Attempting to all play together tended to end with the others fighting, me trying to mediate, and then everyone being sent to their rooms!

I certainly experienced middle child syndrome.  My older sister achieved highly in school, and my younger sister was the cutest thing and knew how to get her own way.  I was quiet and unassertive, so often felt like the boring one.  I remember when my older sister started getting adult privileges, like staying up late to watch television after my sister and I had to go to bed.  Then when I reached that same age, instead of my younger sister still having to go to bed, Mum (understandably) gave in and let her stay up too.  These kinds of things stung at the time.  Oh the woes of being a middle child!

Now, we all get on wonderfully.  It’s so good to have those years behind us.

Believe you me, "the adult privileges" dynamics exist in a two-sibling family as well, so you're not alone! But, if you could ask your readers one question, what would it be?

Ooh, um…Would you like to read about Rue’s happily ever after?

(He’s Dean’s younger brother in The Playboy’s Dark Secret – and I hope the answer is yes, because his book will likely be out at the end of the year!)

Madeline, thank you so much for joining me today and once again, congratulations, but before you go, would you mind sharing an excerpt from The Playboy’s Dark Secret?

Thank you so much for chatting with me, and another thank you for the congratulations :) The following excerpt is taken from Chapter Five:

"Boiling water rushed over Rafi’s dinner. Tiny air bubbles clung to the instant noodles and then popped as she swirled the bowl gently. Her stomach growled, but having resorted to her backup food twice already this week, the noodles were the last thing she wanted.
      ‘Don’t look at Mummy,’ she said. ‘You should learn that this is a sometimes food.’
       Lucy looked up from the floor of the communal kitchen, soggy rusk in her fist.
      ‘That’s direct disobedience,’ Rafi said mildly, putting a hand on her hip. ‘Go to your room.’
       Her daughter went back to her rusk.
Rafi leaned against the bench, squinting under the stark light of the fluorescents, and tightened the cord of her cotton dressing gown. She stared at the dining table as she waited, a table that could seat a crowd. The wooden surface was scratched and heat-scarred, just as the linoleum was worn and curling up against the walls, but it was clean, like the oven and the crockery, so Rafi didn’t mind.
She’d eat in her cabin, though. Autumn had spread over the valley like a possessive hand this week, clutching the night in cool fingers. She didn’t want Lucy to get cold, and she didn’t have the heart to ask the kitchen heater to do more than pretend to be capable of turning on.
She drained the water from the bowl and shook in the flavouring sachet. After lifting Lucy on to her hip, she stuck a fork in the bowl and carried both outside. Light was fading to dusk, but she didn’t have to go far. Just along the side of the communal kitchen, around the corner of the laundry, then along the path until she reached her cabin at the end of the row. But as she rounded the corner, her eye was drawn six cabins ahead to the front light she’d left on – and to the person on the small porch beneath it.
Dean was knocking on her door.
She froze, unprepared.
His hand lowered to his side. He gazed down at the threshold as he waited, shifting his weight on to his back foot. When he knocked again, she caught sight of his other hand, partially concealed behind his body.
It held a foil-covered plate.
She groaned, blushed, and desperately wished he would retreat. That afternoon had stripped her pride like bark, exposing the raw flesh of her dignity. Dean standing at her door scratched at that flesh, cutting deep. She couldn’t handle seeing him so soon, not alone. The things he must think of her…and to see her with Lucy, knowing she hardly had enough money for herself, let alone a child.
No need to panic. She’d just wait him out.
Unfortunately, Lucy pointed out the plot hole in her mother’s plan. Namely, that she had a baby daughter who was uncomfortable in the cool night air. She grizzled, twisting and kicking, and with no free hand to catch her, Rafi couldn’t risk Lucy breaking out of her grip.
Dean frowned, hesitated, and knocked again.
Rafi had no choice. The only source of relief was forward.
Chin high, she set off along the path. It wasn’t until she passed Patricia and Harry’s cabin that Dean noticed the movement. He turned, expression cautious, and caught sight of her. Every muscle in his face seemed to slacken with shock.
Rafi halted at the base of the steps and hitched Lucy higher on her hip. Swallowing indignity, she said, ‘My turn to scare the hell out of you, wasn’t it?’
She’d succeeded. He stared at Lucy, completely motionless but for the slow fall of his chest. Rafi waited, surprised at how fiercely she ached for him to look at her with desire in his eyes, despite everything.
      ‘She’s yours,’ he said, and looked up, agonisingly neutral.
      ‘Just mine.’
He nodded slowly. Then, as if so many questions rushed to the tip of his tongue that none could actually make it out of the cram, he said, ‘We had leftovers. Cacciatore.’ 
If you are interested in obtaining copies of Madeline's novels, they are available for purchase from:

Destiny Romance -
Bookworld -
Kobo Books -
iTunes -
Google Store -

Monday, 26 May 2014

Aussie Book Review: Simmering Season by Jenn J McLeod

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:    April 2014
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781922052070
Publisher:               Simon & Schuster Australia
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

Back in Calingarry Crossing to sell the family pub, Maggie Lindemann has no idea a perfect storm is heading her way until her past and present collide with the unexpected.

Maggie once had a crush on Dan Ireland, now a work-weary police crash investigator, still hell-bent on punishing himself for his misspent youth. Dan has ample reason for not going home to Calingarry Crossing for the school reunion, but one very good reason why he should.

Maggie is dealing with a restless seventeen-year-old son, a father with dementia, a fame-obsessed musician husband, a dwindling bank account and a country pub that just won’t sell.

The last thing she needs is a surprise houseguest for the summer.  Fiona Bailey-Blair, daughter of an old friend and spoilt with everything but the truth, whips up a maelstrom of gossip when she blows into town.

This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Maggie Lindeman will discover there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.

Summary and Thoughts

In Simmering Season, Jenn J McLeod returns us to the rustic little town of Calingarry Crossing to which we were introduced in House for All Seasons (House) (my review here), but this time it’s Maggie Lindemann’s story, and there are secrets aplenty simmering just below the surface.

Daughter of the small town’s ex-Reverend turned Publican, Maggie returned two years ago with her son Noah, to settle her dad and attempt to sell his pub due to his swiftly declining health.

Initially a temporary separation from her star-struck husband Brian and a hope that this would be just the opportunity to lift her and Brian out of the financial and emotional detritus that had become their life, Maggie didn't count on the fact that she was going to fall in love for the very first time – with the town and the people. Unfortunately (or would it be fortunately?), pubs are not that easy to sell in small towns and Maggie has found herself staying far longer than she thought although she’s slowly beginning to see it as an opportunity to rebuild a life for her and her little family - if only Brian would stop pursuing that elusive dream.

When she attends the funeral of a friend and meets the young Fiona Bailey-Blair, she finds herself inviting Fiona to stay at the pub for a while.  This decision appears to be one of the worst she has made, with the first rumblings of discord arriving with Fiona and her announcement that she’s come to Calingarry intent on finding her real father.

As the layers of the narrative continue to unfold, unexpected forces begin to manifest themselves as, firstly, seventeen year old Noah hits it off straight away with Fiona.  With Maggie’s introspection, those forces intensify, threatening to become a full-blown squall when Dan Ireland, the bad-boy ex-friend of her brother whose presence was plucked away from Maggie’s life by a terrible family tragedy, makes his appearance, culminating in a tempest of epic proportions, when Maggie finds her loyalty to Brian being challenged as she comes face-to-face with all the half-truths, lies and deception that she has avoided for the last twenty years.

There’s a certain enchantment to Calingarry Crossing that I just can’t help but be drawn to and I love the way the little town almost becomes a character in its own right.  It’s a place where there’s a lot happening to the people who live there and, as with House, it's main focus is on relationships - the good, the bad and the ugly.

From Maggie, our admirable albeit frustrating protagonist, who I could have quite easily shaken from time to time; the shallow Fiona, shaped by circumstance and now searching for the truth; Brian, an extremely weak and selfish individual whom I disliked intensely as I saw him constantly dodge his familial responsibilities; Ethne, the steadfast presence in Maggie’s life; to Dan, living in a complicated marriage and almost burnt out from a job which continually brings painful memories to the fore, Jenn J McLeod once again adds much depth by creating a rich mosaic of fully realised characters whose lives interest the reader as she explores some of the human needs and flaws that plague us from time-to-time.  In no way glossing over those moments in our lives that "suck", Jenn instead throws them out there for her characters to deal with, while peppering the pages with her fabulous wit and adding just the right amount of seasoning to give a lovely light-hearted feel to the story.

Dementia, loss, fidelity, and recreational drug abuse are just some of the underlying themes that Jenn J McLeod compassionately touches on as she deftly structures the novel from Maggie's perspective, with chapters throughout dedicated to Dan and Fiona’s POV’s.  This reviewer feels that she is fast making her mark on being an intelligent and skilful writer who is able to effortlessly combine a large cast with a complex storyline that leads the reader in one direction, thereafter progressing the plot with developments that we could never have anticipated.

The fact that this novel has the same strength and depth of quality as House shows that she is going to be a steady and consistent talent in Australian fiction and I wish to thank Simon and Schuster for providing me with a copy of this heart-warming novel which, for me, was also about crossing that bridge to the place where the heart has always been.

While Simmering Season can be read as a standalone novel, I would recommend reading House first as it will give the reader some deeper insight into some of the characters.

A Little About the Author

No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.

Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction—life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.

Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, her debut novel—House for all Seasons—was released March 1, 2013 to rave reviews.

Simmering Season is her second novel with books 3 and 4 in the Seasons Collection scheduled for release in April 2015 and 2016.

*Please note that the owner of this blog claims no rights to the artwork displayed in this post.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Announcement: Winner of Ronan's Echo by Joanne van Os

Well, the winner has been drawn!

A huge thanks to my 9 year old for jiggling and digging right down into those entries:

And the winner is ...

Melissa Wray!

Congratulations.  Please could you email your details to me at

Thank you to everyone else who entered and continue to support my blog.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Book Giveaway: Ronan's Echo by Joanne van Os

Wow, it's been a while since I did one of these.  In fact too long, so I promised my loyal followers that I'd do a fab book giveaway once I reached 150 Likes on my Facebook Page.

That target has been reached (thank you) and, in celebration of this little milestone, I can now reveal that I will be giving away a hard copy of Ronan's Echo by Joanne van Os (nothing like a little bit of suspense)!

Here's a bit about the book, from the back cover:

"IN 1916 TWIN BROTHERS Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to get to the war before it's all over; Bridie O'Malley, their childhood friend and the woman they both love, watches them leave, understanding too late that war is about more than heroes and handsome boys in uniform.

NEARLY A CENTURY ON from the disastrous battle of Fromelles, forensic anthropologist Kat Kelso, Bridie's great granddaughter, is in France identifying the recovered bodies of lost Australian soldiers. The discovery of her own relative amongst the dead men begins the unravelling of a hundred years of family history, lies and secrets."

I really loved this book and it earned 5 stars from me - see my review here.

So, here's the deal!

+1 entry: Leave a comment below telling me why you would like to read this novel

+1 entry: Like Book Muster Down Under on Facebook

+1 entry: Follow Book Muster Down Under's Blog

+1 entry: Tweet with me on Twitter here

Remember, the more entries you have, the greater your chances of winning.

Entries close at midnight on Friday, 23 May (Qld time) with the winners being drawn via my stylish "Jillaroo" hat and will be announced on my Blog, Facebook Page and Twitter on Saturday, 24 May.

Best of luck to you all.

*Please note that this giveaway is unfortunately open to Australian residents only, due to high postage costs.

Aussie Book Review: My Brother-But-One by TM Clark

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Harlequin Books
Publication Date:    December 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781743564660
Publisher:               Harlequin Books Australia
Imprint:                   Harlequin Mira
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

“Set against a magnificent backdrop of Africa across the decades, this epic saga explores the traditions and violence between the white and black families of rural africa. 

Scott Decker and Zol Ndhlovu are partners in a private game reserve in Zimbabwe. They have a friendship borne from Africa — a brotherhood that endures the generation gap and crosses the colour barrier.

Australian Ashley Twine is a thirty-something dynamic achiever who portrays herself as a confident businesswoman. When a gender mix-up secures her a position on a volunteer program in the Hwange National Park, Ashley gets a chance to take stock of her life and reassess her situation. But chauvinistic, yet handsome Scott — who runs the operation — is adamant she isn’t cut out for the job, fearing her safety. 

After Ashley witnesses firsthand the violence and devastation left behind by poachers, Scott finds himself torn between wanting to protect Ashley or forcing her to leave Africa for her own safety…and his sanity. But after working so closely together, Ashley and Scott can no longer deny their feelings…or be apart. 

However, nothing can prepare Ashley for being ambushed and held captive by the psychopathic Rodney — an old enemy of Zol’s from a war fought years before. And now that their world has been threatened, circumstances begin to take hold of all their lives which will shape and change them forever…”

Summary and Thoughts

From debut author Tina M Clark comes this sweeping narrative about love, family, loss, courage and survival entwined within the harsh reality that many Zimbabweans have known.

In the opening pages of My Brother-but-One, Tina takes us back to 1941 - the birth of Moswena’s  “white son” (or Albino), Isipho Rodney Nube, and their subsequent banishment from the tribe’s kraal.

Forward to 1966 and Zol Ndhlovu, a 10 year old black boy has just been rescued by the Swahili-speaking white farmer, Charlie.

Fast-forward to 1995 and we are introduced to Scott and Ashley.

Burnt out and restless after a relationship failure, Australian born and bred, Ashley Twine, has volunteered to work on Scott Decker’s pump restoration program, for four weeks.  Unfortunately, her arrival is met with a somewhat grave unacceptance when she gets off the plane and Scott realises that his new volunteer is female!

Delmonica, which borders Hwange National Reserve, is and always has been the first love of Scott’s life. With Zimbabwe currently in an economic downturn due to its political state, trouble brewing because of the redistribution of land under the Land Requisition Act and the added pressure of running an anti-poaching unit within the reserve, Scott has got his work cut out for him and doesn’t need the additional burden of keeping an unknowing foreign white female safe from all the dangers that surround them.

He and Ashley butt heads over whether she will remain and, while her obstinate nature mistakes his concern for male chauvinism, he soon resigns himself to the fact that there’s more to this girl than meets the eye and her determination to stay is made clear.

As Scott and Ashley begin to work side-by-side, their friendship slowly strengthens and blossoms into something far more than either of them could ever have anticipated.  But, this is not where the story ends because as the dangers lurking in the African bush come home to roost, worlds will collide and the true meaning of “my brother-but-one” will finally emerge.

This is the first time I have read a novel with the breathtaking wilderness and grassy plains of Zimbabwe serving as a backdrop.  One often hears about the destruction of Zimbabwe and its farmers, but this is possibly the only work of fiction I have read which, through the eyes of Tina’s characters, brings into close perspective the brutality that its inhabitants (both human and wildlife) have had to endure.

Pre-2000, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa with maize farming yielding more than 1.5 million tons annually, wheat production standing at about 309,000 tons and tobacco production, at 265,000 tons, all of which accounted for almost a third of its total foreign currency earnings and tourism one of the fastest growing economic sectors.

When the Land Requisition Act was implemented, nobody anticipated the social, political and economic crises that were about to come crashing down and the civil unrest that ensued with a sharp increase in the illegal harvesting of wildlife in Hwange National Park, one of Africa’s finest havens.  The lucrative black-market demand for ivory saw many African Savanna Elephants being brought to their knees in the most horrific manner possible with the full extent of the turmoil making life incredibly difficult for most Zimbabweans, and a large proportion fleeing with just the clothes on their backs.

Although somewhat improved and the protection of the majestic African Elephant having become a high profile conservation cause with an anti-poaching task force now deployed on the ground, neither the political nor conservation issues have totally disappeared and, against all odds, the people that remain continue to try and make a difference.

There were, of course, moments in the novel that I found tough to read because of the violent and sometimes persecutory nature of the scenes but, in saying that, while one particular scene had me shedding crocodile tears and another wanting to hit out at the perpetrator, it is quite apparent that Tina has not used these gratuitously, thereby giving us a story about real people, real animals and real lives.

In her own words from an interview held with author Maggie Christensen in December 2013, “I still haven’t found peace within myself for the destruction of so many lives devastated by the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe.  But I have found peace in writing about characters whose futures I can make better in my own fictional place and time”.  

As I journeyed on with her well-paced narrative, a fight between good and evil began to emerge with most of her characters being put through the wringer in their battle to keep their home and stay alive.  On the subject of characters, whilst there are a number to whom we are introduced, the reader can in no way confuse one with another, as they are all brought to life through their own distinct voices thus making them fascinatingly human and typically “African”.  This is made all the more familiar by a great mix of both South African/Zimbabwean slang and local dialect and, for our Aussie counterparts, the brilliant glossary at the end goes a long way in assisting those who are in unfamiliar territory.

At the end of the day, Tina has captured the essence of life in the midst of Africa’s ancient heartbeat, culminating in a thoroughly absorbing novel with her vivid descriptions shaping the land and the people as she gets the political and personal dynamics just right.

This is a moving debut and an impassioned testimony to a country whose inhabitants are just as colourful as its magnificent landscapes.

I don't hesitate to recommend this as a great read and I wish to thank Harlequin Mira for providing me with a hard copy of this memorable novel as I wait in anticipation for her next novel, Shooting Butterflies, due to be released in December 2014.

A Little About the Author

Tina was born in Zimbabwe, and has lived in South Africa and England, but she now calls Australia home.

Married with two sons, when she's not running around after the men in her life, she gets to enjoy her hobbies which include boating, reading, sewing, travelling, gardening and lunching with her author friends (not necessarily in that order).

She is passionate about Africa, different cultures and wildlife and most of her books are set somewhere on that ancient continent, but there are exceptions.

Tina has also published children's books under the name of Tina Marie Clark and is the coordinator for the CYA Conference which is held in Brisbane annually.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Kylie Kaden, Losing Kate

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Australian debut Author Kylie Kaden to my blog, to celebrate the release of her novel, Losing Kate.

Kylie is a self-diagnosed bookworm and recovering chocoholic.  Raised in Queensland, she spent holidays camping with her parents and two brothers at the Sunshine Coast, where much of Losing Kate was set.

Having graduated with an Honours Degree in Psychology from Queensland University of Technology in 2000 she cites it helps little with meeting the challenges of parenting in the real world!  She shares her frazzled parenting experiences in her regular column in My Child magazine, and is a strong advocate for telling it like it is when it comes to the struggles (and joys) of raising kids.

After post-graduate study, Kylie went on to train and manage staff both in the corporate and government arenas where she met her surfer/lawyer husband at an end-of-year function (at the pub).  She went on to write Losing Kate whilst on maternity leave from an executive role in the Australian Public Service.

Kylie lives in Brisbane with her husband and three young sons and, as the only female in a house of males, she tops up her sanity by writing whilst her youngest naps (and the washing mounts). She is adamant the next addition to the Kaden household will be female…and canine.

Losing Kate was published in April.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know Kylie a bit more.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Random House Australia, especially Lucy from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Kylie, it’s absolutely wonderful to have you here to celebrate the release of your debut novel Losing Kate.

Always a pleasure to help promote Australian fiction!
Would you mind telling us about Losing Kate?

Losing Kate follows the story of two childhood sweethearts torn apart by the baffling disappearance of their friend during a beach party; the beautiful but unpredictable Kate.  When the friends left behind (Frankie and Jack) meet by chance more than a decade later, it seems the couple can only move on by finding out what really happened that fateful night.  It deals with some heavy themes like friendships forged in youth and the control we have on our own lives, but it’s light in tone and has a distinct Australian voice.  Reviews have described it as a compelling who-done-it, a love story firmly based in reality, and even falling on the suburban-gothic side.  I like to think it has a little bit of everything. 

Sounds like a fabulous read Kylie!  Could you share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

I’m a fairly unadventurous person who, as a kid, liked to live vicariously through books.  My Dad bought me a second-hand yellow bike, and I’d pedal it to the local library, the basket brimming with books on my return.  I never set out to be a writer, but I remember making up stories during “journal time,” after year two little-lunch, devouring notepads as I went, so I should have known something was up.   

As a grown-up, writing started as a housework avoidance strategy, but when I found myself doing it every chance I got (which admittedly wasn’t often), I attended a couple of day-courses at the Queensland Writers Centre.  I sent sample chapters to the “slush pile” at Random House through their normal submissions process last July.  They asked for a full shortly after and a few days later I had my first contract. German translation rights have also recently been sold by Random House, which is all very surreal.  

It was a short path paved with luck, which makes me feel a tad guilty when I hear of talented authors slaving away for years. 

That is fantastic Kylie and I'm sure your story will give a lot of hope to prospective writers out there and leads me on to my next question!  Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?  What is it?

Just like our mothers told us “just be yourself.”  I think people value an authentic voice – your own, not anyone else’s, not what you think sounds arty or fits into some guru’s formula. That way your writing will have a raw honesty and a consistency that will sustain you for the long haul.  I also wonder if a manuscript can be over-polished/over-written – I find at times things can become too contrived if you try too hard and upset the natural balance of things (or maybe that’s just my excuse to call it quits editing a scene I’m sick to death of tweaking…). 

And, what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?  

As a newbie with my share of self-doubts, I found it tempting to try to cling to any bit of advice as potentially holding the key to success. I’ve also found well-meaning-advice can also jerk you off-track.  The first thing you hear is show don’t tell (and to avoid doing both), and whilst this is a good motto (I like feeling present in a scene) there’s something to be said for a bit of narration to get to the plot point/characterisation quickly.

My critique partner Lily Malone (who was with me from draft to pitch) taught me a lot about pacing; not exhausting your reader, how phrasing and sentence length can alter it. She’s the master of detail – and those intricacies can make your writing shine. Lily also showed me to cull those excess words (that, for example – do we really need it?) and how to polish prose.  Also look out for those repetitive words you use a lot (down is my downfall…but I just can’t seem to find an understudy!).

Also, kill your darlings. You may love it, but ask yourself – does it move the story forward? Cut and paste them in a file to sing another day. (They probably won’t but it makes you feel better…).

I believe you’re a recovering chocoholic?  How did you survive the Easter season?

Three words; Off the wagon.  (Although I reluctantly scrambled back on since….firm believer in cold turkey. The more I have the more I need…)

Kylie, thank you so much for joining me today and once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Losing Kate?

Certainly! And thanks for having me! Here’s a snippet  - a flashback to the beach scene where Kate disappeared in high school:
As the headlights approach, I slow my rapid breaths and think it through. A deserted beach. A missing girl. A fed-up boyfriend. If she doesn’t turn up soon, Jack’s in deep shit.
‘It’s the ranger!’ Dan calls, pointing to the beach, pulling me back to reality.
The boys spring to action, race to the sandy flat, two sweeps of light beaming on their pale faces. Jack stands to join them – I pull his sleeve to stop him in his tracks. 
‘Jack, we have to get our story straight!’
He lurches back. ‘Our story straight? There’s no story, Frankie. I told you. I didn’t hurt anyone.’ Jack rakes his fingers through matted hair. ‘We just gotta tell the truth.’ The crazy fool has no inkling of self-preservation. He’s a boy again to me, staring down from the steepest jump at the skate park, fearless.
‘The truth?’ my voice shrills. I push him. He stumbles back; his heels dig craters in the sand. I pace towards him but he retreats with each step. ‘What, that you wanted her gone, and now she is? Are you nuts? Can’t you see how this’ll look? You were the last one with her.’ I poke his chest. ‘You argued, came back white as a sheet, soaking wet and . . .’ As if on cue, a dark trickle of blood meanders down his neck, pooling in a fold of skin. ‘Jack, you’re bleeding.’  I can see white scratches on either side of the cut. 
Fingernail marks.  
Jack’s hand pats his neck, and hits thick wet blood. His face pales, as he seems to retrace the night’s events in his mind.  My guts clench. It has just sunk in for him, what this all could mean….

Kylie also loves to hear from her readers, and she would be delighted if you took the time to connect with her via the following links:

Please do!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Aussie Book Review: Safe Harbour by Helene Young

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of The Reading Room
Publication Date:    26 March 2014
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901836
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

When Darcy Fletcher drags a handsome sailor from a stricken yacht, she finds herself drawn into his mysterious world.  Having saved his life, can she now rescue him from his dark past? Or will that endanger all she holds most dear?

Noah, keeper of the peace and guardian of the Banksia Cove secrets, can't tell Darcy the real reason this man has washed up on their shores.  If she understood the links between him and her own dysfunctional family, he'd lose her love for good.

As they take refuge in an old whaling station, only one thing is certain – by morning, no one will be the same again. Lies will surface. Hearts will break, and not all will find safe harbour.

A heart-stopping novel of high drama and desire by Australia's award-winning master of romantic suspense.

Summary and Thoughts

Up and coming Chef, Darcy Fletcher, is back home in Banksia Cove.  Recovering from the closure of her once successful Sydney restaurant as well as a broken relationship, she is also trying to offer support to her ailing mother whilst having to deal with an estranged father that she’s never forgiven for abandoning her and still get her new venture, Whale Song, up and running.

A volunteer with their local marine rescue team, when she is called out in the middle of the night to assist a yacht in distress and rescue the single occupant on board, she doesn’t hesitate to rush out and aid the rescue boat’s captain and Noah Moreton, her childhood friend and the Cove’s local policeman, little knowing that her world, like the stricken yacht, is about to turn upside down.

Both Darcy and Noah are more familiar than they want to be with a rescue of this kind and for both of them, it dredges up a lot of painful memories of another rescue ten years earlier that went horribly wrong – one which saw both of them leave their little home town to escape the pain. 

Offering to shelter Tyrone while he recovers from amnesia, neither Darcy nor Noah realise the consequences that this one selfless act will have on their lives, until Noah begins to dig deeper and the discovery of Tyrone’s true identity sees both Darcy and him on the run with a truly threatening presence on their tail and something far more sinister than the little town of Banksia Cove had ever have dreamed would darken their shores.

When unsavoury truths, familial lies and deception are uncovered, everyone’s safe harbour will be threatened.

Helene Young has done it again and, like a fine wine, she just gets better and better.

Renowned for her well-written and carefully constructed romantic suspense novels, Helene has a rare talent for writing without the stereo-typical male broodiness of most mainline novels in this sub-genre, and gives her stories a fresh and distinctly Australian feel to them.

Having been a fan of hers for a long while now, I waited on pins and needles for this latest offering which, needless to say, didn't disappoint.  Right from page one I was immersed as she assaulted me with a relentless battering of suspense, keeping the tension high as she moved towards the exciting climax, resulting in a journey with many twists.

As always, Helene’s deft hand has created a strong likeable heroine who I was immediately drawn to, and empathised with, as she battled her confronting memories and dealt with her dysfunctional family, at the same time being caught in the midst of a love triangle and suffering the most devastating blow of all.

Her sub-characters are just as skilfully drawn, with Stirling proving to be so cold-hearted he could freeze hell over, while Noah’s somewhat quiet presence remains her rock, and her relationship with Rosie renders a true portrait of unconditional love.

While the simmering romance is somewhat understated, the heart-pounding action coupled with the mystery surrounding the stranded sailor, and an underlying theme of drugs in sport which highlights some of the challenges that our young people living in rural and remote areas face every day, is sure to delight all her fans and keep them turning the pages well into the wintry nights.

I wish to thank both the Reading Room and Penguin Books for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.

A Little about the Author

Multi-award-winning author and airline pilot, Helene Young is a check captain with Australia's largest regional airline.  Her job is to ensure aircrew can handle all in-flight emergencies, which comes in handy for writing fast-paced suspense novels starring feisty women and sexy men.
When she's not writing or flying you can find Helene sailing the high seas with her partner, Capt G, and Zeus the salty sea dog, aboard their catamaran Roo Bin Esque.

Helene won the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romantic Book of the Year Award in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted in 2013.  She was also voted most popular romantic suspense author by the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA) in 2010 and 2011, and was shortlisted for the same award in 2012.

Burning Lies was shortlisted for the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award Mystery/Suspense in America and, just recently, Halfmoon Bay was voted favourite romantic suspense novel by ARRA.

Safe Harbour is her fifth novel.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

After a recent Tweet to me by Elizabeth Lhuede (thanks Elizabeth), I've once again decided to rise to the challenge.

I, for one, am a huge supporter of Australian women authors and, while we may already be halfway through the year, I figured that I could quite easily manage the challenge if I created my own and set a realistic goal of reading and reviewing 20 books - obviously if I read more, then I'll review more.

This is a wonderful challenge which supports our Australian women writers so, if you would like some further information, please visit the Australian Women Writers website at

The challenge runs from 1 January to 31 December and you can sign up at any time (doesn't matter if you're Australian or non-Australian - anyone can read and review) by clicking on the following link -

Happy reading and reviewing everyone!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Honey Brown, Through the Cracks

Today, I am delighted to welcome Australian psychological suspense Author Honey Brown to my blog, to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Through the Cracks.

Honey lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. She is the author of four books: Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse.  Red Queen was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and won an Aurealis Award, and The Good Daughter was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and short-listed for the Barbara Jefferis Award in 2011.

After the Darkness was selected for the Women's Weekly Great Read and for Get Reading 2012's 50 Books You Can't Put Down campaign.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a bit more.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Books Australia, especially Rhian from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Honey, it’s absolutely wonderful to have you here to celebrate the release of your latest novel Through the Cracks.

Thank you for inviting me.  I can hardly believe this is my fifth time releasing a novel.  It’s surreal, because it doesn’t feel like enough time has passed to have written all those books.

Well, I think you should be feeling rather accomplished at the release of number five.  Would you mind telling us about Through the Cracks?

Through the Cracks is the story of two young men escaping their abusive childhoods.  It’s Adam and Billy’s survival story, told from the point of view of Adam.  Adam has been mistreated and locked away for most of his young life, whereas Billy’s experience of abuse has been on the streets and at the hands of the church.  The boy’s lives intersect when Adam stands up to his abusive father and takes his first tentative steps towards freedom.

With this book I was determined to bypass the usual ways of writing about crime.  I wanted to stick with the survivor the whole way through, never shying away from their trauma, unafraid to delve into their heart and mind, and giving them the chance to tell their story and uncover the details behind their entrapment on their own.

That sounds like just my kind of read.  Could you share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

Red Queen was one of the many “hobby novels” I wrote, a book I had written just for me, written on weekends and in-between changing nappies and while pots boiled over on the stove.  Unlike my other hobby novels, Red Queen didn’t make me cringe with embarrassment whenever I re-read it.  I passed it around the family and received good feedback.

I found myself liking the book more and more, so I sent it off to an unpublished manuscript competition.  I achieved runner-up and was invited to an awards night in Sydney and it was there I met my Curtis Brown agent Fiona Inglis.  It was Fiona who sent my book to Penguin, and my first ever editor, Rachel Scully, generously took a gamble on a new writer and contracted the book.  Penguin have since published all my novels, and the editors and staff there have made the process about as seamless as I imagine publishing novels can be.

Honey, do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?  What is it?

Respect the reader.

Even though each time I sit to write I’m doing it just for me – to indulge my passion, to entertain myself, to hone my craft, to spend time with myself – the moment it goes from something I’m tinkering with to something I’m seriously writing, the reader becomes the VIP. It’s my job to take them on a ride they’ll enjoy and remember.  Anything less, and I’ve wasted their time.

And, what's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

It's a toss up between – show don’t tell, kill your darlings, less is more.

Unlike other bits of advice and other writing rules, these ones suit my style of writing.  Rules are there to be broken after all, but whenever I break any one of these my writing is poorer for it.  So I stick to them as best I can.

When did you start writing seriously and what motivated you?

I've always been a dreamer and a thinker.  For as long as I can remember I’ve had stories playing out in my mind.  The most natural way for me to take these stories and expand on them and explore them is by putting them into words.  But for a long time I left my stories to rattle around in my head, then in the year 2000, when I was 29-years-old, I had a farm accident that left me with a spinal injury.

Acquiring a disability made me feel like a stranger in my own body and, on reflection, I can see that I turned to my creative side in an effort to reconnect with myself.  I’ve been writing ever since.

Being published and having my work critically accepted has helped me overcome some of the emotional struggles I’ve faced since my accident.  I can’t imagine not writing now.

That is really admirable Honey and it's been wonderful having you here.  Once again, a huge congratulations and thank you for joining me to give us a glimpse of the person behind the books. But, before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek into Through the Cracks?

Extract from Chapter One

"The fit of rage had made him sweat. The floor pitched beneath him. Salty tears and mucus rested on his top lip. He walked down the long hallway. Overhead the trail of globes was bright. The house had more unused rooms than used ones. Doors to the empty rooms were shut. Adam made his way into the front part of the house. The tiled floor was cool on his feet. He walked through the games room, past the billiards table with the tasselled lightshade above it. Four pool cues were scattered about, on armchairs and leaning on different things, not put away. The coloured balls were bulging in the table's pockets. Behind the thick green curtains was the decking, leading out to the swimming pool. Adam could hear the pool filter running. He could hear night sounds. A breeze blew in through the open gap in the sliding door; it made the curtains swell.

Monty and Jerry scurried in, bursting from behind the curtain, barking at the sight of Adam, the little dogs running around his feet. Adam walked past the bar, its dusty shelf bare except for a stack of plastic tumblers. A bottle of spirits was on the bench, still in its brown paper bag. Adam checked down his arms and chest and legs. There was no blood on him. It hadn't been that kind of fight. Bruises and grazes were all he had. He went through the archway into the lived-in section of the house. The dogs ran ahead.

Rooms looked different without his father in them. The lounge room seemed more cramped. The couch sagged lower. The TV looked smaller, and the cabinet it sat on wasn't anything so special – glass doors, glass shelves, glass ornaments. Monty and Jerry jumped on the couch and ran along it; they hopped down again and darted for their beds underneath the coffee table. They sat quivering on their cushions. Dogs didn't need to see things to know they had happened. Wet dark worry shone in their eyes.

The dirty plates from dinner were on the kitchen bench. In the sink were the greasy frying pan and a vegetable pot. An open packet of Savoy biscuits lay on the table. Tied around one table leg was a short length of rope. Adam went to the fridge. In the time it had taken him to walk from the backroom to the front rooms, he'd caught his breath. He was shaking less. He wiped his top lip dry. Adam drank from the carton of milk. He stopped and listened, drank again.

Armed with a carving knife from the cutlery drawer, Adam sank down against the kitchen cupboards. He held the blade, pointing out, between his legs. When he felt up to it, less like crying, he'd go in search of his father's handgun."

If you’d like to read more about Honey’s books, please click the book covers below and you will be directed to their pages on Penguin’s website.

You can also follow Honey via Facebook at: