What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Belinda Alexandra
It’s a great honour to welcome well-known Australian author Belinda Alexandra to my blog today to celebrate the release of her seventh novel, Southern Ruby, which was published on the 22nd August.
Belinda writes great historical and historical/contemporary fiction novels set in exotic locations such as Paris, Shanghai, Barcelona, Florence and Moscow. Her books have been published around the world including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, Poland and Norway, as well as Australia.
She loves nothing more than immersing herself in page-turning stories of passion and intrigue, especially ones that take her deep into other cultures and times – and these are exactly the kinds of stories she likes to write!
The daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father, Belinda has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
As an animal lover, Belinda is also a patron of the World League for the Protection of Animals, Australia.
Everybody has a story, so please feel free to pull up a stump and hear Belinda's.
Before I continue though, I'd just like to thank HarperCollins for making this interview possible.
Belinda, it's fabulous to finally be able to host you here on the blog.
Thank you, so much! I’m looking forward to talking about writing with you and your readers!
Why don't we kick off with you sharing a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.
I was a born writer. I was always writing stories as a child and was in constant trouble at school for day dreaming. As I grew older and started travelling, I used to write really, really long and detailed emails and letters to my friends and family. But writing as a career seemed like a far-fetched dream until I went to University in California where my fellow students and professors encouraged me to go for my dream. When I returned to Australia, I started writing seriously. But I was no overnight success! Everything … and I mean EVERYTHING … I wrote was rejected until I finally succeeded with White Gardenia. That journey from rejection to success took about ten years.
I recently finished reading Southern Ruby but for those who haven’t, could you please tell us what it’s all about?
Southern Ruby is a tale of forbidden love set in New Orleans. The story moves from the 1950s to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is the story of Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby - whose aristocratic French Creole family has whittled away its fortune on lavish living and now Ruby must support her ailing mother and one remaining loyal and aging maid. Because women in Ruby’s position in society are discouraged from working, she must support her loved ones by creating a double-life.
Switch now to 2004 and Ruby’s adult granddaughter, Amanda, has been living with her maternal grandmother – Nan - in Australia since she was two years old following the horrific accident that left both her parents dead. Amanda has no idea that her Grandma Ruby even exists until the death of Nan leads to the discovery of a letter from Grandma Ruby sent on the occasion of Amanda’s 21st birthday. She now realises that she has family in New Orleans and travels there to discover the truth about her father, Ruby’s son, who Nan has refused to tell her anything about.
Amanda finds a vibrant city of contrasts. There’s jazz, burlesque, ghost stories and shocking burial rites. But nothing is as astonishing as mysterious Grandma Ruby and the tale she reveals to Amanda during candlelit nights in the grand old Lalande mansion. A story that will change everything Amanda has believed about herself.
What made you base this latest novel against the backdrop of New Orleans?
When I was a student at the University of California, I made a trip to New Orleans with some friends during summer break and fell in love with this steamy hot, quirky and fascinating Southern city. I became enamoured of the grand decadence of the historic Garden district, as well as its spookiness, and also of the cultural mixes so prevalent in the famous French Quarter.
With Southern Ruby, I wanted to bring the city and its elements to life. It’s the birthplace of jazz which came into being in the numerous brothels of Storyville but it’s also a very Catholic city. Its mix of cultural influences - French, Spanish, Caribbean, American, Canadian, African, Italian, Irish, German – has made it a tolerant and diverse city but it is also the 4th most dangerous city in America for crime.
Southern Ruby is incredibly atmospheric with vivid descriptions of the lifestyle, sights and sounds of New Orleans (a place I’ve always had an unexplainable personal affinity with). Did you spend a lot of time there soaking up your senses?
I made a research trip to New Orleans with my husband, Mauro, in 2014 to soak up the atmosphere and observe those details that would bring the story to life. We absolutely loved it, and I think my passion for New Orleans comes across in the story. My husband and I were there for Halloween, which is the second biggest festival in the city after Mardi Gras. The decorations are very elaborate and I swear some of the skeletons propped in the gardens Uptown were real!
If you listen to the residents of the Garden District or the French Quarter, you could become convinced that there isn’t a corner of those neighbourhoods that does not harbour some unearthly visitor in one guise or another.
The home I wanted to base my story in was to be a Queen Anne Victorian mansion. Given the city’s fascination with ghosts, most bed and breakfasts in New Orleans offer their resident phantoms as an enticement to stay with them. My husband, Mauro, is not a fan of the supernatural, so I had to do a lot of research to find a house that met my requirements but that didn’t claim to be haunted.
I found a beautiful one on St Charles Avenue with period antiques and opposite the street car stop. But when we arrived and were given a detailed history of the house by the hostess, it turned out that it had been built by a mortician! Death is never very far away in New Orleans. That’s an important motif in the story.
The character of Ruby really came alive for me and I loved her but could you tell us about her in your own words?
Vivienne de Villeray ‘Ruby’ is the youngest member of an aristocratic French Creole family that has lost its fortune on lavish living. But rather than languish in genteel poverty, she decides to take charge of her life. In order to work she has to invent a double life. Her alter ego allows her to have experiences that would otherwise be closed to her, but it also gets her into a lot of trouble.
Was there anything you found particularly challenging in writing Southern Ruby?
I wanted to make sure that I wrote a story about the South that was original and didn’t sound like a cliché. I didn’t want to write another ‘Gone with the Wind’.
When you begin a new novel, do you already know how it’s going to end? Or do your stories unfold organically as you write?
I start out with the intention of writing and following a detailed plan, but then the story and characters take over for themselves. Luckily for me, I always know the ending of my story before I know the beginning so it gives my stories a sense of narrative drive, that the story is heading somewhere, rather than just meandering along. I may rewrite my beginnings and middles many different ways, but my endings usually remain fixed. It’s a rather unusual way to go about things, but it seems to work.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Be a nice person in real life but don’t be a ‘nice’ writer. Make your readers as uncomfortable as you can and keep them that way so they keep turning the pages. Don’t let them rest or get any sleep. Then make it all worthwhile by giving them a truly satisfying ending that they’ll remember long after the book is closed.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Be passionate about writing and keep improving. Keep pushing yourself to make each piece of writing better than the last. I still do that. For each book I try to push myself to improve my writing and storytelling in some way. That way you never become complacent or get bored.
If I think I’m a writer, how would I know for sure?
If you wake up with a story playing in your head, you are a writer for sure!
So now that we have the official part of the interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?
Q: If I wasn’t a writer, what would you be doing?
A: I have no idea!
Wine or Cocktail?
Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?
Notice the magic and miracles that appear every day.
When you’re not writing, what are your favourite ways to relax?
I love dancing, playing the piano and catching up with friends. But my most favourite thing in the world is to play with my cats!
If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?
Charles Dickens. I never get tired of his novels and read ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at least once a year! But of course, if I had a book club I would ask its members what they would like to read too!
Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!
I remember the names of pets better than I do the names of their owners.
I was a very mischievous child, and sometimes my inner child still gets the better of me.
I’m most attracted to people who are kind, have a good sense of humour and a really unusual hobby.
Belinda, it’s been such a treat having you here today and I look forward to reading more of your novels.
If you would like to read an excerpt from Southern Ruby, HarperCollins have kindly provided a link to the first three chapters here.