Without a doubt, the best things I’ve done in my life have involved taking great leaps of faith, right out of my comfort zone. Not all of them sound very terrifying, I admit, but when you’re a scaredy-cat and have never been anywhere ...
For example, in the late 80s I left my secure and comfortable life and got a job on Hayman Island in a role I’d never done before, away from all that was familiar and ‘safe’. But there I met some fascinating people and saw things the paparazzi would envy me for (and had the time of my life). After two years, I’d saved enough to travel to Europe – very scary – and returned to a job offer as Peter Ustinov’s PA for his 1990 Australian tour. One thing led to another and I found myself on the road again soon after, this time with rock bands Dire Straits and AC/DC.
Then, in more recent times and on a more sober level, I gave up a 25+ year career in the corporate world and returned to study. I had no idea what I was doing, how I’d cope, what I planned to do with whatever I learned. If I learned something! But three years later, I somehow emerged unscathed and bearing a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. How about that? Of course, most subjects taken were non-fiction. I had no idea there was a novel lurking, so imagine my surprise when a creature called Erica Jewell came tapping on the door of my very strange imagination. The opening scene of Rough Diamond popped into my head and away I went.
But where did it come from? Well, does anyone out there remember a show back in the 1980s called Scarecrow and Mrs King? I loved it. Kate Jackson was fresh from Charlie’s Angels (another fave) and played a daggy, naive housewife who, through a chance meeting, ended up working for a handsome spy who in turn worked for a clandestine American agency. (Mrs King ultimately infiltrated the spy's bedroom too.) So I reckon back then a seed was planted. It just took a long time for that seed to sprout.
Anyway, now Monkey Business and Grand Slam, the second and third novels in the Erica Jewell series are out there making waves and I'm madly thinking about the fourth, which I reckon will see our heroes in New York, dealing with some shady CIA types.
So here I am, loving my new career, especially that I can take it anywhere including my husband’s house at Aireys Inlet, which we share with our giant woolly pooch. There is one problem with being your own boss, though. Work or beach?
Monkey Business Q&A
What is this book about?
Well, Monkey Business is full of monkey business, that’s for sure. It’s about a very ordinary but trying-to-be-brave-and-clever Erica Jewell who discovers the man she loves is missing-in-action in a dangerous country. Her love isn’t quite enough to send her there to save him, but the fact that he’ll die if someone doesn’t go, is. And no-one else is going.
What or who inspired it?
Dinner conversation with a friend who has great knowledge of the things that go on in dangerous countries and whose sense of humour is wackier than mine.
What was the biggest challenge, writing it?
No doubt about it, the biggest challenge was dealing with the loss of the innocence that comes with being a debut author. With number two, you’re very aware of the contract, deadline, expectant audience. You’re suddenly standing under a spotlight and there’s a big fat imaginary critic looking over your shoulder saying, “How dare you think you can write more than one!” I believe I’ve just described second novel syndrome.
What did you want to achieve with this book?
A delighted readership.
What do you hope for this book?
That it will give pleasure to many, many readers. Oh, and be made into a smash hit movie the likes of which has never been seen before. Ever!
Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
I’d like to say yes but I really don’t think there is. Just the humour, I suppose, which is right up my alley. Erica surprises me constantly and she does make me laugh.
What do you see as the major themes in your book?
Loss of innocence, I think. Erica has lived her life according to how others wanted her to live. She’s been bossed around by everyone – always told what to do and when, even by the cat – and the result is a certain innocence or naiveté. But in each story and over the course of the series, Erica finds a little more of herself on every page, and the confidence that goes with that. Of course, Good vs. Evil is a major theme, especially in Mrs Jewell’s kitchen.
To whom have you dedicated the book and why?
My sister, Annette, because she’s always been there for me and I don’t think she realises how brilliant she is. Every girl needs a big sister like Annette. She’s completely selfless and a natural nurturer. I remember at primary school – maybe six years old – crying my eyes out because I’d forgotten my hanky and I knew I’d be in trouble with cruel and nasty Mrs Maine. Annette gave me her hanky with complete disregard for her own safety. Did I mention her cooking?
Who do you think will enjoy your book?
Anyone with a sense of humour and who loves: Rough Diamond, a good romance, Janet Evanovich, adventure, stories that move at a cracking pace, a “dramatic, suspenseful, uproariously funny read” (thank you Hayley Nash).
Do you have a special ‘spot’ for writing at home?
Yes! The dining table, much to the annoyance of those who also want to use it for things like dining. I like it because it has a view of the garden, and is close to the kettle and biscuits.
When did you start writing?
I started writing formally during the Professional Writing and Editing diploma course I completed in 2007–8. But really, I think I’ve always been a writer. Correction. Editor. I’ve always been a pedantic, nit-picky, annoying editor. If Penguin hadn’t given me a contract, I would have asked them for a job.
Tell us a bit about your childhood?
Horses and sport. I played volleyball for Victoria when I was 16! My most precious memories though are the holidays on the Gold Coast with my grandparents. We’d spend three weeks over Christmas and New Year with them. Back then, Surfers Paradise was much quieter. There were only three or four high-rise buildings on the beach. They’re still there, but dwarfed by those great skyscrapers that dominate the coastline today.
If you’ve had other jobs outside of writing, what were they?
I was a personal assistant in mostly corporate environments, although I ventured away from “corporate” for a period of time, landing a job with Hayman Island’s PR team in the late ‘80s. I spent two years there, working very hard and having the time of my life. From Hayman I travelled overseas with my darling, since-departed friend Cris – worked at Sussex University and I loved that – then returned to Melbourne to a job offer as Peter Ustinov’s PA, touring Australia with him. That led to a similar role with the promoter of the Dire Straits and AC/DC tours. Nothing quite as thrilling since, thank goodness.
Describe yourself in three words?
Lucky. Frustrated. Evolving.
What star sign are you and are you typical of it?
OMG. Am I typical? Ask any other star sign anything and you’ll get a straight answer. But ask a Libran? Well, it depends on the mood, the weather, the line of the planets, latest trends, whether or not someone somewhere will be affected by it, what other people think. This is why I need Taureans in my life, especially when shopping.
What three things do you dislike?
Children being taught to hate. Cruelty to animals and the environment. Self-serving politics.
What three things do you like?
Girl time. Food. Editing (I know).
Have you a family, partner or are you single?
Married to a big, handsome, hard-working, honest bloke who should be the benchmark for all fictional heroes. Paul has four grown up kids and together we have a four-legged spoiled brat.