In the past two years, I’ve grown and changed as a writer. Now its time for this blog to reflect that too. All the old posts will still be there, but in future, I will be concentrating on what I write, and what inspired me to write it. From time to time I will post about what I am reading. There will be a research section for those of you, who like me like their facts to be accurate. Along the way, I will be happy to answer your questions.
So from now, the focus will be more on the writing process, ice dancing, Bergen in Norway. Vikings and Viking beliefs.
‘May you live in interesting times-‘ is a Chinese proverb or maybe it’s a curse.
We certainly are living in interesting times right now, as we live with bad and then worsening news, day after day. But some people have had it much worse. They are our grandparents or great grandparents who lived through both shortages and war. Their wisdom can help us now as they had learned how to stretch their budgets and make a dollar go further.
With incomes disappearing and shelves in the stores emptying these tips can help us.I am not a dietitian, a cookery expert or pretending to be superwoman. But I have been living on a limited income for a while and along the way, I have learnt how to improve my quality of life without spending wads of cash! These life skills can help us now
Do you know how to shop?
Any fool can spend money, but how do you plan to feed yourself for a week? Apply your intelligence to the project and consider a rough menu plan for the week. I cater for 2 adults, while you may cook for more, or you may eat alone.
Today shopping can be a bit of a lottery, and you may have to adapt to what you is available in the shops. I usually stock up on bread when I can and store the extra in the freezer. It stores perfectly and can be toasted from frozen.
Know your shops and your products.
If you live in a high-priced suburb, consider shopping in your nearest cheaper area, if you can get there and not break restrictions. Not all supermarkets are the same!
Cheese Don’t leave that tempting big I kilo /2.2 pound block in the fridge though, or your savings will simply disappear. Cut it into four 250gm/ approx 8 oz pieces. Leave one in the fridge and freeze the others. Grated cheese goes further in sandwiches. Cheese keeps perfectly well in the freezer.
Chicken It is generally cheaper to buy a frozen chicken than either a fresh one or the chicken pieces. It‘s easy to cook, put it in the oven and forget it for an hour and a half or so. It should provide one or two meals and maybe some leftovers to go in soup or sandwiches.
Oatmeal Poor students in Scotland used to be sent to university with a sack of oatmeal. It’s filling and can be eaten hot or cold. Hot as porridge and cold as a basis for easy home-made muesli. My next post will be Recipes for the Needy Greedy. I buy store brand Rolled Oats (not quick oats). Of course, the name brand oats cost two or even three times more.
If you can read or watch YouTube, you can cook!
Australians spend about one-third of their income on convenience foods, takeaways, and supermarket ready to eat meals. If you are like me, they can end up leaving you still feeling hungry. Maybe you never learnt to cook, but it’s not too late. If you can read, you can cook. Look for simple recipes online or watch on YouTube Avoid like the plague complicated recipes with a yard-long list of ingredients. Some recipe leaflets fall into this category!
The Kitchen: you know that room where the fridge and the microwave are.
Simple equipment can cover most of your cooking needs.It’s better to discover what you cook and buy what you need. A fridge is pretty much essential; a freezer (even at the top of the fridge) is great, a microwave speeds thing up but is not essential.
Quick meals and snacks.
Easy and fast lunches or dinners include the following:- Baked potato-Super speedy in the microwave, but still feasible in the oven. Takes about I hour. Top with grated cheese or baked beans. Serve with a salad or 2 vegetables. Make some fast scones, or fruit crumble and cook at the same time. Pumpkin scone recipe and fruit crumble recipe in the next post.
Tinned salmon or tuna, for salads, sandwiches and easy bakes.
Any variety of toasted sandwiches! Cheese and tomatoes on toast (use tinned tomatoes)
Sardines (from a store brand tin ) on toast.
Easy pizza using pitta bread, Lebanese bread or a readily bought base, tomato sauce or ketchup to thinly cover the base and whatever topping you like cheese, tomato, ham, salami, etc.
Mince can be used in a host of quick meals especially spaghetti b- bulk up by adding red lentils. Cottage pie, cook mince with gravy and put in a pie dish topped with mashed potato and bake in the oven until the top browns.
Quick stir fry: any vegetables chopped fine, bits of left-over meat or sliced ham. Soy, oyster or chilli sauce to taste. Serve over 2-minute noodles (the low-fat variety) take 2 minutes to cook.
Vegetables – but what is in season if you can, otherwise frozen vegetable make a perfect substitute- quick and easy and no waste.
Eggs, boiled, poached, scrambled or fried. Add a couple of sausages and some baked beans to the eggs for a hearty meal. Serve on toast.
Cooled sliced roast meat can be frozen. I freeze in 100gm /4oz lots, which can be quickly reheated on a plate over simmering water (5mins.) Roast vegetables freeze perfectly and can be reheated in the microwave or refreshed in the oven. Details for roast meat on recipe sheet, i.e. cooking times and temperatures.
You don’t have to make it all yourself.
I like to cook- sometimes. Other days I am too tired. I keep a couple of jars of sauces that I can quickly transform into a meal. For example, Chicken Tonight Curried Chicken with Vegetables Sauce does not have to be used with just chicken. I halve the quantity (for 2) and freeze half in a plastic bag. With the rest, I make a curried prawn dish.
Curried Prawns Stir fry some onion, capsicum and mushrooms until tender, add either chicken, prawns or even tuna to the sauce. Serve over rice; I prefer to use brown rice; it takes longer to cook (30 mins) but has better nutritional qualities.
Baby Food and Kids Meals.
Lots of grown-up foods can be pureed for baby. Best of all YOU know how much-added salt and sugar there is. Those tiny jars and packets soon add up to a hefty sum.
Children often eat better if given a small portion, and then offered more, if they ask. Cut sandwiches into quarters and remove the crusts if they hate them. Sneak yogurt into their diet with my recipe for Jelly Delicious, which magically separates into two layers.
Bathroom and Laundry essentials
Please consider that YOU do need a deodorant/antiperspirant as a basic. Buy one and USE it.
Experiment to find a soap powder that cleans your clothes without emptying your wallet. Wash only full loads in the machine. Hang clothes inside out if drying outside to prevent fading. Limit or do not buy clothes that need dry cleaning. Replace costly fabric conditioner with a big bottle of white vinegar, it removes soap scum and leaves fabric soft.
Soap – look and you will find plain wrap soap. Unwrap and leave it to harden so it lasts longer. For even greater savings cut the bar in two. Will your quality of life be compromised if you buy generic toilet rolls?
Kitchen sponges and cloths- work just as well and last twice as long if you cut them in half. Washing up liquid- always rinse out the empty bottle with warm water to get more liquid to use.
Toothpaste simply ignore the commercials; you can brush your teeth perfectly well with a pea-sized blob of toothpaste. It is the time taken brushing, not the toothpaste that makes the difference.Have you tried the generic shaving foam? It works perfectly well, as do the home brand razors.
Hair Do you need to shampoo every day? Consider using less shampoo, how much dirt could there be in one day? Some thick shampoos work just as well if when the bottle is half full, you add about half as much water. The same trick works with conditioner.
Skincare for everybody: male or female
No, not wonder creams advertised by a fifteen-year-old.. The best thing anybody can do for their skin is to wear sun cream every day. Australia has an incredibly high skin cancer rate which should be reason enough to wear sun cream. Additionally, you will stay looking younger longer- think of a prune and a plum. The same fruit, one just exposed to the drying effects of the sun.A basic 15+ or higher sun cream can cost little, so buy it and use it.
Libraries May be closed now, I was so sad to see our local library close., another link with normality gone . You can still access material online. Books for adults and children and escapism is in order right now
The Next Generation of consumers.
Encourage children to critique what they see on television. Even quite young children can understand that ads are not programs. Once they grasp the concept, they can be quite discerning. Teenagers have a better understanding, but it does not necessarily translate into not wanting the latest fashion or gizmo. Honesty is the best policy here; tell them what money they can spend and that anything else they will have to earn .If they blow the money don’t bail them out, let them learn the lesson.
The Moody Blues and the Mean Reds.
Sometimes not being able to afford things or find things gets us all down. We can critique the culture all we like, but now and then it feels as if life SUCKS. Have a good old moan and groan, really exaggerate with ridiculous statements, and see if you don’t find it all a bit absurd and start to feel better.
If, however, every day is a struggle, you are not seeing any joy in life, you might be suffering from depression. Life won’t get better unless you make an effort to do something about it. And of course, if you are depressed it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything. Don’t let it go and sink into a spiral of depression.
Talk to friends and family (if you have them). Find a forum online. Treat yourself gently and do not make any hasty decisions. Try and find a purpose in life, have something to love, (a plant, a pet, a person?) and have a belief in something (a religion, a cause, bettering life for others?). You, and your life, matter and it should not be all about money. If things are what makes people happy shouldn’t all celebrities be awash with happiness?
Please feel free to share your own thrifty tips. We are all in this together .
Anna ,thank you for joining us today. It’s shame that your tour of South Western Australia was cancelled, but it has given you the time to answer some questions for us. Anna is usually incredibly busy, and I know that her talks are very well attended
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Read books, chat to my lovely husband, spend time with friends, watch TV.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
From the age of 10 when I figured out some people earned their living by writing stories, that’s what I wanted to do.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating?
Leftovers and salad bits as we had lunch at our daughter’s cafe. I’m rather apprehensive of eating different things as I have several severe food intolerance’s. One of my favourites is curry and we’re lucky to have an Indian restaurant reasonably close to home which understands gluten free needs and avoids cross-contamination.
My husband. He’s a wonderful man, kind to everyone he meets and has been so supportive of me in my career. Also, he’s just – gorgeous!
Sigh, what a marvellous tribute, buthe’s equally lucky to have you.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Various friends whom we’ve known for decades. No one famous springs to mind.
Now to questions about writing .What time of the day do you usually write?
All the hours I can! It’s my favourite activity. I don’t have the housework gene.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
I don’t find it difficult, but some stories are easier to write than others, I must admit.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I’m always writing. I work 7 days if I have nothing else on but take days off if I want to do something else.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Standing stock still, going glassy eyed (my husband tells me) and getting ideas either for new stories or ongoing scenes.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I hear from readers a lot and love it. I have such nice readers.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
Bram, in the Traders series. He’s medium height, not good looking and yet he’s a kind, lovely man, my very favourite hero.
The Traders Series is five books it starts with The Traders Wife,the The Traders Sister,The Traders Dream,The Traders Gift and finally The Traders Reward
Set in Singapore and Western Australia in the 1860s. New set of main characters, but some links with characters from the Swan River Saga
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
They could write non-fiction, I suppose. I think emotions are necessary to write good fiction and touch readers’ hearts.
You’ve written contemporary and historical fiction. Do you have a preference?
I’ve also written fantasy and romances. I like writing them all but there isn’t time to do that, so I’ve stuck to what I call ‘relationships stories’ both historical and contemporary. I don’t have a preference. What I enjoy and need is the variety.
Anna has written over eighty books- now that’s variety.
How do you decide whether it will be a book series or a stand alone?
I only write series these days because readers prefer them, and to tell you the truth, I like to find out what happens to my characters from one story. So they have walk-on roles in the rest of a series.
Which comes first for you, the place to the character?
Re place or character, neither, really. The setup scenario comes first – not the place necessarily, but a very rough and minimal concept of whatever is happening or about to happen. Then I start work on putting the character into that situation and things start to take on life.
So,you think of a situation ( for example this horrid virus right now) and the think who would be involved and where?
Exactly. And the character is like the yeast in a loaf, makes the situation come to life.
Best writing advice?
If you’re just beginning, write a story, polish then set it aside for at least a year and write another story. Writing one story doesn’t usually teach a person to write professionally. And do not rush to self-publish too early on, either, for the same reason. A goldsmith wouldn’t expect to sell the first piece he made, nor should a writer – well, not until it’s been re-polished thoroughly and other stories written.
That is good advice, we all know that this takes time but we are too impatient.
Worst writing advice you ever received?
Plan your story ahead. I can’t and trying only give me a boring outline of a story that will never work. It’s when my characters come to life in the setup stage that my stories come to life. Some writers can plan ahead and some can’t, some can half-plan. We’re all different. It’s the finished product that counts, not how you get there. If you need to stand on your head in a corner to write, do it. Whatever it takes.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Buying books by other authors – you can learn from them both what to do and what not to do. You need to read a lot to understand what makes good fiction. So anyone who wants to be a writer and doesn’t read doesn’t make me want to read their efforts.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
I have several favourite authors, but it was Georgette Heyer who inspired me to become a writer. And Anne McCaffrey who taught me to use my imagination as vividly as possible.
What are you reading now?
Frances Brody – the Body on the Train. She write Miss Marple-esque detective stories set in the 1920s which hang together well, with a central group of characters who also seem real.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Georgette Heyer, CJ Cherryh, Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, Angela Thirkell, Jean Stubbs, Jodi Thomas, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury – and countless others. I read 3 novels a week, give or take and always have done.
Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
I’m not sure I quite fit into a genre. I get called a saga writer, but a very wise and experienced editor once said I fit squarely between sagas and straight historical novels. See the list of authors for my favourites.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“Writing a novel is hard work . . . You have to work long and hard even to produce a bad one. This may help explain why there are so many more bad amateur poets around than there are bad amateur novelists . . . any clown with a sharp pencil can write out a dozen lines of verse and call them a poem. Not just any clown can fill 200 pages with prose and call it a novel. Only the more determined clowns can get the job done . . . Let’s not kid ourselves. It does take self-discipline.” Lawrence Block “Writing the Novel” p11
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult?
At 3 a week, I’ve loved thousands of books.
Favourite book when you were a kid
Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?
None – not because I’m perfect, but because you learn most by doing i.e writing and by reading other authors’ work IMHO. Writing is something you DO not something you talk about, I think.
Anna Jacobs: Historical stories: ‘Perfect Family’ , ‘A Daughter’s Journey’ (8/19), ‘A Widow’s Courage’ (4/20 Modern stories: ‘Bay Tree Cottage’, ‘Changing Lara’ , ‘Christmas in Peppercorn Street’ (10/19), ‘Finding Cassie’ (1/20)
A mixed bag of books this month most of which were chosen on a whim because the title appealed, or the cover appealed.
Telling Tails by Sofie Ryan. A Second Chance Cat Mystery
An easy and enjoyable read and luckily you don’t need to have read any of the other books in the series to keep up with Sarah Grayson and her Second Chance furniture store and staff. The crew includes Elvis the rescued black cat-( I have a soft spot for black cats,) as well as Sarah’s family and friends.
Rose a sprightly senior swears she saw a murder, but the local police don’t believe her, suspecting it might have been a medical episode. Sarah is convinced that Rose did see something and so the investigation begins. The wife of the man presumed missing says her rat of a husband is very much alive, that he’s left and was having an affair and has cleared out their joint bank account.
Sarah can’t help thinking something feels wrong and when Rose is given a clean bill of health, the investigation begins in earnest.
Thirteen and Underwater by Michelle Weitering.
I would give it six stars if I could – This is a really brave book, raw and honest. This isn’t a story of a perfect family and perfect motherhood, rather a story of how a family had to learn to cope with extreme anxiety and mood swings when their previously happy little boy developed them. Bullying at school can have dreadful consequences. Through it, all compassion and mother love shine through-Michelle talks of her heartbreak and the mistakes she made. She doesn’t talk about the courage it took to plaster a smile on her face and get through day after day. She doesn’t comment when the child she loves is screaming at her and saying he hates her. Yes, this is a scenario which affects the whole family, what they can do, where they can go for help? But the mother is at the centre of this, questioning herself, what shall I do, did I do right, did I do wrong? The strength of the book is how she shows us her expectations of herself and the reality where she fails to measure up to the standard, she sets herself. Luckily, Michelle found the help she and her family needed and in telling her story she is wanting to help and encourage others that there is hope.
The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg.
I saw a recommendation for this book somewhere and the concept intrigued me. What it hadn’t mentioned was that this was part of a sequence of books, but luckily that didn’t matter. The basic premise is that over time the monthly supper club in Mason, Missouri transforms after one woman’s revelations and becomes the Confession Club. Sharing secrets helps bond the women on a deeper level and many of us will recognise our own failings, deep insecurities and regrets. A second chance at love beckons for one, but will that too be a cause for regret?
Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill.
A year of reading from this talented author. It is so intriguing to peer over someone’s shoulder and see what they read, much like browsing someone else bookshelves. She is so clear and delightful to read, describing places and animals’ scenery and skies. Opinionated, idiosyncratic and so enjoyable., reminds me of books forgotten, books to add to my ever-expanding reading list. Now to trace her book Howard’s’ End in on the landing.
Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson
I gained one impression of the book from its cover and blurb, which didn’t in my opinion quite relate to the book I was reading. I had anticipated a light, easy read and instead got a book that was far more insightful about the regrets of midlife than I had expected.
I suppose few of us reach middle age without regrets for what is, or what might have been. Can a return to the places from past change that? The three women, Maggie, Rose and Fran’s trip gets off to a bumpy start wondering the friendship can be reignited. Unexpected events break down barriers and each women’s problems or secrets are revealed.
Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves.
I grabbed this book with enthusiasm, not realising that it was number seven in this popular series. It didn’t matter, the story gripped me anyway. Of course, I came to Shetland via the popular TV series starring Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez. I was momentarily startled to read in the book of his dark hair and darker skin. I enjoy both the series and the books accepting that there are differences. In both though, Jimmy is polite, persistent and thoughtful. He’s not one to barge in shouting. He’s a man who observes and thinks and then acts. The story kept me guessing to the end as various people emerged as possible suspects. I will be sad to see both the series and the end of the books, but I respect what the authors said about realism. Just how many murders can you have on Shetland?
Reflections by Marcia Willett.
Like many of Marcia ‘s books Reflections is like sitting down with old friends and catching up where they are in their lives. The plot has enough bite to make it interesting. Cara newly widowed is staying with her brother Max and his wife in Sidcombe, Devon. Recent visitor Cosmo is a charmer and he’s attracted to local girl Amy, but is he all that he seems? Cara senses there is more to Cosmo than he’d like to reveal. Sam newly down from university and ready to start a career in the navy isn’t entirely certain about his choice. By the end of the summer, new choices may be made and old secrets revealed .
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. […]
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author
I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. I’ve always like Norse myths and legends, though, and think Vikings were a little misunderstood. J They can’t really have been that bad. Can they?
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I read, of course, mostly historical fiction, and I love old black & white movies and Westerns, and I love travelling and photography. I am happiest tramping around the ruins of a medieval castle or exploring a smugglers’ village, with my camera running red hot.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I can’t answer that – I never grew up! No, I wanted to be Errol Flynn, swashbuckling star of Captain Blood, as well as a bunch of other pirate movies, and also Robin Hood and General Custer. I also wanted to be a Lieutenant in the US Cavalry, a Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion and a Spitfire Pilot in the RAF in 1940. Oh, and a Highwayman, a gunslinger, the Saint, and when I was about 14, I fancied myself as F Scott Fitzgerald, as played by Gregory Peck in the bio of his life called Beloved Infidel. The idea of being a tortured literary genius appealed greatly at that age. Unfortunately, these days I am neither tortured nor a genius, nor even suave like Gregory Peck, or even Atticus Finch, more’s the pity.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? It is Sunday night, so Jan and I are in for a perfect evening. A long hot bubble bath with the steaming water up to our eyes, until we get wrinkly toes, then pizza and red wine while watching a British crime drama on the TV. What would I rather be eating? I’m happy with that, though a bowl of freshly-made pasta and Chianti while sitting on a terrace on a warm evening in Venice might be pretty good too.
Your hero? I have a lot of heroes, but especially my beloved Jan Nicholls. She is my biggest fan, but never reads anything I write until it is published, which is probably why we still get on okay. She is from Northumberland near the Scottish border where they breed them tough, but she is warm-hearted, kind, gorgeous, as sharp as a tack and incredibly funny. The poor woman is addicted to books, though, and spends a great time of reading and promoting books in her role as President the Children’s Book Council here in WA. Jan also likes travelling, so that fits in perfectly with me, and I admire how she has navigated us across the world in search of exciting places for me to write about.
Another hero is my mother, Barbara, who is kind and gentle but has a backbone of steel. She lived in Broome in the 1950s when it was a derelict shanty town so far from everywhere, and brought up four boys often by herself for long periods while my father was away working. She moved to Perth and had a successful career at Channel 9 and is still a stylish, enthusiastic world traveller at 86 years old.
Next on my list is Winston. I am a big Winston Churchill fan, though I am well aware of his flaws and significant errors and subsequent disasters. US broadcaster, Edward Murrow, said of him, “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” I hugely admire that ability he had. He stared down Hitler, ran the government, helped win WWII, and then went on to write 30 books and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? My father and my grandparents. You never really get to say goodbye properly, so one lovely last evening with them would be wonderful. I still have so much I would have liked to share with them and so much still to learn. They were all great storytellers too, and I would have felt warm and safe and loved being in the same room with them again entertaining me with their tales of our family from long ago.
Now to questions about writing. I think readers and writers alike are fascinated by how writers write, and how they get their ideas.
What time of the day do you usually write? I am scatty and erratic, hugely disorganised, and away-with-the-fairies half the time, so there is no pattern to my writing day. My latest manuscript, The Smuggler 3: Dragon’s Blood, was written under a palm tree by a pool in Phuket using an old leather-bound notebook and a fountain pen. It was only the first draft, but I got so much written with no electronic distractions and no reason to stop other than the need for a quick swim occasionally.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Revising and polishing. I find researching the life and times of my characters and settings and then writing the plot reasonably enjoyable, but the constant need to turn out half-decent sentences while making sure the meaning is crystal clear and exciting at the same time is a real challenge for me. I need to keep reminding myself not to include every single detail I have uncovered during the research, but to concentrate more on the hero’s journey and their interaction with the other characters. Historical books often overload the minor details of the past, so the reader gets bogged down, and then fed up, and loses sympathy with the hero, and that can be fatal.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? My schedule is pure chaos. Sometime I’ll spend all day procrastinating, while others I’ll be on a roll and write like a demon all day, ignoring everything and everyone in the real world around me. Other days, it will be four hours before I get bored with myself. Ideas come at all times of the day and in odd places, so I have a box full of napkins, slips of newspaper, notebooks and movie tickets with random words and sentences hastily scribbled on them.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I tend to over-reference old movies, TV shows, books I read in the past, and even jokes, sometimes completely inappropriately for the dire situations in which I have placed my characters. I am also on the lookout for humour in every case, which can be very annoying when Red, for instance, is seconds away from being eaten by a monster Tiger shark or being fired on by blood-thirsty pirates.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? Not too much. I do get great feedback from kids when I am giving school talks, and teachers often tell me how much their students enjoy my books. I did once get the best letter, though. It read, “Dear Mr Jorgensen, I know you don’t make much money from your writing, but rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions of children all around the world.” Poor deluded fool they must have mistaken me for J.K Rowling.
I am guessing your readership is predominantly boys, am I right? I had imagined that was the case, but I am continually being proven wrong. Jack’s Island is studied and enjoyed in many girls’ schools, and I keep hearing that girls seem to like my character, Red Read, the teenage hero of The Smuggler’s Curse and The Wreckers’ Revenge. Several girls have asked for more romance in the sequels.
We both laugh and I suggest a comprise. Maybe you can write a choose your own adventure book to satisfy both boys and girls? Quick as a flash he comes back with ‘Choice one -Kiss the girl. Choice two -Jump overboard.’
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. Red Read, son of Mrs Read who owns The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel in Broome, is my favourite. His mother sells him as a cabin boy to Captain Black Bowen, a notorious smuggler. Red is just like 12-year-old me, except he is brave, fearless, athletic and resourceful, unlike me at 12 who was a snivelling coward and none of those things. He handles everything I was too scared to do like he is a full-on junior swashbuckler. And after all his hair-raising adventures, he ends up very rich, also unlike me.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? I don’t imagine so. You’d have to be pretty good at faking it. There is a saying in writing circles, “No tears from the writer, then there will be none from the reader.”
You’ve written children’s picture books and middle-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference? I prefer mid-grade by far. Picture books are sooo difficult to write. The industry standard for them is 600 – 800 words over 32 pages, and trying to get the story that fills your head into so few words is nigh on impossible. Picture book stories are also told using a mixture of words or pictures, but not both, so your words are often cut as the illustrator takes over. If your text reads, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the illustrator paints a dark and stormy night, then your carefully chosen words become redundant and get cut.
With middle-grade, you can create more elaborate plots and landscapes and explore inside your characters’ heads. You are also leaving a lot more to the reader’s imagination.
How do you decide whether it will be a longer book or a picture book? I see my stories in pictures in my head, just like watching a movie with a soundtrack and all, but some adventures will be far too long for 32 pages, so have to be turned into 60 to70,000 words instead. Interestingly, the three illustrators I have worked with, Allan Langoulant, Brian Harrison-Lever and my good friend, James Foley, have all had better pictures in their heads that I did, so, occasionally, I feel okay about my words getting the knife or the Viking sword.
You mentioned a trip to the Shetland Isles – did that inspire The Last Viking?
The Last Viking was inspired by my nephew Ben Jorgensen adding horns to his bike helmet years before, and then by me overlooking James Foley’s portfolio where he had an illustration of a boy dressed as a medieval knight. Why not a Viking, I thought? When I approached James with the Viking boy idea, I suddenly had to come up with the story on the spot.
The Shetlands Islands did, however, inspire The Smuggler’s Curse. R.L Stevenson’s father had been a lighthouse builder, and Robert had stayed in the same room as me as the Sumburgh Lighthouse. Learning this, I tried writing a pirate story just like R.L.S while there. It soon developed into a smuggler story set in Cornwall in 1810 and then, eventually, into an Australian sea story relocated to Broome in 1898, at the suggestion of my publisher, Cate Sutherland at Fremantle Press.
How much input do you have with your illustrators? Normally, none. Editors like to keep writers and illustrators apart, and often they are in different states. Brian Harrison-Lever lived in Tasmania, and I didn’t meet him until he had finished all the artwork for In Flanders Fields, though we did exchange emails. I met Allan Langoulant once a week for dinner where he showed me his previous week’s work, but I had no say in it as it was already finished. With James Foley, we did spend time working together on The Last Viking, sharing jokes and me suggesting scenes and film references, and that seemed to work well as we had a shared love of movies. The Viking books are heavily movie influenced. James was able to add in a lot of his own humour, making my original plot and jokes much funnier.
Best writing advice? Don’t get carried away with the traditional, stereotyped idea of being a writer
Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Instead, just begin.
Starving in a Paris garret, suffering from TB, drinking yourself to oblivion on Absinthe like many, shooting wild animals like Hemingway, or going on the road like Jack Kerouac will only distract you. Just sit, turn down the lights, and actually type in one word after another until you fill a page, polish it, then do it again the next day until you fill another page. After a year, you will have 365 pages which should be enough for a book. That is advice from John Steinbeck, not me.
Worst writing advice you ever received? A teacher who read the manuscript told me to change the name of the title of In Flanders Fields as kids won’t know what it means, she said. Luckily, I ignored her as the book is still in print 17 years later.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer
My Lamy fountain pen from Germany and my Chinese fountain pen called The Black Dragon, the same name as the schooner in my latest books. I just had to buy it with a name like that. Mostly, though, every dollar I ever spent on airfares has not been wasted. I have visited every place my books are set as I believe it is important to be able to describe the settings in detail, down to the smell of the drains, the feel of the sand between your toes and the sound of the monkeys screeching in the jungle trees.
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
Dragon’s Blood: Red 3 (Upper Primary Novel)
Sons of the Desert: The Journal of Harry White (YA Novel)
This Pen for Hire (Adult Comedy Novel)
The Illuminator’s Apprentice (Picture Book)
The Goldminer’s Son (Picture Book)
The Gr8 Escape (Picture Book)
Castaways on a Dessert Island (Picture Book)
Advance Australia Unfair (Picture Book)
The Final Mission of a Flying Tiger (Picture Book)
Mary Christmas (Lower Primary Novel)
Who is your favourite author, and why?
My favourite authors are Leslie Thomas who wrote The Virgin Soldiers and Dangerous Davies and Tom Sharpe, author of Wilt and Blott on the Landscape, both British writers who generally wrote satirical comedy novels about ordinary people living suburban lives while mayhem surrounds them. When Leslie died in 2014 and Tom in 2013, I was shocked at how saddened I was each time as if I had suddenly lost a part of me and a whole chunk of my early reading years. I didn’t know either of them, though I met Leslie Thomas briefly at a book signing after a talk he gave here in Perth. He answered ALL my questions then afterwards signed my book, “To my greatest fan, Norman”, and he wasn’t the least bit wrong.
I also love the work of Bill Bryson and have read every word of his. We are much the same age, and his gentle sense of humour matches mine exactly. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, about him looking for the small-town America of the old movies, is funny but also so sad as he slowly comes to realise that it has been lost and the towns have been devastated by enormous Walmart’s, huge car parks, endless fast-food joints, closed factories, empty shops and despair. His most successful book, Notes From a Small Island, about him revisiting the places he went when backpacking around Britain in the 1970s, is a joy to read. He gave his humour free rein, and I loved it, as I did with all his other books. He has since written 20 more.
What are you reading now? As usual, I have several books on my bedside table. This week it is Grant, a massive doorstop of a biography of General Ulysses S Grant, the US Civil War leader and President, by Ron Chernow. There is also The Last Dickens by Mathew Pearl an exciting books about copyright piracy in the 1870s, Mrs Kelly by Grantlee Kieza, about Ned Kelly’s mother, and to my absolute delight, an advance copy of Goldfields’ Girl by my great friend Elaine Forrestal just arrived this morning. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Smuggler’s Curse has Treasure Island and Kidnapped all over it. I even called a character Bosun Stevenson in his honour.
I belong to the Society of Writers and Illustrators here in Western Australia, and I am always amazed at the quality of the books that our members produce. I admire so many of them as we really do have some remarkable talent in Perth.
In my genre, closest to my style of recent stories in John Flanagan, who wrote the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series. His historically-based, overly-brave teenagers sometimes seem a lot like my young characters
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“If you are going through hell, then it is probably best to keep on going.”
Or maybe… “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Both quotes are by Winston Churchill.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult
Dissolution by CJ Sansom. It is a historical novel (of course) about a lawyer called Mathew Sheldrake in the times of King Henry VIII when he set up the Church of England and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys across England. Samson captures the life and times of pots medieval Britain so well that you feel positively grimy after reading his work. He has since written a series about Sheldrake, all equally as good and just as grubby.
Favourite book when you were a kid Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, although Enid Blyton and Biggles were favourites when I was younger.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? John Steinbeck, who wrote The Grapes of Wrath. He was the first writer to keep me awake all night reading. He wrote with such compassion for his characters who were based on real people suffering in the Great Depression, as well as perfectly capturing a sense of place of an American landscape destroyed by drought, greed and economics. His writing is so flawless and seemingly effortless that you do not even notice the writing style as he has so successfully carried you away with the fates of his characters.
What are you working on now? I am researching for a book called In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, Brother of the Outlaw Ned Kelly. Ned’s youngest brother, Jack, was a world-famous circus star performing stockwhip tricks and stunt riding for Wirth’s Circus in the early years of the 20th century. For a few years, he was, almost unbelievably, even a member of the Police Force in WA where he worked taming wild horses. After that, he left for the USA where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and then went onto a glittering career in England and then South America.
Do you enjoy school visits? I do about 120 school visits a year and usually enjoy them very much, especially with kids in upper primary classes. They typically are so enthusiastic and not yet self-conscious like their older school mates, and so pepper me with questions. My book, Jack’s Island, about my father’s experiences as a kid during WWII is studied in depth by many schools and, for some reason, the kids want every episode in it to be true. It mostly is true though sometimes exaggerated, and I find it fascinating seeing what sections appeal or capture the imaginations of the readers. School visits are also essential for trying out chapters on the potential audiences to see their reactions. Frequently, some instant editing takes place as I read aloud, and pages are mentally slashed and burnt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me- I have really enjoyed talking with you and I am sure you have gained new readers eager to share in an adventure or two.
Here is a list of all Norman’s published books and awards
‘Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams’ William Butler Yeats.
What is written isn’t simply words on the page, these words are a part of the writer’s identity, their brainchild and often the child of their heart too.
When I was invited to be one of the section panel for a writing competition, I knew that it would be a difficult task.
Each person who had entered had written with a part of themselves and now we had to choose from amongst them and decide which were the best. All had merit in some way, maybe for the idea, or for a new take on an old idea.
Equally, perhaps the contest organisers had given us a more problematic task because they hadn’t specified a theme, so the topics were exceptionally varied.
Should tragedy and drama take precedence over comedy and the lighthearted ? Does writing about a topical situation or problem gain more points?
These were questions that everyone who was assessing the work had to decide for themselves. And of course, subjectivity came into play too.
And what about the rules? There was a word limit specified, should someone be be penalized if they went over it? What if by a few words or a lot?
I did my best and tried to be objective and to choose what I genuinely considered to be the best pieces of work. Well aware that by choosing them I was rejecting others.
Fortunately, the responsibility for the choice does not fall solely to me, there is a panel of judges. Will we agree or will they each make different selections? It will be interesting to find out.
All that I can say to everyone who entered is thank you for sharing your work with us. I respect that and I read it as I hope that my work will be read. Congratulations on daring to put your work ‘out there’.
Thanks for joining us and as you are such a prolific author, we have lots to talk about. For those who don’t know, Juanita writes across several genres: rural romance /rural suspense/ small town USA NASCAR /paranormal (Greek gods.) She is also a contributor to the popular Bindarra Creek series as well as Country Shadows, Country Whispers and Country Suspense (3-in-1 paperbacks from Harlequin Mira with various other authors).
Can you tell us how many books are in each series?
In the first Bindarra Creek series published in 2015 and 2016, A Bindarra Creek Romance, there are thirteen wonderful stories that introduce readers to the town and the characters. Nine of the authors then produced a short and sweet anthology. These stories are now slowly being released as separate titles. In this latest series, A Town Reborn, readers can return to the lovely town of Bindarra Creek for their best reading adventure yet with the return of some of the lovely, colourful characters of the original series. And, of course, meet some new ones too. My book, Promise Me Forever is the eighth (and last) book in this latest series.
Here is a list of series I have written:
Wongan Creek: Whispers at Wongan Creek, Secrets at Wongan Creek and Shadows over Wongan Creek
Under the Law: Under Shadow of Doubt, Under the Hood, Under Cover of Dark
Bindarra Creek: Home to Bindarra Creek, Promise Me Forever
The Calhouns of Montana: Montana Baby (previously published as Overdrive), Montana Daughter (previously Fast Lane) and Montana Son (release date 2 June 2020)
The Gods of Oakleigh: Finding Paradise
My goodness, you have been busy I hadn’t realized that you were so prolific.
Let’s start with some ‘getting to know you’ questions
Are you a lark (a morning person) or an owl (late night)? That depends entirely on the muse and what mood she’s in 😊.
What is your best time to write? When I’m alone, the house is quiet and there is nothing to distract me.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Anything except housework! I’m a keen car enthusiast, terrible gardener, average wine drinker, unenthusiastic exerciser who loves reading, writing and music.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A lawyer so I could put all the bad guys in jail.
What was your dream job when you were younger? I once had a job offer to assist in running a holiday resort by the sea. I thought that would be the ideal job.
What will you do for Valentine’s Day? Is Valentine’s something to like to celebrate? This Valentine’s Day I’ll be celebrating the release of Promise Me Forever. Jack and Meg are my favourite characters so far.
QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Even as a little girl, I loved writing, reading and telling stories.
What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out? Learn absolutely everything you can about your craft and keep learning. A good writer never stops learning.
What comes first, the plot or characters? The characters. I’m a total pantser.
Explanation from Sonia – the term ‘pantser’ means someone who does not plot their stories as in ‘flying by the seat of your pants’.
This is in contrast to the other writers who often have an outline and plot everything meticulously
How do you develop your plot and characters? I give my characters free reign to tell the story chapter by chapter and then I edit it.
How do you come up with the titles to your books? I’ll give it a random working title and then as the story develops, I’ll brainstorm a title to suit.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Editing the story. By the time I’ve been through it two or three times, I’m convinced its rubbish, lol.
How do you do research for your books? I read a lot, travel, Google, stalk a few people (kidding!) and ask for help from willing professionals.
On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing? As much time as I can juggling a hectic day job, family and real-life commitments.
How many unfinished manuscripts do you have? Way too many! I have many new ideas floating around in my head at any given time, so I’ll write the first chapter or two, then let it rest a while. In comparison to many authors out there, I am a slow writer. I only manage to write two books a year because I like to let them breathe a little before editing them too.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BOOKS
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite? I’ve published twelve books to date but have written many more. Picking a favourite is always hard. I’d have to say Whispers at Wongan Creek, because that has been an outstanding favourite with readers.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)? That I have a serial killer mean streak when I write suspense. Sometimes I scare myself 😊.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special? Choosing a favourite character is like choosing a favourite child. I love Jack from Promise Me Forever but I also adore Travis from Whispers at Wongan Creek. Both men are strong characters but they have a softer, fun side too
You’ve written rural suspense/romance genre and small-town USA genre. Do you have a preference? I love writing my Australian stories best. That’s where my heart is.
Do you find writing heroes or heroines easier? It depends on who is ‘talking’ to me on the day 😊.
What gives a hero personality, and do you fall a little in love with them as you write? How he reacts to the heroine defines his personality. I do fall in love with my heroes all the time. I need to love them to make them real on the page.
Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write? The Wongan Creek series and the Bindarra Creek books.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK
Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb? Promise Me Forever is more than just a romance between Meg and Jack. It’s a story about community, loyalty, faith and trust. Between the pages, you’ll find a connection within the Bindarra Creek community borne out of the trials that have strengthened the town rather than broken it down.
Are there any secrets from the book (that aren’t in the blurb), you can share with your readers? Jack has another love in his life, but it’s not necessarily a flesh and blood woman.
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? Yes! Meg’s aunty, Phyllis, is colourful character.
If so, what is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel? Aunty Phyllis may have her own love story one day, who knows?
If your book was to be made into a movie, who are the celebrities that would star in it? I’d love Chris Hemsworth to star in all movies made from my books 😊. I think for Meg, I’d cast Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice)
Sonia adds who wouldn’t want Chris Hemsworth ?
Thank you so much for chatting with us and good luck with the new book
Photo Credits – Graphics by Nas Dean, Paradox Book Covers & Formatting and J Kees.
News correspondent, Jack Hughes, is sent to sleepy Bindarra Creek to escape the spotlight after a scandalous fake video goes viral. He’s in the fight of his life to save his reputation. In a town only determination has kept from dying, the last thing Jack is looking for is love.
The Bindarra Creek Museum is Meg Moonie’s life. But with her granny dead, a murder suspect on the run and the police asking questions, she struggles to keep the museum and Mary Moonie’s dream alive. Jack is a handsome distraction, but Meg has been hurt by a roving reporter before. Men who couldn’t put down roots never promised forever. If only he wasn’t so easy to fall in love with…
Finding love and hope in small towns with dark secrets …
Juanita escapes the real world by reading and writing Australian Rural Romance novels with elements of suspense, Australian Fantasy Paranormal and Small Town USA stories. Her romance novels star spirited heroines who give the hero a run for his money before giving in. She creates emotionally engaging worlds steeped in romance, suspense, mystery and intrigue, set in dusty, rural outback Australia and on the NASCAR racetracks of America. When she’s not writing, Juanita is mother to three boys and has a passion for fast cars and country living.
Juanita loves to hear from fans and would love for you to share her writing journey: