- Guest Author -
Author of 'MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM'
'THE JADE WIDOW'
Today I interview another Australian author - DEBORAH O'BRIEN. Deborah is a writer, visual artist and teacher. Although she was born and educated in Sydney, she has strong family links to rural New South Wales via her father and her maternal grandmother and their forebears.
Welcome, Deborah ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
Firstly, thank you, Clancy, for inviting me to be part of your blog.
I’ve been writing and illustrating stories ever since I was a child, but oddly enough, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said ‘novelist’ or ‘artist’. Those careers seemed as remote and unattainable as being an astronaut. Instead, I went to uni, majored in French and German and became a teacher. When my son was born, I worked from home, running painting classes and writing art and design books, as well as articles for lifestyle and general interest magazines.
A few years ago my mum (who had always wanted me to write fiction) said, ‘When are you going to get around to writing that novel? I’m not getting any younger, you know.’
The thought of writing 90,000 words (or whatever the total might be) was terrifying. But I decided to give it a go, mainly to please my mother. And once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Two years later I had two manuscripts, one of which was MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM. Encouraged by my family and friends, I submitted it to a literary agent, fully expecting a rejection letter. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she emailed back, saying she loved it and wanted to represent me. A few weeks later I heard that Random House Australia wanted to publish my book. It seemed like a dream, and sometimes it still does.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I begin with a premise – for MR CHEN, it was ‘two women, one Gold Rush town, then and now’ – and let things develop from there. I love the surprises that writing brings me.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I really enjoy the elements of make-believe and wish-fulfilment that come with inventing stories. You can take your characters wherever you like – both in a physical and a psychological sense.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Doing revisions and proofreading. But even a dream job has its downside.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Teacher, visual artist, non-fiction author, magazine contributor and editor, photographic stylist.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
This September MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM will be published in German as AMYS GEHEIMNIS (Amy’s Secret). That’s a very exciting prospect though I can’t take all the credit – the translator has done an outstanding job.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m working on an ill-fated love story shifting in time between the 1970s and the present day. There’s also a contemporary novella about a group of quirky characters trying to find a place in society. And I’m doing the revisions for another Millbrooke novel – the final book in the Emporium Trilogy.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Adult commercial fiction. I write a blend of history, romance and mystery.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Read widely. Write as often as you can and choose subject matter that matters to you, rather than simply following trends.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Having come from a magazine background where deadlines are paramount, I’ve never allowed myself to have writer’s block. As an insurance policy, I always work on several projects concurrently. Then, if one of them comes to a standstill, there’s another to go on with.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I try to write every day but sometimes life gets in the way. What I like about writing is that I don’t need a lot of equipment. As an artist, I’ve always felt encumbered by paints, brushes, palettes, water jars, easel and so on. Writing is very portable – you can take it with you wherever you go – even to bed at night. Whenever I can’t sleep, I write stories in my head. The funny thing is that they’re usually still there when I wake next morning.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Yes. My old roll top desk in the living room of our country cottage. It’s so tiny it can barely fit my laptop. That means I can’t accumulate a lot of clutter.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
It’s difficult to choose one author, but if I really had to, I’d say Harper Lee. She’s only written one novel but it just happens to be perfect in every way – great story, powerful themes, compelling characters, evocative language and wonderful structure.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Drawing, painting, cooking, gardening, reading, playing with my kelpie dog, watching classic films and renovating/decorating houses.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Sometimes we share interests and hobbies – like Angie Wallace in MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM, but that’s where the similarities end. In terms of our personal choices Angie and I are very different people.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
It tends to be the manuscript I’m working on at the time. Having just finished THE JADE WIDOW, that’s my current favourite. But I also have a soft spot for MR CHEN.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
I write because I love it. For me, being able to pursue my passion constitutes success. Anything else is a bonus.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To keep writing for as long as I can. And my non-writing dream is to have a small herd of alpacas. As it is, I have to write them into my books!
WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Sebastian Faulks’ BIRDSONG. I loved it.
Thanks again, Clancy.
Mr Chen’s Emporium
The Jade Widow
Clancy's comment: Well done, Deborah. Your books sound enchanting and no doubt will do well. You are fortunate to have a publicist at Random House, Kirsty Noffke, who is certainly working hard for you. Yes, Harper Lee might have only published one book, but ... sold more than 50 million copies. Hope you have the same good fortune. Best wishes.
Think about this!