7 Questions: Josephine Moon on her ‘foodie fiction’

Josephine Moon is an Australian author whose debut novel, The Tea Chest, prompted a hotly contested auction between several publishers. The manuscript was eventually published my Allen & Unwin. Josephine describers her novel as “like a chocolate brownie – indulgent, comforting, a treat for the senses, but filling, and with chunky nuts to chew on.”

Josephine started her writing career as a journalists but had always wanted to write fiction. She also spent time teaching English and working as an editor. For many years she experimented with a number of genres, writing and publishing a number of short stories. She began work on her first novel in 2007 and is now working on a second for Allen & Unwin. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland with her husband and young son.

1. Tell us about your book, The Tea Chest.
At its heart, The Tea Chest is a love letter to tea – ‘foodie fiction', if you like – full of the joy of connecting and immersing in tea rituals and creativity.

Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, has just inherited fifty per cent of the company from her mentor and must decide what she will risk, both for herself and her young family, in order to take a chance to follow her dreams. Along the way, she’s joined by Elizabeth and Leila, two women at crossroads in their own lives, who join Kate’s venture to help realise The Tea Chest’s success. Set across Brisbane and London, with a backdrop of delectable teas and tastes, lavender fields and vintage clothes, The Tea Chest is a gourmet delight you won’t want to finish.

2. What inspired this book?
I am a mad tea woman. I just love tea, teapots, tea rituals, high teas, doilies, silver spoons and teeny tiny cakes. One day, I was wandering through a tea shop (around 2007), inhaling aromas and shaking bowls of tea, and I thought, ‘What an awesome job! Who gets to design all these teas?’ And with that, the character of Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, arrived.

3. How does it feel to have your debut novel on the shelves – especially given it was so sought after by publishers?
It’s very strange! At one level, of course it’s an absolute dream come true. But I had been writing seriously for twelve years before The Tea Chest sold and I think I’d come to accept that nothing I wrote was ever going to make it to the shelves (though the dream was stubborn and refused to die). So the whole thing is still quite surreal and it’s taking me a long time to trust that it’s not a fantasy. On top of that, The Tea Chest was signed by my agent just five weeks after my son (and first baby) was born, and I pretty swiftly had contracts for three books (two not yet written). He’s still not two years old and it’s been a totally wonderful but intense journey since then so I don’t think I’ve really had the mental or emotional space (or time and energy) to fully process this amazing time in my life. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even recovered from the insanely cruel sleep deprivation yet, so I think it might be a while before it really sinks in!

The Tea Chest-Josephine Moon

4. When did you decide you wanted to write a novel and what was the inspiration for you to do that?
I remember wanting to write from a very young age and I was always a good writer through school. I wrote in a lot of different fields and genres and studied journalism at uni, but I didn’t love journalism because it felt restrictive and I had a lot more I wanted to explore outside of the lines or what someone else told me to write about. In 1999, I was a first-year teacher and I knew I didn’t want to teach and I went to my first weekend writing workshop hosted by the Queensland Writers Centre. And I knew without a doubt that was what I wanted to do. I’m not really sure why. It was just an inner knowing, I think.

5. What's your daily writing routine like? Do you have a set number of words or hours you like to do?
Gosh, it changes all the time because my life is first and foremost influenced by my young son, which is how it should be at his age. I have a fantastic nanny who comes to our home two days a week to give me long stretches of time to write, and I have help from my dad and stepmother and my husband frequently, but less reliably. When I have Flynn with me, I tend to deal with the business aspects, like writing articles, maintaining my website, social media, research, interviews, admin and so on. I no longer have the luxury of waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘wow, I’m going to write all day!' Worse, if I do wake up really inspired, and it’s not a set writing day, I have to shove all that inspiration to the background, which can be quite frustrating. I’m still working it all out. But if I’m officially ‘writing’, I like to get 1,000 words done, minimum. Many writers aim for 2,000, but I’m grateful to get whatever I can, whenever I can. Every now and then, I take a couple of days away to get some really intense time alone with my book. The world is a good place when I can connect to my story at those times!

6. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on my next novel for Allen & Unwin, also a foodie fiction book, this one based around chocolate and set across Tasmania and France. The research is not doing my waistline any favours!

7. What's your advice to budding novelists?
Be curious. People often say write what you know. That’s a good start but it will only take you so far. I say, write what you want to know. Ask questions and search for answers through your writing. Keep it fresh.

If you want to be a career writer (a professional author), then you’ll need to accept that you’re unlikely to crack a publishing deal on the first manuscript. And that’s normal. Rejection is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you’re still finding your voice and the right book for the marketplace. But once you’ve written a manuscript, be prepared to let it go. By all means, re-draft it, edit it, submit it to your writing group for critique, and sit with it till you feel you’ve come to the end of your journey with that story. That will teach you how to be a professional writer. Then say goodbye and write another one. Don’t get stuck re-writing the same book over and over for ten years. Write another one. And another one. And another one. And one day, you’ll have the ‘right’ book for you at the right time and you’ll look back and think, ‘Oh! I get it now.’

You can buy The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon at all good bookstores or online from Booktopia.

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