Following up from her haunting 2013 debut novel, Thornwood House, author Anna Romer has delivered a fairytale with a twist, in Lyrebird Hill. Yes indeed, this one also delves into the dust and shadows, once more introducing the reader to a rural Australian setting and generation-spanning tale that is hard to put down.
We have two copies of Lyrebird Hill to give away. But first, let’s get Anna in here for a few questions. Anna, quick synopsis of your new book?
For two decades, Ruby Cardel has been haunted by the fear that she was to blame for her sister’s mysterious death. Needing to discover the truth, she returns to her childhood home at Lyrebird Hill. Here she finds a box of letters written by her great-grandmother, who was imprisoned for murder in the late 1890s. Fearing that she has inherited her great-grandmother’s violent nature, Ruby must confront the past and face a truth that will shock her to the core.
Whoa, that’s pretty intense. How does one come up with that?
A few years ago after reading an early version of Beauty and the Beast, I became obsessed by the image of a young woman running through a wild garden pursued by a creature of shadows. I started writing, and the historical thread of Lyrebird Hill emerged.
Meanwhile, I moved to a remote cottage in NSW and fell in love with the surrounding bushland. I felt an immediate connection to the property, almost as if I'd lived there before. I started toying with the idea of what it would be like to return home to such a place after many years away, perhaps to solve a childhood mystery.
Being a second novel, we imagine there was considerably more pressure, deadlines and the like. Talk us through that.
It was a very intense book to write. I made a mess of my first draft, so had to scratch most of it and rewrite. My editing schedule included some gruelling stints of 3am starts and then writing all day to well past my bedtime. I threw myself into the project like a woman possessed, disappearing into my writing studio for weeks at a time with just the dogs for company – which is not an ideal approach for living a balanced life, but it turned out to be a useful exercise for maintaining story momentum.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
I'd always had a flair for art, so I followed that path for many years. Because I was such a keen reader, my paintings often reflected whatever I was reading at the time – dark modern fairytales. Then, in my 30s, I found I could no longer ignore the compulsion to write down my stories – and once I started, I loved it so much I didn’t want to stop.
Tell us about your writing process.
I don’t have a routine as such, but I do have lots of lists that keep me focused. What I do each day depends on what stage of the novel I’m up to.
I begin a project with a lot of brainstorming and planning and researching. I fill my notebook with ideas and maps and timeline charts, and explore the history and motivation of my characters. When the drafting process begins I try to write 2000 words a day – there have been rare days I've hit the 8000 word mark, while other days I can barely manage 200. Non-writing days are valuable too, because there’s always something mulling under the surface.
Once the first draft is complete, ideally I’ll put it away for a few weeks, meanwhile reworking my plot and rethinking character relationships and possible twists etc. I really love having a raw draft to work on, and the editing process takes up most of my writing time. I become obsessed, cranking up my stereo, immersing myself in the world of my novel, living and breathing my characters and their unfolding stories.
Unwinding is a really important part of the creative process. It prevents me getting burnt out, and also clears my mind for problem-solving and dreaming up new ideas.
And book number three?
My third novel is in the planning stage, which is always very exciting. It will follow the same dual timeline as my first two stories, with contemporary and historical voices. There are some wild windswept beaches on the Victorian coastline, a murder mystery in 1860s Melbourne, and a woman who must race to unravel a tragic tale of betrayal and madness before it destroys her family.
Any advice for someone also hoping to one day be a full-time writer?
Write the sort of stories you absolutely love. When your writing brings you pleasure, it’s easier to keep going despite any rejections or setbacks that may come along. Find a theme that inspires you, choose a genre that excites you, and write hard until you find a voice that will sustain you over many years.
Establish an easily achievable goal – just 300 words per day for a year will result in a 100,000 word novel. Read all genres, protect your dreams and don't listen to other people’s negative raves. Stay focused on what you want – when you believe in and nurture your vision, anything is possible.
What’s your writing superpower?
Definitely the ability to persevere. Every writing adventure has its own unique challenges – my particular brand of kryptonite is self-doubt. There were plenty of bleak moments over the years where I was tempted to concede defeat – but my super-human stubborn streak always rose up to save the day!
And if you’d like to WIN one of two copies of Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer, simply email courses at writerscentre dot com dot au with your favourite type of bird and why. The most interesting entries win. Entries close 7 October 2014!