Today we’re chatting with Aussie author Fiona Palmer – about what’s on her desk and what’s on her mind regarding her latest book, Secrets Between Friends. She’s written eight previous bestsellers, all set on a rugged rural backdrop, but for this one, she headed to the WA coast.
So hello Fiona. Before we grill you about your writing routine, let’s talk about Secrets Between Friends. Can you describe it in fewer than 73 words?
Secrets Between Friends is a story about three friends who go on a boat cruise to celebrate their 10 year friendship. As close as the friends may be, they soon find out that they are keeping secrets from each other and even themselves. Then there is Peter, best friend to one of the girls and who tags along to use the moment to propose to his girlfriend. It’s not all smooth sailing!
You live about 350km inland from Perth, WA. So it’s safe to say this wasn’t based on your usual day-to-day experience, yeah?
This story came about when friend and fellow author Rachael Johns asked me to join her on a three-day boat cruise from Fremantle. We had a great time and even before the trip I’d started writing this book, completely inspired to create this story. It was great to recreate our trip into this book also, it brings back great memories. Although Rach and I didn’t have the interesting trip that the three friends do!
Sounds great – and it’s out now (see end of this chat for a link). Now, let’s dive into your desk, so to speak. Can you describe what state it’s in RIGHT NOW please.
My desk is a mess at the moment. I thought about cleaning it up for the photo but then that wouldn’t be realistic. At the moment it is chaos. I’ve returned from Perth after attending our Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network meeting and I have all the paperwork from that and the minutes sitting ready to be typed up. I have my ARC of Rachael Johns’ new book and my hot-off-the-press copies of Secrets Between Friends.
These are waiting to be signed and wrapped for the special people in my acknowledgement. I have our book club read nearby, a pineapple and mango candle ready to light to help set the writing mood. I have scraps of paper everywhere with lists of things I need to do, tour details, book club work, RRR work, things to get ready for the Dowerin Field day I’m attending soon. I have a few calendars…a must.
I have all my notes for my current book I’m writing, plus lots of pens. I have my son’s drawings on the wall of some of our favourite cars and I like to play music when I write. Also I have an oil heater which is on because it’s freezing at the back of the house where the office is. I would love to redo my office, I’m always in need of more space to be able to spread out. One day.
That’s great. But you’ve missed out the dog-shaped elephant in your room! Tell us about your writing companion – because AWC loves dogs.
We have two dogs, Pippa and our newest addition Millie (pictured). Being a pup she loves to be near mum and when I’m writing she would always curl up under my desk and snuggle into a backpack I had stashed under there. (See, I need more room!!) She’s growing bigger every day, and more energetic so that snooze time with me is getting less and less.
They are both Kelpies and want to be outside running about. They are also my biggest procrastination tools. I see their eager cute faces and have to stop whatever I’m doing to play/pat them.
Okay, so we’ve set the scene. Tell us: What's the first thing you do before you sit down to write?
Procrastinate! I might clean my desk, or finish some chores, or go and make a cuppa. Finally, when I get to actually looking at my manuscript I will reread my last chapter to get into the flow of the book. This is usually enough to get me back in the zone and continue writing.
So do you have a set number of words (or hours) you aim for in a writing day?
I aim for 10,000 words a week when I’m writing. As some days I have meetings, or pick up kids, sport, work, so I have to be flexible. If I miss a day then the next I try to write twice as many words to make up for it. As long as I’m near the 10k by the end of the week I’m happy. So mainly 2k a day but I can do 5k if I need in a day. Being flexible is very important to fit around a busy life.
Alright, so let’s break down this day even more. Our readers have a fascination with this stuff, we assure you! Tell us about your typical day.
I get up and have a cuppa, most important part of the day!
Amen to that!
Then it will be doing house chores, light fire, put on washing, dishes, vacuuming etc. Then I will make my way to the office and go through emails and depending on what I have to reply to this can take time. I’m secretary for a couple of not for profit organisations and this can keep me busy at times. There is farm work but when I set my three-month writing time to get a book done I usually only head to the farm for a couple of days a week.
Then once I’m happy all my jobs are done I’ll start to write. There is time to do research and sometimes I may not get any writing done if the internet doesn’t work and I can’t research bits I need. It can halt my writing. Then I stop for lunch and like to eat while watching a TV show I’ve recorded. This is my relax time! Love my TV. Then I go back to writing.
Wow, there is a lot of stuff besides writing so far!
During the day it’s very hard to write as there are many distractions. The dogs are just one of many. If I feel I haven’t done enough, after I’ve made dinner etc I will go back and write till about 11pm. Sometimes between 9-11pm I have written heaps. If I don’t write at night then I watch a bit of TV or read before going to bed. Some days if I have a lot of ‘other’ work on, I’ll just write after dinner for a few hours and can accomplish my word count for the day.
Again I just try to be flexible and not get too upset when things don’t go to plan. I work to a deadline, giving myself lots of leeway and because of that I haven’t missed one yet.
When did you discover you were passionate about writing?
Even though I hated English (getting a C was brilliant for me!) I loved the creative writing part. I also was a big letter writer as a kid. I would get lost in my own worlds when writing. But my teacher wasn’t interested in that part. It was all about spelling and grammar. So I left school early and never wrote, never read much either.
It wasn’t until I worked as a teacher’s aid and had to read Harry Potter to the kids did I find the magic in words. It ignited my passion for reading and a few years later a desire to write down a story that I had been growing in my own mind. I was working full time at the General Store I co-owned and had two babies…I think I escaped into my created world as a way to find my time away from everything.
I didn’t have time to read so I made my own book in my mind, then began writing it down as my head felt full and heavy trying to remember all the little scenes I imagined. Then suddenly, well not suddenly as it took nearly three years, I had a book.
Harry Potter providing unexpected inspiration for you as an adult! So, what’s next on your ‘slate’ now that this latest book is out?
I have started, nearly halfway through, my next book called The Piano Tuner…working title. It’s set in Perth and has a 1975 timeline which follows William the piano tuner finding his great love. Then there is the current day with William and his daughter. But during his piano tuning time, William had a few encounters with women which now present themselves and he is reunited with a daughter he never knew he had.
I’m enjoying the many characters of this book and writing in the 70s, a time of flares and bright colours! Hopefully, seeing as I’ll be recovering from knee surgery, I should have plenty of time to get it finished before I climb onto a header for harvest!
The fun never stops! But this interview must, so would you be able to share some parting advice for aspiring authors out there?
Just write. You can’t edit a blank page. Write about what you love, what you know, and what you like. Just get it down. Then watch it grow. Good luck
Great advice, thanks Fiona.
Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.