Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I'm often approached by students to answer questions for an author profile. Here are my answers to Jacinta; hopefully these will answer some of your questions as well. You'll also find a list of questions further down, for extra information.'

Q: Do you find it easier to write short stories or novels?
It depends. If I can't get a short story right, I will rewrite and rewrite until I can almost recite it by heart. Ditto for parts of my novels - but of course a novel is a much greater commitment than a short story. Sometimes what I think is going to be easy to write becomes the biggest challenge of all. Whatever it is, when it's going well it's a joy, and when it isn't .... grrrrr!

Q: Did you have any difficulties getting published, if so what kept you trying?
It's usually very difficult for a new writer to attract the attention of a publisher, so you have to get used to knock-backs. What keeps me going is my belief in the stories I write. I have characters in my head demanding that their story be told: that's the joy of writing. Once it's written, then I want to share it with the world - and that's why I persist with publishing.

Q: Are any of the character or events in your books based on people or events in your real life?
Not really. Having said that, there's a lot of myself and my own experiences in what I write, plus what wisdom and insights I might have gained in my journey through life. Writers tend to have hang-ups which they continue to explore in their work - you'll note there are often recurring themes if you read several books by the same author. In my case, I guess it's about finding your place in the world, finding a family or a community in which to belong, trying to make sense of the big questions: why am I here, what do I believe, and so on. But I think those are universal themes really, that every writer explores and with which every reader can identify.

Q: Do you have a particular place you like to write, or will anywhere do?
I have a study absolutely BULGING with books - mostly about the middle ages and Arthuriana (for the Janna Mysteries and my Shalott trilogy.) That's where I do my writing (or should that now be called computering??) I find that ideas can strike at any time so I am never without a notebook and pen, and consequently I scribble down ideas all the time - on walks, stopped at the traffic lights, in the middle of a dinner party ....

Q: Do you plan your books before you write them, if so, what do you do?
After winging my way through the Shalott trilogy (cos I didn't know the end when I started and I was lucky not to stuff it up as a consequence) I learned my lesson and drew up a reasonably detailed plan for the Janna Mysteries. I knew how it was going to end, even though I wasn't always sure of the details of how I was going to get there. Even so, I find it keeps changing. New characters pop up from nowhere and influence how the story goes (like Ulf, the relic seller, eg) and I've learned to trust my subconscious and go with the flow. Now, I think I know the ending (of Book 6) and I'm fairly sure I know who's going to win Janna's heart - but who knows? Things might still change!

Q: Do you share your ideas with friends and family or do you keep your books to yourself?
No, I don't share my ideas because I find if I talk about a new story it loses its freshness and is no longer exciting. There's the danger that having talked it all through, there's no incentive to go through all the hard graft of writing it down. Having said that, I do have a friend and mentor, Gillian Polack, who is an expert on all things medieval. She's guiding me through the Janna Mysteries (making sure I don't say anything too outrageous!) and we talk or email a lot about my ideas and whether they're applicable to the time about which I'm writing - and she's come up with some great ideas of her own, which I've also used.

Q: Any plans for the future?
I'm focused now on finishing the Janna Mysteries and am halfway through the last book (Book 6, with the working title Thyme for Trust.) I have a new book about to come out: Turning the Page, for the Making Tracks series published by the National Museum of Australia, and I've also been commissioned to write a book for Pearson Education. Plus I have a couple of characters (from different stories) who are starting to chatter away in my head ...

More FAQs

Q: Where were you born?
A: Fort Victoria in Rhodesia. Since independence (1980) my home town is now called Masvingo, and it's in Zimbabwe.

Q: How old are you?
A: There's a clue in all my books!

Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to primary school in Fort Victoria, and then on to high school in Salisbury (Harare) I was a boarder for five years and loathed every moment of living in a hostel. But I really enjoyed some of my subjects at school: art, music and English. Maths was a bust - and still is, unfortunately!

Q: What were your favourite books as a child?
A: There wasn't a lot written for children in those days, other than 'the classics' + Enid Blyton and a few other English authors. I loved Enid Blyton and grew up with a seriously skewed vision of my own country because, in my imagination, I lived in England (and still do!) When my own children were young, I discovered many fantastic children's authors, like Susan Cooper (Dark is Rising series), Katherine Paterson and Karen Cushman, plus a multitude of marvellous Australian authors.

Q: What do you like to read now?
A: I have always enjoyed reading crime novels. I started with Agatha Christie and I still enjoy English crime novelists like Elizabeth George (although she's actually American), Minette Walter, Dick Francis and Ruth Rendell. I particularly enjoy reading historical crime by authors like A.E. Marston, Alys Clare, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Sharon Penman and, of course, Ellis Peters, whose Brother Cadfael novels were a huge inspiration when I came to write The Janna Mysteries.

I also enjoy Sharon Penman's historical novels (including When Christ and His Saints Slept, which gives a comprehensive account of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda), and the novels of Edward Rutherford. Three of my favourite novels are The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, A Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks, and A Booke of Days by Stephen Rivelle. Another favourite novelist is Maeve Binchy - she's so good at creating wonderful characters whose lives you really care about.

Q: Are you married? Do you have kids?
A: Yes, I'm married to Mike and I have a son and daughter, Roger and Thurl. They are both married now, and I have two granddaughters and two grandsons. They keep me busy, but I love them all to bits!

Q: Do you have any pets?
A: Not any more. We used to have a wonderful black and white cat called 'Albert' and a 'bitzer' called Bonnie. She looked like a smallish Doberman, but she had a beautiful nature. She was a bit of a wuss, actually. The first novel in the Shalott trilogy is dedicated to Bonnie. I began writing the novels after she died.

Q: What is your favourite food?
A: Chocolate. And chocolate.

Q: When did you start writing books?
A: I started writing way back in primary school, and I still have my story books. They all come with lots of drawings, and they were all heavily influenced by Enid Blyton! I scribbled stories on and off for most of my life until, age 40, I went back to school and did the HSC followed by a BA Communications degree at UTS. I majored in creative writing and only began, then, to take my writing seriously. I began by writing short stories for adults (I still do) and had quite a lot of success, so that inspired me to have a go at writing a novel.

Q: What was it about?
A: It was a crime novel (for adults). It's always a good idea to write the sort of thing you like to read! Unfortunately, those mss are still sitting in a box in a cupboard, along with a whole lot of rejection slips. At that time my daughter was reading teen romance published by Dolly fiction, so I thought I'd give that a go. 'Three's a Crowd' was published by 'Anne Holmes' in 1992. I wrote several other stories, but the series folded, so I've got a whole lot of teen romances sitting in a box as well!

Q: Which is your favourite novel?
A: I loved researching and writing the Shalott trilogy and also the Janna Mysteries, but I also always get very involved in whatever new world and the characters I happen to be writing about. Each new novel is a challenge and an adventure (and I make new 'friends' along the way which is a bonus!)

Q: How much money do you make?
A: Not enough!

Q: Where do your ideas come from?
A: Ideas are everywhere you look - you just have to be aware of imaginative possibilities. I like playing around with the unknown in our world: ghosts, reincarnation, parallel realities, time travel, magic - all that sort of thing. That's what Ghost Boy and the Shalott trilogy are all about. The Janna Mysteries indulge my passion for writing crime, and for history.

Q: Were you good at history at school?
A: No, I hated it. I found it SOOOO boring! It took me a long time to discover that history is really about people - who they love, who they hate, who they fear, what they want to achieve and how far they're prepared to go to achieve their ambition! (All the way in lots of cases!)

Q: Why do you write about medieval England when you live in Australia?
A: I wish I knew! I get these ideas for stories and they niggle and niggle, and the characters keep talking to me until I have to sit down and write about them. Trouble is, the characters who pop into my mind all lived such a LONG time ago!

Q: Why would Australian teenagers be interested in reading about medieval England?
A: Times and societies change, but human nature doesn't. My medieval characters follow the same journey to adulthood that teenagers do today; they do this by challenging themselves, and learning stuff - about themselves, about other people, about the world. As they gain knowledge, so they empower themselves and find out who they truly are inside, and how they want to live their lives. And sure, they make mistakes along the way, they do stupid things, exciting things, dangerous things - but they learn and so they grow. I hope readers will identify with those characters and question themselves as to how they might act in similar circumstances. I also hope they'll get caught up in the excitement of a good, page-turning read! An added bonus: they'll learn a lot about medieval time (in the Janna Mysteries) and about myths and legends (in the Shalott trilogy).

Q: Have you had to do a lot of research for your novels?
A: A HUGE amount! I began with following the 'Arthurian trail' when I wrote the Shalott trilogy, visiting those sites most commonly associated with King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table - places like Glastonbury, Tintagel and 'South Cadbury Castle', which is the favoured site for Camelot. But, once I started on the Janna Mysteries, and was no longer writing about a legendary place (in a parallel reality!) I had to find a real time and a real place to write about. And that's when the hard work really began. I now have a library full of books about medieval life, healing herbs, and so on (see the book list on my webpage) plus I've also visited England twice to walk in the footsteps of my character and visit some of the places to which Janna would have gone. And I'm still learning!

Q: What about Ghost Boy? That's set in Australia.
A: I wrote Ghost Boy after my first novel was published. I was interested in exploring the notion of knowledge travelling through time, and so I thought of introducing a ghost into the story - but where did the ghost come from? I found the answer to that when I read the report of a Royal Commission into the dreadful state of affairs at the Quarantine Station in Sydney during an outbreak of smallpox in 1881. It was a great source of information, and my ghost boy, Tad, was born out of those dark days. In fact, it was out of researching Ghost Boy that my new passion for history was born.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
A: I like to spend time with my family and friends. I love reading and listening to music, and going to movies, the theatre and out to dinner. I live near the beach and I enjoy surfing and snorkelling. I like bush walking and I belong to a bush regeneration group. I'm also lucky as both my husband and I love travelling, and we've been to some wonderful places: the Antarctic, Egypt, India and Europe. We also have a 4WD and have pretty much camped our way around Australia. It was a wonderful experience. Next year we're going to South America.

Q: What does the future hold for you?
A: Lots more of the above. Finishing The Janna Mysteries. And hopefully, the inspiration to write a whole lot more stories.