Minnie Darke – Gemini with Virgo Rising, Scrabble cutthroat and knitter, lover of books, freshly sharpened pencils and Russian Caravan tea – divides her time between her kitchen table and a rather cute writing studio in the backyard of her home in Hobart, Tasmania.
Star-Crossed is a novel about childhood sweethearts Justine and Nick who are reunited as adults, and Justine’s efforts (manipulating Nick’s love of the astrology section in the magazine that she happens to write for) to tempt fate and rekindle their long-lost love. What inspired the idea behind the book?
The idea for Star-crossed first came to me when I was a young journalist, working at a small suburban newspaper. My computer log-in gave me access to the page that included the stars: short horoscopes of the heavily syndicated kind, written by some distant star-gazer who would never in a million years actually read our modest little publication. It occurred to me that I could – theoretically, of course – make a few minor adjustments to the horoscopes: rewrite them so they were scarily relevant to one friend, use them to give some much-needed but sensitive advice to another, that sort of thing. And this idea got me to thinking.
What would happen if you did change the horoscopes in order to send a secret message to a particular Scorpio, Libra or Gemini? What about all the other Scorpios, Librans and Geminis out there in reader-land? Just how much misdirection, chaos and mischief could be caused?
Apparently, so I’ve learned in recent months, horoscope adjustment is more common than we might think. A media acquaintance of mine confessed that he snared his true love – a fiery Aries lass – by tweaking the stars at the paper where he worked. And, I’ve read that the employees of a certain Piscean media baron have on occasion messed about with his stars in an effort to keep him in a good mood.
As the name suggests, Star-Crossed features heavy astrological themes and features a great deal of astrology-specific terminology. How much research was required to write this book, and what did the research process look like?
I suppose that in some ways, I’ve been accidentally researching Star-crossed for a very long time. My mother and grandmothers were great readers of women’s magazines, so I had quite an exposure to Australian Women’s Weekly, New Idea and Women’s Day, all of which included horoscopes. I spent summers at our family shack, and most magazines would have a new year astrology feature on what the star-signs could expect in the year ahead.
My maternal grandmother, Polly, was a Virgo, and she kept her copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs on the same shelf as her well-thumbed crossword dictionary. She loved being a Virgo. It provided a justification for the fussy way she made the bed, and an excuse for the sometimes-intrusive interest she took in other people’s health problems! All things considered, my childhood provided me with a pretty good grounding in the stereotypes that apply to the twelve sun signs.
When I began the novel in earnest, I needed to do quite a lot of deliberate reading about the sun signs, rising signs, moon signs, the houses of the zodiac, and more. However, it’s important for readers to know that you don’t have to be any kind of expert to enjoy Star-crossed. After all, its main character, Justine, is a very long way from being an expert in the field!
This book is your first work of commercial fiction, and has been described as both funny and gloriously romantic. What inspired you to explore this genre?
I am a great lover of books and stories, and I read – and write – across a wide range of genres. I’m open to stories of any kind appearing in my imagination!
Like many people, I enjoy stories with happy endings, and I’m a sucker for a love story. Among my favourite romantic comedies of all time are Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Madeleine St John’s Ladies in Black, One Day by David Nicholls, and of course, anything and everything by Jane Austen.
Star-crossed is probably influenced quite heavily by romantic comedies that I’ve encountered on the big screen. The romantic comedy films I love include Love Actually, Amelie and When Harry Met Sally.
Are you a firm believer in all things astrology yourself?
I don’t know that I believe in astrology, necessarily, but I like astrology! Especially, I’m interested in the way that people use their star-signs to understand or explain themselves; many people enjoy the way they live up to – or confound – the stereotypes attached to their star signs. There can be a certain tribalism to astrology, also. People born under the same sign, or on the same day, often perceive that they have some kind of kinship with each other. All of this is quite fascinating, I think.
What is the last book you read that you absolutely could not put down?
I hugely enjoyed Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. This novel has the feel of a fairy tale, and while it might be pigeonholed in genre of fiction-fantasy, I simply enjoyed it as a good story, well-told. In this novel, a young girl discovers her power for magic, but it’s not the sort of ‘intellectual’ magic that her male mentor wants her to learn. Rather, hers is an earthy, intuitive and very female kind of magic. I’m going to be hunting down more books by Novik.