About the author:
Not Bad People is the story of three friends, thirty years of shared secrets and one impulsive gesture. Can you please tell us a bit more about the book?
Not Bad People is what I think of as moral dilemma fiction: ordinary people faced with difficult choices. The book opens with three thirty-something friends – Melinda, Lou and Aimee – having a few drinks on New Year’s Eve. They’ve decided to have a letting go ceremony, each writing down something they want to be free off and tying it to a sky lantern to soar off into the new year and out of their lives. Except that one of the lanterns appears to catch on fire as it flies above the ranges – and they wake up the next day to find that a light aircraft has crashed in the same area.
What inspired the idea behind the book?
A real life letting go ceremony! I was invited to join a group of women doing exactly this a few years ago. None of the lanterns we used caught fire, fortunately, but as they flew off into the distance I thought to myself ‘Ooooh, I wonder what would happen if they hit something?’. The first chapter came from there – but I didn’t figure out the rest of the book till much later. I put those first few scenes in a folder on my computer and left it for over a year.
This is your debut novel. Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you came to write and publish Not Bad People?
I’ve always been a big reader, and pottered about writing bits and pieces for myself. The turning point was breaking up with a boyfriend in my early thirties and being left with a summer holiday that I didn’t want to take on my own. Instead, I took myself off to a writing festival in Iowa. It gave me the confidence and the material to apply for a Masters in Creative Writing at the IIML in Wellington, which I’d always wanted to do.
The manuscript I wrote for my degree won a competition, and was considered by a publisher for a while. While I was waiting to hear from them, I broke up with another boyfriend (there’s a theme emerging here…) To distract myself, I pulled up the first chapter of Not Bad People and started working on it again. HarperCollins bought Not Bad People when it was only three chapters old. Clearly I should continue with the doomed relationships. They seem to be good for my creativity.
(BTW – there is NOTHING better than bumping into your ex and telling him that you’ve just sold a novel.)
You have a background in journalism. Although this book is a work of fiction, did any of your experiences as a journalist influence your writing or the idea for the book?
I’m a business journalist, so not directly. I suspect a book called Not Bad Oil Traders would have limited appeal. But my job may partly explain my interest in how our finances affect our relationships with other people. The writer Grace Paley said every story was ultimately about blood and money, and I am fascinated by the secret resentments we can harbour even towards those we love – especially towards those we love – when it comes to what you have, what I have, what you think I owe you, why you’re doing better than me. It’s just so interesting.
And some of the less enjoyable bits of my early career in journalism I’ve given to Aimee. In the book, she starts to have mental health issues while working at a newspaper; I had some nasty bouts of anxiety when I was in print media. It was extremely cathartic to put that experience to creative use.
What was your favourite book of 2018 and what book are you most looking forward to in 2019?
My 2018 book has accidentally become my 2019 book as I’m only halfway through it, but I’m reading super slowly because I don’t want it to end: Glen David Gold’s memoir I Will Be Complete. Unless it takes a real U-turn in the last 100 pages, it’s my top pick. And my 2019 book is actually a 2018 book that I can’t wait to grab a copy of when I’m in back in Australia later this month – Holly Throsby’s Cedar Valley. I utterly adored her first book Goodwood and can’t wait to read this one.