Fiona McCallum was raised on a farm in South Australia. She now lives in suburban Adelaide, but remains a country girl at heart. Fiona writes ‘heart-warming journey of self-discovery stories’ that draw on her life experiences, love of animals and fascination with the human condition. She is the author of ten Australian bestsellers. A Life of Her Own is her eleventh novel.
Your latest book, A Life of Her Own, is about standing up for yourself, making difficult choices, and chasing your dreams. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
Okay, but no spoilers! Alice Hamilton has been raised to keep the peace and fall into line. She’s with a man she cares about and respects and who, on the surface, looks to tick most of the right boxes. Most importantly, he’s everything her ex-husband wasn’t. Or so she’s always thought. But when she faces the first emotional upheavals of her life since being with David, she’s shocked and heartbroken to find an absence of empathy and emotional support. It’s in part a story about the domino effect of one or two smaller things happening that make you question everything – the past, the present, and the future. I write from experience and this is what happened to me. Just like I did, Alice realises that one of the loneliest places to be is in a bad relationship.
What inspired the idea behind the book?
I’ve been researching toxic families, narcissism and other personality disorders for quite a few years for several reasons. One night, something fell into place for me about a situation I’d been in nearly two decades ago. I’d always thought a woman I’d worked for was simply mean and a bully. But it suddenly dawned on me that she was most likely a narcissist and I’d been the victim of her gaslighting campaign. In just a matter of weeks I was an emotional wreck and completely questioning my abilities and sanity. It was a horrible experience, and thankfully one I got out of quite quickly. But these types of people are dangerous and everyone needs to be aware of them. I actually set out to write something quite dark, but my creativity overruled me!
Many of your stories are heartwarming journeys of self-discovery, and the power and support that comes from strong friendships. Why do you choose to write about these themes?
The short answer is celebration, gratitude and to encourage others to find their best life. As I’ve said, I write about what I know. So, my characters tend to share my experiences to varying degrees.
I’m blessed with having had an interesting, though at times traumatic, journey so far to discover my strength, resilience and independence and ultimately achieve a fulfilling life. I think society generally doesn’t encourage us, especially women, to have big dreams, let alone the courage to chase them. Even with all the setbacks and heartbreak I’ve experienced in being self-employed and ultimately becoming a full-time novelist, I’ve always felt far more satisfied than in any other salaried job or lifestyle. Wealth isn’t just about the numbers in your bank account. We’re responsible for our own lives and happiness and can change most things for the better if we want to badly enough. It can be really hard to push beyond the barriers placed before us and the conditioning of our upbringing, but it’s so worth doing. And there’s no better feeling than proving people wrong! Through my down-to-earth stories and relatable characters, I’d like to encourage readers, especially women, to consider where and who they are and choose what they want out of life, not just settle and do what’s expected.
And I’m really passionate about incorporating the power and support from strong friendships in my writing, too, because, again, it’s what I’ve experienced. My dad died when I was nineteen and in losing him I lost the one immediate family member I could truly rely on for encouragement, love and support. Thankfully I’ve had a couple of very dear and special friends to fill the void. Without them I might not be here.
What are your writing rituals and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m a little obsessive and thrive on routine. I write in the mornings, in silence, and prefer to work by hand with a mechanical pencil on blank paper in a bound notebook. I never start a story until I know how it ends. Only when I know where I’m heading can I be convinced it’s a complete and viable story. Of course, things change along the way and I’m happy for the characters to explore different routes – meandering off course is where some of the best adventures and ideas are to be found.
And another ritual – or a non-ritual! – perhaps useful for the aspiring writers out there, is that I refuse to keep a notebook and pencil by the bed for ideas that might appear in a dream or wake me up. I value my sleep far too much! From day one, I trained my intuition, or wherever these things reside, to wait for a more appropriate time to bring forth brilliant ideas. In my opinion, no idea is worth interrupting a good night’s sleep for!
I’m currently editing a sequel to A Life of Her Own for release next year. That’s all I’ll say because, a rule I have is to not discuss in detail or publicly what I’m working on until just before publication. Only because so much can change right up until the end.
What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?
My favourite book of 2018 was This House of Grief by Helen Garner. It’s the first of her work I’ve read – I know, I’m late to the party! – and now I’m planning to eventually read everything she’s written. I’m a big fan of crime fiction and true crime – reading it, not doing it, obviously! So, in line with that, I’m looking forward to Louise Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind, which is beckoning to me from a rather high to be read pile. Though, if Jessie Burton (The Muse and The Miniaturist) releases a new adult fiction everything else will be pushed aside and that will become my first priority!