Interview with author: Fiona McCallum

By Linda Hall

Saving Grace is Fiona McCallum's fourth novel in two years - a huge achievement.

It is also the first in The Button Jar series, and reading this one has made me look forward to the next instalment.

Saving Grace tells the tale of Emily Oliphant, a nice young woman who marries the wrong man. When she finally gets the courage to leave him she must face the bitter tongue of not only her mother, but all the nasty gossips in the small township.

However, with a helping hand from a new friend, Emily finds her way and embarks on new projects. She also sees a new side to her father as he reaches out to help her do up a rundown project.

It's an easy-to-read, lovely light-hearted story that makes you feel good. There's no murder and mayhem, just an ordinary girl going through a life-changing experience.

I asked Fiona some questions:

You are making a name for yourself with warm, light-hearted reads.

Do you intend to change tack?

Not in the foreseeable future. I read for entertainment, escapism and to generally feel good, and I tend to write the sort of books I enjoy myself. I think there's enough madness, mayhem and unhappiness in the world without reading about more of it for fun. And I'm a sucker for a happy ending!

I do think a heartwarming journey of self-discovery story with a hopeful, happy ending is something a lot of readers, like me, can relate to.

I think most of us have been through some pretty tough times and made it out the other side. That's really the story I'm telling.

Why did you decide to do a series rather than another stand-alone novel?

I didn't actually set out to write a series, but the story got so long it needed splitting in two. And then I realised there was another part to it. It's currently a trilogy and I'm hoping there will be a fourth book. I've found that a story is as long as a story is and it's not worth fighting these things.

What comes first for you, the character or the plot?

That's a good question, but a tricky one - I've never really given it much thought. I think, for me, the character and the plot are equal and occur at the same time. So far my stories have been focusing on the journey of self-discovery, where a character learns to have faith and trust in the things that can't be controlled, finds what makes their heart sing and, even if it's tough going, has the courage to follow their dreams. And then there's the plot - the vehicle of the story to show the character's journey.

You have written four books in two years. How hard has that been?

I actually spent nine years writing four manuscripts before I finally found a publisher, and then from signing a contract it can take 12 months for the book to arrive on the shelves. So I had a body of work ready to go and am not nearly as prolific as I may appear! At this stage, I'm managing one manuscript a year.

Tell us about a typical day when you are writing.

I'm very much a routine person (actually, quite routine obsessed) and like to go into my "zone". On a writing day, I'll check my emails and Facebook and then at 8am go back to bed (having had breakfast and fully dressed) with a mug of coffee. I'll look at the next scene I have to write (which I will have noted at the end of the previous writing day), let it percolate while drinking my first cuppa and reading whatever book I'm currently reading (at the moment women's fiction/popular fiction).

On my second cup of coffee I'll focus on the scene and try to conjure up the opening sentence. When I've got the opening, I pick up my mechanical pencil and start writing. (Yes, it's crazy, but I write by hand. I've tried other ways, but this is what works for me.) I'll go into a sort of trance and, if it's a good day, write like a demon for up to a few hours and finish, exhausted, having written a couple of thousand words. Sometimes the scene is a really short one and there's nothing more ready to come up, so I'll do some more reading. I finish at noon, have a half-hour lunch break and then go into my office to type up my writing, answer emails and deal with any other business-related things that have cropped up.

Can you switch off when you finish for the day or do your characters run amok in your head?

I try to switch off, but my head is constantly busy with characters and storylines running around. I'm lucky I'm blessed with ideas waiting to be written, but it's a very busy place up there in my head. It can be quite exhausting to live with at times, and doesn't leave a lot of room for much else in my life.

What is the first book you remember reading?

A Little Golden Book called Pepper Plays Nurse. It's about a little girl, Pepper, who plays nurse to animals. I've always been a huge animal lover, so Pepper would have appealed to me.

I must have been 3 or 4 and I remember reading this book in the back of the car on the way home from the Royal Adelaide Show. We didn't often get to go to the Royal Show as Adelaide was around 600km away, so it was a special time.

I still have the book and it's got pink stains on some of the pages from me eating fairy floss whilst reading. I treat my books with much more respect now.

How does it feel seeing your novels in bookshops?

A little surreal.

What's next on your agenda?

I've just started working on a new stand-alone story - it's too early to talk about. And then hopefully when that's written, near the end of the year, the fourth book to The Button Jar series will be ready to write - it just doesn't seem to want to be written at the moment and I've found you can't force these things. The manuscripts for the next two instalments after Saving Grace are already written and awaiting editing and production.

- Hamilton News

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