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Interview with Curling Up With A Good Book

What gave you the inspiration to write Striking Out?

I’ve always loved Australian vernacular and I was inspired to try and capture its charm. Australians are the masters of understatement and irony, and everyday Australian language has a unique and interesting flavour that’s tongue in cheek, funny, and used very cleverly, particularly by less scholarly types who tend to have a colourful way with words. An awful night out, for example, might be described as ‘a bit ordinary’, with a raise of the eyebrows and a pointed glance that tells the rest of the story in an amusing way. An Australian commenting on an argument that ended very badly would quite likely say, ‘that went well’, to make people laugh (or provoke the situation further) and restore a fragile sense of harmony. Curse words are used routinely to add colour and interest to otherwise mundane remarks – vulgarity is often used to express a certain cleverness and humour. I’ve been pleased to find, since my novel was released, that readers from all around the globe ‘get’ the way Australians use language and enjoy it too. That’s just wonderful.

Who is your favourite character in the book?

Readers may find this hard to believe, but my favourite character in the book is Des. He’s a creepy, misogynistic, ego-maniac with a soft side that almost redeems him by the end of the novel. And he’s my favourite because I have so much fun at his expense. Creating problems for Des is one of my greatest joys (I’ve made his life even more difficult in the sequel and, truly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke).

Which came first, the novel or the title?

The novel came first and then I agonised and annoyed everyone around me for weeks trying to come up with the right title. I finally settled on ‘Striking Out’ (my daughter’s suggestion) because it so eloquently captured my heroine’s reinvention of herself and, also, because it was a nice play on words for her physical prowess and the fights she gets involved in.

What scene in the book are you most proud of and why?

The scenes in the book I’m most proud of are the sex scenes at the end, largely because it’s not the kind of writing that comes easily to me. My novel tackles a lot of difficult moments head-on, and I felt I had to be brave with the sex scenes too, to do the story justice, even though I wanted to run away from the challenge. It’s not easy to get the balance right when you’re writing sex scenes, but I’m really happy with how they turned out. They’re explicit but not smutty, and readers will hopefully see them as fitting vehicles for the emotions I was trying to express.

Thinking way back to the beginning, what's the most important thing you've learned as writer from then to now?

I’m less anxious as a writer, now that I’ve finished my first book. I no longer hope I can find my way through the difficult parts of the process, I know it, and that makes such a difference to my confidence. I’ve also learnt not to worry when I feel like I need to step away for a while. The breaks I took when I was writing Striking Out turned out to be helpful gestation periods. I see them as a normal, meaningful part of the process now. I guess, overall, the experience of having seen a book through to completion has bolstered my confidence in my ability to write the next one.

What do you like most about the cover of the book?

I really like the texture on the cover of the book. It looks good online, but great in print, where you can see every detail. It’s more complex than it looks at first glance, and I like the textural layers that reveal themselves over time. I really like the font too.

What new release book are you most looking forward to in 2015?

When the 2015 New Year rolled around, I was eagerly awaiting the release of David Baldacci’s Memory Man because the promo material about a lead character with synaesthesia really captured my interest – imagine a crime-fighting hero who starts seeing colours and numbers in highly charged moments as the result of a brain injury. The book didn’t disappoint. I loved it, and it really got me thinking about the creative possibilities arising from different sensory processing. I even wrote an article about it for my Psychology for Writers program.

What was your favourite book in 2014?

My favourite book in 2014 was J.K. Rowling’s (writing as Robert Galbraith) The Cuckoo’s Calling. I love crime fiction, but I’m not keen on graphic violence and I can only take so much suspense. The Cuckoo’s Calling had everything I love in a crime fiction book, without the bits I don’t like – a fabulous (flawed) lead character, a beautifully written story, great plot developments, and a really satisfying ending. I’ve read the whole series now and I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

What's up next for you?

I’m more than half way through the sequel to Striking Out, and I’m within a few months of finishing the first draft of a crime fiction novel with a heroine who’s a forensic psychologist. It’s the first book in a series and it’s much bleaker than the Sharon Jackson (Striking Out) series. I’m really enjoying writing it, and I love being able to jump between the two, very different books.

Interview with I Read Indie

Talking today with Mandy from I Read Indie about books and writing. Here's what I had to say.

What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?

I need creative endeavours in my life in order to maintain my inner balance. I like to write, whether my work gets published or not, because words are my favourite creative medium and I feel more myself when I do. So it’s hard to imagine not writing – I’ve always done it. Having said that, I also design and make my own jewellery using sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones (I’ve got a photo gallery of my creations on my website), and I enjoy that too – it’s much more physical than writing and it’s good to be physically active when you’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen for hours.

I combine writing with occupational psychology work and I’m passionate about helping people (especially other creative people) to survive the professional challenges and achieve their career goals. I love this work and I’m grateful to be able to support other writers, no matter where in the world they reside. Technology is fabulous!

Scarlet Bennett on writing

5 years ago: what were you doing?

I was doing the same kind of work I do now – writing in every spare moment and doing occupational psychology work with individuals, groups, and within organisations. I was mostly writing short stories then, although I’d written an almost complete first novel that I abandoned because I wasn’t happy with it. That particular work will never see the light of day, but I’m glad I wrote it because I developed a lot as a writer through that aborted first effort.

Do you have a certain writing ritual?

I’m very busy, so I made a conscious decision early on to keep my writing routine as flexible as possible. I prefer to write on my laptop, but I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can work on my story if I have a few unexpected spare moments. And I do use the notebook even though I prefer to type than write by hand – I refuse to get wedded to any particular method. I’m the same with time of day. I have no set routine because my day-to-day working life is highly variable. Sometimes I get up early to write, sometimes I tuck into bed with my laptop and write before I go to sleep. My philosophy is that the story is inside me, therefore the external circumstances shouldn’t matter.

My only fixed ritual is that I always start each writing session with a review of the chapter I’ve been working on previously. Editing is a pleasant way to get my mind into gear – less demanding than staring at a blank page – and by the time I’ve edited the previous day’s work, I’m ready to go.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

It’s hard to put my finger on the toughest criticism I’ve received as an author, because sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most, and that’s usually more about the way the criticism is delivered, rather than the criticism itself.

I was sensitive to criticism in my teens and twenties, but I’m much less so now. That’s partly down to maturity, but it’s also because I know how to deal with it now.

I think it’s important for writers to be emotionally robust. Firstly, it makes life a lot more pleasant (no tears!) and, secondly, it frees you to write with courage, to risk causing offence in the service of your story.

Ever fangirled over another author? Who was it?

I’m afraid I reserve my fangirling for singers and guitarists. I fangirl a bit over Australian author Tim Winton – largely because he’s intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive and that’s very appealing – but I’m mostly a sucker for a handsome singer with a voice that combines raunch with vulnerability, and if he happens to be carrying a guitar, all the better. I also fangirl over Colin Firth, particularly when he comes as Mr Darcy, but that’s only sensible, isn’t it?

Is there an author you'd like to meet?

I’d quite like to meet Tim Winton – in my dreams, at least. If it actually ever happened, I’d probably be too apprehensive to enjoy it. Circumstances like that usually pass much more successfully in my imagination than in my life. I’m the sort of person who would walk away afterwards thinking… ‘I should have said this… ‘I shouldn’t have said that’… ‘Why didn’t I think to ask him about…?’ It’s agony.

Biggest writing pet peeve?

Characters, for me, succeed or fail on two criteria: dialogue and action. If the dialogue’s clumsy or inauthentic, all I can see is the writer and the mechanics. The writing becomes a barrier that keeps me out of the story. If the dialogue is real, the writer disappears and the character becomes a person to me – someone I care about and want to get to know better.

The same is true of action, but I think the stakes are possibly even higher here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tossed a book aside – disappointed at the wasted investment in reading to that point – because a character has been thrown into some kind of action that’s completely out of sync with the psychological profile the author has created. Once again, that takes me out of the story and into the mechanics (in a way that I find difficult to forgive). Action, in real life, emerges from the intersection of person, place and situation. How we behave is influenced by the time and place we find ourselves in, the social and environmental pressures we face, and who we are as people. Credible characters take themselves with them wherever they go – they don’t suddenly undergo a personality bypass in order to help a writer out with a difficult plot point. Not on my reading list, anyway.

Do you read other's reviews of your books?

Absolutely! I’m always curious to know what other people think and I’m grateful for the time and trouble they’ve taken to review my work.

Interview with The Bookdragon

Talking with Mary Jane at The Bookdragon about writing and books...

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I write because it makes me feel better and I’ve just always done it. I like playing with stories and I get the same kind of escapist pleasure from writing a story as I do from reading one. More, in fact. When the story is your own, you can live with it for longer and explore its dimensions and variations in more detail. The world is a hard place to live in sometimes, and writing makes it easier. I can’t say that I ever actually decided to become a writer – I certainly never set out to achieve anything in particular. I’ve always felt a need to express myself creatively, and words are my medium.

Becoming a writer

Can you describe your writing process?

I work best with a blank page in front of me. I know a lot of people prefer to map things out in advance, but my best writing is always unplanned and spontaneous. When I write to a plan, it always falls flat somehow. When I sit in front of a blank page, hoping something will show up, I quite often get a happy surprise. I have difficult days, of course, and I do tend to have ideas about how the next few scenes could develop (if the mood strikes me that way on the day), but I like to let the stories emerge in their own way. The plot developments I like the most in Striking Out grew, without exception, out of that intangible ether of uncertainty and in-the-moment imagination.

My usual process is to start the day by re-reading (and editing) what I wrote the previous day – this helps to get me back in the story – then I find the new content flows quite naturally.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me a year to write a draft of a book, but I can work on more than one book during that period. This year, for instance, I’ll draft two and a half books in the year (and I’m working hard – this is definitely my upper limit). I need a certain amount of writing time, but it’s the thinking time that sets the time frame for me. I need to live with a story for a while, play with it and ponder my plot options, and I’ve found that takes me a year. I wouldn’t like to rush that process.

What do you do when you're not writing?

My day job is in occupational psychology, so I work with people to help them achieve their career goals. There’s huge diversity in my day-to-day work, and I facilitate workshops on a range of different topics, working with organisations and teams in addition to coaching individuals. I’ve recently launched a range on online courses for writers and performers to extend my reach beyond my local area. I still run lots of live workshops, of course, but technology makes it possible for me to work with people from all around the globe, and I love that. I’ve got a Psychology for Writers program that’s proving to be popular, and there’s high demand for my Goodbye Stage Fright program too. You can find out more here if you’re interested http://www.scarletbennett.com.au/online-courses/

In my personal life, I design and make jewellery using sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones in my spare time, and I have a photo gallery on my website.

I read a lot, too, and I’m a particular fan of crime fiction so long as it’s not too violent.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I learn so many things from writing that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll go with this one because it might help other people who are struggling their way through the writing process.

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is how easy it is to craft good writing from a first draft. The first draft stage is hard. Some days, I’m happy with my first pass at an idea. Other days, I look back on what I’ve done and feel quite dejected – I haven’t hit the mark and I know it.

I think this is one of the things that blocks people’s progress when they’re writing. It’s easy to feel stuck at this point, and to doubt whether your work has any merit.

But the re-drafting process is a whole new phase, and there’s real value in having something on the page to work with, even if the first draft of an idea isn’t very good. I find that once I have the ideas on the page, I can craft them into something I like much more easily than I expect. So I’m a great believer in the value of getting your ideas out. You can always come back and refine them later. Writing is an organic process – it never really ends – and I’ve learned to trust that my story will evolve over time into something I like.

What's next for you?

My second novel will be published next year. It’s the first in a series, this time in the crime fiction genre, and it features a heroine who works as a forensic psychologist, using her professional skills to unveil the secrets that people will kill to keep hidden. It’s much darker than Striking Out, bleaker and more cynical, and I’m really enjoying the change of mood.

I’m working on the sequel to Striking Out as well, and I’m grateful to be able to switch between this lighter, humorous work, and the darker piece that takes more out of me emotionally. It’s wonderful to be able to further develop my Striking Out characters – I’ve made Des’s life very difficult in the sequel. Des is a misogynistic, sleazy ego-maniac and making his life a misery gives me a lot of pleasure.

I have a non-fiction book close to completion, too, and I’m hoping to have that ready for submission in the next six months or so. It’s a book on psychological profiling for writers, to help writers create psychologically credible personality structures for their characters.

Interview with WS Momma Readers Nook

Talking to Erika Messer at WS Momma Readers Nook about writing...

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write! Seriously. There’s no substitute for sitting down in front of a blank page and doing the hard yards. Be the person who does it, rather than the person who talks or dreams about it.

Be kind to yourself. No one’s first draft is a masterpiece (well, maybe someone’s might be, but certainly no one I know!). Just keep going with your writing, even if you think what you’ve written is flawed. You’ll fix the flaws when you redraft, so keep moving. New ideas might arise as you progress with your work that would require a different ‘fix’ than the one you might choose early, in any case.

Find your own style. Some people plot everything out in advance. Others make things up as they go along. And plenty of people sit somewhere in the middle. There are pros and cons to every approach, so don’t let anyone tell you there’s only one right way. The right way is the way that works for you.

Finally, write what you’d like to read, not what you think might sell or impress. That way the process will be intrinsically rewarding, and that makes all the difference when the going gets tough – and the going always gets tough somewhere on the journey.

Just write

 

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The hardest part for me is always the redrafting process. I have more ideas than time, and I get real pleasure from sitting down in front of a blank page when I’m writing the first draft. It gives me an opportunity to play with some of the ideas I’ve been entertaining in my head, and I enjoy that process more than I can say. I particularly love it when I’m surprised by what shows up.

I find the redrafting process more tedious. There are a few key reasons for this. Firstly, by some quirk of fate (rather than some virtue I’m claiming credit for), I have a very good memory. This means that I quickly memorise the flow of words and that makes it hard for me to see new opportunities and improvements once I have a specific sequence in my head. I also enjoy big picture thinking much more than detail, so scrabbling around in the minutiae is never the fun part for me. The final challenge for me is that I’m easily bored. I like playing with new ideas, not tinkering endlessly with old ones that don’t seem so shiny anymore. I remind myself that my job is to maximise the shine for my readers, and that motivates me – until I start thinking about chocolate, and then I find myself all too easily distracted. I always gain weight when I’m revising!

 

Do you have a specific writing style?

I do have a specific writing style, but the guidelines I follow aren’t easy to explain. I don’t enjoy pretentious writing. It gets between me and the story, and I’m not interested in reading a book just so someone can admire themselves in the mirror and say ‘look how clever I am’. So one of my key rules is to make my style as invisible as possible. My writing is a vehicle for the story and I try to keep myself as far out of the way as I can. That means using the right words rather than the most impressive words I know. It means making sure that particular words don’t jump out, because they’re not quite right for some reason. It means ensuring that the flow of words is smooth and fluent so the reader is not pulled out of the story by a clumsy rhythm. I try to wear a cloak of invisibility, and if people say my novel is an ‘easy read’ (as a number of reviewers have), then I feel I’ve done my job.

On Writing


While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?

No. And that’s a good thing. There were some unsavoury types in Striking Out! I did feel, though, as if my characters were real people. For me, they have to be alive in my head before I can do them justice on the page. I need to know what they look like, how they talk, how they move, how they think, what they wear. This is not so I can describe them to my readers, although it certainly helps with that, but because I only know what they’re going to do and say next once I can actually see them in my head. Scenes run through my mind like movies, and when I’m not sure what should happen next, I close my eyes and run the scene from the start. Once a mental movie is rolling, the flow is usually smooth and easy. Funnily enough, once the movie has revealed the answer, there’s a strange sense of inevitability about it – ‘of course, that’s what should happen!’ Why didn’t I think of that?


Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I like to draw my own messages from novels – which may or may not be the ones the author intended – and I assume my readers like to do the same, so I never write with an agenda. I’m happy for people to take what they want from my work, and grateful that they’ve taken the time to do so. Having said that, there’s enough darkness in the world without me adding to it, so I try not to depress anybody. Life can be incredibly hard at times. I like books that offer some respite.