I had the pleasure of engaging in a read along with 2 of my dear friends, Tien of Tien’s Blurb and Maisie of SleepyWiredStudios it was one of the most engaging and engrossing reads I had read in some time, so much so, I suffered a book hangover after reading this book!!!
The Poppy War Our protagonist is Rin – a war orphan who dwells in the lower socio-economic part of the Empire with a family who is the head of a notorious Opium Trade and believed they’d finally be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise. However, when Rin aces the Keju (the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to attend elite academies), it was a shock to everyone as it was unheard of for a war orphan from Rooster Province to blitz the test without cheating and a shock to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free of the life dictated to her. What an amazing surprise that she got into Sinegard: the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising… but surprises aren’t always good… Given Rin’s stature, her time at Sinegard is not a walk in the park as she is singled out and targeted due to her socio-economic status, colour and gender yet before long, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power: an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Rin continues exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a well known yet seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances. As Rin learns of her new found power and that myths are very much real, the Nikara Empire was at peace until it is learnt that a third Poppy War is close at hand….
This is definitely another book love for 2018, a book that consumed me so much I experienced a book hangover. I had the privilege of doing a read along with 2 of my girlfriends and we were all so mesmerised with the story line. From start to finish, I was engrossed in the plot and what becomes of the main character we follow, Rin. I loved the character development as we learn about her life as an orphan girl then forced into a family who is involved in an Opium trade and her determination to escape the life dictated to her to a life she wants of her own – the journey she takes, the torment she endured and her self discoveries really kept me turning the page!! In addition to Rin, I also loved all the characters that we follow in this story. Whether good or bad – each character was written extremely well and what I enjoyed was regardless of one’s strengths – there was a vulnerability which made it real..
CONTENT WARNING: Yes I should note, this book does come with a content warning as it covers Warfare and the author does not at all sugarcoat it from battle to Prisoner of War (PoW) treatment to torture. It is quite graphic, however I feel the author did a great job in writing these parts as once again, she kept it real despite the world we are reading. Although parts were not easy to read, I realise they would not have been easy to write, but these parts were written so well nonetheless. I had numerous emotional reactions throughout the book: gasping, laughing, cringing, anger – there’s even a part that was a bit of a tearjerker..
I loved this book so much, I loved the characters.. this is not a book I will forget in a hurry!!!
Special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this book.
This question is from Maisie: Rin is the main character we follow in this story however we come to meet some wonderful and very unlikeable characters in “The Poppy War” is there a particular character you enjoyed writing more than the other?
I love writing Jiang the most! He’s hilarious and he gets to do whatever he wants. Ramsa was fun too; I’m excited to expand his role in the sequel.
This question is from Tien: I’ve been searching everywhere for the name of this series but I cannot see it anywhere – is there a name for this series and how many installments could we expect?
It’s The Poppy Wars Trilogy.
I was curious to know your inspiration behind Rin’s background (like her back story from being an orphan girl to her transition to Sinegard) and inspiration for the militia academy.
Rin’s character arc is almost entirely based on the biography of Mao Zedong.
How long did it take for you to write “The Poppy War” how different is the finished product from your original draft/idea?
It took me about three months to write the first draft that I sent out on queries. After I got an agent, we revised for two more months before putting it out on submission. Once I signed with Harper, we put it through three more revision stages–mostly final touch-ups at that point. The finished novel is quite close to what I wrote originally. Most of the revision work was to fix continuity problems and pacing issues.
Outside of writing now: when you’re not writing/reading, what are your hobbies and interests?
Honestly, between schoolwork and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I read a lot–maybe a book every two or three days.
R.F Kuang also said:“I am often asked about the historical atrocities and inspirations in Act 3, and it is bit difficult for me to have to discuss family trauma over and over. I’ve written two essays on the subject that I always link to interviewers”
“I took a deep breath as my eyes lowered to the scars on her chest. “They are the battle wounds of a warrior who went to hell and kicked its ass. They are proof of how strong you are, and a reminder that you are alive!” – Losing Lola by Kirsty Dallas
Intense, captivating and romantic.
Losing Lola is an intense story of mental strength, healing and love overcoming the aftermath of sexual assault. The story has a lot of soul and romance which makes it a captivating read – did I mention that it’s also very sexy? It’s not for the faint-hearted and parts of Lola’s assault experience can be quite confronting. What I liked about this book is that even though Drew was a tough, quiet, military hottie who rescues Lola physically, it’s Lola who pulls herself from her own internal demons and fears. Also in a way, her femininity and vulnerability saved Drew from his past and his shadows. It’s realistic that Lola had a great support network called Mercy’s Angels (women’s shelter) to help her overcome her experience. I liked that the chapters alternate from Lola and Drew’s perspectives, their voices in the story are very different which I felt was well done. The story progresses at a fast pace, there’s a good portion of the story dedicated to Drew and Lola’s relationship development. The message at the end of the book which I thought is highly relevant says “Sexual assault is something you experience. It does not define you.” I recommend this for romance adult readers and those who enjoys a sexy read. This book can be read as a stand-alone!
EXCLUSIVE AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR KIRSTY DALLAS
So how does author Kirsty Dallas write such a compelling romance novel and how does she “stay classy, sassy, and a little bad assy”?
I continued the series as simply a way to highlight and bring attention to these sensitive and important topics.
1. As this is one of the first books I have read in the Mercy’s Angel’s series, could you tell us a bit more about the series and what inspired you to write them?
[KIRSTY] The entire Mercy’s Angels series revolves around violence against women, whether it be child abuse, domestic abuse, or sexual assault, each book follows the heartache, fear and healing a woman goes through when she’s been the victim of such an assault. Mercy’s Angels is a women’s shelter that plays an important role in the healing of each character. The first book in the series, Saving Ella, was written as a healing tool for myself. As a domestic abuse survivor, this was my way of expressing my own fears, healing and dreams. I continued the series as simply a way to highlight and bring attention to these sensitive and important topics. (The next book in this series will actually tackle the subject of the emotional and physical abuse of a man in a relationship, because it’s not just women who are victims of these crimes and I really want to explore and acknowledge that).
2. What are your top 3 tips on writing compelling characters?
[KIRSTY] Plausibility – your character needs to be three dimensional, with real flaws, fears and emotions. Write about characters who display human virtues, characters that readers can look up to and admire. Writing can be very much like acting, in the sense you need to beyour character, you need to think like they would, you need to put yourself outside your comfort zone and explore different emotions, and situations you may not have been in before.
3. Sexual assault can be a very difficult subject matter to explore, what was some of your challenges in writing this novel?
[KIRSTY] I spent a lot of time watching documentaries, and reading biography’s about survivors of sexual assault. This obviously took an emotional toll, spending so much time in the lives of women who had been so deeply scarred by their assault. I just wanted to reach out and hug each of these women, I wanted to make sure they knew their worth, their strength and their ability to overcome such an invasive trauma. Being made to feel so powerless, having something so personal taken from you by force, it’s terrifying, and eventually I had to try and put myself mentally in that situation to create Lola. Needless to say, it was a long and difficult six months of writing.
4. Can you tell us a little bit about your other works?
My current work in progress, Stupid Love (a comedy romance about Cameron Cupid, the child of Eros (God of Love), who in actual fact, hates love).
[KIRSTY] Outside of the Mercy’s Series, I have three standalone novels, Breeze Of Life (which is a road-trip adventure about a girl recovering from cancer), Violet Addiction (which is best friends to lovers romance and tackles drug addiction), and When Nothing Is All You’ve Got (A dystopian romance based in an underground prison). Decker’s Wood is my International Best Seller (a comedy romance about a porn star whose main attraction – his wood – stops performing), Bradley’s Whistle is a spin-off from Decker’s Wood (about a female porn star who escapes some bad press by fleeing to the UK) and my current work in progress, Stupid Love (a comedy romance about Cameron Cupid, the child of Eros (God of Love), who in actual fact, hates love).
5. If there is one message readers can take away from your debut novel, what are you hoping it would be?
[KIRSTY] Strength and survival, you can and therefore you will!
6. How did you come up with the characters for your story?
[KIRSTY] The characters for Losing Lola were developed over three of the Mercy’s books, playing minor roles until it was their time to shine. In Lola I wanted a woman who was flawed. She is socially awkward and has for a long time tackled OCD, but she’s also strong, and independent, and prior to her assault she was completely content with the woman she was. Drew is a man who has made more than his fair share of mistakes, he’s the big, silent and intimidating type. Drew and Lola were two characters who were so unlike, and yet it was these differences that made them work.
7. How did you complete your writing? Did you structure your day a certain way with a word target?
[KIRSTY] I have NEVER written with structure or word targets. For me, I can only write when the feeling is there. If the feeling isn’t there, I listen to music, meditate and read until inspiration hits me. I have found over the years that my writing can’t be forced. Since I’m an author who really enters my characters head space, if I’m not in the right frame of mind to do that, I don’t push it. My readers probably hate me for it because they wait longer for my books, but I will always be true to who I am as a writer. Forcing something that isn’t there will put the wrong words to paper.
8. When you’re not writing or reading, what would you be doing?
[KIRSTY] When I’m not writing, or reading, or plotting, I’m being the best mum I can be to my nine-year-old daughter. Guiding her through life, helping her become the incredible woman I know she will one day be is my number one priority.
9. As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
[KIRSTY] The best advice I have been given, is “show it, don’t tell it”. This is something that sits in the back of my mind every time I sit down to write. I always try to make sure I’m showing the reader the world I see in my head. I want the movie real I see in my mind to be conveyed on paper in such a way that it gives the reader an incredible journey.
Thank you Kirsty for sharing your insights and for the opportunity to review your book. Please keep writing and we’re excited about your current work Stupid Love.
Inspired by Losing Lola, our BFF and creative partner The Curio Boutique has made a little thank you gift based off your book! We hope you will like it.
Book review by NJ and Author Exclusive Interview by NJ and Annie.
Best selling Australian Author, Tara Eglington is a dear friend of Read3r’z Re-Vu and the author of 3 amazing YA novels: How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You, How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You and My Best Friend is a Goddess.
Here, is our exclusive blog interview with Tara!!!
When did you first get inspiration to write? It’s hard to actually remember when it officially started. I was obsessed with reading when I was a kid, and I remember writing my own little ‘spin-off’ stories that were inspired by my favourite characters. I know my teachers in high school always assumed that I would do something related to writing for a career, but it was only when I was around 20 that I became obsessed with building a story around a girl who didn’t want to be kissed! I played around with the idea in my mind for around six months, before I officially declared at 21 that I was going to write a book. I then sat down at the computer every day for about 10 months, until I had a finished manuscript. That was How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You, which was published by Harper Collins Australia seven years later.
What is the title of your debut novel and what inspired you to write this book? My debut novel was “How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You”, which was followed by a sequel “How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You”. My third and most recent novel is “My Best Friend is a Goddess”. “My Best Friend is a Goddess” is the story of two best friends, Emily and Adriana, who in alternating chapters. I was inspired to write Goddess because I wanted to write about the ups and downs of female friendship, as well as touch upon some topics like envy, self-esteem, the pressure on women to be ‘pretty’, first love, and grief. It was also inspired by a painful falling out with a best friend in high school, at the end of Year 10.
Is there any particular reason you chose this genre? I love writing Young Adult books – I read a crazy amount of YA when I was a teenager, and still read this genre. It’s a fascinating period to write about because the characters are in the process of discovering who they are in terms of their identity, their passions, hopes, and goals, and are experiencing so many things for the first time. I kept a diary from ages 12-22, and I have drawn upon some of these experiences (like the lost friendship) in my novels. I love re-reading these diaries as there are so many emotionally charged entries! The diary entry in Goddess where Emily talks about how frustrated she is because she feels like she’s always being judged by her appearance – ‘I want to believe that ‘Pretty’ isn’t everything’ – was inspired by a very similar diary entry I made at 15.
What’s the name of your favourite book? “Anne of Green Gables.” I first read it at 14, and I still love it. Anne and Gilbert were one of the inspirations for the Aurora/Hayden dynamic in “How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You”. Another favourite is “I Capture the Castle” – it’s the story of a 17 year old girl, Cassandra, who lives with her artistic, eccentric family in a decaying English castle – the story is told through Cassandra’s diary entries, and it’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1930’s. There was a film a few years back, but the book is far, far superior.
What’s the first book you ever read? The first book would have been a picture book, but I can’t recall what one! I do remember reading “Heidi” at age six, and I became obsessed with it. I desperately wanted to live in a cabin in the mountains of Switzerland!!!
Where is your favourite place to read? In bed, on the weekend. When I’m not writing a new novel I really take the opportunity to indulge in reading. When I’m in writer mode, most of my weekend is spent at the computer, so I go through long periods where I don’t have time to pick up a book. When I’m on break, I start trying to make my way through the stacks of TBR’s that I’ve acquired from online buying sessions via Booktopia.
If you’re not reading or writing, what would you be doing? Cooking! Or watching a cooking program – my favourite way to relax is to watch “Master Chef” or Netflix’s “Chef’s Table.” Some of the chefs are so incredibly clever and creative – if I wasn’t an author, I would love to do something with food.
If you had the chance to have a dinner date with any fictional literary character, who would it be, where would it be and why? L M Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) – she is my favourite writer, and there are so many questions I would like to ask her about her characters and her experience as a writer in another era, when being a female writer was incredibly unusual (she lived from 1874-1942). I’d love the dinner to be on Prince Edward Island, Canada, which is where Anne of Green Gables was set, as I have always dreamt of visiting!
What was the last book you read? (title/genre/author/rating out of 5 stars) The Golden Child by Wendy James (Australian author). It was a real page turner – I’d rate it 4.5 stars!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever received from a fan? The coolest thing I ever had a reader do was when Amanda, The Bookish Manicurist created nails that were How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You themed! They were amazing and even featured little Aurora’s! Photo Courtesy: The Bookish Manicurist
If your life was turned into a movie, who would you like to play you? Hmmmm. Tough one. I can’t think of an actress that looks similar to me….my husband suggested Blake Lively, which was unexpected and flattering, so I’ll go with that!
As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given? The advice that I would pass on to anyone else who wants to write, is to have confidence in yourself. Listen to constructive feedback from those within the industry, and work on becoming a better writer, but you also have to cultivate a fierce inner determination and optimism.
The other advice I would give is that writing requires sacrifice. Generally that sacrifice is time – and unfortunately, unless you write full time, you’ll have to carve out writing time from what remains after a full working week. Sadly, this is often time that you would spend relaxing, seeing friends or family. I try to juggle what I can, but some area always suffers, it’s unavoidable. You can’t manage everything. Each novel I write is two years of work, and I do have to say ‘no’ and even though I feel guilty about it, I make sacrifices in my personal life to make deadlines, and to achieve big goals. If your family and friends love you, and value what you are trying to achieve, then they will understand. I then try to give more to these areas when I’m on break between novels.
Hmmm. Rather than a particular statement or piece of advice, I think what helped me the most was the confidence that my English teachers in high school, instilled in me. One of my English teachers was formerly an editor at quite a few of the well-known Publishing houses in the UK and Australia, and when she learned through the grapevine that I hoped to be a novelist one day, she actually approached me after class and said seriously ‘I think you can achieve that goal.’ That was huge for me. After I wrote my first novel (which was at that point, un-signed) and other people would tell me that the odds of being published were close to impossible, I always still had that quiet confidence within me that said ‘No, I will be published.’
The Top 10: This or That
Ice cream or Ice Block? Ice cream!
Library or Bookstore? That’s like choosing your favourite child! Libraries I think, because they were my saving grace growing up in a small town – a portal to a myriad of different worlds!
Vegemite or Peanut Butter? Vegemite! I wouldn’t cope without it! I feel like it’s one of those ‘cure all’s for any ailment 😉
Chicken or Beef? I’m a vegetarian actually! ;-/
Winter or Summer? Tough one. Used to be summer, but now that I ski, winter has become more of a favourite. I have to have mountains around – snow and mountains make winter magical!
Tea or Coffee? Coffee by a mile! My husband is an amateur barista, so we drink a lot of it!
Favourite Chocolate: Haighs
Favourite Colour: Burgundy!
Ultimate Holiday Destination: The Maldives! I’m obsessed…mostly because I love snorkelling and spying on fish “Under da sea, under da sea….”
When reading, I love to eat/drink:
Summer fruits – peaches, nectarines, apricots…
Famous last words: “Imagine if” – that’s the writer-brain in action!
Make sure you get a hold of Tara’s books.. they’re a lot of fun to read!!!
They are the pinnacle of contemporary YA reads!!!
Australian Author, Greg Barron is a friend of Read3r’z Re-Vu. I had the pleasure of meeting Greg at his author signing in Dymocks, Parramatta in 2012 when he released his debut novel “Rotten Gods“: a thrilling book where a new wave of terror threatens a world torn by inequality, conflict, economic disaster and environmental chaos. A time when heads of state gather in Dubai in an attempt to bring society back from the brink of global catastrophe however extremists hijack the conference centre and the clock starts ticking: seven days until certain death for presidents and prime ministers alike, unless the terrorists’ radical demands are met… A page turner that grips you to the end… let’s get to know Greg…
When did you first get inspiration to start writing? When I was just six years old I wrote, typed up and “self published” a short book about dinosaurs. I was in my twenties when I started writing my first serious novel, but I lost my way after a few chapters. It was a lot harder than I’d expected. Finally, in my early thirties I managed to finish a novel, but it took me another ten years of writing to get a publishing contract. Rotten Gods was the novel that got me there. I’m addicted to stories, and have been ever since I could read.
What inspired you to write your debut novel “Rotten Gods”? The World Trade Center attacks in New York sparked a series of events that included the invasions of two nations, millions of casualties, and an escalation of “tit for tat” terrorist attacks. I became interested in the motivations of all parties involved. I wanted to write a novel that helped me (and ultimately readers) to understand why various groups and individuals act the way they do. I had also grown up in the “golden age” of international thrillers. I devoured books by authors such as Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum. I wanted to write an exciting page turner that would thrill and entertain readers, and take them on a journey through exotic destinations.
Is there any particular reason you chose this genre? Despite my grounding in classic thrillers, I never set out to write in any particular genre. In fact, I was surprised when HarperCollins picked me up as a thriller author and asked me to write two more books in the same vein. Having said that, I have a natural desire to keep a story moving forward, pages and pages of conversations bore me as a reader so I tend to keep the sequence of events unfolding as a writer. I’m currently working on a historical novel (another genre I’ve always loved), and it’s a page turner.
What was the secret to getting your work done in writing your book – did you constantly snack on chocolate or treat this like a movie with index notes all over your wall? Or have a photo of an inspirational person as your desktop? There was no secret except for getting in the routine of writing every day. Even if it’s just half an hour before heading out for a day job, daily writing is a very powerful thing. I used to obsess about my daily word count, but now I do my best to ignore it. I know instinctively when I’ve done enough for the day, close the computer and walk away. Sometimes I pin inspirational quotes to my wall, usually by writers and other creators, but they eventually get covered up by maps or other items that I might happen to need as background.
Tell us about your main characters in the books – how did you come up with their names and personality profile for the story? The interesting thing about Marika, the main character in Rotten Gods is that I originally called her Raelene. My agent laughed, and told me that it was a bogan Aussie name, so I had to change it. I’m not sure exactly where the name Marika Hartmann came from, but after the novel was published I came across a real life person with the same name online. We met up when I went to Perth and now we’re great mates! In my current work in progress, which I’m hoping will be published late next year, many of the characters lived in real life. When my research was finished, and I’d found out everything I could about their lives, my fiction brain kicked in and started filling in the blanks. I’ve found it to be a really exciting process.I rarely write formal character profiles, just scrawl notes here and there when I think of them, either with paper and pen or on my phone. I use One Note for quick observations and even used it to structure my last novel.
Did you ever experience writer’s block? How did you overcome it? Writer’s block is a crisis of confidence, when nothing you write seems to have any worth. There’s only one solution, and that’s to keep on writing through it. I’ve been in this situation more than once, but I usually know why it’s happening. Bad rejections can bring it on. I force myself to sit and write. Sooner or later, as Hemingway once said, “the juices will flow.”
Are there any particular issues or themes you have addressed in your books that you are hoping readers will really get out of the story? I’m careful not to talk down to my readers or assume they know less than I do. People usually have had a much more interesting and informative life than strangers give them credit for. Many readers have said to me that they loved Rotten Gods not just for the story, but because they learned a lot. My answer to that is “So did I.” My research took me across the world and immersed me in dozens of non-fiction books, hundreds of video clips and articles.
I’m a blogger – if I was to read your book then blog it, what do you look for in a blog? What makes a good blog (besides a stunning review of course) The most exciting thing about a book blog is when the blogger truly connected with a book, then explains how and why. Dry, boring reviews are for the newspaper critics, bloggers have the opportunity to present a personal point of view.
Let’s get to know you: What’s the first book you ever read? I clearly remember the first time I ever finished a book with real chapters. I was about seven years old and the novel was called “Double Trouble for Rupert.” It was the dawning of a new age for me. Within weeks I was devouring Hardy Boys detective stories and Enid Blyton’s adventure stories. I was privileged to find an open door to this amazing world of fiction and I’ve been living there ever since.
If you’re not reading or writing, what would you be doing? Well I do love fishing, and try to get out to sea in my small boat every weekend. I go with my father and I feel very privileged to have this special time with him. Of course the weather and family commitments get in the way so I don’t get out as regularly as I’d like. I enjoy walking, and fit in a half hour stroll in the local bush every day. The rest of the time you’ll find me washing dishes, mowing the lawn, going to barbecues at friends’ houses. I also work part time as a librarian, and teach computers and music.
What was the last book you read? (title/genre/author/rating out of 5 stars) I’m ten pages from the end of Devour by LA Larkin. It’s a thriller and I’ll give it 4 out of 5 as it’s brilliantly researched, well written, with complete characters and is a lot of fun to read. The plot is a bit improbable right from the start but I’m prepared to accept that in return for a good read.
As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given? Never, ever, ever give up.
Please feel free to connect with me so I can share upcoming news: Twitter: @gjbarronbooks Facebook: facebook/gregbarronauthor Instagram: gjbarronbooks Web: gregbarron.com
Marika Hartmann Series
Many thanks to Greg Barron for your time and for supporting Read3r’z Re-Vu.
Blog Interview completed by Annie
Bloomsbury Publishers contacted me to be part of the launch and blog tour of Elizabeth Rose (E.R) Murray’s debut novel “Caramel Hearts”. Having accepted to be part of this special event, I have no regrets!!! Caramel Hearts is a beautiful and thought provoking coming of age story, one I have rated 5 stars. E.R Murray lives in Ireland where she fishes and grows her own vegies. Caramel Hearts is her first novel.
Caramel Hearts is mind blowing though I felt depressed reading this book, it was so insightful! A beautiful coming of age story however it’s realistic as it’s not just about teenage girls crushing on teenage boys or girls stressing about what to wear to their next party. This book focuses on Liv Bloom, whose life is more complex than other 14 year old girls as her father abandons the family and her mother is a recovering alcoholic, Liv’s older sister struggles to take care of her family and complete her studies. Through the madness, Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her Mum’s handwriting which Liv uses for her journey to self-discovery and reconciliation. As this book is structured around real cake recipes you find throughout the book that adds a light touch to an otherwise depressing storyline, it gave me the urge to get into my baking again. What I liked most about this book (besides the recipes) is it tells a realistic story and focuses on real socio economic issues that teens face and others forget or ignore. I recommend this to all Contemporary YA readers. Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me an advanced review copy in exchange for my review – also thankyou very much for introducing me to the lovely E.R Murray – although she’s oceans away, we still keep in touch by email and it has been a pleasure to read your book and get to know you!!!
Now, let’s meet the author – Elizabeth Rose (E.R) Murray…
When did you first get inspiration to write? I always wrote as a child, mainly short stories and epic poems that would fill entire notebooks. I was very inspired by ancient myths and legends! I would also tell myself stories when I went to bed at night, revisiting them the following night to recap and continue on the adventure. These tales could last weeks, even months – so I guess it was an initial foray into creating book-length tales. I had a few things published at school, but then life got in the way; I put myself through uni, jumped onto the career ladder, and forgot all about writing until my mid/late twenties when it started calling me again.
What is the title of your debut novel and what inspired you to write this book? Caramel Hearts is my debut young adult book, and it’s the first released in Australia, but it’s the second book I’ve had published. The first was a middle grade fantasy published in the UK and Ireland, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 (Book 2 is out in September!). The Book of Learning was inspired by my move to Ireland and a sighting of a ghost, while Caramel Hearts was driven by a desire to write something more real, looking at the effects of addiction and growing up in an underprivileged area – with real cake recipes!
Is there any particular reason you chose this genre? I love young adult fiction, it’s so brave and honest and heartfelt. But to be honest, when I write, it’s all about the characters, and they combine to choose the genre for me. Story always comes first and the genre falls into place somewhere along the way.
Do you like to read? What’s the first book you ever read? I adore reading – along with travel and writing, it’s my favourite thing! I don’t remember the first book I ever read; I’m one of those people that barely remember anything before the age of seven! It’s like reading was always there, an integral part of my world. But I did love pouring over the Brambly Hedge series and by the age of ten, I’d fallen in love with Charles Dickens.
Where did you grow up and where are you currently based? (Just city and country name) I was raised in Southbank, Middlesbrough (North East of England) and I now live on the Southwest coast of Ireland, in an idyllic area called West Cork.
If you’re not reading or writing, what would you be doing? Growing vegetables, catching fish, moving cows, hiking around the countryside, watching a band play live music; these would be typical of everyday life. But I also love travel, so you’re highly likely to find me on a train or about to board a plane.
What was the secret to getting your work done in writing this book? Did you constantly snack on chocolate or have a photo of an inspirational person on the wall of your room? I’m extremely disciplined, so the key is just to turn up to your desk every day. But I do love to burn scented candles as I write; I have several to choose from, to suit my mood. Another big help is my dog, Franklyn, because he’s great company but also makes sure I break for walks. Changing walls really helps too; I love travelling to new places, surrounded by different languages, food, weather, and experiences – I find it energising. I hate routine – it saps my energy. I can’t bear to stay in one place for too long.
What was the last book you read? (title/genre/author/rating out of 5 stars) I always have more than one book on the go, so I’ll give you two. First, Claire Hennessy’s Nothing Tastes As Good – and I rate it 5 out of 5. You have a snarky anorexic ghost on a reluctant mission – what’s not to love? I also read Jan Carson’s short story collection Children’s Children, also 5 out of 5. That woman can write!
If your life was turned into a movie, who would you like to play you? I’d go for Ellen Page because when Juno came out, everyone commented on the similarities in terms of attitude, so she’s already nailed me, apparently!
As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given? I guess it’s that writer’s write – that’s the simple ingredient you need to be a writer. It can be difficult to admit you’re writing, especially at first when you have few or no accolades to your name, and it’s also difficult to see yourself as an actual writer. But the truth is, writers write – simple!
I would also add: never give up! Persevere and you have a chance of getting published, give up and you’re out of the game. I’d say 80% of the people that I met when I first started out – those that have continued writing – are now published or have an agent or book deal, or they’ve been asked to send in their full manuscript. It’s all about determination and dedication.
The Top 10: This or That Ice cream or Ice Block? Ice cream, preferably sea salt flavour (I had to google ice block – we call it an ice lolly!)
Library or Bookstore? Both – as often as I can. Vegemite or Peanut Butter? Both – just not together. Chicken or Beef? Beef. And it has to be as rare as possible. Blue steak is perfection Winter or Summer? Summer! I love wintry weather but here it gets dark around 4.30pm and stays dark until 8am. It can get depressing! Tea or Coffee? Tea. Including herbal.
Favourite Chocolate: I don’t really like chocolate so can I swap for Turkish Delight? Favourite Colour: Blue.
Ultimate Holiday Destination: I’ll choose two I haven’t been to yet – Japan or Canada (though you can’t beat Australia for landscapes and wildlife).
When reading, I love to eat/drink: pickled chillies.
Famous last words: Never give up!
Oliver Phommavanh has just released a new novel for kids “The Other Christy” and I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Review Copy and interviewing Oliver for our blog – he’s awesome btw – before we get to the interview, here’s some light on “The Other Christy”. Highly recommended to a younger reading audience aged 8-12 years old, I still enjoyed this book as an adult. Christy Ung, a quiet, reserved girl has always been known as “The Other Christy” while being in the same class as the “loud-mouthed” Christie Owens – the most popular girl in school.
Christy Ung migrated to Australia from Cambodia and struggles with daily life as she is still a loner at school. Adjusting to Aussie life is hard enough especially when living with her traditional and clean freak Grandpa however with the help of her Aunt Mayly, Christy soon discovers when baking a cake to share with her class on her birthday, you can exhibit a positive charge to win in a negative field when you feel the world is against you. A cute, heart warming and funny read that is suitable and recommended for a younger audience. A great story about a girl called Christy – the other Christy as there are 2 in her class. A story of friendship and great lessons – highly recommended as a light hearted fun filled read that I rated 5 stars!!! Thankyou Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my review.
– Exclusive Blog Interview with Author Oliver Phommavanh –
Who is your target audience for “The Other Christy”? Kids aged 9 and up, but anybody will enjoy this book.
As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I recommend it to all readers of all ages as it really brought back memories of primary school. What was your inspiration to write this book? As a teacher, I’ve taught shy students in my class who don’t have many friends, but when they do come of out of their shells, they attract like-minded people. So I wanted to write a story for the shy kids out there, to speak up and be heard!
I felt there were nice lessons to be learnt in this book, for one – I learnt that exhibiting a positive charge in a negative field can help you win in difficult situations. What do you want your readers to get out of this story? It sounds like a cliché but being yourself is the best way to make friends, or more importantly to keep friendships strong. If you’re just pretending, chances are, you’ll be found out and it won’t last.
Why did you call your main characters ‘Christie and Christy?’ True story, I had the title in my head ten years ago. I had a crush on a girl named Christy back at university, and there was another girl with the same name that hung out in the same group. The Christy that I liked was never around, so I’d always ask, ‘where is the other Christy?’ When it came to writing the story, two girls with the exactly the same name was never going to work, so I tweaked one of the names.
Christy appears to have trouble fitting in, in her class – do you see much of yourself or your childhood in Christy? Christy and I share the same weird slant on life. While I was a class clown at school, I wasn’t popular. I was just that loud random kid who said funny stuff. So I found making real friends kind of hard. There were people that I would talk to at school, but that was it. Just like Christy, I wanted a friend outside of school, hanging out.
This is clearly a story about self-discovery, growing up and friendship. Would you yourself have adopted Christy’s methods in her efforts in trying to make friends? I think I would. Auntie Mayly offers Christy some heartfelt advice that I would gladly give to anybody who feels like they don’t fit in. I think about all the friends I’ve made, and they were simply by one or two common interests and some kindness. A smile here and there. Just being grouped together in a class isn’t enough, there needs to be some chemistry to spark friendships.
Christy’s Grandpa is hilarious, in a story it’s funny how he’s such a clean freak and over protective although in real life, I think I would find him overbearing (lol) but I also felt sorry for him as he was burdened with a task of raising his granddaughter in a world that is foreign to his Cambodian traditions. I am wondering, what was the inspiration for “Grandpa’s” character in this story and whether he is anything like your own Grandpa? He is very much based on my father in law! My grandpa passed away when I was five, but I’d imagine he’d also be as steely and stubborn when it comes to family traditions. My father in law’s quirks and weird habits were priceless material, but I also wanted to show his funny and sensitive side. He really does cherish his daughter (my wife) and wants to protect her, especially when they’ve just settled in a new country.
Why was cake the means to ‘win people over’? Food brings people together and it’s the currency used in Christy’s class. I remember teaching a class where kids would try to outdo each other with their birthday cakes that were brought in. I put on six kilos haha. It’s particularly more important for Christy because baking is her passion, so her talent and self-worth is on the line. She really is serving a slice of herself to others.
Do you feel the reason why Christy was an outcast in her class was due to her ethnicity or cultural difference or was it more of a personality difference? I wanted to make sure it was personality, because Christy used to be in an ESL class with other migrant kids, and they all made friends except for her.
If ‘The Other Christy’ was going to be turned into an adaptation – would you prefer TV or film? Why? We are living in another golden age of television, so I’d love to see it as a mini-series, where each key moment is built up over every episode. Plus there’s more scope to throw in a few other side stories too.
When you’re not writing – what would you be doing? Playing video games. I’ve sunk 100 hours in Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U and my 3DS is my travel buddy.
What other books have you written? Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines, Thai-no-mite and Stuff Happens: Ethan
What is your favourite restaurant and why? I love burgers (check out my Instagram @oliverwinfree) and my favourite burger chain is Grill’d at the moment. Just wholesome burgers with some great chips on the side.
Cast your mind to 10 years ago, would you have pictured yourself publishing your first novel back then? Funnily enough, it was exactly 10 years ago since I quit full-time teaching. I gave myself five years to publish my first novel, so yeah I was determined to make it.
Do you like reading? What is your favourite genre? I’ve always been a lifelong reader, my favourite genre is contemporary stories, especially with comedy thrown in.
Can you remember the first book you ever read? What was it? I think it may have been a Dr Seuss or Golden Book, but just can’t make out the title.
If you could be a character in a video game, who would you be and why? My hero is Sonic the Hedgehog, because he’s cool, blue and fast. Three things I’m not in real life haha.
Where is your ultimate holiday destination? It was Japan for awhile, but now it’s America, for the food, the oversized shopping malls and American brands.
My all-time favourite artist is Michael Jackson and my favourite song ever is Black or White – yes I still listen to this song on my iPod. What is your favourite type of music/who is your favourite singer? I still listen to my cassette Walkman and have over 100 albums on cassette. I thought StarLord from Guardians from the Galaxy would start a revival but anyway, I do still have an i-pod classic too. I love pop music, boy bands have always filled my playlist from the Bee Gees to the Backstreet Boys and ID. My favourite singers include John Mayer, Eninem, Justin Bieber and Drake.
As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given? Just write. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write!
The top 10: This or That Ice cream or Ice Block? Ice cream for sure.
Library or Bookstore? Library because I can write in there
Chicken or Beef? Chicken for the variety
Winter or Summer? Winter because I love snuggling up at night
Tea or Coffee? Tea. I don’t drink coffee
Bungee Jump or Sky Dive? Haha, I’m scared of heights. I suppose sky dive because at least I have a parachute.
Favourite Colour: Purple
Ultimate Holiday Destination: America.
Famous last words: Whatever man, I’m just doing this for the lols.
International Best-Selling Author from The U.S, Maria V. Snyder visits The Land Down Under!!!! During her visit, Maria spent some exclusive time over a delicious High Tea with Read3r’z Re-Vu… We hope you enjoy the exclusive blog interview Maria did with us!!!
What does the “V” in Maria V. Snyder stand for? Victoria.
When did you first get inspiration to write? I was always a big reader and I enjoyed being creative. I danced, acted, painted, etc… When I was working my first job as an environmental meteorologist, I was either crazy busy, or bored. It was during those lulls in work, that I started jotting down story ideas.
What is the title of your debut novel and what inspired you to write this book? My debut novel is Poison Study. I was reading Orson Scott Card’s book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. In chapter 3, Card tells the writer to consider some questions before choosing the main character. He wrote, “Too often—particularly in medieval fantasy—writers think their story must be about rulers. Kings and queens, dukes and duchesses—they can be extravagantly powerful, yes, but too often they aren’t free at all. If you understand the workings of power in human societies, you’ll know that the greatest freedom to act in unpredictable ways is usually found away from the centers of power.” This comment led me to think about a person who was close enough to the center of power to witness important events, yet not be the Prince or Princess. I thought about a food taster and a scene jumped into my mind. I saw a woman tasting food that was most likely poisoned through the eyes of the King. He watched her with heartbreaking horror because he had fallen in love with her. That led me to wonder about this woman. Who was she? Why was she there? Why would a King fall in love with her? And Poison Study was born.
Have you tried vegemite on toast? Thoughts? I’ve tried vegemite. A friend of mine sent me a jar of it. I thought it tasted like beef bullion. I’m not a fan.
Where is your favourite place to read? The beach! I love lounging on my beach chair with my feet in the waves and a book in my hand.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy taking pictures and traveling. When I’m in a new place, I love to just wander around take photos. I also make jewellery, play volleyball, and love to read.
If you had the chance to have a dinner date with any fictional literary character, who would it be, where would it be and why? I’d pick Valek. He’s one of my characters and we’d eat Chinese in the worst part of town just so I can watch him protect me from ruffians 😉
A flight from the US to Australia is approx. 20 hours? (How long is it?) What would you normally do on the flight? It will actually take me a total of 30 hours to travel from my home to Brisbane. The longest of my 3 flights will be the leg from San Francisco to Sydney, which is 15 hours! I love to watch movies, so if the plane has on-demand, I’ll spend most of my time watching movies. If not, I’ll read, play solitaire, do Sudoku puzzles, and sleep! If I have a friendly seat mate, I’ll also chat with him/her.
What’s the craziest gift you’ve ever received from a fan? My readers have been very generous over the years, but I can’t think of anything really strange. One of the coolest gifts I received was from a reader who had been living in Japan, she brought me Japanese candy, a fan and a really cool print.
Is this your first trip to Australia? If not, which is your favourite place in Australia and what do you love most about the Land Down Under? This will be my second trip to Australia. On my last trip, I didn’t have that much free time, but I did get to spend some time in Byron Bay and that was gorgeous! The view from the lighthouse was worth the hike. What I like the most about Australia is the people! You are without a doubt, the most friendly, kind and generous people I’ve met, and I’ve been to lots of places.
Which one of your books would you like to see turned into a film adaptation? I believe that my book, Inside Out would be the best one to turn into a movie. It’s shorter than the others, action-packed and takes place all in one location. I think my fantasy novels would be better as television series. Too bad Hollywood doesn’t agree. At least, not yet.
What is your favourite Aussie Dish? I don’t know of any – sorry! But I love Tim-Tams and Snickers Pods – we can’t get either in the US so I’m planning on indulging while I’m here!!!
As an author, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given? Persistence! The advice to keep submitting and writing despite the rejections. Truthfully, I didn’t think it would work, but it did!
The top 10: This or That
Ice cream or Ice Block? Ice Cream
Library or Bookstore? Bookstore
Chicken or Beef? Beef
Winter or Summer? Winter
Tea or Coffee? Tea
Bungee Jump or Sky Dive? Sky Dive
Favourite Chocolate: Lemon crèmes
Favourite Colour: Red
Ultimate Holiday Destination: Beach
Famous last words: No regrets
For great insight into Maria V. Snyder’s books, log onto: Goodreads.com
Thankyou very much Maria V. Snyder for spending your time with Read3r’z Re-Vu!!! It was an honour and pleasure to hang out with you and get to know you better, we hope you will return to Australia one day soon.. thanks for visiting us!!!