I recently finished reading Songlines, the first Young Adult book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a genre that I’ve always loved, and conveniently I have younger siblings who quit that age group much more recently than I did to keep me abreast of what’s good in the YA field. Like everything though, I phase in and out of it. I’ve been focussing on reading a lot more in my own genre this year (Historical Fiction/Women’s fiction) and it was nice to pick up a book to read for reading’s sake alone again.
Songlines is the story of Lainie, a country girl who is just trying to finish year twelve. But there’s a problem. When a big mining company starts exploring on Lainie’s sheep farm, strange things start happening, to Lainie and to the people around her. Suddenly year twelve is the least of her problems as she has to come to grips with a family secret that is about to change the whole course of her life.
I could not put this book down (not strictly true, I did put it down to feed the children and sleep occasionally, but I wasn’t happy about it) and once I was finished I immediately stalked Carolyn to find out when the next one would be out — which happily, is soon-ish. April 2017! The main character Lainie is such fun company and her growing tribe of fellow victims of the mining interruption are an endearing bunch to spend your days with. Carolyn has taken a fantasy theme and layered it in casual rural Australiana to produce a story that is a compelling mix of intensity and laid-back humour.
The more time I spend in the Australian bush, the more I realise that this is a country made for fantasy stories of raw power and brutal passions, and Carolyn has captured that perfectly in her debut novel Songlines.
I had a chat with Carolyn after I’d finished Songlines, just to make sure that she was working hard to get the next book out, and to find out some more about her and her writing. The details of that chat are below, but first, a little about Carolyn herself:
Carolyn lives on a small hobby farm on the outskirts of Melbourne. She has a science degree, far too many pets and a fear of the ocean that makes her Mauritian mother roll her eyes. Somehow between her mortgage-broking job, driving her kids crazy (mostly by asking their friends’ opinions about the Singularity) and feeding 63 baby axolotls, she has managed to write short stories for Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways magazines. She is currently working to complete the fourth and final book in The Sentinels of Eden and after that she has promised that she will finally vacuum the bedrooms.
Carolyn, when did the idea for the Sentinels of Eden first occur to you? Did you think it would be just one book or were you always planning a series?
It’s so hard to pinpoint an exact moment when random thought turns into an ‘idea’. I was having many discussions with my brother regarding Christian apologetics at the same time as I was trying to encourage my daughter to write a spec fiction story. Thinking through what a perfect God (whose nature is the very definition of Love) would have intended for the human race… who wouldn’t get caught up in the possibilities? And no, at the start I wasn’t even confident that my ramblings would turn into a whole story, let alone a series. I was just trying to get my girl started. Whoops.
What sort of research did you have to undertake to write this book?
Other than a crash course (by pulling other books off the shelf) in how to structure my writing, the research took me all sorts of places. Farm life – I live on a small acreage, so that part was easy and fun to explore (although my first editor did say it sounded like it was set on a hobby farm – I wonder why?) Aboriginal culture – I never set out to write about it, but I quickly realised it would be an unforgiveable tragedy to disregard. Certainly that research made me ask questions that every Australian should be asking. Get curious. Ask questions, share stories appropriately, keep those complex and beautiful cultures as relevant as possible.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
The first draft took me just a few weeks to finish. Then four years to get right!
What was your biggest learning curve?
Mastering all those apps, platforms and marketing tools. I think I created about 20 new accounts in the space of 2 months. All easy to learn, but there were just so many.
What was the biggest surprise about writing?
How addictive it can be. And embarassing. Yeah, when someone asks how your day has been and you reply with: ‘Stressful! You wouldn’t believe what Noah did last night!’
What is your favourite thing about being a writer?
Playing out conversations in your head between characters you’ve made up. If only I could control both sides of real life conversations the same way. Life would be much more interesting.
And your least favourite?
Self-doubt. Happens to everyone. It will make me a better writer though, so it’s necessary. Just keep swimming.
I really enjoyed reading this story through Lainie’s perspective, she cracks me up. Is her character inspired by anyone?
Not intentionally, but she does have a lot of similarities to my eldest daughter. Also to me, so I’ve been told. It worries me a little, because it’s important to write characters with their own ‘voice’, but what if Lainie has my voice and all future characters I write just end up sounding like me too? Good thing I’m so likeable…
How do you manage to juggle your family, your work, your farm and your writing?
Badly! I can smell the scent of burning gnocchi as we speak… Or is that simply my secret way of encouraging the kids to start helping out with dinner more often? The truth is, you will always find time for the things you enjoy, and that’s exactly as it should be.
Have your kids read your book? What do they think of it?
They hounded me for each new chapter of the first draft – four years ago, but apparently the novelty has since worn off. Possibly because this journey has turned them into talented editors. Oh… I’ve ruined reading for them forever! (Sob) So much for my original intention.
The note in the back of Songlines mentions that you are working on the final book of Eden, What’s next?
That’s easy. I’m hanging out to sink my teeth into a fresh story. First draft of book 1 is done, but remember, it took me years to get Songlines right. Hopefully I’ve learnt enough that it will be a bit quicker now. I hope so, because this post-singularity-time-distortion-romance-adventure needs to be out in the world. Or at least out of my head.
And finally, when can we get our hands on book two?
Release is scheduled for April 2017. First I need my amazing beta-readers to tell me things like ‘wattle trees don’t flower at that time of year’ and ‘myna bird populations haven’t spread that far north yet, pick a different species’. Yeah, I am blessed with some very clever (and patient) helpers.
If you have any questions of your own for Carolyn, or if you would like to keep an eye on Carolyn’s progress you can find her at the following places:
Facebook: Carolyn J Denman
Songlines is available in paperback or ebook form and can be purchased from Amazon.