Can you tell us a bit about your book, The Warsaw Orphan?
It’s the story of two young people living in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Elzbieta Rabinek becomes involved in an underground scheme to rescue children from the Warsaw Ghetto, and through this work she meets Roman Gorka, a young man trapped with his family in the Ghetto.
Where did you find inspiration for your book?
In 2017, I took a trip to Poland to research my novel The Things We Cannot Say. During that trip, I encountered some of the history that inspired this book.
What does an average writing day look like for you?
No two days look alike for me. I have days where the extent of my writing will be active thinking time – that’s walking the dogs or hiking or pottering around the house doing chores, but always thinking about the story. Other days I’m at the keyboard for 18 hours. I wish I could write to a more regimented schedule but unfortunately my brain doesn’t work that way.
When writing, do you use people you know for inspiration?
I would never base a character on someone in my life. Every now and again some small moment will trigger an idea for the composition of a character or how a story might progress, but the idea and the way I use it are never directly related. For example, a discussion I had at a backyard BBQ in March 2021 inspired the way a scene unfolds in my next novel – a scene set in Berlin in 1933.
Do you have a favourite book of all time?
I only read it this week so time will tell if it remains my favourite, but I absolutely adored Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss. I’m already planning to re-read it so I can try to untangle the magic of how Meg constructed such a brilliant story.
What do you love most about reading?
Black and white shapes on a page or a screen can trigger an immersive waking dream in our minds, and every single time we pick a story up, we get to ‘waking dream’ a different experience. It’s the very best kind of sorcery.
Which writers have inspired you?
I used to write in a variety of genres but decided to focus on women’s fiction after reading Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. I so admire the way Jodi tackles tricky issues in her novels and I continue to be inspired by her work. I’m also inspired by Australian historical novelist Kim Kelly’s passion for storytelling – I’m proud to call her a friend and every single time we sit down for a coffee, I walk away motivated to write the very best, truest fiction I can write.
How did you become a published author?
Like most published authors my journey to publication was a long and winding one. Unlike most published authors, I wrote in secret for almost two decades before I submitted to a publisher. During that time, I wrote and edited then discarded countless novel-length works – I have no way to know exactly how many but it was certainly over a million “practice” words. That wasn’t a strategic decision - I was genuinely scared a pile of rejection letters might take away my passion for storytelling, and I decided it was better to write just for the joy of it than to risk that. Eventually I allowed some friends to read one of my stories and their enthusiasm gave me the courage to be a little more open about my secret hobby!! In the end, the first publisher I submitted to offered me a contract – and I am certain that those years of learning how to write for an audience of one was a factor in that.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
There’s a lot of writing advice around these days. Some of it is awful, some of it is great, none of it will work for everyone. My main piece of advice is to ignore any advice that doesn’t resonate, because only you can write your story, and no one can tell you what’s going to work for you – every single writer has to figure that out for themselves by trial and error.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on another historical novel, working title The German Wife. It’s a story that starts in Berlin and Kansas in 1933 and winds its way to Huntsville over the course of about 20 years. I think it’s the most ambitious story I’ve ever attempted, both in terms of the breadth of research I’ve had to do and the complexity of the story I’m trying to tell.
What’s been the highlight of your writing career?
There have been so many. I remember screaming in surprise and delight when I woke at 5am after a restless night with a sick child to find that first contract offer in my inbox (waiting up the sick child, my baby and my husband in the process – but who could blame me!?). I’ve had some reader email over the years that has meant the world to me, and reviews in major publications that stunned me (in a good way). Meeting my publishing teams here in Australia and in North America (and my agent, who is in New York) has been absolutely amazing. And then in one single day last year, I learned I’d sold over a million English language books and made a New York Times list for the first time. That day was so incredible I still get goosebumps when I think about it!!
What’s one of the most underrated books you’ve read?
The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan, by Lisa Ireland. This book deserved to get all the hype but it was published early in the pandemic and I know a lot of readers who would have loved it missed hearing about it.
What do you hope that people take away from your writing?
I love the way that fiction enables us to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It can act as a gateway to empathy and compassion – and doesn’t the world need more of that? At the end of the day, that’s what I most hope people take away from my stories.
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