It is such a treat for me to welcome Barbara Toner to Behind the Pen today. Her most recent release, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, was an instant favourite for me and I am thrilled to discover that there is a sequel in the works!
What is your favourite character from one of your novels and why?
Because the characters from Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband are so fresh, I’d have to choose one of them and even though she is the least likeable, Louisa Worthington has a special place in my heart. She’s terrific fun to write. I’m currently halfway through the sequel which is set ten years after the first and she remains as beautiful, selfish, wilful and unpredictable as ever.
What inspired your most recent novel?
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husbands is set in 1919 in the fictional town of Prospect southern NSW. It’s very loosely based on Bombala, an hour from where I live. In 1921, the railway arrived and the potential for mischief that might cause appealed to me. But the plot and characters I subsequently used were inspired by a conversation with friends about what might make our home lives easier and we decided we could all do with a part-time husband. That suggested even better mischief than the railway.
What did you do when you finished this novel?
I started on the sequel which has the same ladies in the same place ten years later. Taking just as big a risk with their reputations as they have in the first book.
How would you best describe this novel to a new reader?
This is intended to be a light-hearted book that’s fun to read even if it does address a serious on-going predicament for women – the ludicrous double standards that apply to gender and respectability. Its plot driven – probably plot heavy – because I can’t stand books in which nothing happens.
How much research do you do? How do you balance the demands of getting the facts right and telling a good story?
I do some research but not as much as most other writers. I’m certainly no historian. I like to know what’s more or less accurate in terms of time and place but too much research in my experience can interrupt the story. I did way too much for a book called Cracking American then I had to unpick it.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
I plan quite a lot before I start and sometimes this plan holds good for the whole process but the story always grows and changes as layers are added. My characters are usually invented to serve the plot. I needed four ladies to be in dire circumstances. I decided how my ladies could be different from each other and they very quickly took shape.
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
Usually I write at my desk for five hours a day. My neck doesn’t much like it so I need to move so sometimes I go to the lectern I’ve been given so I can stand-up to work. This makes me slouch to the side which hurts my hip. Work related injuries-who’d have thought? When you’re concentrating very deeply, your body goes its own merry way.
What attributes do you think you need to remain sane as a writer? Are there any particular things you routinely do for yourself to maintain your own headspace?
Writing is a great sanity saver rather than the other way round. It’s astonishing how often you find yourself examining your own life through your characters. Or is that just me? It’s also a brilliant stress release – once you’re in the zone, there is no other life beyond it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? How do you fill up that creativity well?
Inspiration is daily. There’s always something in your life that lends itself to a good rollicking story. You end up with a hook when enough of the ideas you have hang around long enough and glue themselves together. That’s my experience anyway.
If you were in a fight to the death, what would be your weapon of choice?
I am a pathetic physical specimen though I have very sharp elbows. I always told the children I’d use them to protect them and even though they laughed, I meant it. However if push really came to shove, I’d probably use words to talk my way out of danger and ultimately bore my opponent to death.
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband was published by Penguin Random House Australia on the 29th January, 2018. It is available in paperback and ebook.