It gives me great pleasure to welcome Fiona McCallum to Behind the Pen today.
Ten novels in 7 years, congratulations Fiona! How far has your writing career evolved from when you first began to write to what it is today? Is this in line with your initial expectations?
Thanks very much! In terms of output, I’m actually well behind where I wanted to be. When I set out at thirty my aim was to publish a book a year for forty years – so I should be at around seventeen by now! Waiting a decade to get a contract put a hiccup in that plan, as did having to fit in writing around other work to pay the bills. But my dream, first and foremost, was to have a career as a full-time novelist, so I’m thrilled with where I’m at now in that sense. At university, particularly, I was told this wasn’t possible. Oh how I love proving people wrong! I really am proof dreams can come true.
Making Peace follows on from Finding Hannah. Was it always your intention on writing a series for Hannah Ainsley or did this evolve from reader response?
When I finished writing Finding Hannah, Hannah had become too special to me to let her go so soon and I desperately wanted her to have another book. I wanted her to have the opportunity to thrive, not just survive and to also give back to her friends who had given her so much love and support. Thankfully the idea for Making Peace came up quickly. This is now the last we’ll hear from Hannah – though I never say never… I was sad to end my time with her, but happy too because she’s in such a good place now. Getting to know my characters so well means they really do become friends and I always experience a short period of grief when finishing a book. Thankfully I have plenty of other characters waiting in the wings.
Do you have any particular qualifications that relate to the themes of loss and healing covered in this novel or are you drawing more from life experiences?
No, I’m not a medical practitioner. I draw on my life experiences and observations and my empathetic and sensitive nature for my writing. It’s really important to me to write with honesty, so none of my characters experience an emotion that I haven’t been through myself. For Hannah, her loss was sudden. For me my most significant losses have been more drawn out – beginning with losing my dad at nineteen after battling a brain tumour for eight years. We were really close and almost twenty-eight years on I still think about him and miss him every single day. I’ve since realised I wasn’t allowed to grieve. In my family you just got on and didn’t talk about your feelings or your problems. I think if I‘d known how confronting and debilitating writing Finding Hannah would be, I might not have done it. But the wonderful feedback from readers saying I’ve helped them understand their own experience or that of a grieving loved one has made it worthwhile and meant the world to me.
Have you ever had to deal with a situation where someone feels they recognise traits of themselves in one of your characters?
No. It’s really interesting, but in my experience, people don’t tend to see themselves as other people see them. Because I’m from a small town and area people who live there or know me tend to think they know who I’m writing about. I once had someone list off characters and match names of local people. But they were wrong – and I told them so. My characters tend to be composites – traits taken from several people. There actually aren’t that many different personality types – I’m sure we all know a control freak, someone who’s a bully, someone who’s kind through and through, someone who’s weak and afraid to go beyond their comfort zone and someone prepared to take risks and be courageous etc. My characters actually often have a lot of me in them – though they’re never completely me.
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
I’m highly organised, structured and routine oriented. And a morning person. I get up, get dressed and have breakfast. I then return to bed to write by hand – usually from eight until around noon, five or six days a week. I write in a lovely blank notebook with a mechanical pencil. Yes, I too find it odd that I’m highly structured yet won’t write in a notebook with lines! Ah, the idiosyncrasies of the creative person! After lunch I type up my morning’s work and deal with emails and any other business that’s come in.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? How do you fill up that creativity well?
Thankfully I’ve been given plenty of interesting happenings and lived some definite contrasts in my life on which to draw. I feel blessed to have been through some serious lows and traumatic experiences and come out the other side very strong and independent, and a lot wiser. I believe being able to write and tell stories so many people connect with is a gift and having a pretty constant stream of ideas, which can become a little overwhelming at times, tells me I’m doing what I’m meant to with my life. As you can probably tell, I also have a lot to say!
Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people would know?
Hmm, well, I write with my left hand, but am quite ambidextrous. I can do most things with both hands and play golf and tennis right-handed.
Do you read your book reviews? Do you appreciate reader feedback and take it on board, even if it is negative? How do you deal with negative feedback after spending so much time writing your book?
I do scan my book reviews, but only in order to extract some good comments for promotion on my website and Facebook to hopefully build interest in my books and help increase my readership. I love to get kind comments and feedback from happy readers and do my best to ignore any negativity. I don’t let good or bad reviews or reader comments impact on my writing – one of the wonderful things of being an author is I get to tell the story I want to, how and when I want to. I’d better stop there, because I have really strong views on this and am at risk of getting on my soapbox and writing an essay!
What authors and types of books do you love the most?
When starting out as a writer, to understand my market, I read mainly women’s fiction – a lot of Maeve Binchy, Debbie Macomber and Barbara Delinsky. My reading taste has now become quite eclectic. I’ve always loved a good mystery or crime novel. I’m currently in a psych thriller, true crime and biography phase.
If you could sit down for an afternoon with an iconic person from history, who would you choose to spend that time with?
Thank you Fiona! And congratulations once again on your 10th book. Such an achievement!
Aww, thanks very much. Thank YOU for your interest, and the interesting questions!
From Australia’s master storyteller comes an uplifting story of new and old friendships, letting go of the past and looking to the future…
Does one simple act of kindness have the power to completely turn someone’s life around?
It’s been a year since Hannah Ainsley lost her husband and parents – her whole family – in a car crash on Christmas morning. Despite her overwhelming loss, she’s worked hard to pull the pieces of her life together with the help of a group of dear, loyal friends. But while Hannah is beginning to become excited about the future again, she’s concerned that her best friend and talented artist Sam is facing a crisis of her own. It’s now Hannah’s turn to be Sam’s rock – can she save Sam’s dreams from unravelling?
When Hannah returns to work after her holidays, she can’t settle. She’s loved her job for a decade, and it’s been her lifeline during her grief. But something’s changed. She’s changed. And for all this time she’s avoided knowing the details of the accident or investigation – what would be the point, she’d thought, when nothing will bring her loved ones back? But after a chance meeting, it’s all there in front of her – and, like ripples in a pond, it extends beyond her own experiences. Could knowing be the key to her recovery? Could her involvement be the key to someone else’s?