Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
I've always loved writing - I was an English major and an English and drama teacher for 14 years but I started writing seriously in 2017, basing my first novel on my own 'meet cute' - meeting my partner, Ben, on a sailing trip in Greece. I self-published that book just ahead of leaving for a one-year sabbatical.
While on sabbatical in 2018, we lived in Bali, the US, the UK, and Portugal, and I wrote the second and third books in the series, also inspired by my travel adventures.
During that time, I was also seeking a publisher and agent, and on arrival back to Australia, I secured a publishing deal with HarperCollins UK and a UK-based agent. I'm now writing my 8th book for HarperCollins!
What makes writing your passion?
It is my dream job and one day, my aim is to have it be my only job (I also work in adult education). I absolutely love creating characters, watching them grow and develop, and letting them surprise me (which they often do). I have been able to draw on many of my own travel experiences too, which I love - vicariously traveling back to some favorite places while I write. It's also incredibly fun creating love interests. And I've created some very hot, very lovely men (if I do say so myself).
How long have you been writing?
Dabbling since I can remember and I wrote plays for my Drama students when I was a teacher, but this is my 5th year of writing novels.
Not only am I writing my 8th book under contract, I've also co-written a contemporary suburban drama/crime thriller with an author friend. We share an agent and have been collaborating on it for the past 10 months. It's with our agent now to submit to publishers. It's very different from my other books though, Fiona is a mystery writer, so not such a departure for her. We call it Big, Little Lies meets Gone Girl.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Surreal. Joyful. Exhilarating.
On publication day, my publisher sent me a box brimming with copies of my book. Holding that book in my hands, after working so hard and dreaming of that very moment, was just incredible.
I still get a thrill each time the box of books arrives and I can add the next 'book baby' to my shelf.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
My first book, the one that kicks off the Holiday Romance series, is based loosely on my own experience of meeting my partner on a sailing trip in Greece and the main character, Sarah, bears a remarkable resemblance to my 35 year old self.
Her sister, Cat, who features in all 5 books and has 'her own' book (Book 2, That Night in Paris) is inspired by my own sister, Cat. And many of the supporting characters in the 5-book series are inspired by real-life people I've met while traveling.
In The Dating Game and The Christmas Swap, my characters are markedly different from me. In The Dating Game, my main character, Abby, has a sarcastic, snarky alter-ego which was really fun to write and I actually started with that and 'worked backwards' to create Abby, who is the antithesis.
In The Christmas Swap, which is about 3 women who meet as children and form a lifelong friendship - an American, an Aussie and a Brit - I wanted to create three distinctive personalities that could play off each other.
And my love interests ... well, they are the stuff of dreams - sometimes literally.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
I'm not sure 'annoyed' is the right word, but I find the marketing side of writing challenging at times - knowing the best way to reach readers.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I read! Truly, I know I can't be productive all the time, so when I am not 'feeling it', I will switch off and read for pleasure. Reading others' books inspires me and immersing myself in another story (besides the one I am writing) is a great way to let my mind work on my 'block' in the background.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Read widely, seek feedback, be an active and genuine member of the writing community, hone your query letter and synopsis until they are the best things you have ever written, and never, ever, ever, ever give up.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
That travel fiction is a legitimate genre. When I first started writing seriously, my first agent had great difficulty selling my first book. At that time, travel fiction was just getting a foothold, and I got a lot of ‘No’s because my book ‘read like a travel biography’. I am glad I stuck with it, but I had a lot of doubt about writing in that genre when I was starting out.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
I do! There is nothing more buoying than reading a positive review or hearing from readers who took something special away from one of my books.
The bad reviews - well, some make me laugh, especially when I get the occasional 1-star review that says something like 'I'd rather clean the oven'. The only time a bad review really affects me is when the reviewer attacks me personally. The book wasn't to your taste or it didn't resonate with you, that's totally fine - no book will be for every reader - but there is no need to get personal in a review. Authors have feelings too.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
As I mentioned, it is incredibly buoying.
I write because I want my stories to be out there. Some are super light and fun, and I want to bring joy - if I make someone laugh out loud, then it's great to hear that.
Some of my books also deal with heftier topics and I've heard from many readers that these stories have meant something to them - that they've been 'stuck' as well and that my book has inspired them to get 'unstuck'.
Those sorts of reviews and messages are one of the main reasons I write.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Absolutely! I often mine my own travel adventures for my books as I only write about locations I have been to or have lived in and know well enough to really evoke the setting.
I am also a shameless thief of other people's anecdotes. If you tell me a hilarious story, I will probably write it into one of my books - be warned.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Sarah from the Holiday Romance series is a lot like me in my thirties but she has her own personality traits too.
I think all my main characters have a little bit of 'Sandy' in them - that's how I can empathise with them and write them so completely.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Readers are spoiled for choice. There are so many books! So book covers have become an important signpost to readers about genre and sub-genre. It's a way for us (I am a voracious reader too) to narrow down our choice. So, it is definitely an important part of the selection process.
My cover artist is a genius (I think). I love all my covers and am so grateful for the care she's taken, especially those in the Holiday Romance series where the location is an integral part of the story.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I absolutely do connect with my readers. I am on Insta, Twitter and Facebook so happily reply to readers who message me about my books. It's a pleasure.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I am not shy about graciously accepting praise or recognition.
In 2021, The Christmas Swap was nominated for best Christmas/Holiday book by the Australian Romance Readers Association (reader voted awards) and I was THRILLED to be on that shortlist.
I work hard, I aim to put out the best books I possibly can, so being recognized is frosting on the (publishing) cake.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Lindsey Kelk is my fave. I fell in love with her 'I Heart' series when I was bed ridden early 2013, reading 5 books in 5 days. She's now written 17 books and I've read them all. She's a hilarious writer and I aspire (one day) to be as prolific and accomplished as she is.
She's also a wonderful person and has been very supportive of my writing career - I got to meet her at a book signing in 2018 and she was just lovely.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
The dream is that Reese Witherspoon LOVES The Passion Project (my co-written book) and wants to option it for a film! Dreams are free, right, so why not aim high?
Writing wise, I'd like to be able to support myself by writing fulltime - I am about half-way to that goal and get a little closer to it every day.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I would like to have another editorial pass at my first book, One Summer in Santorini - I'm a far better writer than I was when I wrote it a few years ago and I think I could tighten it up a bit, but I wouldn't change any of the characters or events.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
There are quite a few authors who write across genres - no specific names but I'd love to be known for contemporary dramas as well as romcoms - lots of ideas percolating.
And I would love to have the career (and writing ability) of someone like Liane Moriarty. She's incredible.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
'Do you need a hug?'
Really, anyone who bullies others online is probably not a happy person. They might just need a hug and to be told that they're loved.
What would you say to your readers?
Simply, thank you.
Thank you for immersing yourself in my stories, for falling in love with my characters, and taking yourself on the journeys I've created. Thank you for laughing with me, crying with me, and shouting when my characters do something stupid or frustrating (they can be so annoying). And thank you for sharing with others when you've loved my work - I so appreciate it.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Melbourne Australia - a city that has made the 'Top 10 Most Liveable Cities in the World' list for about 12 years running now . It really is beautiful, even though we've also earned the dubious honour of being the most locked down city in the world since early 2020 (370 days+). I live with my partner, Ben, who hails from Minnesota but is also now an Aussie citizen.
What is your day job if you have one?
I work in adult online education as a professional development specialist.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I read, watch movies and TV series (I am a true binger), cook and love entertaining friends (when not locked down).
I also love the outdoors, so hiking, adventure sports ...
Travel is my greatest passion, and we'll be heading back to Greece in the summer to go sailing again.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Childhood was when I developed my passion for travel. My mom is American and my dad is English - they are both travelers - so they instilled the travel bug in us from a very young age.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
I have always written stories for as long as I can remember - creative writing was my favourite subject in school. And I credit this passion for storytelling to my parents who read to me and then with me every day when I was growing up.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
The Passion Project is about a woman in a passionless marriage who wants to 'find a way back' to her back to her husband, to what they were before. But just as her project ramps up, she discovers he may be having an affair with an old girlfriend. There is a horrific crime that then links the lives of these two women together.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
I was a teacher for 14 years, so have a lot of thoughts on this but here are two.
Our understanding of child development has made vast strides over the past few decades but, on the whole, education systems are based on 'old school' academic principles. There needs to be a revolution, which fortunately seems to be coming, led by some passionate and innovative educators who truly teach the individual child and give all children a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
We also need to nurture creativity, rather than quashing it with preconceived ideas about how children should express themselves.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
To be able to travel freely without fear of getting or spreading COVID.
To live in the same city as my sister, brother-in-law and nephew (they live in Rugby in the UK).
To have one or more of my books picked up by a film production company.
What is your favorite music?
I listen to almost anything, depending on my mood, but at the gym, it's often 90s dance music.
Share a secret with us 🙂
Now that would be telling. ;)