Q1. Tell me about yourself – biography, career, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc…anything you would like to share about yourself? Any fun, interesting facts? Please insert a photograph if possible.
I’m an Australian author and I live in a beachside suburb of Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. We have great beaches, wonderful wine regions, and a flourishing arts community, and I take full advantage of having them within easy reach. I grew up in a country area just outside of Melbourne. My family moved around a lot hence I lived on a horse farm, a dairy farm, and a sheep farm before we finally settled on a small acreage with goats, loganberries, and fruit trees. My school holidays were spent picking fruit, mostly cherries, for pocket money (although I didn’t earn much, I tended to eat more than I put in the basket resulting in a few tummy aches.)
I had the usual casual jobs growing up; babysitting, working at a dog kennel, shop assistant, and even working in an electronics factory welding the gold connections onto transistor chips. That required looking down a telescope to see the minute transistor patterns.
After a short gap, I went on to tertiary studies and my first degree was a Bachelor of Science, Chemistry. A few years later I gained a Graduate Diploma in Education. I worked in several different government departments and my long public service career spanned roles as diverse as Management Trainer, Team Facilitator, Statistician and Laboratory Assistant. After retiring I studied creative writing at Adelaide University and pursued my dream to write a novel.
Since then I have published two novels, Lethal Legacy (2022) and my debut, Deadly Secrets (2020), and I’ve had my short stories appear in the UK anthology ‘When Stars Will Shine’, the Australian anthology ‘Fledglings’, the Canadian Scarlet Leaf Review Magazine, and in the UK Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine
Besides writing, my passion for travelling and discovering new places means I have visited many fabulous countries and cities around the world. I keep a daily travel journal and take copious photos, many of which inspire scenes for my stories. I’m an avid theatre-goer and subscribe to the Adelaide State Theatre company. I enjoy art exhibitions and galleries and of course, I love to read. In March each year, I take full advantage of the Adelaide Writers’ festival to discover new authors and to hear my favourites.
Q2. Can you tell me about your work – what have you written, what is it about, what type of genre is it?
My new novel, Lethal Legacy, is a conspiracy mystery thriller. The heroine is an ordinary woman who uncovers an extraordinary conspiracy. There is mystery, drama, and suspense.
It is available in eBook format from 8 April (the paperback will be available soon after.
The blurb says:
When Innocent questions have dangerous answers.
Laura’s life is plunged into turmoil when her husband, Tom, dies suddenly. On that same night, an intruder steals files from his home office. He’d been researching his previous employer’s Iraqi operations but hadn’t shared his concerns with Laura. Why would anyone want his notes?
Turning a blind eye won’t protect her.
Learning Tom’s death could be murder, Laura takes matters into her own hands. She’s fifty-nine but it’s not too late to turn amateur sleuth. She uncovers a dark mystery, a deadly conspiracy involving organised crime and corruption. Powerful people will kill to silence their enemies, but who can she trust?
Silence won’t keep her safe.
Q3. Can you tell me about your writing process e.g do you prefer to plan or write spontaneously, favourite writing times, pen or computer, how long do you spend writing?
I’m a planner, although it’s only a loose guide. I need to know where the story is going and what the key points are. I often have the beginning and end scenes clear in my mind but need to flesh out what happens in the middle.
I use various techniques to identify the main elements, my favourite is the sun-burst diagram. My novels have multi-layered plots so the sunburst diagram helps to tease out all the threads, develop the sequence, and ensure the story ties together.
Once the writing starts, my imagination kicks in. The plan is the skeleton, but new ideas and flashes of inspiration add flesh to the story. I create a table to keep track of details of each chapter, such as, the purpose, information, key characters, and clues. During rewriting I sometimes change the order of chapters, so it’s critical to keep track of what clues appear where.
I write when I have time. Before Covid, I enjoyed writing at one of my local cafés twice a week. I’d write long-hand, sipping a coffee (or two) and the noise and chatter around me never disturbed me. Funnily, at home, I can’t even have the radio on. Typing up the hand-written scribbles formed the first of many edits. Now-a-days, the café isn’t an option, and I write at my (very messy at the moment) desk. I still write some of the first draft by hand, but more and more, I’m entering my ideas straight into the laptop. Handwriting still encourages my more creative thinking and feels less linear than typing into a computer.
Q4. What inspires you? How do you come up with your ideas?
I collect newspaper clippings and read non-fiction books on topics that interest me. Paying attention to current issues and the politics of our time sets off my imagination. ‘What if?’ questions generate plot ideas. I’m inquisitive and am fascinated by how rhetoric and spin are used by those wanting to wield influence. Once I start writing, my imagination runs away with me and the plot grows and takes interesting twists which sometimes surprise me too.
Q5. How long does it take you to write a book?
Lethal Legacy is my second book. I had a couple of scenes written before I published Deadly Secrets but I wrote it over about 18 months. Deadly Secrets took me much longer, but it was my debut, and I was learning how to craft a novel at the same time as writing.
I’m a slow writer (I’m a slow reader too) and I’m hoping that my next book will take less time again. We’ll see.
Q6. Favourite part of writing a book / least favourite part?
I love being immersed in a new storyline, developing the characters and the plot elements. The story is like a movie in my head. I hear the dialogue, and see the characters in action, although I’m more aware of their personalities than their physical characteristics. It’s an exhilarating process.
I also enjoy the research. My natural curiosity about all manner of things means I have to be careful not to get lost researching and forget to write. The overflowing pile of reference material and newspaper clippings can be overwhelming.
I don’t enjoy the self-editing as much, but I do enjoy the result. It takes a lot of concentration to focus on the detail and getting it ‘just so’, but it’s worth it.
Q7. Favourite character and why? From your own work.
That’s like asking which one of my children is my favourite.
I love my protagonists. Both Laura and Shelley are reluctant heroines, who realise they have a greater strength than they at first realised. They are conscientious and willing to stand up for what is right.
I have been surprised by how much I enjoy writing the antagonists or villains. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I love getting inside their heads and trying to discover their motivation and driving factors. I don’t ‘like’ them but I ‘like’ that they feel real.
Q8. How did you break into publishing?
I self-published. My books don’t fit neatly into traditional genres. They are political thrillers but don’t have FBI, CIA, or law-enforcement officers as the heroes. There are no shoot outs or car chases, the heroines are ordinary people, and Laura in Lethal Legacy, is fifty-nine years old. It does make promoting my novels harder, but I’m happy to put in the effort.
I enjoyed the process of self-publishing my debut novel, Deadly Secrets. I like having creative control and after learning so much about building my own website, marketing and promotion, and preparing a manuscript, I felt confident I could apply it successfully to self-publishing Lethal Legacy. I still aim for a professional result and Amanda, from Let’s Get Booked, edits and formats my novels and designs my covers and I think she does a fabulous job.
I didn’t submit Lethal Legacy to any publishers. I preferred to publish it myself.
Q9. How do you market your books?
It’s a never-ending learning process. It’s fortunate that I enjoy learning. Promotion and marketing are totally different to anything I’ve ever done, and with the pandemic, things changed. I learned a lot from my first novel. I use Facebook, Instagram, and paid Amazon Ads. My local bookshops have been very supportive and thanks to guest blogs, thank you Julia Sutton, I’m getting some exposure.
Now that the Covid restrictions have eased, I’ve added author talks and local markets to my marketing arsenal.
Q10. What is the strangest thing you have ever had to research?
My internet research history is scary. I’ve delved into the Iraqi war, drug trade, poisons and dangerous drugs, mining activities, weapons inspections, oil refining processes, and political scandals. I sat in court observing the trial of four bikie gang members charged with kidnapping, assault, and belonging to an illegal organisation. It was fascinating to watch the process from beginning to end (although I didn’t go every day) and to observe the jury, judge, the accused, their family members, and barristers in action. I chatted to other observers (often law students) and some of the police officers who were following the trial. I filled an entire notebook with notes. All that research, yet it only added contextual information in my latest book.
Although not strange, I use anecdotes from my travel experiences in my stories and my website features photos from my own travels that have inspired scene locations. It’s fun to go back over old photos to remember a place, or delve into my travel diary to remind myself of a location I’m trying to capture in words.
Q11. Any tips for new / aspiring authors?
- If you want to write, my advice is to make the time and start writing.
- Don’t fret about the prose, the first draft is getting the story components down on paper (or in your computer). I call my first drafts a brain dump and I’d never show them to anyone. It’s a starting point.
- Learn as much as you can about the craft of storytelling,
- Get feedback once you’re ready, and
- be prepared to write, rewrite, edit, and produce numerous versions before you’re finished.
Q12. Do you think writing is an innate gift or something which can be learned?
I think good writing can be learned. It’s the dedication and desire or passion which is innate. Some people have a natural story telling gift, but like with any endeavour, it’s what you do with your talents, your willingness to learn, and practice, that decides your success.
Q13. Have you ever participated in any writing courses / retreats? Have you any writing related qualifications? If so have they been beneficial?
In 2011 I got serious and successfully completed a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing at Adelaide University. I’ve completed many short creative writing courses at Writers SA and WEA (and still do). I’m a member of a novel-writing writer’s group, The Novelist Circle, which has a number of published authors. All of these have helped me learn and grow as a writer. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop learning.
I’d love to spend time at a writing retreat learning and writing alongside other authors, preferably somewhere exotic – France maybe? – but I fear I wouldn’t get much writing done.
Q14. Who are your favourite authors and why?
Some of the writers I admire are Elliot Perlman, Anna Funder, John le Carré, Scott Turow, and Peter Temple. They all embed social issues into their writing and I love the way they can stimulate thinking. I enjoy the multi-layered plots and the intricate story telling for each of these authors.
I also, in recent times, have discovered some self-published authors that I admire. Barry Litherland, Greg McLaughlin, Dominic Breiter, Matthew Arnold Stern, and Rowena Holloway are authors worth looking up.
Q15. What is your favourite novel and why?
Wow, that’s hard. I read a wide range of books, fiction and non-fiction and selecting just one is impossible. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is still one of the most impactful stories I’ve read. Novels by my favourite authors from the Q14 above feature highly, but I also enjoy books like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Q16. If you weren’t an author – what would you love to do?
At this stage of my life, I’ve tried a number of different careers, starting with science–based study, teaching and training roles, and worked in a number of different workplaces. I think writing waited a long time to be allowed to commandeer my attention and I’m really enjoying it.
Q17. What are your plans / dreams / ambitions for the future?
To keep writing until I run out of ideas. And, to find the readers who’ll enjoy my stories. I need to keep learning about the marketing and promotion so my novels can be discovered amongst the flood of books available.
Q18. What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I have several stories floating around in my head and I’m not sure which to start.
I’m not the kind of writer who could complete these projects simultaneously, so maybe I’ll have to flip a coin, or decide somehow.
Q19. Can you supply a favourite excerpt from any of your works?
Adelaide, February 2006.
The crowd slithered snake-like through the usually deserted Victoria Park. It crackled with the same excitement Laura felt. On the horizon the dusk skyline shimmered like a grey scrim curtain with pink highlights and she drank in the vivid colours. Attending the Music festival free opening concert was a rare treat but then she glanced at Tom and frowned. Laura fought to stave off the contagion of his sour mood.
Finding their friend Peter and his second wife, Abbie, would be difficult in this throng and Tom suggested they stop at the rear of the outdoor venue. His reluctance again provoked her annoyance. After thirty-seven years of marriage, it should be easier. The laughter and friendly banter of other couples and family groups made her heart ache.
She rang Peter. His cheerful voice restored her joyful anticipation, and she followed his shouted directions deep into the crowd until she saw him waving from the main aisle. Abbie stood beside him, unsmiling and rigid, and Laura hesitated. Eva, Peter’s first wife, was Laura’s best friend, and it created tension with Abbie.
Peter kissed Laura’s cheek and gently squeezed her shoulder. His hair had greyed since she’d last seen him but his tight smile was the same. Tom maintained his angry silence. He left Peter’s projected hand unclasped, grunted a greeting to Abbie then set up his chair at the outer edge of the space.
‘Are you OK?’ Abbie asked Tom. ‘You look pale.’
‘Just a headache and a sore arm from lugging all this stuff,’ Tom grumbled.
Laura struggled into the low beach chair. She rummaged in her handbag, extracted painkillers, and offered them to Tom. He barely nodded an acknowledgment, then turned and stared ahead. He obviously wasn’t ready for peace yet.
It hadn’t always been like this. His retirement, eighteen months ago, hadn’t gone to plan, at least not for her. Instead of day trips, lunches with friends, or spontaneous fun, Tom burrowed away in his study, researching and investigating a mystery he didn’t share with her. She’d expected them to draw closer once the children were grown and had left home, but instead, he’d become surlier and more withdrawn. He hadn’t been ready to retire, even if his office said he was. Now, his hurts, disappointments, and needs, dominated their lives and she admitted to her resentment. She was losing patience.
She moved her chair closer to Abbie and Peter to hear better, and the gap between her and Tom became a chasm.
‘Where’s Katie tonight?’ Laura asked, hiding her hurt behind small talk.
Abbie’s first child, Katie, was Peter’s third.
‘She’s with Peter’s boys tonight. They’re here for his birthday,’ Abbie explained.
Peter’s sons, from his first marriage to Eva, were close to Abbie’s age, with families of their own. Living in Brisbane meant they seldom encroached on Peter’s new life and Laura rarely saw them.
‘They’ve taken her and the grandkids to visit Eva.’ Abbie smirked and then laughed. ‘McDonald’s or KFC tonight, probably.’ ‘Now, now, that’s enough,’ Peter mumbled.
Laura looked away. Abbie’s animosity perplexed her, after all, Peter chose Abbie over Eva and his family. Laura accepted a glass of wine. Peter stepped behind her and offered Tom a glass too, but Tom declined ungraciously and sunk further into his beach chair.
Peter clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Let it go. We’re here to enjoy a social evening.’
‘You’d like that,’ Tom replied.
As Peter moved back to his seat, his hand brushed along Laura’s shoulder and its warmth was reassuring. She glanced at Tom’s huddled figure. He was at war with everyone. Tom’s anger at his old workplace, and Peter, intensified with the Cole Commission hearings that had started last month. The investigation into the Australian Wheat Board corruption was stirring up their old conflict and its findings would prove one of them right. Tom took the moral high ground and railed against their company adopting the Wheat Board style contracts with their illegal transport component paid straight to Sadaam Hussein’s agents. Tom argued that ignoring the UN rules was both unethical and immoral, but Peter supported the approach and sided with management.
Laura and Abbie’s conversation fell back on Laura and Tom’s four adult children. As they talked, Abbie poured a glass of wine and offered it to Tom. This time, he accepted.
In front of Laura, the multiple stages rose in wedding cake layers with several smaller stages nestled beside them. Tall gum trees formed a majestic backdrop. The lights dimmed, and a hush settled over the crowd. She yearned to reach out and touch Tom’s arm, or better still, cuddle into the crook of his armpit and call a truce, but the look on his face warded her off and she turned her attention to the artistic director’s opening address.
The floodlights dimmed and the throb of drums cascaded into the night air. It drew her in. A fire wheel swirled arcs of flame as performers strutted into the light, fire flared from their heads and backs, and a tribal rhythm underscored the dancing. Flames licked and danced in time to the music. She stared, transfixed. Strong unwelcome emotions rose unbidden and threatened to overwhelm her. She fought the urge to get up and run; to be carefree and careless. Instead, she watched as the dancers threaded gracefully around the stages, some on stilts and all aflame; their control and precision almost suffocating. Their white fire suits eerily juxtaposed with the dark backdrop and the towering trees. The crowd’s gasps filled any brief silences.
Through the evening, the acts spun intricate patterns and tunes, each different from the one before yet eerily the same, creating a harmonised yet diverse performance. Smoke laced the air. Laura’s attention was commandeered by long trumpet-like instruments wailing into the air, rising above the drums, and she lost herself in the noise and spectacle. Her heart raced as flashing flares of flame and light illuminated everything, even the dark corners of her mind.
A flare briefly cast light across the audience, and she glanced at Tom. She thought she saw him smile and finally, Laura smiled too. He was enjoying himself at last. She let the furious beat and dancers pull her attention back to the show.
Then, as the evening drew to a close, it burst into a crescendo of the biggest fireworks display she’d ever seen. Colours and light sprayed patterns across the inky sky. A familiar lump choked in her throat and she fought back tears. Fireworks made her emotional; she didn’t know why. Blossoming streaks of colour erupted onto the dark backdrop, turning it grey with tufts of smoke. The colour and whizz of the golden rockets overloaded her senses. The crowd oohed and aahed, erupting into applause as the hour-long show came to an end. Laura closed her eyes, trying to imprint the unbelievable beauty of the fireworks on her mind and capture forever the spectacle in her memory.
As the applause subsided, Laura reluctantly opened her eyes. The area spotlights’ glare blinded her momentarily, and she resisted the pull of those around her as they gathered their belongings and prepared their exodus. She looked up at Peter, confused by his openmouthed stare and followed his gaze. Tom, his strange pallor revealed by the full lights and that grimace she’d mistaken for a smile, fixed on his face, sat still. His arm hung limply at his side, touching the ground in an unnatural pose. His head tipped back. If his eyes had been closed, she’d have thought him asleep.
She reached out and touched him, murmuring, ‘Tom. Tom, it’s—’
He didn’t stir. She recoiled, struggled out of her chair, then shook him. He was asleep, wasn’t he?
At her touch, he slid sideways and slumped to the ground. It couldn’t be happening.
Peter was on the phone. The people immediately beside them stood and stared while the crowds beyond them pushed and jostled as they tried to leave.
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Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hrkemp01
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