The Book of Love was your first book. Your second book, The Fragment of Dreams, has just been released. Could you tell us a little about this book?
The book is a continuation of Lily and William’s story, although it can also be read as a stand-alone title. It’s a fast paced novel with a mystery at its core, there’s some heartbreak, (I still cry when I read the sad bits, how corny is that!) and of course, love. Can’t say anymore except that I feel it’s a little deeper than The Book of Love; we get to know both William and Lily much better. Lily faces some challenges and she has to get out from behind that bookshop desk, and Poppy, Lily’s sister, was heaps of fun to spend time with, in fact they all were.
It wasn’t an easy book to write but it’s one I’m proud of, and I’d say anyone who loved the first book won’t be disappointed with this one. I didn’t want to let Lily and William down, or my readers, and although William in particular has a hard time, I think they’d be happy with The Fragment of Dreams. They are retiring from public life now.
How has being a published author changed your life?
I try to keep my author thing separate from my personal and social life. If my friends and family ask then I answer. It’s like a job – it absorbs me, but others are only mildly interested. The exception is my partner, who gets the complete technicolour ‘Phillipa’ experience, including the ‘published author’ angle.
What has changed most is my inner world. Part of me is always ruminating on the story I’m writing, but now another part has to factor in ‘industry’ stuff like promotion, marketing, book sales, requests from various places, blogging and tweeting, deadlines, networking, schmoozing and always keeping abreast of what the industry is doing. This part of the job, but I have to find strategies to turn that side of the work off, and yet allow the story stream to continue. I’m still working on that one.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
About five years ago. I have always been a reader but I never wanted to write in case it spoilt that ‘reading’ part of my life which has always been a sanctuary or refuge for me. It sounds weird, I know, but I did find much of my love of the visual arts was eroded over years of being in the industry and it has taken time to get back to a place where I can simply please myself in my likes and dislikes. And I knew it was a risk that I’d face if I was to get into writing, but when I actually tried writing it was so much fun I knew I wanted to keep going. At first I’d watch films or read books and start decoding or unravelling their structure and the red light started flashing, but if something is good enough you don’t see what’s going on backstage and you lose yourself in the story, or best of all, lose yourself and marvel at the skill involved.
What was the road to publication like, how did you go about getting published?
I started the usual way with a query letter and a chapter sent to an agent who was open for submissions. She wrote back and asked for a full and I thought ‘aaaHA! I must have something.’ That was very encouraging. She didn’t take it on and rereading it now I can see why. But I kept going and wrote another manuscript and submitted that to Allen and Unwin’s Friday Pitch with no success, so I wrote another manuscript, The Book of Love, and submitted it to the Hachette/QWC Manuscript Development Program in 2008 and was lucky enough to be selected and subsequently offered a two-book contract. The book was published in 2010 while I was writing the sequel and that book, The Fragment of Dreams, has just been published by Hachette Australia this month.
What’s the first thing you did after you were offered a contract? Did you celebrate?
I went crabbing. It was early one summer morning and we had the car packed; kids strapped in and were backing out of the driveway when I shouted, ‘My hat!’ I ran back into the house to get it and the phone rang and it was Bernadette Foley offering me a two book contract. Could have knocked me over with a feather, I was astonished, but my husband was honking the horn – as husbands do – and I had to race back out and we set off to go crabbing with friends over on the Yorke Peninsula. I had a couple of hours in the car to marvel over what had just happened but my kids started pulling my leg about fame and paparazzi and we ended up all having a good laugh about it. That night I think I had a beer and some fresh crab to celebrate, and that was it.
Apart from writing, what are your other interests and hobbies?
I love cooking and food and all the culture and history around that, I read a lot, like to travel, I watch a lot of films, I like decorative arts and museums, I love other people’s gardens – not mine – open gardens, heritage gardens, orchards, community vegetable gardens and flower gardens, and just being with family and friends.
What authors and/or books have inspired you?
There are so many it’s hard to pin point anyone in particular, but some of my favourites who write about, or have love relationships central to the book, would be M. M. Kaye, Sarah Waters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sebastian Faulks, Margaret Mitchell, A.S. Byatt, Alberto Moravia, Daphne Du Maurier, Edith Wharton, and the list just goes on and on.
How important do you think it is for authors to actively participate in self-promotion and marketing?
I think it’s important because the competition for readers is so intense. It would be nice to put one’s book out there and have it speak for itself, but the thing is, all the other books are speaking too, and that makes a lot of loud noise. We have to shout now to be heard.
But sometimes shouting does not come easily. Women are often taught to be self-effacing, to put others first, to not boast or parade one’s success. It’s a very thin line one walks between self-promotion and obnoxious publicity seeker. Maybe the digital native generation won’t have a problem with it but I battle the desire to hide every day of the promotion season.
However, that’s the way things are now for contemporary authors and we just have to get on top of it. I like hard work, but I also like to sign off on something and get that satisfaction of a job well done, but with self-promotion it’s always there, like the washing. Do a couple of loads and there’s already another pile growing. It’s never ending.
That said, let me also say the publicity team at Hachette Australia are great and they do all the heavy lifting – magazines, festivals and the like, and they advise and support, so I’m very lucky. I do love running a blog, I love connecting with readers through it and I’m back on Twitter, with mixed feelings.
For me, one of the pleasures of self-promotion is meeting readers, booksellers and librarians – all bookish people and all with a story to tell about book retail, or other great books or what they feel people like to read these days. That’s the upside, because it is too easy to retreat into one’s own headspace and forget the people you are writing for. And you can never lose sight of the fact that your writing must come first – you have to have something to promote after all.
What is your typical day like?
After the get-to-school-on-time daily crisis I like to be at my desk and working from around nine until three. On a good day I’ll walk for an hour – I have to walk each day to clear my head and compensate for all the screen time – then after dinner I read or watch a film. I don’t like to work at night because I can’t switch my brain off and then find it hard to sleep.
I try to be disciplined and focussed, I really do try, but distraction, procrastination, self-doubt, tiredness and sheer laziness get in the way sometimes. If there is a deadline to meet then I usually work every day and night until it’s done. Deadlines are good, they can be fearsome things but I’ve never missed one yet.
How do you go about writing a novel, do you map everything out beforehand, or just dive right in?
I think about what it is I want to write and can it be sustained and is it interesting and who exactly are these characters I want to write into existence? I jot notes and ideas down over months and gradually the story takes shape. Then I sit down and usually start with dialogue and flesh scenes out around that.
I’ve tried planning and scene mapping and it doesn’t really work for me. I think I work with a more of an organic, bringing-into-being approach that ends up with an enormous amount of words generated, because until I write it, I don’t know if it will work. I’ve found myself down some real dark holes working like this, but it seems to be the way it is for me. I don’t like to know the end when I start; I want to be surprised along the way, just like the reader.
What’s the next project you’re working on, and how many other manuscripts do you have in the pipeline?
I’m working on a story now, set in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and I think you could say that the three main characters – a bit of a love triangle – are in conflict within themselves, and with each other, and there’s a clash of family and culture – Italian, of course, and then there is a wider conflict of nepotism and political corruption, (this is set in New South Wales after all!) There is a lot of food involved, as there is a restaurant at the centre of the story, and of course, there is love and attraction and confusion and humour.
And in the distance there’s the outline of a story I’d like to spread out over two books. And I can’t look further than that except to say ideas occur to me all the time. Relationships between men and women provide infinite possibilities for storytelling. And one day I’d really like to write a saga set against a major historical event, a sort of M.M. Kaye and Margaret Mitchell story, most likely set in Italy and Australia. And then I’d have to go back to Italy and live there for a few months and I’m pretty sure I’d like that.
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
I have a website at www.phillipafioretti.com.au , I’m on Twitter as @PipFioretti, I’m also on Facebook and I always welcome contact from readers.
I’ll be at the RWA conference in August and I’ll also be giving two workshops at the Sydney Writers Festival on the 16th and 17th of May about maximising your chances of getting published. I’ll be looking at everything, from the query letter to blogging, from manuscript development programs to search engine optimisation. For more information you can go to the Sydney Writers Festival website .
Thanks for participating Phillipa! 🙂