AUTHOR INSIGHT: RACHAEL JOHNS

West Australian author Rachael Johns came to my attention when I was organising a schedule for the Stories on Stage events I host at Koorliny Arts Centre. Her name kept popping up in Twitter and reviews … so I checked her out, invited her to be a Stories on Stage guest, read Man Drought and sent her a Q&A sheet … after reading her answers, I’m really looking forward to meeting her in person. For those who can’t make it to the event, here’s an insight into Rachael.

Tell me a bit about how you became a romance writer. Were you a lover of this genre already? Where in the genre do your books fit? 

Although I didn’t realise I was reading romance, the books I read and enjoyed in my early twenties all had a thread of romance – many were chick lit, a fave being Bridget Jones’ Diary. However, it was only when a friend and I were tired of our literary type writing going nowhere and we challenged each other to write a Mills & Boon novel, that I truly discovered romance. I devoured fifty short romance books in a month – totally fell in love with the stories and happy ever afters and through this challenge I found Romance Writers of Australia. Being a member of Romance Writers of Australia really helped me learn the craft of writing and opened up so many opportunities. I suddenly felt like I’d found my home in the big world of fiction! Romance is where I’m at.

If you wrote a romance novel based entirely on you and your life, what would you call it? And how would you describe your husband? 

Her Unromantic Hero. My hubby is not classically romantic. I think he’s brought me flowers once in my life and doesn’t do grand romantic gestures or Valentine’s Day, but he does little things all the time that show me how much he loves me. One of the major things is taking on a lot of household tasks so that I have more time to write. His support of my career is very romantic to me.

What do readers seem to like most about your stories? 

I get a lot of feedback from happy readers that they love my heroes. A few of them who’ve read all my books, can’t quite decide which guy they like best. I like a hero who is strong, honest, caring, funny, sexy of course and a although he may be grumpy on the surface, beneath the façade he’s the kind of man you can always rely on.

You live in a small rural town – what’s been the reaction to your “celebrity” as an author? 

The people of Goomalling have been amazing. My first print book was launched at the Community Resource Centre and about 80 people came along. Considering we’re a town of about 500, many of whom are men (not typically romance readers) and half are children, this was a great crowd. We own the local supermarket and whenever I’m in the shop, customers ask me if I’m writing something new and when they can expect the next book. One local schoolgirl put me on a post card for a school project … so overall, the reaction in Goomalling has been very heart-warming. They are a hugely supportive community.

You used to be an English teacher. What was that like? Do you miss anything about that? How interested were students in English as a subject? Do you think social media is having a good or bad effect on children in terms of literacy as a whole?

I confess I actually only taught English for about six months before having my first child so I wasn’t that long in the profession. Three kids later, I’ve taught a bit more but actually in lower primary, rather than teaching my subject in high school. I enjoyed teaching – when the kids were good – and especially love sharing my passion of reading, writing and books. I miss the buzz you get when a child also shares your passion and WANTS to learn. Having been out of the classroom for quite some time, I’m probably not in the best position to comment on the effect of social media. My kids are only little so they haven’t been distracted by it yet. I do think however, that social media is part of life now and maybe teachers should embrace it and use it to their advantage, rather than fear it and whinge about it.

 What was your publishing journey like? Any highlights/lowlights?

 It took me fifteen years from the time I decided I wanted to write a book to getting an email from a publisher saying they wanted to buy my manuscript. There were highs and lows during this time as I learnt my craft, submitted, got rejected and worked out my voice and what type of book it suited. One of the major highs was coming runner up in an international contest run by Mills & Boon in 2008. The winner got published; I got to work with an editor for a year. I learnt a lot in this time and also gained immense confidence in my ability as a writer. I was never picked up by Mills & Boon but I believe trying to target my writing to their strict category lines, really helped me hone my skills. The next big highlight was actually getting an offer on my first book, One Perfect Night, on April Fools Day 2011. Many times over the years I thought maybe I should give up, that I was fighting a losing battle … but the dream did eventually come true. As a result, I’m a big believer in the idea that if you work hard enough for something, you can make it happen!

According to your website, you are a ‘writer by night’. Tell me a bit more about that. Do you have your own writing space? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise. How do you get into the “zone”?

Ha ha, that bio’s a little old. My three kids are now all in school and I actually get time to write two and a half days a week (when I’m not needed in the supermarket). However, while I was striving for publication, I used to squeeze writing in during the times most normal people are relaxing in front of the TV or reading a book (or doing ironing). In terms of space, I used to have a beautiful study in our old house with a bright pink wall and another wall entirely of bookshelves, but a couple of years ago we moved into a smaller house and now I have a corner in a thoroughfare. It’s a cute corner, but it’s still only a corner and distractions abound. I write best when there is no one else in the house and no noise! But this is not always possible and so I’ve trained myself to sit down and write at certain times even if the muse is absent and the distractions rife.

If someone wanted to start creative writing, what advice would you give them? 

Read lots in the genre you hope to write in and then just do it. Experiment and have fun to start with, don’t worry too much about publication until you have a complete novel. And even when you do have a complete novel, don’t immediately submit it, but put it away, write another one and then come back and edit the first one. Time is a luxury I don’t really have anymore but it’s always amazing how different a manuscript looks when you haven’t read it for a few months.

When you write, what is your biggest weakness? 

Plotting! And giving my characters strong goals. And endings. Oh and middles can be a hard one too! Quite aside from all these things, my biggest weakness or enemy when I write is self-doubt. That little bird sitting on my shoulder, chirping in my ear that I’m wasting my time, the story is crap, my writing is crap and I really should just go back to teaching. It’s hard to push past that voice and write anyway, but I’d never finish books if I didn’t.

I imagine writing love scenes would be hard (I’d laugh) – or do you find it easy? Do you ever make yourself blush? Do you have a limit on how graphic you’ll go? What advice do you have for people who want to include sex scenes in their novels?

It’s bizarre but I find it both easy and hard. I wrote a pretty steamy one recently and it felt right for the story, it flowed from my fingertips but I couldn’t stop thinking about my family and friends reading it. The principal at my kids’ (Catholic) school, our customers, my mum, etc. This always makes me uncomfortable and wonder if I’ve gone too far. I try and ignore these thoughts and just write what suits the story, but saying that, I do have limits. I like a sex scene to be sweet, even if it’s steamy, but I never plan to get too graphic in my writing. Advice?? Argh! Maybe have a glass of wine, let your imagination run wild and forget about the fact your boss or your mother-in-law might one day read it!

What do you look for when you read fiction? What other genres attract you?

These days I like books that entertain me with characters I can laugh alongside and relate to. I read a lot of romance, but also loads of Aussie women’s fiction and some crime. I’m pretty much open to any genre (although I’m not a fan of paranormal and sci-fi) but time (or lack of it) limits my reading a lot.

Lately there has been a growing move to put Australian women writers on the map, courtesy of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Was this long overdue? Which Australian women writers do you admire the most?

Hmmm… tough question. I actually didn’t really notice how under represented women writers were in the media until the AWW Challenge came about, but looking back, I do see a bias. I won’t mention names but a book I read recently (and loved) was written by a man, sold in heaps of territories around the world and got huge media coverage and hype. I wonder if this same book would have gotten as much attention had it been written by a woman? Whatever the case, I’m glad that women are getting the limelight in the form of the AWW Challenge. As I said, I read a lot of Aussie fiction and almost all of these books are written by women so it would be hard to pick a favourite.

Five things that mean the most to you in life? RachaelJohns2

Family, health, friends, writing and freedom.

Which book are you reading now?

I’m just about to start The Sunburnt Country by my good friend Fiona Palmer.

Which book do you think all young women should read?

Bridget Jones’ Diary – it’s fun and empowering!

What would your “burlesque” name be?

Raquel Lavelle – an alternative of Rachael and my dad’s surname. Together I think it sounds perfectly burlesque!

Are you a big handbag or a small handbag woman? Name ten things in your bag today?

Medium sized (just to be difficult). 

  1. Purse
  2. Diary
  3. Hand cream (I put it on like ALL the time)
  4. Lip gloss (it’s about as far as I go with make-up)
  5. Bookmarks for Man Drought
  6. Chewing Gum
  7. A pen shaped like lipstick given to me by small publisher Steam eReads
  8. My iPhone (which carries a whole library from which I can read should I get stuck anywhere).
  9. Dirt and dust – it really needs a clean out.
  10. Receipts I haven’t gotten around to throwing out.