Lily Malone might have been a painter, except her year-old son put a golf club through her canvas, so she wrote her first book His Brand of Beautiful instead. Lily writes realistic contemporary romance about places she knows. She loves her wine and many of her romances are set in the vineyards and wine regions of Australia, particularly in the tourism towns of Margaret River in West Australia (where she now lives) and in the Adelaide Hills near Hahndorf where she spent most of the 2000s. Lily has worked as a journalist and editor of wine industry magazines, but discovered after years of writing facts for a living, writing romance was much more fun. When she isn’t writing, Lily likes gardening, walking, wine, and walking in gardens (sometimes with wine). She is the mother of two handsome young boys who take after their father and she’s doing her best to convert both her South Australian-born heroes into the fan club of the West Coast Eagles AFL team. Not with great success … Her books include Water Under the Bridge and The Vineyard in the Hills.
Lily and I became instant friends a few years back and we’re now in the same writing accountability group. Since she’s celebrating a new book release, I thought I’d ask her a few questions.
Monique: You’ve just released Water Under The Bridge, a contemporary romance set in the Porongorups area, which is about fresh starts in life. Tell me more about this book.
Lily: It’s a story about a swimmer who almost made the Beijing Olympics team but for a bad decision at a swimming meet after-party. The fall out of that decision means she hasn’t swum since, not a paddle in a pool, not competitively … nothing. She’s also ‘settled’ for a life that feels second rate, so as the story begins she’s decided to throw off that sense of dissatisfaction with her life and take a chance on a fresh start. Ella opts for a tree-change to the town of Chalk Hill where she’s about to start life as the rookie real estate agent in the country town. She soon discovers it’s very hard to sell a house for someone who doesn’t want the house sold (even if he’s really hunky) …
Monique: What inspired you to write a book set in the Porongorups area?
Lily: A visit in our camper van in spring of 2016. We stayed at Albany and visited the Porongurups, including the Granite Skywalk there. The mountains always had that purple mist kind of feel, and at the time the canola fields were all flowering – so that bright yellow was everywhere. I love yellow in nature.
Monique: There’s conflict a-plenty in Water Under the Bridge, as there is in any good romance, but aside from Jake and Ella’s conflicts, the story features a mother and son going through a difficult time, with Ella’s son acting out in ways that both embarrass and concern her. While we don’t see things from his POV, it deepens the story and adds more conflict. What are some of the deeper issues you wanted to explore here?
Lily: Well, I have my own ten-year-old boy and I hear reports back from the school day as I empty the lunchbox every afternoon, and I think this is a real testosterone challenged time for young boys. Young kids everywhere, I guess. I’ve found it hard balancing the instinct that you want your children to try hard, and yet you don’t want them to get too competitive about things in life that don’t matter, e.g. sports/games/whose turn it is to use the tablet first … it’s hard trying to teach compromise and backing down, in a culture that seems to reward those who come out on top. So, some of those issues came into the story. I think as a mum of young boys who tried to begin a writing career, some of those frustrations came through the story too. For example, when Ella is intent on making the sale of a house, and wants time on the phone to talk to a potential buyer … and yet Sam (the son) wants to make a Milo … and spills milk & Milo everywhere. I know how hard it can be not to totally lose your shit sometimes as the Mum – you want so much to make a good impression on the phone, and yet in the background is a child whining about what is for dinner and that he’s hungry, and where are his socks, and his water bottle has leaked in his school bag … I tell you, it makes it hard to write a love scene!!
But it also makes it hard to concentrate on achieving the things you want for yourself in life. I think many women generally, and mothers, sacrifice their own dreams for their family. They definitely put things on hold thinking: “I’ll take up (in my case) writing when the kids are older, or when they don’t need me so much” … but that time might never come and so I guess the story is also about seizing the moment now – from the mother’s perspective. Hmmm. Maybe that makes Ella a bit selfish in some readers’ eyes, but not in mine.
Monique: What do you admire about Ella’s character? Is she anything like you? Was it easier to write her because you work part-time in a real estate office?
Lily: I can’t swim a lap!! Yes it was easier to make her real estate world authentic because I’ve worked in real estate in many different roles, and currently work in a small country real estate office. I like that Ella has courage to realise she is dissatisfied with her life as it is, and to take that step to change things. I’d like to think that if I needed to do this at some stage, I could make that step too, rather than feel I’d squandered my own opportunities.
In some respects from the swimming perspective, there’s a few loose links with Shane Gould’s story – and Shane spent a lot of time in the Margaret River area, living incognito out of the swimming spotlight. Years later, she emerged from that period of her life and back into being ‘Shane Gould’. I admired a lot about her choices through that time.
Monique: Water Under the Bridge is the first in a loosely linked series about the Honeychurch brothers. Was it a conscious decision to have three brothers in this book, so two more books could follow? Is this common in romance writing?
Lily: Yes I think it’s pretty common in romance writing to set up a series if you can. Usually the series will be set in the same town and involve different characters from the town. Often it’s brothers or sisters. Sometimes it’s just other characters. There’s a writer Bella Andre who wrote The Sullivans series and I think that had thirteen brothers!! I’ll stick with three 🙂 I haven’t written a series before, but Chalk Hill just seemed to bloom into one as I wrote the first story.
Monique: What attracted you to writing contemporary romance?
Lily: I like romance writing for its escapism and its generally uplifting feel. There is so much crap and drama in the world that I personally feel it’s nice writing about the lighter side of things, and giving choice to people like me, who’d like to read about the lighter side of things rather than death and destruction and all the other awful things you see on the news.
Monique: What do you find easy about writing? What’s hard?
Lily: Hardest thing is putting my butt on the seat to do it! So many other things will seem like more fun some days … hanging out a load of washing, scrubbing the floor, emptying the dishwasher, watering the plants … Easy, for me is editing. I prefer editing a story than writing that first draft.
Monique: Who do you imagine your ideal reader to be when you are writing?
Lily: Well, I’d like to think that there might be a reader out there going through a sad or a troubled time, and she reads a scene in a story of mine and it makes her smile. That’s all I need sometimes. I don’t need that someone loved the entire book – but if there’s one line or paragraph or scene that makes her feel better about the world, that’s good enough for me.
Monique: You’re part of an online writing accountability group. What’s good about this sort of group?
Lily: Oh gosh!! Finding your tribe is so important. Kindred spirits. People who ‘get’ you. People who you can vent with/share with – who understand what you’re going through. People who are positive about books and writing and what you want to achieve and how important your words are to you!
Monique: In addition, you’re part of an amazing writing community in WA. What makes it so special?
Lily: Interesting! I think it just might be that WA is so far ‘away’ from the rest of the country that we have to support each other. It’s smaller, although the geographical area is so big – so we do tend to gradually meet the people we’re talking to online.
Monique: What has writing taught you about resilience?
It’s so interesting how much I’ve grown a thicker skin over the years. A bad review used to make me feel sick. Now I just read it and pretty much go, “oh, okay” and I move on.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Lily: Procrastination. Getting off the chair to make coffee, check Facebook, futz around. Gotta get back in the chair because it won’t write itself!
Monique: Kieran Perkins gets a couple of mentions in Water Under the Bridge. Is he your favourite swimmer?
Lily: Kieran was actually my sister’s favourite swimmer. I know she had his biography many moons ago but I’m not sure if it’s still in her bookshelf. I suspect it is! I do remember watching that famous 1500m in 1996 in Atlanta, when he scraped into the final in Lane 8 and won. I had tears that day – you know I love my sport, Monique – and that is one of those sporting moments I will remember forever. But honestly as well, I also thought Perkins was a good name for a bird!
Monique: Music also features a little in Water Under the Bridge … disco! Do you have a secret love for disco music? A favourite disco beat?
Lily: Hot Stuff, baby! I enjoy a good boogie as much as anyone. I’m not sure I’d count disco a favourite but I can tell you I did enjoy the playlist as I wrote WUTB. Not as I write mind you – I like it quiet when I write – but I would put the disco Pandora or Spotify on loud at other times 🙂
Monique: What’s the best thing another writer has ever taught you?
Lily: This was a tip from Rachael Johns that works for me. She said ‘delete the last line of every chapter’. Check it out – it works.
[bctt tweet=”Almost always the pen-ultimate line of a chapter is stronger than the last one!” username=”MoniqueMulligan”]
Fabulous blog. Fabulous author. Honeychurch! Inspired character naming. Love him.
Hey, Jenn! Thanks for visiting 🙂
Thank you, Jenn! This was a fun interview 🙂
Thanks for having me over to your gorgeous website and blog, Monique 🙂 It’s so lovely here, I might just stay… you won’t even notice me typing over the corner…
My pleasure! Great to get you know even more.
Your clever questions allow Lily’s warmth and wit to shine through in all of her responses, Monique. What a delightful post. You certainly succeeded in making this reader smile today, Lily. 🙂
aww, thank you Maureen! The pair of you are such a great foil for each other. I think exactly the same about how you put Shelf Awareness together… so very clever!
Thank you, Maureen. I do enjoy these interviews and this one has a particularly conversational style in Lily’s answers, so I felt like we were just chatting, as we do.
I so enjoyed your book and you do make me smile, Lily! 🙂
She makes me smile too!
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