One of the most popular books in this year’s challenge has been Honey Brown’s Dark Horse. Honey spent her childhood in Tasmania, and now lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. In her late-twenties she was involved in a farm accident, and now lives with the challenges of a spinal injury. She has been writing for thirteen years during which time she has published the critically acclaimed novels Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse. I interviewed Honey about how she got started as a writer, her writing habits, and her favourite book by a female Australian writer.
Escaping her broken marriage and bankrupt trail-riding business, Sarah seeks solace in the Mortimer Ranges. When a flash flood traps her on Devil Mountain, she takes shelter in Hangman’s Hut. A lone bushwalker, arrives: charming, capable, handsome. But his story doesn’t ring true. Why is he deep in the wilderness without any gear? What’s driving his resistance towards rescue? The closer they become the more her suspicions grow. But to get off Devil Mountain alive, Sarah must engage in this secretive stranger’s dangerous game of intimacy. [About Dark Horse]
Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?
My childhood wasn’t bookish. My thoughts tend to take over the moment I start to read. I find myself staring off into the distance, piecing together a different tale to the one I’m reading. It’s still rare that I get fully immersed in a novel. These days I read for technique and storytelling craft and the author’s skill and tone and “voice”. As a teen I remember being swept away by the novel Rich Man Poor Man, other than that though, I would just read trashy romance, for the hope of some racy, sexy stuff, not for the story.
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
After my spinal injury in 2000 I was in a dark place emotionally and I turned to my creative side to help reconnect with who I was. The focus was suddenly there, to properly write a novel, to learn the basics and hone my writing style.
How did your debut novel Red Queen come to be published?
I realised that Red Queen wasn’t like my other stories; it seemed to stand the test of time, and it didn’t make me cringe with embarrassment. I sent it to the ABC unpublished manuscript competition (no-longer running) and it won runner-up. From there I got an agent and a publisher.
I’m not a big researcher. Facts, figures, dates, places, times, aren’t my thing. I fire my imagination with questions about humanity on a social, emotional and psychological level. If I do have to research something, I slot the information in once I have the story down.
Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to Dark Horse?
Because it’s a novel with a twist, I’m happy to say that the responses have all been fairly similar – the readers are shocked by the unexpected turn of events.
What are your writing habits? Where do you write? What does a typical day look like for you?
I write everyday, even when I’m not supposed to be writing, like on Christmas Day, or when I should be doing mother/wife/household things. I have a home office, but I take my laptop to the kitchen table and sit in the sun.
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I try rewriting chapters or I alter characters responses and behaviour. Getting stuck happens whenever I force a plot point or make a character jump through too many hoops. But creativity can stall completely, and a book can’t always be fixed. When that happens it’s disappointing and frustrating. I drag and drop into my Unfinished Folder, where my failed books go to die.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished Through The Cracks, my fifth novel. I’m waiting for the structural report and first edits from my publisher at the moment. This book was challenging to write. It’s about abduction, sexual abuse and exploitation. But at the same time I wanted it to be a story of kindness, friendship and mystery. It’s the survivor’s tale, starting from the moment of escaping, and that period of reintegration into the real world – the main character, Adam, might be free but he’s not yet safe. I also wanted to explore the different types of entrapment – kidnapping, institutions, prostitution, domestic violence. Most of all, I wanted to show the complexity and strength of character of abuse survivors.
What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?
Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Its theme of unrequited love draws me to it. I’m a thriller writer, but love, in its many forms, is the lifeblood of every story.
This is the second in an interview series with the authors of the most popular books in this year’s challenge according to Yvonne Perkins mid-year overview. The first interview was with Dawn Barker, author of Fractured.
Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. She has had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University.