Welcome and thanks for treading the boards with us today!
You can also visit Jacquie on her blog
Are you inspired most by places, people or experiences and how do these work their way into your writing?
I am interested equally by all three. As an author of a number of manuscripts, not one thing alone - place, person, or experience - has inspired or moulded a story. My first ever novel was based on a personal ideal—a beautiful, pure and eternal love. My second, by the limitlessness of the mind and how much we still don’t know about the mind’s capabilities.
For my third novel, Beautiful Coincidence, where I wrote about a WWI soldier, I believe my inspiration came from beyond the grave. There were just too may unexplainable coincidences that occurred during the writing process—namely that the obscure main character’s name, which I made up entirely (or so I thought), ended up being the name of a real WWI soldier from the state where I was born. (I wrote about this further in my blog, if you are interested in the whole goose-pimpling story).
Please share one of your favourite moments of inspiration with us.
Although I haven’t put finger to keyboard yet with regards to this idea, it has been the most exciting inspiration I have received yet. And it came from a dream. And boy, was I supposed to get this message.
I was sound asleep (an essential component to receiving dream inspiration) and began to dream (another essential component).
I am in a room, sitting at a table next to my sister. She pulls a book out from her bag, and says to me, “This is the best book I've read in ages.”
Intrigued as I am hearing a comment like this, I ask her to tell me what the book is about. She says, “It’s about three sisters who all disappear on the same night and they each end up in different places, specifically designed for them, and each based on their true personalities. These places are so eerie, you’d think these sisters were mad. ” (I won’t give away more of the story line as I still need to write this sucker).
Next thing, I woke up and I repeated to myself, as I lay in my bed, remember this dream, please make sure you remember this dream. I soon closed my eyes and drifted back off to sleep, to awaken in the 1800’s.
I’m dressed in a beautiful, black dress with full skirts. I’m walking down a long hallway, upon plush red carpet, lit by wall-mounted candles. And I’m following three men in expensive suits. I end up at a timber writing desk with a quill in my hand and I’m dipping this quill in black ink so I can scrawl across paper a message to myself. I write how I have just received a story idea about three sisters who all disappear on the same night, etc., etc.
I woke up again and I took the hint, loud and clear, this time. I reached for my iPad on my bedside table and noted the whole thing down.
How did you come up with the idea of The Paler Shade of Autumn?
The Paler Shade of Autumn began in one direction, an uncomplicated Mills-&-Boon-type story, but, whilst writing, I happened to watch an episode of Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey, where she visited the Bodh Tree in India (the tree under which Buddha obtained enlightenment). While there, she met a young woman from Melbourne who had given up her husband and life in Australia to volunteer at an orphanage in Bodh Gaya. Needless to say, my book took an entirely different direction to become a story about spirituality and the happiness derived from selflessly helping others.
How do you come up with your characters’ names?
I don’t really have a specific way in which to devise characters’ names. Originally, after I called my first ever heroine Lucy, I decided that all my characters’ name were to start with the letter ‘L’. But this mad method soon ended when I wrote about Autumn in The Paler Shade of Autumn. And good thing it did, because her name shaped her entire history and most of the story-line.
Generally, I just roll through, in my mind, all the names that I can think of and like, and see which one suits the character I want to write about.
What is your favourite holiday?
I love heading up to either the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast Hinterland. My husband and I often stay at secluded cottages, which offer views of gorges and rolling hills that extend all the way to the ocean. I appreciate the space, the cool climate and the silence.
How many times were you turned down before you finally got published?
Blessedly, for The Paler Shade of Autumn, I had only submitted to one publisher—Escape Publishing. For my earlier novels, though, I was rejected at least 30 times by different agents and publishers. Thankfully, the publishing industry in Australia is changing, especially in the realm of romance publication. There are definitely more options now that didn’t exist even as little as one year ago.
What reason(s) did the publishers give for their rejection of your manuscript?
I never received any feedback, only the stock-standard rejection letter. Although, when I look back on earlier work, I can see the errors that I made that would have made the publishers reject my submission.
What do you need to set the mood for you to write? A good idea, my kids occupied, a laptop and a chair. I can’t be tired, or have body pain, or have any pressing problem in my universe that needs to be dealt with.
If there is one genre that you have not written in yet, but would love to try writing a book in that specific genre, what would it be? I think I was destined to write horror. My imagination, for as long as I can remember, has run wild with scary scenarios. I just haven’t been brave enough to let the ideas flow, because it scares me too much and I’m prone to nightmares.
How many blurbs did you have to write before the final one? Sometimes it seems blurbs and synopses are even harder than writing the actual story. I spend hours writing and rewriting blurbs.
If you could bring one of your characters to life, who would it be? And why? Oh, definitely Nate from Beautiful Coincidence. He is the sexiest, most delicious, caring, yet masculine man I have ever written about.
What are you working on now?
I’m attempting my first Novella and my first Erotica all at once. I’ve two chapters left and hope to target Harlequin’s Nocturne Cravings line. Once that is done, I thought I’d bring back the ‘witch’ in a romance series.
Would you like to share an excerpt from your writing or a photo or music link that inspires you?
This is an excerpt from The Paler Shade of Autumn, where Autumn has one of her first experiences in Bodh Gaya, India and where she meets her hero, Jet.
Ahead of her is a long, dusty path bordered by peddlers. She wanders along the narrow channel, towards the temple, to inspect the trinkets on sale. Some of the makeshift, transient vendors are seated on rugs, their goods laid out before them: rings with the plump, gold Buddha on their face, two-inch high metal and sandalwood statues, and Buddha pendants. Others stand behind benches swathed in dusty blankets holding their array of knickknacks.
Autumn inspects thumb-sized Buddha statues; thinks she should buy one as a memento of her journey and, concurrently, support the local vendors whose sole income is what they sell to the pilgrims and tourists. It is evident during her short stay in India that foreigners provide a healthy percentage of sales. Her white skin and western clothes are to Indian beggars and vendors what the red cape is to a bull. They charge and plead, beg and bargain, to the point where polite no-not-todays and no-thankyous have evolved and transformed into blunt NOs!
Today, around her shoulders, Autumn has strung a large scarf in an effort to not only blend in a little more, but to stave off the excessive ogling. In and around Patna yesterday, many, many men (the streets are abounding with them) would point and nudge to their fellow companions and glare as she walked past them. It has never occurred to her before that her meagre C-cups could produce such a stir; to an extent even David thought excessive. So far, the scarf hasn't proven to help her in quest for obscurity, but it does feel like a quasi-shield while David, her human swat, isn’t here to help her deal with the onslaught.
Autumn grasps the statue between her thumb and forefinger. She inspects it closer to her eye: a smiling Buddha painted in gold and robed in red. His swollen belly protrudes from the rest of his rounded body. Knowing what she knows about Siddhartha Gautama’s life; his years of self-denial, hunger and starvation. And knowing what she knows about his time under the ancient fig—fighting the demon of desire, where he eventually gained enlightenment and was elevated into Nirvana—this gold statue seems to contradict all of that. But where on earth has commercialism not bastardised something that is, in essence, quite pure? Regardless though, she bargains a fair exchange for the statue and continues down the sandy corridor of makeshift stores.
An old woman of no more than five feet stands behind a stall. Her head and body are draped in a green sari; wrinkled face the only skin exposed. Laid out on the table are saris of all different colours and sizes. Autumn stops at the table and runs her fingers along the silken materials in pinks, greens, yellows and reds. She stops on a sky-blue sari with gold brocade around its edges and raises her eyes to the aged woman. The woman is already peering at her, meeting her gaze directly, despite her eyes appearing blinded—the pupils faded from what once was brown to mother-of-pearl.
Autumn gasps at the sight, but collects her composure and smiles. “Namaste,” she says, a gentle tremor finding her voice. She points to the sari on the pile.
The old woman opens her mouth and crackles, “One thousand rupees.”
Autumn nods, a quick movement. This woman with pale eyes, wide and dead-like, scares her. She doesn’t dare to bargain—one thousand rupees seems like a fair deal for a silk sari and a quick getaway. She plucks the money from her bag and thrusts it towards the old lady. Autumn flinches as a wrinkled, brown hand appears from underneath the sari, twisted fingernails that are ten centimetres long. As she pushes the money into shaking hands, their skin collides and Autumn stumbles backwards a wobbly step. The contact, the imagery exchanged, is like being shanked with a dagger, the blade twisting and slicing as it pushes through her forehead and then out again.
Her heart is beating so hard she feels it in her ear drums. Autumn snatches at the sari, but is caught as she tries to retract her hand. The old lady clenches her hand in her steely grip and doesn't let go. Images, thoughts, emotions bleed from the old woman into Autumn: horrible, despicable images of death, murder, disease, trickery, painful debilitating hunger; the nadir of despair. Young babies floating along a river, bloated stomachs; women dying on the streets of filth and stench; children gripping their stomachs in ravenous hunger; young girls heartlessly, brutally raped.
Autumn twists and squirms; tries to pull away from this exchange of misery, the dross of humanity, where death is a release rather than something to be despaired. She feels the emotions impinge, the pain spread its insidious fingers, and the revulsion gouge at her and fester in her mind. Hot tears sting her eyes and she blinks; lets them roll down her face. Her hand throbs, as though her fingers are being crushed into oblivion.
Autumn cries out in pain, in fear. She twists her body, trying to break the connection of hand-on-hand. Now she is the one begging; begging the old woman to let go. The old woman with her vacant, bleached eyes, which contain the emptiness of a lifetime of dark and murky memories, every one of them flowing directly into Autumn’s mind to be assimilated and become hers for evermore. But the woman only glares and mutters in the common tongue, “Cursed. Cursed. Cursed.”
“Help!” Autumn screams. “Help me!” She tosses her head from side to side, looking for someone, anyone, anything.
No one. No helping eyes meet her; they all look away.
She must fight. There is no other option. She raises her left arm to throw her fist at the old woman’s face and, if that doesn't work, to claw at her arm. But like a divine being sent from Shiva, a man is at her side, lashing the woman in the Indian tongue and she, at last, unclenches her bruising clasp. The image-flow disconnects and relief drops Autumn to her knees. She rests her head in her hands and bellows out long, hard sobs; tears dense, falling down her flushed cheeks and forming pools in her hands.
Her saviour lifts her from the waist and helps her to her feet. “Come on,” he says, voice urgent. “Let’s get you away from here.”
She doesn't fight him as he places his arm on the small of her back and pushes her through the hordes of people, away, until the faces grow less dense, until it is only her and him walking across a field towards the shade of a tree. Autumn gasps in air, tears still wetting her cheeks, unable to quieten the pictures the old woman thrust upon her and the words that spewed from her throat, “Cursed.”
The man is a silent companion until the tears subside and Autumn finally lifts her eyes from the browning grass below her feet and looks at him.
“Are you feeling better now?” he asks, widening his eyes.
She realises he is Australian and the recognition provides so much comfort in this country filled with strangers and unknowns. Her shoulders relax and she exhales a long lungful of air. That they are from the same country is something familiar, and familiarity she craves in this moment.
Autumn sniffles and pulls the scarf off her shoulders. She uses it to wipe her tears from her face and the dribble of snot below her nose.
She nods. “Thank you for helping me,” she says.
“It’s o.k. Never mind about that. I’m more concerned about how you are?” He nods towards her hand. “How is your hand? Do you need medical attention?”
She lifts her hand, fingers out-splayed, and then balls them into a fist. She does this a few times, feeling her joints and muscles groan, but there is no real pain. He tentatively takes her wrist and inspects her hand, turning it this way and that.
“There are no cuts, which is what I was worried about when I saw the length of those finger nails.”
Autumn shivers and closes her eyes; fresh memories flash across the movie screen in her mind. When she opens her eyes, she can see the man is about to take her hand in his. She flinches away. “Don’t, please.”
He lifts his hands in the surrender position, eyes cautious. “I’m sorry. I was just going to see if there was damage.”
She nods, tears rimming again. “I know. I know. It’s just... I can’t... ”
“I didn't mean... I’m sorry. I won’t touch your hand. I promise.”
She nods as her shoulders slump. “I am cursed,” she whispers.
“I’m not sure I’d give such credence to a strange, old woman like her.”
She looks at him. “I am.”
“You’re not cursed. I’m certain of it.”
“You don’t know me.”
He looks away for a moment and then turns back to face her. “No. I don’t know you. But even so.”
Autumn takes her bag from her back and flings it onto the grass. She plonks down beside it, the man following suit, and retrieves a bottle of water. She gulps it down, not bothering that water is dribbling down her chin and onto her lap.
“That woman is cursed,” he says adamantly.
Autumn nods. “Yes. She is cursed. To have a life like hers, to see the things she has seen, the destruction, the agony… the pain. She is cursed.” She allows some silence before she asks, hushed, “Because I am able to see all that she has seen and now have made that part of her a part of me, do I share the curse as well?”
The man peers at her for a long moment, his eyebrows lowered, eyes probing, then shakes his head. “You are not cursed, because you can rest easy as it is not a life you have had to bear, only see.”
Autumn takes a deep breath in and brings her shaky hands to her water bottle, downing another mouthful. She stares at her feet, trying to push the memories away from sight.
The man picks a piece of grass from the ground and spins it between his fingers. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
His voice reminds her of his presence, and when she raises her head, she actually sees him as though for the first time. Before he was a solid shadow, a nebulous structure of strength who had taken her from the lifeless eyes of the old woman, and led her, unseeing, to the refuge of this quiet space under a tree. Now, as her mind begins to restore a vague sense of equanimity, he has substance, takes on form, which shocks her because he is utterly gorgeous. She opens her senses to him, seeing his buttery brown eyes, dark brown hair hanging loosely around his ears and neck, long overdue for a cut. His face possesses a strong, square jaw with a long, masculine nose and broad lips. He is tall and lean, shoulders broad, skin tanned an Australian copper and complimented with a few freckles.
“Um...,” she answers, shaking her head. “What did you say?”
“I want to know how it is you could see that lady’s life?”
Autumn’s eyes widen.
“You said that you can see all that she has seen and I want to know how that is possible?”
She lowers her eyes to her drink bottle and internally berates herself for having even given the hint that she has such ability. Her gift of insight is not something she shares with people, especially men she doesn’t know one thing about.
“Bloody old witch,” she whispers, focus still on her water bottle.
“Are—are you o.k.?”
She nods and finally lifts her gaze to his. “I didn’t mean to share that information with you.”
“I see,” he says, eyes narrowing.
She can’t quite look away from those eyes, compassionate and warm, the colour of melting caramels. “I don’t even know your name,” she says.
His lips curl up slightly at the corners. “My name is Jet.” He extends his hand. She glares at it, outstretched before her, but after all that has happened she cannot take his hand in hers. He retracts his gesture after the moment passes.
“And you are?” he asks.
“Autumn?” he questions.
“That’s a beautiful name.”
She lowers her eyes feeling her cheeks prickle.
“It suits you,” he continues.
She inclines her head, eyes narrowed. “How so?”
“You share the shades of autumn, your hair, your eyes...”
Jet is right. Her hair shares the colour of fallen autumn leaves: a luminous russet. And her eyes are of faded grey and blue, like a cloudy autumn sky. Her skin is pale, possessing colour only in her cheeks and in the pink of her plump lips.
“Anyway, I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s appearances—rather off topic.”
Autumn nods and takes in a deep, courage-drawing breath and reaches for his hand. Why? She doesn’t know. Perhaps because he is a stranger in a strange country, and she will never see him again after today. She first takes his wrist and slowly brings her fingers to the palm of his hand, crawls her fingertips along the length, letting splashes of colour and imagery, all belonging to Jet, to saturate her mind.