A couple of months ago we featured The Lost Swimmer as a book club title and we were able to find out a little more about Ann and her career in this interview.
Hi Ann and welcome to Beauty and Lace, thanks for talking to us.
What made you want to pursue a writing career?
I had my first published story at seven years of age – in the school magazine – and I still remember where I was when I wrote it. I was at my Granny’s, sitting in front of a fire. I found the experience thrilling, and have been writing ever since in one form or another. I love stories – both as a reader and as a writer. I find fiction can hold a mirror to our lives and help us make sense of a complex world.
You are also a screenwriter, can you tell us how the process of screenwriting differs to writing a novel?
In film, you’re telling stories through images and action – you have to find a way of externalizing thoughts in a character’s mind. In a novel, you can delve deeply into how a character views the world; walk around in their head with them! Screenplays are very sparsely written, because locations will be filmed, and actors will be interpreting, aided by the director. A script is just a blueprint for the finished product. In a novel, I try to describe what I see, and there’s much more imagination involved on the part of the reader, which I find really exciting. Overall, I hope I evoke locations so that the reader feels they are there. And I try to write characters who are real to life – messy and imperfect; people who make mistakes.
Can you tell us a little about your debut novel The Lost Swimmer?
It’s a story about love and trust. Rebecca Wilding is an archaeology professor who fears her husband Stephen might be having an affair. As head of department at her university, Rebecca is fighting to keep staff from redundancies. Then Rebecca is accused of serious fraud in the workplace. Determined to clear her name and try to win Stephen back by her side, she heads off to Greece, Italy and France on a working holiday where she hopes she can investigate the fraud. But when Stephen goes missing on the Amalfi Coast, Rebecca is thrown into a nightmare world. She doesn’t know who to trust, and discovers things about Stephen that she never knew. If Rebecca can’t unravel the mystery, she could lose everything – her family, her job, and even her freedom.
What inspired you to write this story?
I booked a holiday on the Amalfi Coast. I thought the hotel was in the town of Amalfi, but it ended up being in the middle of nowhere, perched on a cliff high above the Tyrrhenian Sea and with no footpath – the only way we could get in or out was by bus along a narrow road with blind hairpin bends and a massive drop to the sea below. We thought we were going to die.
I was looking forward to the hotel’s private beach. When we checked in, the friendly hotelier handed over the key to the path saying, ‘You Australians are good swimmers, aren’t you?’ We wound our way down the mountain and at the base there was no beach, only a rocky ledge. Waves slammed in against it metres high. It wasn’t a beach, it was a blowhole. That’s where the story started. It was a place of such extraordinary beauty and horror, and I thought how terrifying it would be if your loved one went missing there.
Then, when I arrived back in Australia, universities were restructuring and many of my friends were losing their jobs, being forced to take packages. It was awful. Those two ideas came together and I started writing The Lost Swimmer. And I wanted to tell a love story about a couple who have been together for two-and-a-half decades, but who are keeping secrets from each other. I put in all the places I knew, from the windswept beach to the locations in Europe. I took that age-old advice, ‘write what you know.’
Do you have any quirky writing habits you care to share with us?
I like to have my cat with me as I write – it relaxes me and helps me to think. Biggie Small is a Maine Coon and he’s like a dog. He follows me everywhere. I also have a habit of imagining the characters being played by actors. Actors who interrogate me about their motivations!
Have you got a favourite time of day or place to write?
My wonderful late Auntie Jean always said people are either fowls or owls – early risers or late. I’m definitely an owl. I write in a room in the garden and I love long summer evenings where I can keep working late and it’s still dusk. And then after dinner, I can go out and water the plants. Sometimes there’s even an owl flying high above, through the trees.
What’s the most memorable book that has stayed with you from your childhood?
There are many – I’ve always been a keen reader. One of my favourites is The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. My friends and I used to play at being the horses when we were little. The way the landscape was described – the steep terrain of the Snowy Mountains – really captured my imagination. And the book was written through the eyes of the horses, which I loved.
Can you tell us who your favourite authors are?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is my favourite book. E.M. Forster – Howard’s End, A Passage to India and A Room with a View – are books that I return to again and again. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby in particular. I also love crime and thrillers. Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid and Lisa Scottoline – who writes legal procedurals and emotional thrillers – are some of my favourites, and I read everything they write.
What are you reading at the moment?
Deadly Obsession by Karen M. Davis. It’s a police procedural and the author was in the police force for many years. It feels really authentic and I’m enjoying it very much. Then I’ll be reading Go Catch A Watchman by Harper Lee.
Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
Out of the Ice is a mystery-thriller set in Antarctica that will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2016. The central character, Laura Green, is an environmental scientist who realises something very bad is going on at the base where she is stationed. As she investigates, she is forced to face her own past, fears and hopes. I think Antarctica is the last great wilderness on our planet. How we treat it will have a huge impact on our fate. It is a fascinating experience writing it – I’m doing a huge amount of research and keep discovering things I thought I’d made up have actually existed. Sometimes I look over my shoulder to see if there’s a ghost behind me. I’ve been obsessed with Antarctica for over thirty years, so it’s a special experience writing the book.
If they made The Lost Swimmer a movie who would you cast in the leading roles?
My dream cast would be Kate Winslet as Rebecca – she’s strong and intelligent: a brilliant actor with enormous screen presence. Stephen needs to be sexy and complex – Russell Crowe would be perfect.
Thanks for you time Ann and I look forward to Out of the Ice.
The Lost Swimmer is available now from Simon & Schuster and where all good books are sold.