Author Interview: Maggie Groff

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There is a book I am looking forward to reading, I saw a release and thought it looked really interesting. I got to question author Maggie Groff about her debut novel Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute and get to know her a little better. Now I am extremely excited and can’t wait to get my hands on Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute. 10 Beauty and Lace readers had the chance to read this title in our book club, you can find out what they thought here: Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute

Your debut novel Mad Men, Bad Girls and The Guerilla Knitters Institute is released in March, what can you tell us about it?

My story is a step aside from the conventional crime novel, and is woven with mystery, romance and comedy. It also engages with serious moral and social issues of our times – the ethics of investigative journalism, cults, cyber bullying, family and community dynamics, the value of friendships and the responsibilities attached to relationships. The action is set in Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, and centres around an intuitive investigative journalist, Scout Davis, who is addicted to solving mysteries, fiercely protective of family and friends, is perhaps in love with two men and who, under cover of darkness, pursues an unusual hobby.

You have previously released two books Mothers Behaving Badly and Hoax Cuisine. What prompted you to try your hand at fiction?

I’ve always hankered after the big title, The Novelist. For years my agent, Selwa Anthony, had been encouraging me to write a novel, as had my husband, daughter and friends, and when the time was right I decided to give it a go. More than a little scared, in early 2010 I cleaned out all the cupboards, rearranged the filing system, and when I had no more excuses I sat down to write, ‘Mad Men Bad Girls and the Guerrilla Knitter’s Institute’. To my eternal joy, I loved every minute of it, and it was as if the words had all been waiting there for years, and they spilled out onto the page. Talk about lucky!

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How did the idea for this book come to be, what ignited that first spark of this particular story?

The plot of my first novel was always going to involve the bizarre activities of a cult. In the late 70’s I had a frightening experience with an infamous cult in Sydney. I had just got off a ferry at Circular Quay and was suddenly surrounded by people who were stroking my arms, touching my hair and smiling and chanting unintelligible words at me. It was terrifying and I couldn’t move. All of a sudden a hand reached in and grabbed my arm and pulled me out. It was a female police officer and she told me to move away. Next thing I knew I was standing in front of the wild pig statue outside Sydney Hospital wondering what the heck had just happened. Whilst much of it was and is a haze, I clearly remember that I was wearing a blue dress my mother-in-law had made. Unusual for me, I was unable to laugh the incident off, and it has left me with a morbid fear of being in a crowd. It also raised many questions on what would have happened to me if, on that sunny afternoon, I had been vulnerable, in need of love and companionship, or searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?

It sounds like this book brings together the best of a couple of genres, how did they combine so well?

It is still a surprise to me that crime and humour blended so well! When writing the two elements into one novel, I realised it was imperative to be restrained when using humour, and to place exactly the right amount in exactly the right place; too much at a sensitive time could appear slapstick, and too little, or the wrong type of humour in the wrong situation could leave the text flat. It was a delicate balance to have the reader realise the humour in relation to the character they are reading about on each particular page. In essence, I make the reader do most of the work. I’m very thoughtful about things like that.

Can you tell us a little about how you created your cult?

The incident I referred to earlier was also the start of my fascination with modern cults, their ability to recruit followers under the guise of salvation, and their ability to indoctrinate the naive and lonely with lunatic beliefs when their true purpose is power. I have read many books of first-hand accounts as well as academic works on cults, and they created a good grounding for developing Bacchus Rising and the cult’s supreme being Serene Cloud, Mystic Master of Mars. Creating my own cult was a tad creepy. Be even creepier if it takes off.

Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?

My protagonist, Scout Davis, is female, and as most of the women I’ve met in my life have been strong, capable, warm, witty and interesting people, it was on the cards that even the women I’d never met were like that as well. As I wanted to develop a character that readers could identify with, want to know, and would care about what happened to, I created Scout Davis in their image. I have no idea where my other characters came from. Like pieces of broken china in a flowerbed, they just kept on turning up.

What’s your writing process, do you sit and carefully plan a plot outline or sit to write and let the story take you where it will?

My writing process is two-fold; mental and physical.

The mental part for ‘Mad Men Bad Girls and the Guerilla Knitters Institute’ involved a careful plan, with notes on the wall and itemised chapters. Disaster struck on chapter ten. The main character wasn’t following the plot. She was going her own way, and so were other characters. In panic, I called my agent. I was not to worry. All was well. Just go with it, she told me. As always, Selwa was right, and I can’t explain how it happened, but it did, and the doing was great fun.

For my second novel, which is another exciting Scout Davis case, I started with the bare bones of a plan in my head and let the characters take the story where they wanted it to go. So, I guess that’s my mental process established.

The physical part involves a long early-morning walk with yesterday’s written text and my notetaker. As I walk one way I edit each paragraph, stopping to make notes as I go. On the way back I think and plan the next bit and record my thoughts on the notetaker. Then I go home, walk right past the household chores and sit and write until dinnertime. I do this every day – I have found that, with fiction writing, if I miss a couple of days, or weeks, I have to go back to the beginning again each time I reconnect. So, consistency is imperative.

Who do you think your novel is going to appeal to, what’s your target audience?

When I write, I try to think of my readers on every page; how they will react and what they will want to know. In other words, and without analysing it in advance, I wrote for a predominantly female audience of strong, capable, warm, witty and interesting women of all ages. Having said that, men have also greatly enjoyed my novel, so the proper answer should probably be anyone with a quirky sense of humour who wants to be entertained. Yes, I like that. I’m going with ‘anyone’, although sensitive souls who blush easily may want to skip that bit in the middle.

What do you like to do to relax?

I love to potter, but my most favourite thing is to do absolutely nothing. If there was a uni degree in doing nothing, I’m the girl to write the program. I find that complete lassitude is essential for my creative process, as it clears my head and allows ideas to flow. And I also find it enormously helpful to eat chocolate at the same time. When I’m bored with doing absolutely nothing I might up the ante and move the furniture and paintings around, and then fall asleep in front of the television. It doesn’t matter what’s on – I can snooze in front of anything. Yep, I definitely know how to relax.

Have you got anything new in the works, what’s next for Maggie Groff?

I have recently submitted my second Scout Davis novel, so I’m concentrating on spending time with family and friends, replying to months of unanswered emails and repairing the ravages that result from long hours at my desk and eating too much chocolate. I also have an exciting publicity tour coming up and I’m looking forward to meeting some of my readers.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman? Mmm. Looking down at this voluptuous (my take on the shape) body that I inhabit, I have to say that being a woman is my best bet. I couldn’t get away with anything else. On a serious level, and after having given your question due thought, I have to say that I have always thought of myself as a person, and even though I am all the female things – mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt – that is, after all, how I am in relation to others, but not how I am in relation to myself. When it’s just me at my desk, or me walking or whatever, I’m just a person and I don’t think I’m ever consciously aware of my gender.

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