After writing three books now – and now working on the fourth – certain topics are emerging in my novels. Some are intentional, but others seem to be born through the writing process.
To start, there is always a woman with gumption.
Gumption. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? I LOVE this word.
Why? It’s because of a few scenes in one of of my favourite movies: The Holiday. It stars Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, and Cameron Diaz (who completely overplays her character, but I’ve learned to ignore that). My favourite character in ‘The Holiday’ is played by the delightful Eli Wallach. The scenes between Kate Winslet and Eli Wallach (Iris and Arthur) are beautiful. You can feel their natural chemistry. In this movie, they talk about old movies of the thirties, forties, and fifties, and how so many actresses of that time had gumption. (And Iris – spoiler alert – eventually finds hers.)
I love writing about women, like Iris, like these older characters in movies, who face seemingly insurmountable challenges. I mean, that’s life, right? But it’s exciting to write how they find the way through the thicket to discover who they are, and ultimately, what they are made of. It’s this idea that keeps centred on what’s important when writing these stories. I know what I want to get across, but the journey, the path, is always different.
There’s always a mystery.
My books are classified as ‘Women’s Fiction’, even Beneath the Surface could be classified as that. No matter what novel I write, there will always be some kind of mystery. Something that hooks you in, prompting you to keep reading.
I always use ‘sweetness’, either as a nickname or an actual name in another language.
In Camino Wandering, Ben’s husband’s name is Kanmi—meaning sweetness in Japanese.
In Beneath the Surface, Lowell’s nickname by his mother is Zaki. It means sweetness in Hausa, his mother’s native Nigerian language.
In The Decisions We Make, I use Danmus, which is the nickname Brooke’s Korean mother gives her.
I’m not sure why this word is important to me. It’s a word I find to be both beautiful and powerful. It’s a word filled with love and softness, and it brings joy to my heart. That’s why I use it in every book in some meaningful way.
The LGBTQI+ community is always represented.
In Camino Wandering, there are three characters who are a part of the LGBTQI+ community: Ben, Lee, and Simon (Aubrey’s son).
In Beneath the Surface, it’s Lowell and Claire (Daniel’s best friend).
In The Decisions We Make, Dae & Jase are two men who have a lovely marriage. There is also another character I can’t give away just yet.
So, why do I do this? To start, because I’m a strong ally for the LGBTQI+ community. This incredible community is a part of our everyday life — everyone’s life — whether we are aware of it or not. I don’t draw attention to the fact that the character is LGBTQI+, but write these characters into the storyline as I would any other character. For many in this community, being LGBTQI+ is part of their identity, who they are. But whether they are ‘out and proud’ or just living their life, they fought hard to be accepted, and I want to honour that by including them in all of my novels.
There are always coffee snobs/addicts in my novels.
I am a self-professed coffee snob, as many Australians are. Our vast Italian immigrant population greatly influenced us! In fact, we mostly drink Italian coffee at my house, so there you go!
Georgina leads the quest for a decent ‘cuppa’ in Camino Wandering. She even gets teased about it by her camigas! As a café owner, she has her reputation to consider, of course. While I walked in Spain in 2018 and 2019, I can attest that finding a decent coffee on the Camino was a challenge at times.
Grace is more of a caffeine fiend than a coffee snob in Beneath the Surface. Grace will take any coffee and plenty of it! I’ll stick to my one cup a day but, truth be known, I make it strong enough to go the distance.
In The Decisions We Make, Sam works in Georgina’s Café (Camino Wandering) so it’s hard to tell if it’s just part of the job. But when Sam runs out of coffee and scrounges for whatever she can, even instant, we feel the tragedy she endures. Lachie is a quad shot guy, so that automatically qualifies him as a snob.
Plus size characters exist!
I don’t know about you, but I almost never find realistically sized people in books. Why are they all skinny and athletic? Or slim and bookish?
As a plus sized woman myself, it’s an important element to bring reality into my books. We are all different shapes and sizes. Tall, short, skinny, curvaceous… We need realistic characters!
In Camino Wandering, Georgina, Pam and Aubrey all wear a size 14 or higher. It’s not just skinny women walking the eight-hundred-kilometre trek. In the first few chapters, I reveal how they all struggled to find hiking gear for their size. This was my reality when preparing for my first Camino.. It’s damn hard to find hiking gear that caters to the plus size market. In the end, I went with yoga pants and leggings (which are not attractive). Thankfully, there are more options available now (at writing, in 2022), which is great to see.
In The Decisions We Make, Georgina, Pam and Aubrey all appear in the book, but it is Merritt that is plus sized. She’s short, curvaceous, and fabulously styled.
As I write this, I realise I didn’t write a plus size character into Beneath the Surface. But that’s hard to do when you have a half-starved teenager and a hot yoga instructor as her best friend!
I include male characters who are supportive and but also flawed themselves.
One of my readers highlighted this theme to me. I guess I do this subconsciously.
I am not a fan of the ‘white knight’ character. I believe in the strength of women and in finding their own way. The male characters I write provide support, but they never ‘save’ the main characters.
In Camino Wandering, Ben and Paolo are great examples of this. Ben struggles with a life-changing decision, but his true character proves he’s ready for that change. (He just has to realise it!) Paolo is goes kicking and screaming against convention, but underneath it all, he knows what his path is. But it’s Paolo and his roguish ways that teach them all that you need to enjoy every moment of your life, no matter what the path looks like.
In Beneath the Surface, the main character is Lowell. So many readers have said ‘we all need a Lowell in our life’. I could not agree more! I can’t write too much about Lowell without giving away the plot, but it’s by trusting Lowell that changes the course of Grace’s life.
In The Decisions We Make, it is Lachie/Lachlan. And like all the other supporting men, it’s great when we have a Lachie in our lives. Lachie is there when we need him most, but he has his own baggage. He’s not a knight, just someone who really cares about the people around him.
Have you discovered any other interesting topics I’ve included in my novels?