The wonderful Penelope Janu
Sydney-based Penelope Janu is a woman of many talents; an accomplished lawyer and now successful author, mother to six adult children (including acclaimed children's author Tamsin Janu https://www.tamsinjanu.com/ ) and an adored grandmother.
On top of all this, Pen has to be one of the sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, is a massive tea drinker just like me, and has the most ADORABLE dog Daphne (see photo below) whom I am dying to meet in person. Until that day comes, I will live vicariously through Pen's photos of Daphne on her social media pages.
I have spoken before about how wonderfully supportive the Australian writing community is of both published and aspiring authors, and Pen is one of those special people who cheers on everyone else from the sidelines. She is also a member of the fabulous The Inkwell writing group, of whom I have spoken about before, including in last month's post with fellow Inkie Pamela Cook https://www.shelleygardnerwriter.com/post/february-15th-author-stalker-pamela-cook
Penelope writes contemporary novels heavily sprinkled with romance, but her stories also see her tackling important issues like climate change, the environment and conversation. Her debut novel, In at the Deep End https://www.penelopejanu.com/in-at-the-deep-end was published in 2017, and has been followed every year with a new release. She has also published a novella, been part of an anthology and in early 2018 won the XO Romance prize.
Like several of her other novels, Starting from Scratch https://www.penelopejanu.com/starting-from-scratch
Pen's sixth novel, includes not only a strong, female character who you will be cheering on, but also a charismatic Scandinavian male protagonist who will set your heart racing.
So without any further ado, I will hand you over to the charming Pen.xx
Q1: What piece of advice do you wish you'd been given when working on your very first manuscript?
A: As a matter of fact… I don’t know that I would ever have finished my first manuscript had I known so much about writing as I do now. I knew the basics of writing—characters, a (very) rough idea of what themes I wanted to explore in the novel, and being a romance writer, I wanted an uplifting ending, but that was it. I learned to write by writing, and what worked and didn’t work in the story through editing (and editing and editing!) that first manuscript. And through the second manuscript too.
One piece of advice that it took me a while (a few manuscripts actually!) to really understand, was a question asked by another author in respect to my first manuscript. ‘What does the protagonist want?’ I thought I knew the answer, but what was really behind that question was likely to have been, ‘What does the protagonist need?’ That is something a protagonist might only appreciate at the end of the story, but it is something the writer (ideally) should come to realise as early as possible.
Q2: If you could have written ANY book besides your own, what would it be?
A: I’m not sure I’m answering the question here, but…
I love the Harry Potter books because so many children became hooked on story through reading them – and I so admire JK Rowling’s imagination (and ability to plot!). I have a soft spot for Australian author Matthew Reilly for the same reason. He happened to speak at one of my daughter’s speech nights, and I was impressed by his honesty and drive and passion for storytelling.
All of my children loved reading when they were young, but one of my sons was a reluctant reader by the time he’d started high school. He agreed to read one of Reilly's books when he was twelve or thirteen and after that, he read nothing else until he’d read everything Reilly had written. My son is now in his twenties and reads a great deal, mainly history, biography and memoir. But I still credit Reilly for recreating his love of reading (and interestingly, many themes in his books have links to my adult son’s reading interests).
'This is one of my grandson and me and I think it absolutely sums up my ‘writing space.’ I have a lovely office that I file things in but very rarely use. I’m much more likely to be found at the kitchen bench, the dining room table, a coffee shop (or with a baby on my lap).'
(Oh Pen...I just love this photo SO much. Shelley.xx)
Q3: What is the first book that made you cry?
A: I think it would have been Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which I read for the first time when I was nine or ten. Ginger’s last scene brought a lump to my throat for years to come. I had another look at this book recently, and that was the first time I realised (even though I read and re-read the book many times as a child) that it was told in first person (from Black Beauty’s point of view).
And that made me think about writing generally—the immediacy of first person doesn’t work for all readers, but it can be such a powerful way to jump into the story from the storyteller’s point of view (even if that storyteller is a horse…).
Q4: What is your favourite drink? Coffee, tea, wine or…
A: Much as I enjoy a glass of wine and a daily coffee, the only drink I ever really need or crave is a cup of tea. After each of my children were born, it is the first thing I always asked for (from child number two or three, my husband got first hold of the baby while I held a cup of tea!) I’ve been on a few long-distance hikes (walking twenty-five to thirty km a day) and, much at it weighs a lot, I always carry a thermos in my daypack.
L to R - Back row - Sandie Docker, Claudine Tinellis, Shelley Gardner at
Cassie Hamer, Penelope Janu and Joanna Nell's author event (Aug 2019) - Starting from Scratch cover - Pen at some of her author events including Pamela Cook & Rachael Johns
Q5: What is the next book on your TBR (to be read) pile?
A: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-thursday-murder-club-9780241425459
The lucky thing about having children who read in different genres but have a pretty fair idea of what I might enjoy, is constant recommendations. My daughter loved this book and assures me so will I.
Q6: Choose one male & one female character from your novel. In a film adaptation, who would you love to see play them?
A: This is always a hard question for me. I’d like to leave it up to my readers (or the director or producer) to decide!
Q7: Name one thing you couldn't live without?
A: I’m putting aside my family for a moment… Much as imagination is a wonderful thing, I think the written word (as a reader and a writer) is something I can’t imagine doing without.
'Daphne. No matter where I am writing, she is usually close!'
(Daphne is just the sweetest 'little' darling. Shelley.xx)
Q8: What is your dream holiday destination?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite widely, but one place I would love to visit is Antarctica. But to make things more difficult (and expensive) is the region I’d like to travel to is extremely remote and only accessible via small ships (often research ships) with limited passenger numbers.
Short term, I love family holidays so anywhere we can holiday as a family—cook and eat long lunches and dinners, play board games, go to the beach or sit in front of the fire—will be that year’s favourite destination.
'I like this photo, it’s special to me. I think it encapsulates what families are all about - the more you tell your children to stand up straight and smile nicely, the more they will be themselves (and that’s a very good thing!)'
Q9: If you had to choose a career besides writer, what would it be?
A: Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but maths and science were not my strengths, so while my love of animals never waned, I turned to words. Much as I enjoy writing full time now, it is difficult to envisage that I could have done this through my life. I enjoyed working as a lawyer and legal academic and have been lucky enough to have a second career as a writer.
Raising a large family with all the ups and downs that entails, and having many decades of reading behind me, has provided a valuable (and fulfilling!) foundation for my writing life. The work I did in my previous career also helps with my current one—particularly in the areas of environmental and international law.
Q10: How long does it take you to complete your first draft?
A: It takes me about ten months to write the first draft (and this is when I’m, if not writing every day, thinking about what happens next in the novel). I do labour over my drafts though, so it will be a ‘neat and tidy’ first draft. It will take another month or so to review the first draft before sending it to my publisher. After that, there’ll likely be another eight solid weeks spent on the structural edit, and a few weeks on other edits after that. Between submission of the manuscript, and in between edits, I’ll be working on the next book and putting it aside when required. A ‘book a year’ means a year of writing full time!
For readers of Karly Lane and Tricia Stringer...misunderstandings and injured pride stand in the way of true love in this charming rural romance from an award-winning and much-loved author.
After a troubled childhood and the loss of her beloved grandmother, Sapphie Brown finally finds somewhere to call home - the close-knit rural community of Horseshoe Hill.
The locals love Sapphie because she never gives up - as chair of the environment committee, with the children in her classes, the troubled teens at the youth centre, the ex-racehorses she cares for and even the neglected farmhouse and gardens she wants make her own. Sapphie gives second chances to everything and everyone. Except Matts Laaksonen.
An impossibly attractive environmental engineer who travels the world, Matts was Sapphie's closest childhood friend. He came to deliver a warning - now he doesn't want to leave.
All Sapphie wants to do is forget their painful past, but thrown together they discover an attraction that challenges what they thought they knew about each other. Do they have a chance to recapture what they lost so long ago? Or will long-buried secrets tear them apart?
In the flowers she creates from paper and the beauty that grows on the land, Sapphie has found perfect imperfection. Could that be what love is like too?
'Penelope Janu's fresh, bright, funny new twist on rural romance is an absolute delight. Her wit is as sharp as a knife. She is one of my absolute must-read authors.' Victoria Purman, bestselling Australian author.
'Intriguing characters and a colourful setting: if you like romance and a little mystery, get ready to enjoy this novel.' Tricia Stringer.
Thank you Pen for being my March 15th 1st Author Stalker victim. xx
Starting from Scratch is available through all leading bookstores and online.
If you would like to find out more about Penelope, you can find her here: