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May 1st Author Stalker with Jo Dixon!

The fabulous Jo Dixon



They often say to get a novel published an aspiring author needs not only a wonderful story, but they must possess the qualities of staying power & perseverance.


On Jo Dixon's website, she shared this story on her path to publication:


'After years of pitching to editors and agents, sending in partial and full manuscripts, and receiving plenty of lovely rejections, I signed up for the Australian Society of Authors' online pitch sessions -- known as Virtual Literary Speed Dating. It was the second time I'd put myself down for this programme and I was not particularly hopeful. Both of my completed manuscripts had been requested and rejected by various publishers and I was thinking they might need even more re-writing and editing.


I had recently received some brutal but incredibly constructive criticism of my synopsis from author Fiona MacIntosh, so I ripped it apart and rewrote it. Then thinking I had nothing to lose, I logged in to do my virtual pitch to Nicola Robinson from Harlequin (a part of the HarperCollins group).


Nicola requested the first 3 chapters. A few days later she requested the full manuscript. Within a week she wanted to know what else I had. The week after that we had a chat on the phone -- at which point I'm starting to be cautiously excited. Three weeks after I first pitched to her, Nicola took both my books to an acquisition meeting. That same day she offered me a two-book contract.


The moral of the story... don't give up, remember luck and timing do play a part in the process, and never underestimate the importance of a concise synopsis.'


After devouring Jo Dixon's spectacular debut, The House of Now & Then https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781867250319/the-house-of-now-and-then/

I am beyond grateful that she never gave up, as I absolutely adored this breathtaking novel.


As many of you know, I am a massive fan of the hauntingly ethereal writings of both Hannah Richell https://www.hannahrichell.com/ & Vanessa McCausland https://vanessamccausland.com.au/books/dreaming-in-french/


And, diving within the pages of The House of Now & Then, Jo's beautiful prose, impeccable talent for nailing the setting & flawless transitions between two timelines reminded me so much of Hannah & Vanessa's exquisite storytelling.


With a dual-timeline that spans thirty years, the story is both a beguiling mystery, and a tragic tale of loss & longing. You will fall in love with some characters, & despise others, and there are so many twists and turns in this riveting page-turner that I bet you won't see the twist that is ultimately coming.


It is a book that stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned, and is one of those books that down the track I will read again, just to savour it one more time.


But now, without further ado, I will hand you over to the fabulous Jo.xx


Q1: What was your inspiration for this story and how long did it take you to write the first draft?


A: There’s not one specific thing that inspired this book, it was more a constant layering of situations or scenarios that piqued my interest. Which is probably why it ended up with two timelines and a few twists and turns!


I started weaving the threads together back in 2015. In those days I had to spend nearly 3 hours in the car each day driving to and from Hobart (we live on a rural property). I would tease out different parts of the story in my head, coming up with more details and connecting them all together. Which sounds incredibly chaotic, but seemed to work. Then I’d sketch out the plot on drawing paper. And finally I began putting it all together.


'Tasmania continues to inspire me, the raw beauty and the underlying threat and danger is everywhere.

This is taken on the Tasman peninsula, but inspired the setting for the setting and 'beach' in The House of Now and Then.'


Q2: You are hosting a spectacular dinner party. Name four dream guests you would love to have seated around your table, and what would they be dining on and drinking?


A: This is a very serious question, and I’ve been mulling it over for days! I’ve settled on this amazing guest list:


Bruna Papandrea – film and television producer, who is responsible for shows like Big Little Lies, The Dry, and Anatomy of a Scandal. She is Australian, and has had such a huge impact on TV and film.


Reese Witherspoon – because she is passionate about books and I’ve always enjoyed her performances. I think she’d be great company. Plus, she has worked and collaborated with Bruna which would make for great conversation.


Harry Styles – because he is fascinating.


Lucy Foley – author the The Hunting Party, The Paris Apartment etc. I’ve enjoyed her books, and I’d love to chat about her process https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/lucy-foley-44526


Menu: A huge tapas spread, so that people are passing plates, sharing food, dipping into different dishes. It’s a great way of creating an informal, relaxed atmosphere – which is what I’d want, since I intend to dig deep with all my amazing guests. The bubbles would be flowing quite freely too – prosecco or champagne, I’m not fussy.


Q3: What is your favourite book of all time and why?


A: How does a reader narrow it down to just one? There have been so many that stand out.


But, I guess, if I had to name the book that has lingered with me the longest, it would be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Frances-Hodgson-Burnett-Secret-Garden-9780571323395


I first read it when I was about ten and have re-read several times over the years. The magic of discovery, a hidden world, and a fierce, feisty main character has resonated with me since that first time. (I even had a walled garden built on our property!).


(The Secret Garden is a favourite of mine too...and your garden is divine! Shelley.xx)


Walled Garden: The house was built in an empty paddock, and over time we've established extensive gardens. One of the things on my wishlist was a walled garden (inspired by my love of The Secret Garden). There's something special about building something that will still be here in 200 years time. When the wall was being constructed the stonemasons deliberately left things inside the wall -- to be discovered years from now. I'd love to know how future folk are going to react to plastic iced chocolate bottles, a large broken Makita radio, and a hoodie!


Cats: I'm a bit of a soft touch when it comes to animals. We take in a lot of abandoned or rescued animals. At the moment we have 5 cats and 2 dogs... plus, sheep, ducks, chickens, sheep, guinea fowl, and peahens. I have to learn to say no!


Autumn Colour: In planning our garden we deliberately planted an abundance of deciduous trees in order to get autumn colour. Our plan is working! We've also planted hundreds and hundreds of natives to regenerate the landscape.


Q4: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write for a year, where would we find you?


A: Another question I’ve pondered for days. The romantic in me, says Paris. But an apartment in New York would be rather fabulous, as well. Or a flat in London. Which is all quite bizarre, since we live in rural Tasmania, and when I stay in cities I inevitably get frustrated with urban living and long to get back to open spaces. Of course, if I haven’t been to the mainland for a few months, I get a longing for the buzz and variety of a city.


So my choice for a year away? A large, light-filled flat in London, near a park and with a terrace garden. I could handle that for a year!


Q5: Describe your go-to reading spot at home and what book/s would I currently find there?


A: My blue velvet sofa (it’s gorgeous and super comfortable, with room to stretch out), where I would inevitably be surrounded by dogs and cats. I’ve just finished Duck à l'Orange for Breakfast by Karina May (love, love, loved it) https://www.karinamay.me/


Right now my reading stack includes:


A Routine Infidelity by Elizabeth Coleman https://www.panterapress.com.au/product/a-routine-infidelity/



Q6: Tell us a bit about a typical writing day…


A: Mornings are quite full-on for me: I’m up by 7am, have breakfast then do the outside chores (feeding the sheep, ducks, chickens etc, and changing out their water and bedding if necessary) and walk the dogs. Then I do 30 minutes on the treadmill, shower, dress and I’m ready to go. I sit down at my desk by 9.30am, faff about for 30mins, then get stuck into the writing.


Depending on what stage of the process I’m at, this can vary. If I’m actually at the point of getting words down on the page, then I’ll glue myself to the desk until about 3pm with a quick break for lunch. If I’m plotting and planning or working out structural problems then the day will include lots of walking around, and doing mindless activities like vacuuming which lets my mind wander. By late afternoon I’m done – I’m never very productive at the end of the day. Evenings are for reading or watching something.


'I'm deep into structural edits for my second book, and my desk is in complete chaos. I'm fortunate to have a studio that is separate from the main house (in a converted garage) that has plenty of space, but I still manage to create a mess when I'm fully absorbed in the writing.

I read a great quote that said, "housework is a waste of a creative mind." I'm sticking to that!'


Q7: As a lover of words, is there a special quote you would like to share with us?


A: I’ve got two favourites from books/articles I've read.


The first is a line from an article I read years and years ago that has always stuck with me. It’s about the impact of grief and coming to terms with loss:


'It feels inconceivable that an entire consciousness can simply cease to exist.'


That line makes me think – not about what comes after life – but how those who are left behind experience the absence of another.


(I just LOVE that quote Jo! Shelley.xx)


And the second is the last line from Kim Lock’s book, The Other Side of Beautiful:


'But wherever she went, Mercy knew, of one thing she could be certain: wherever she was, at that moment, she was home.' I love that!


My favourite personal quote has been my mantra for the last ten years, 'If not now, when?' absolutely sums up my attitude and approach to life. I began muttering this to myself and sticking it to my computer, when I realised the years were sliding by and I wasn't getting any closer to achieving my dreams. It's been a constant reminder to me that, for all of us, we do not have unlimited time -- and to stop putting things off. Get on with it !!


Q8: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


A: Reading, or streaming a really satisfying series. Also getting outside into the garden. We’ve spent the last few years turning bare paddock into a lush woodland and garden, and our plan keeps getting bigger. And – confession time – I do love Lego. Sitting down and putting together a Lego building is so relaxing.


'Also in my studio is my Lego city. Lego was always the go-to gift for my kids as they grew up, and we have spent many hours building together. They've left home for Uni, but we still collect Lego modular buildings. It's relaxing in the same way as doing a jigsaw. And yes, I do love watching Lego Masters.... and no, I'd never be brave enough to go on the show!'


Q9: Any advice for aspiring authors?


A: Take time to learn the craft of writing. Read books on structure, take some workshops, and practice what you learn. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from what works and what doesn’t. Then as your writing develops, take the time to figure out the process that is best for you.


Every writer has a different creative process -- and this can even vary between projects. Don’t feel that there is one way that you have to write.


Q10: In a few lines, which debut/emerging Aussie author should we look out for?


A: We’re going to have to wait until August 2024 (!!) but the psychological thriller All You Took From Me by author and doctor Lisa Kenway https://lisakenway.com/novels-in-progress/ sounds great.


It’s the story of an anaesthetist who, after a car accident, has lost both her husband and her memory. She believes an anaesthetic drug will help recapture her memories. Her publisher calls it “a dark, twisty thriller”, and it explores memory and consciousness.


You should leave the past in the past ... or should you? A vividly told, jaw-droppingly twisty and wholly engaging story about the consequences of discovering the truth. For readers of Sally Hepworth, Nicola Moriarty and Adele Parks.


After a humiliating public scandal, Olivia is hiding from the press in a remote Tasmanian house when an unknown man knocks on her door, seeking Pippa, a woman who once lived there. His father, Jeremy, has died, leaving behind a letter for this mysterious woman. Olivia wants to help, but can she risk revealing her own sordid past?


Thirty years earlier, bohemian wild-child Pippa and her best friend Jeremy spend a perfect summer in the house. Pippa falls deeply in love with local boy Leo, and they begin to plan a life of adventure together, much to the displeasure of his conservative and controlling family. One night Leo leaves the house to confront his parents... and is never seen again.


As Olivia is drawn into solving the mystery, the unexpected and tragic story of Pippa, Jeremy and Leo is slowly uncovered. At the same time, a path to reclaiming her own life opens, if only she has the courage to take it.


PRAISE:

'Debut novelist Jo Dixon delivers on every front with this impossible to second-guess thriller...' - Australian Women's Weekly


'This intriguing, decades-long mystery combines endearing but flawed characters, deadly secrets, and a deliciously twisty plot' - Sarah Barrie, author of Unforgiven


'A page-turning debut with a genuinely satisfying ending.' - Kelli Hawkins, author of Other People's Houses


'A compelling mystery filled with vivid characters, a gorgeous setting, and twists in its tail. A great read which explores public versus private lives and where running away can't erase the truth.' - R.W.R McDonald, author of The Nancys


'The House of Now and Then is a compelling mix of mystery, love and intrigue. I devoured it in one sitting. A brilliant debut from a writer to watch.' - Mary-Lou Stephens, author of The Last of the Apple Blossom


'An absorbing, character-driven mystery with a finely drawn sense of place that builds to a twist-filled and wholly satisfying conclusion.' - Dinuka Mckenzie, author of The Torrent


If you would like to find out more about Jo, you can find her here:



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Claudine Tinellis
Claudine Tinellis
May 03, 2023

What a fabulous stalk! Loved this interview, Shell. The House of Now and Then was one of my favourite reads of 2022!

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