November Author Stalker with Fiona McIntosh!
Welcome to the November instalment of The Author Stalker (TAS)! You have already met one of my mentors in my inaugural TAS post. Well now it's time to meet my other precious mentor. Meet the dynamo that is Fiona McIntosh.
Fiona's breathtaking new novel, released today, is called The Diamond Hunter. I can't wait to be swept away by her beautiful prose and captivating characters and am so excited to catch up with her at the Dymocks Literary Luncheon at the Four Seasons https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=556757& when her national book tour hits Sydney on November 11.
There is a very long introduction into Fiona's Q & A. I tried to edit it but there is just so much that encompasses all that this amazing woman represents that I couldn't make it any shorter. But I promise you...the words of wisdom in Fiona's Q & A is worth the wait.
Fiona had the most amazing journey to publication. In 2000, she attended a writing masterclass in Hobart with the legendary Bryce Courtenay, who saw something truly special in her. At the time she had a dream of writing historical fiction. Bryce told her that she wasn't ready to write that quite yet and to go away and write some other genre, to learn her craft. So she wrote adult fantasy, which was immediately picked up by a publisher including global rights. She was so prolific that her publisher asked her if she could write anything else, as they already had a huge catalogue of her adult fantasy waiting to be published. So she turned her hand to children's fantasy and then crime. I have never known of an author who can so seamlessly change genre and have her legion of fans follow her.
In March 2012, after twelve years of honing her craft, she was finally ready and her debut historical fiction novel Fields of Gold hit the shelves. Fiona's historical fiction catalogue now stands at eleven novels, her total books written is somewhere around the forty mark!!
I believe in signs, serendipity. At the end of 2015 I had started to reconnect with my writing, taking courses with my other mentor Dianne Blacklock. One day in early 2016, I was scrolling through Facebook during a lunch break at work one Thursday when a sponsored post came up. It was promoting a book called How to Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona https://www.penguin.com.au/books/how-to-write-your-blockbuster-9780143572381 who was an author I must embarrassingly admit I hadn't heard of at that point (as I didn't read fantasy, crime or historical fiction). But reading about the book (who doesn't love a book on how to write!!) piqued my interest. I contacted Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt half suspecting that they would have to order it in as it had been published in 2015. But no. Here is where the first serendipitous moment occurred. They had one book in stock. At 4pm that day, it was mine.
I went home and had read it cover to cover by the next morning. Pardon the French, but I have never read a more to the point, take no prisoners, no bullshit approach as to how to write your book and get it published.
In the book it spoke of Fiona's writing masterclasses. And this is where the story gets even more wonderful. Bryce, Fiona's mentor, invited her to the very last masterclass he ever ran in Canberra. He believed in helping emerging writers to be the very best they could be. And at that class, he passed the baton to Fiona. He asked her to carry on his legacy and continue his masterclasses after his passing from cancer (which sadly happened several weeks later). Nothing like a bit of pressure. But Fiona, naturally, rose to the task.
On the Friday morning I sent off an email enquiring about masterclass. I thought I may hear back in a few weeks as on the website it said that the classes for 2016 were fully booked. And here is serendipitous moment number two. That evening an email popped up in my in-box saying that there had been a cancellation and a slot had opened up in the five day commercial fiction MC in Adelaide https://www.fionamcintosh.com/masterclass/ to be held in September 2016. Later that evening I had secured the spot, and was on the verge of something life changing.
Masterclass was out of this world. Five days fully immersed within the world of writing, surrounded by nineteen other writers who sought publication. Some had completed manuscripts. Some, like me, were working on the first incarnation of their novels. After five days of Fiona's Words of Wisdom, the most poignant being that NO ONE CARES about your WIP (work in progress) and to just write the damn thing, I felt my writing had stepped up a notch. We even got to pitch to one of Australia's best publishers.
As I write this, I realise that there is so much more I want to tell you about all the things that Masterclass offers (including how becoming a part of Team McIntosh and the Masterclass family, currently standing at almost 250 members, has changed my life) that I am going to write a separate blog post about it, including my recent attendance at Fiona's inaugural National Masterclass Conference in the Clare Valley.
So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the hysterically funny, truly engaging, Fiona McIntosh. xx
Q1: What piece of advice do you wish you'd been given when working on your very first manuscript?
A: Oh, so many items of writing wisdom I wish I had known 19 years ago. But perhaps the most obvious is that characters need plenty of layers to feel authentic and three dimensional. I wrote my goodies as all good, my villain so dark he wore only black. However, that first manuscript was picked up by the world’s biggest in that genre, so it obviously satisfied on various other levels. It is still happily in print today and is published all over the world in various languages so while I have upped my game in terms of craft, I think everything bows to storytelling power. Storytelling skill, in my opinion, is gold if it’s a natural gift, and much harder to acquire than all the other writerly wisdom.
Q2: If you could have written ANY book besides your own, what would it be?
A: The Thorn Birds or The Bourne Identity.
Q3: What is the first book that made you cry?
A: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. Hope I’m not spoiling this for anyone but losing Aslan made me sob inconsolably aged eleven. I had no idea what was coming, of course.
Q4: Coffee, tea or ? (what is your favourite drink?)
A: I was raised on tea. We drank it in our household from when we were old enough to hold a cup for ourselves. I have drunk it all of my life and enjoyed it. But coffee, coffee, coffee is my drug and especially as I don’t drink alcohol. But I am a dreadful snob about coffee. Once I leave my own grinder and machine behind, I get ‘coffee fear’ unless I’m going to Melbourne, Hobart or New Zealand, and Italy but not all of it. In somewhere like London I will cross town, adding hours to my day, just to get to an Aussie café in Soho, for instance, to drink the sort of coffee I consider worthwhile paying for and sitting down to enjoy. You see…a roaring snob.
Q5: What is the next book on your TBR (to be read) pile?
A: Ah, so many. A small tower sitting by my bedside – mostly historical research books and a new cake baking book I am itching to get to. However, as I write this I am presently travelling and have downloaded a pile to enjoy on planes, trains and ships. First one I bought for this trip and am loving is the 2013 espionage novel called A Delicate Truth by John le Carré. And then queuing behind that is the final novel from Michael Crichton called Next. When I’m travelling I love thrillers.
6: Choose one male & one female character from your novel. In a film adaptation, who would you love to see play them?
A: Hmm, actually The Diamond Hunter is a tricky one. I’m usually always at the ready with actors for my characters but this story has a powerful little character who grows up, so knowing who she becomes is a challenge, but if we just deal with her as an adult alongside the other characters then I would say: Emma Stone perhaps for Clementine and Idris Elba for Joseph One Shoe.
Q7: Name one thing you couldn't live without?
A: Only one? Has to be chocolate.
Q8: What is your dream holiday destination?
A: New Zealand. Cool, green, naturally breathtaking, good chocolate, great coffee.
Q9: If you had to choose a career besides writer, what would it be?
A: Perfumer, Foreign diplomat, or host of something like Antiques Roadshow.
10: Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
A: Not in the slightest. Writing novels is work! It’s a job. And like any job it takes its toll and there’s often something I’d rather be doing like drinking coffee, watching movies, travelling, baking, walking the dogs, talking to the chooks, staring at one of our sleeping cats and seeing how long I can resist touching it….most of all, being with my family. Writing is a lonely workplace. However, it is a stroke of luck that my daily grind is a job I genuinely enjoy, including its loneliness, and while there is probably always something I’d rather be doing I don’t struggle to knuckle down and do that job. I am workmanlike about it too; I follow a routine, I’m disciplined, I do my work diligently and I take pride in it. I take immense joy from the creativity it demands and the audience it connects me to. The fact that I love my job doesn’t make it sit romantically in my mind – it’s still the daily grind. Yes, I can escape into my storytelling too, that is a truth…but as a spiritual practice – no. I think you can write for spiritual reasons…for healing, for growth, for private pleasure or escape. But it won’t necessarily deliver a rip snorting manuscript that can sell in the tens of thousands and create a happy publisher, generate more contracts, a loyal audience, satisfied booksellers. So no, I would never view my job as a spiritual practice – I’m pragmatic about it and understand that I can’t be overly sentimental or indulgent about something that is part of a global industry with dollars riding on….and far more importantly …. with the love of a large, trusting audience that loyally awaits the next novel. Frankly, I find a long walk surrounded by Nature’s beauty and a dog charging about happily nearby the best way to commune with my spirituality.
'The new historical blockbuster by the bestselling author of The Pearl Thief.
‘It won’t matter how many diamonds you find if you lose the love of your child.’ When six-year-old Clementine Knight loses her mother to malaria during the 1870s diamond rush in southern Africa, she is left to be raised by her destitute, alcoholic father, James. Much of Clementine’s care falls to their trusty Zulu companion, Joseph One-Shoe, and the unlikely pair form an unbreakable bond.
When the two men uncover a large, flawless diamond, James believes he has finally secured their future, but the discovery of the priceless gem comes at a huge cost. A dark bargain is struck to do whatever it takes to return Clementine to a respectable life at the Grant family’s sprawling estate in northern England – while the diamond disappears.
Years on, long-buried memories of Clementine's childhood in Africa and her beloved Joseph One-Shoe are triggered, as she questions who she can trust. To solve the mystery of what happened to her loved ones all those years ago, she must confront a painful history and finally bring justice to bear.
From the harsh desert of Africa’s Kimberley diamond mine to the misty, green plains of northern England, The Diamond Hunter is a breathtaking adventure story about trust and betrayal, the ultimate quest for truth, and a love that is truly priceless.'
Thank you Fiona for being my November Author Stalker Victim. As this goes online, Fiona is in France researching her 2021 novel, before heading to Perth to embark on her national book tour for The Diamond Hunter.
The Diamond Hunter is available through leading bookstores and online.
If you would like to find out more about Fiona and purchase her novels, you can find her at: