Regular readers here, and followers on Twitter, will no doubt know how I feel about Kylie's first novel, After the Fall. I chose ATF as my 'Best Book' in my 'Best of 2010' list last year. Much deserved. I couldn't put it down.
Having just picked up a copy of Kylie's new book, Last Summer, I think it's fair to say my family can expect to wear wrinkled clothes for a little while, as I just won't have time to iron them as I devour her latest offering every chance I get. I'm already hooked. ;)
In my (humble) opinion, a good writer paints a distinct picture in your head. When you read their words, you can see the characters. You can feel what those characters feel. You live in their surroundings. It's almost like watching a movie, but better.
Kylie is one of those writers. And then some.
Bonus? Not only is she a very natural, descriptive, thoughtful and thought-provoking writer, she is one of the nicest, approachable people you will ever meet, whether it be in person or on Twitter (where I first 'met' Kylie). She also has a fantastic sense of humour. If you're on Twitter, and you don't already, follow her. You won't regret it.
Kylie was kind enough to answer a few nosy questions for me and my little old blog, and tell us a little about Last Summer.
JA: Firstly, congrats on your new book, Last Summer. I can't tell you how excited I am to read it, as I LOVED After The Fall. Can you give us a quick snapshot of Last Summer, and tell us where the inspiration for the book came from? Was it difficult to come up with a new storyline after writing ATF?
KL: Last Summer is about what happens to a close group of friends when the man at their centre, Rory Buchanan, dies unexpectedly... friendships fracture, marriages falter, lives are re-examined. Sadly, the book was inspired by the sudden death of one of my husband’s closet friends, Geoff, to whom Last Summer is dedicated. Both Geoff and Rory were 39 and left behind a wife, young children, a shocked and grieving group of friends - though I have to say that there the similarities end, and the rest of the novel is well and truly fiction. Geoff’s death though did make me think about loss, about how differently people experience and respond to grief, and that was what I wanted to explore in Last Summer... after that the storylines came very easily.
(Kylie also wrote more about the story behind Last Summer in this beautiful post over at the equally lovely and talented Lisa Heidke’s blog. Definitely worth a read.)
JA: How was it for you saying goodbye to your characters in ATF and embracing new characters in this book? Was it difficult to move from one project to another? I imagine you get quite attached to your characters after living their story for so long.
KL: You do! It took me two and a half years to write After The Fall, and just over one to write Last Summer (the difference being that my kids were both at school for the latter!) You certainly get attached to your characters in that time, even the ones you don’t much like, and I don’t see how you could write convincingly otherwise. The hard bit comes though, as you say, when you try to leave them behind. I finished Last Summer back in 2009 (yes, publishing takes THAT long) and almost immediately started what I hope will be my next novel. Despite having the story line clear in my head it took me weeks to let go of my Last Summer cast, to stop still thinking and dreaming about them, even mistakenly typing their names occasionally. Then midway through last year all three of my novels collided: I was writing number three, then the edits for Last Summer came back at the same time as After The Fall was released in the States and I was getting interview questions and being asked to write blogs about that book. I got through it, but it was a nightmare. I never ever want to have to live with 21 major characters from 3 separate books all in my head at once again.
JA: I recall you virtually wringing your hands with concern on Twitter about choosing the title for Last Summer. How important is the title for a book, and how long was your suggested title list?
KL: Right from the start my chosen title for Last Summer was Losing Rory, which to me flagged exactly what the book was about - the experience, the journey even, that follows losing someone you love. Sales and marketing weren’t thrilled with it though, and felt it was too ‘female’ a title when it was hoped that this might be a book that appealed to both sexes. I was a bit distraught at having to change my baby’s name, and took my anguish to Twitter, as you do. What followed was one of my funniest days on the site, as over 200 suggestions rolled in for a new title. I had told my followers my old one, and that the book was about a death and cricket.... some of their ideas included “Run Out”, “Sticky Wicket”, “The Ashes” (a cremation reference), and my all time favourite “What’s the Story, Mourning Rory?” Sadly there was nothing I could actually submit to Allen and Unwin, and I came up with Last Summer myself not long afterwards. I actually quite like it now, like the double meaning of “last” as in both “previous” and “final”, which is appropriate... and though I’ve got my seasons out of order, I quite like the synchronicity of “fall” and “summer” in my two titles thus far.
JA: Bit of a two part question for you here. We actually 'met' on Twitter. After that, I picked up a copy of ATF. To be honest, seeing that I mostly read biographies, I'm not sure if I'd have heard about your book had I not met you on Twitter first. Do you think social media is important for authors these days? Also... I love that I can give authors instant feedback on their books when they're on Twitter and/or Facebook. Have you found it beneficial to receive this kind of feedback about your books from your readers?
KL: I only joined Twitter because my American publisher asked me to. I grumbled long and loudly about it (but only to myself - no writer with any sense grumbles at a large US publisher).... but boy am I glad I did! Firstly, I am pretty social by nature, and writing is a lonely profession, so I love that I get to talk to others when I’m at my desk, and meeting other authors has been fabulous. Secondly though, I do believe that Twitter has helped me reach readers I wouldn’t have otherwise - I know I have certainly bought and read books because I’ve connected with the author online. And the feedback! Oh, yeah. Feedback is my crack. I wasn’t on Twitter when After The Fall came out in early 2009, and a book release is quite a different thing: acute silence, followed by weeks of waiting for reviews or to hear if any friends have read it. With Twitter, I had someone tell me they had already finished it the day it was released, and quite a few reviewers (who get advance copies) before that... it is lovely to hear, but also makes you feel so much more part of the community of readers and writers. I love any comments, but I still get a particular thrill whenever someone I don’t know makes contact on Twitter or Facebook to tell me they’ve just read my book. Of course, such a sample is self-selecting and therefore more positive and complimentary than a more general audience might be... but I can live with that.
JA: Lastly, is it really annoying when people ask you if you're working on your next project straight after releasing your latest book?! I imagine you need some kind of down time in between books?
KL: Yes! It’s like having a baby, and then the people who come to see you in hospital all want to know when you’re planning your next. You, however, just want to take a few deep breaths and hope that the bleeding has stopped first. The way publishing works though you pretty much have to be working on your next project, knowing that it will usually take at least a year, and often longer, between finishing and release. As I mentioned, I’m currently in the home straight of (fingers crossed) novel number three, so I actually don’t mind the question, because I have an answer. What does worry me, though, is knowing that my agent will ask about plans for book four as soon as I submit this one to her.... I hope she can wait until after the stitches have healed.
To read an excerpt from Last Summer, head over to Kylie's website at www.kylieladd.com.au. You can order her book online at Booktopia, or if you're close to Kmart, you can currently pick it up there for just $19 (RRP $29.99). (Kmart buy so many because they're nationwide, so can afford to make new books a little cheaper. Just a tip for ya there.)