Today I’m delighted to welcome Lizzy Chandler, author of By Her Side and Snowy River Man to Sam Still Reading for a chat about writing, inspiration and reading. You might also know her as Elizabeth Lhuede, founder of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Lizzy writes a variety of genres, including romance, suspense and fantasy. I can verify that By Her Side is a wonderful combination of suspense and romance! But enough of me, let’s talk to Lizzy:
First, I’d love to know how you got the idea for the plot and characters for By Her Side. (and um, is there a real life Vince out there?)
Thanks so much for this opportunity to tell your readers a little about my writing and reading.
The idea for both the plot and characters in By Her Side started with the setting.
Years ago I was lucky enough to accompany a photographer commissioned to take photos of precious objects in the Prime Minister’s residence in Kirribilli as well as the Governor-General’s place next door. As I looked through the surprisingly cosy prime-ministerial rooms and out to the spectacular view of Sydney Harbour, I wondered who the PM’s neighbours were and what might be their values, their history, and the peculiar problems they might face having such wealth. This became the background for my heroine Rory and her wealthy, troubled family.
For my hero Vince’s background, I drew on what I remembered of a boy I dated when I was a teenager. The son of Italian immigrants, he grew up in the then comparatively impoverished suburb of Marrickville in Sydney’s inner-west. As a kid from the affluent and mostly Anglo northern beaches, I found the cultural differences between our two families fascinating.
Putting these two settings together, I created a “princess” and “boy from the wrong side of the tracks” story, and twisted it by making Vince a cop with a tragic past, rather than an actual “bad boy” who needs reforming. It seemed more likely to me Rory and Vince would be more likely to have a genuine chance at a “happy ever after” if they weren’t really so different, despite their backgrounds; it was important to me that they share fundamental values, such as love of family and loyalty.
Is there a real Vince out there? No, but I can’t help thinking of him as a real person. I was thrilled when Escape put him on the cover. In some ways, I think, it’s more his story than Rory’s. I’m so glad he gets to be happy!
I found the plot of By Her Side brilliant – it was really taut. How do you plot your novels, if at all?
With a novel that has a well-developed mystery, like By Her Side, I plot carefully, using copious handwritten notes and flow charts to begin, and then post-it stickers and index cards representing plot-points in the editing and rewriting stages. To represent the flow of different subplots and character interactions, I lay out the plot-point cards on a big square coffee table, and link them with different coloured ribbons, say pink for romance, green for the villain, blue for the conflict between the hero and heroine, and other colours to represent the role of different minor characters. The cards and ribbons provide me with an overview of the novel as a series of scenes and sequences – like a storyboard, I guess. This visual and concrete layout helps me to get an intuitive sense whether a particular character or plot idea falls down or disappears for too long. It’s also a lot of fun to do this as it engages a different part of my brain from the one I use when writing actual scenes. I’ve had a lot of reviewers remark on the page-turning quality of my first novel, Snowy River Man, and it’s something I’ve worked hard to achieve, so I’m glad to hear you think By Her Side is a page-turner, too.
By Her Side is quite different to Snowy River Man which was more rural, but they both share a suspense element. What kinds (if any) romance do you enjoy writing?
I’ve written a lot of romance novels that will never see the light of day. They range from strict “category” to mostly suspense with a dash of romance, to a young adult fantasy novel that I’d love to get published one day. (It needs a better ending.) Most of my unpublished novels I consider now as apprentice pieces, exercises that helped me learn my craft. For preference, I lean toward writing romantic suspense, rather than straight romance, but I really enjoyed writing Snowy River Man which had very little suspense outside the relationship between Katrina and Jack. Each book is different and the characters and their circumstance tend to dictate the form the novel ultimately takes. In By Her Side, Rory and Vince are on a mission to track down Rory’s missing half-brother and sort out various puzzles from the past and this involves taking risks. It’s a scenario that cries out for suspense.
I love to hear about what authors have been reading. What have been some of your favourite reads (romance or otherwise) for the year?
As you know, I founded the Australian Woman Writers challenge, and much of my reading is shaped by what books publishers send me for review. In 2015, I read 25 books by Australian women and half a dozen or so other books. Of these many were psychological suspense or crime, several were historical fiction, a number were “literary”, a few were nonfiction, and some were romance or had romantic elements. One romance was Kandy Shepherd’s, Gift-wrapped in Her Wedding Dress, which was a delight. Kandy’s a friend and writing colleague, and normally I see her work in progress, but this is one I hadn’t seen much of. It was a real pleasure to sit down and read it from cover to cover. Another I devoured was D B Tait’s debut romantic suspense, Cold Deception, and its sequel, Desperate Deception. Deb’s a fellow Blue Mountains writer and has a real talent for complex, gritty stories with a good dash of romance.
Other memorable books were more literary: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress, among them. I’d be surprised if one or other of these didn’t take out a literary prize or two. I also found The Intervention, an anthology edited by Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss to be outstanding. It’s a collection of pieces by both indigenous and non-indigenous Australian writers, and tells some difficult home truths about the effects of government policies on Aboriginal communities. More than one of the pieces had me shedding a few tears.
Thanks again for the Q&A – and happy reading!
Thank you Lizzy! If you’d like to check out By Her Side or Snowy River Man, you can do so here:
Do drop by tomorrow to read my review of By Her Side!