Interview With Author Rowena Holloway

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi! I’m Rowena Holloway, an Australian author of suspense and thriller novels and short stories about Fractured Families and Killer Secrets. I like to consider myself a reformed academic who discovered fiction writing was preferable to the real world. My novels have been nominated for the Ned Kelly Award Crime Fiction award and the Sisters In Crime Davitt Awards and my first novel, which was later published as All That’s Left Unsaid, semi-finaled in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. With my short stories I like to explore a some of the English darker folklore and these have been included in several anthologies including the Anthology of Award Winning Australian Writing.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

My first novel—the one later published as All That’s Left Unsaid—is probably my most autobiographical as I drew a lot on the fractured relationship I had with my mother and on my mother’s single life as a nanny for an American family living in Tripoli.

Mum had lost touch with a friend she’d made while in Tripoli and there were many times at the dinner table that she’d sigh and say ‘I wish I knew what happened to my friend Jacquie.’ When I decided to quit academia and write, the question of what happened to Jacquie became the story of a daughter trying to mend her fractured relationship with her mother by tracking down her mother’s long-lost friend. Of course, I added a bit of romance and lots of mystery and suspense.

In my latest book, From The Ashes, I’ve again drawn on my mother’s experience (sorry Mum!) though this time it was one we shared.

My mother is elderly now. A fall left her with a fractured hip and it has been a long and difficult recovery for her and in the process spent several weeks in various nursing homes as she recovered. In one instance the only room available was in a dementia ward. That was an eye-opener and heartbreaking. Some of those incidents (with modifications) made their way into From The Ashes.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

My family! Plenty of grist for the mill there. I also take lots of nature walks. My dog and I love the beach, and there is nothing better than letting him run while the salty breeze teases my skin and ideas bounce around my thoughts.

Mostly though it’s the news that sparks an idea.

When I’m working up a story idea, I ask lots of ‘what if’ questions and just keep going until something sparks. For example, here in Australia we’ve had an extensive Royal Commission into both banking and eldercare. Having seen the state of eldercare with my mother and writing about fraud and a brain injury clinic in From The Ashes, I was naturally alert to the issues being discussed.

How do you deal with creative block?

Luckily, I don’t often suffer with creative blocks *touches wood*, but a few years ago I had a block that was crippling.

Every time I sat down to write all I could hear were other people telling me I wasn’t good enough, that my sentences were weak, that no-one would read it. I used to sit at my desk, half out of my chair, making myself write anything while ninety-nine percent of me wanted to be elsewhere. Then the crux came: I’d paid a lot of money to do a writing course with a famous Australian author and she wanted a writing sample. Yikes! I tried everything. Finally, I discovered four things that helped:

  1. Covering my computer screen: this was necessary as the critical voices in my head were so strong I couldn’t complete a sentence without editing it.
  2. Getting into the right headspace: I took a few minutes before writing to mentally tied up those critics and locked them in my basement! The more you do this, the easier it gets.
  3. Make notes about what you want to write in that session: It is so much easier to stay focused when you know what you want to write.
  4. When all else fails write anything. Even if it’s about how much you don’t want to write, just write. It will free you up and there won’t be space for whatever it is that’s blocking you.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

In a world run by algorithms (yes, I’m looking at you Amazon) this is much more of a science than and art.

Having said that, most of my titles have been developed around the theme of the book. And I love them. Now though, the wise author thinks about search engine optimisation. So my forthcoming titles are all built around the keywords in the thriller and suspense genre.

One way to do this is look at the bestsellers in your genre and make a list of what words crop up in the title and the book description. It’s the same with covers. Look at the covers in your genre and see the theme. Don’t just look at the image. Look at the font, the colour palette and the layout.

And remember, trends change, so do a review every now and then to keep your book current.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Ultimately, it’s always about creating a great reader experience. But I’ll be upfront and say that initially, while writing that first draft, it is completely selfish: I’m writing the story that I want to read. It’s only in the rewriting, and most especially the polishing stage, that I start to view it as a reader. I’m not sure I could do that in the early stages. I might inadvertently let those critics out of the basement. And that would get me nowhere.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

In my experience emotions can help or hinder your creativity.

I am so easily knocked off my perch that these days I am very protective of who sees my work during development. Some writers blossom under multiple opinions of their drafts. I’m not one of them. I prefer to complete the manuscript first and then when I’m happy with it I share it with a couple of trusted beta readers and my editor(s).

On the up-side, now that I’ve learned to lock those pesky critics in the basement, I am much better at doing a short meditation before writing to get into a positive state of mind. Very helpful for creativity. After that I kind of fall into the story and come up for air when I’m hungry.

What are your plans for future books?

Oh, so many plans! The difference between intention and action is planning, right?

I’m planning to continue with my Ashes to Ashes psychological thriller series. I’ve just completed book 3 in the series and the intention was that this book would wrap up the series. While it does wrap up one storyline I can see the potential for so much more.

So next up is the story of Dimitri Poitrowski, the antagonist in the Ashes series. He is a bit of shadowy figure in books 1 and 2 in the series and in book 3, From The Ashes, much of his story is told through newspaper articles. I feel he has a lot more to say.

Thanks for joining me on!


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