I met author Rowena Holloway during my recent visit to Adelaide for CrimeFest and was delighted when she subsequently invited me to be interviewed for her wonderful series, Writer’s Block: Author Interviews. With Rowena’s permission, the first part of our interview is reproduced below, complete with her terrific graphics and a link to her site.
Note, too, the special offer on iBooks for all three of my Jayne Keeney novels at only $4.99 each (until 22 Aug). Buy them here: Behind the Night Bazaar, The Half-Child and The Dying Beach.
Situated in an open-fronted bar on the famous Walking Street of Pattaya, the Coconut Club isn’t a place I’d normally inhabit. Especially not alone. Still, after the late afternoon humidity of Pattaya I’m grateful for the chill airconditioning. A slender Thai beauty works her grass skirt and flirtations on the leering blokes, using drinking games and flattery to keep the beer flowing. At the bar PI Jayne Keeney is on a case, looking pale and interesting as she coaxes information from another of the waitresses. She hasn’t spotted me, which is fine, because I’m here to meet her creator, award winning Melbourne writer Angela Savage.
RH: Welcome, Angela Savage! Thanks for meeting me here, in your very own steamy corner of Writers’ Block. I hope you think my recreation captures the spirit of your novels.
AS: Thanks for having me here at Writers’ Block, Rowena. Your evocation is so spot-on, I’m not sure I believe you when you say the Coconut Club isn’t a place you’d normally inhabit.
RH: *laughs* As some of the patrons might say ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell’ *wink*. What can I get you? Beer, whiskey, water? Hopefully I can catch the attention of the bartender, because the girls are otherwise occupied.
AS: I’ll have a beer in this (virtual) weather, thanks. I find a cheerful smile and a 500 baht note will usually get you noticed.
RH: Beer sounds good to me. *Pulls notes from pocket* That’s much better than the twenty bucks it takes in Australia!
AS: Actually, 500 baht is the equivalent of twenty Australian dollars, Rowena. But here, we get change.
RH: *laughs and blushes* Oops!
RH: I’ve really enjoyed my armchair trip to Thailand via Jayne Keeney’s investigations. Other readers feel the same. Your work is praised as being “taut, edgy and vividly realised…”, “a stunningly different kind of crime novel…bursting with moral complexity”, and as having “…dark themes handled with a deft touch”. Your first novel Behind the Night Bazaar won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript and each of your novels has been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Crime Award. Congratulations! Share with us how it feels to receive such glowing reviews and whether such success helps or hinders your creative process?
AS: Thanks Rowena. I love hearing that readers enjoy the books. I was fortunate to win a Premier’s Award for the first novel I seriously tried to get published (by no means the first novel I’d written), and to have had all three of the books in the series shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award is very encouraging. I’ll be candid with you: awards, shortlists and glowing reviews haven’t really translated into significant sales for me. But they keep me going through the dark times. They also make it easier for me to talk about my books. I can say to people, ‘You don’t just have to take my word for it that they’re worth reading.’
RH: It’s a pity they haven’t yet translated into sales, because your novels are definitely worth reading…
RH: We must talk about Jayne Keeney as a character. Tough yet vulnerable, clever and resourceful, Jayne is also her own worst enemy in some regards, particularly with men. She speaks French and Thai and is capable of ‘vanishing’ even though her foreignness makes her stand out. From reading your biography it seems that you’ve drawn very much on your own background in sexual health and international development to shape your stories, so I’m interested in how Jayne developed as character. Did she come to you fully formed or did she grow as you wrote? How much of her character was shaped by the setting?
AS: Readers, especially those who know me personally, think Jayne and I are one and the same, because I made the mistake of giving her dark, curly hair like mine. I should’ve made her a blonde but, at the time, while I could imagine myself inside the head of a Thai cop or an Australian Federal Police Officer, a blonde seemed like a bridge too far…
RH: *laughing* As a fellow brunette I know all about that bridge!
AS: Jayne first appeared in a short story I wrote for the 1998 Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto Awards, called ‘The Mole on the Temple’, set in Bangkok. Winning third prize was enough encouragement to make me think I should have a go at writing crime fiction. Jayne subsequently acquired the surname Keeney (after the friend who suggested it, though I changed the spelling) and came along for the ride.
My previous attempt at a novel had been a transparently autobiographical account of a twenty-something Australia woman’s experience of Laos in the early-1990s. In order to get away from autobiographical writing, I gave secondary characters in Behind the Night Bazaar some of my traits, like Didier’s workaholism/passion for HIV education (in Behind the Night Bazaar) – traits that Jayne found annoying. This proved a good way to distance myself from my main character.
I’m getting to know Jayne more with each new book. I’ve blogged about whether Jayne Keeney and I would like each other if we met in real life. One reviewer described her as ‘an appealing character, emotional and yet capable of cold-eyed action. She smokes too much, speaks Thai fluently and likes a drink and a shag.’ I figure that’s one reason we’d get along: shared hobbies.
RH: *Tries to cover blush with laughter* Well, I don’t smoke or speak Thai but I reckon she and I would get along too…