VIP Interview: Lisa Ireland & Kelly Rimmer

What do you do to inspire your creativity?

(Lisa) Honestly, I don’t really know how to answer this! Writing is my full-time job so I write whether I feel inspired or not. Some days the results are better than others! I do think it’s important to read widely, though. I read LOTS, both in the genres I write, and more broadly too. I guess I draw my inspiration from my favourite authors. In terms of story ideas, inspiration is everywhere. I draw on the news and current affairs, my life, and the lives of those around me. Seriously, I am a stellar eavesdropper!

(Kelly) I’m with Lisa on this one. “Feeling inspired” stopped being a requirement for me to sit down and write the day I realised how fickle that emotion is!!

Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions?

(Lisa) Coffee. Must have coffee! Otherwise, not really. I wrote my first novel when I was working two jobs and had three small children. I’ve taught myself to write anywhere, anytime. I take my laptop everywhere, and if I don’t have that I have a notebook to scribble in. I call it writing “in the cracks” and no crack of time is too small!

(Kelly) I like to put my phone in another room, on Do Not Disturb mode. It’s very much a practical thing rather than a superstition. But that’s about it!

Do you have any funny stories in the name of research you’re willing to share?

(Lisa) I can’t think of any funny ones really! I did have a fabulous road trip that retraced Shirley and Frank’s journey in The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan. I started in Yass, drove across to Bateman’s Bay and then hugged the coast all the way to Eden. From there I made my way back through Gippsland, spending time in Lindenow and finally ended up at Bancoora Beach near Geelong. I often spend hours researching obscure facts (like what direction the light will be coming from, or what sort of vegetation exists in a certain area) for one line in a book. This is why my books take so long to write!

(Kelly) I was in Poland researching for my book The Things We Cannot Say and at the same time, doing some family history research with my aunt. A historian I’d been working with was driving us around, and between the three of us, we thought we’d figured out where one of my aunt’s long-lost cousins lived. We pulled up in the driveway of a nondescript house in an adorable small town, and my aunt and the historian, who both speak Polish, went to knock on the door. I was so excited when that door opened! But I don’t speak Polish, so all I heard was rapid fire words I didn’t understand for several minutes, then the owner of the house started laughing and pointing. We were at the wrong house, but small towns work the same the world over, so the stranger was able to direct us to where the cousin actually lived.

What are your thoughts/challenges on writing scenes / dialogue for the opposite sex?

No matter whether the character is male, female, or non-binary, dialogue that is authentic for that particular character is critical to making your story work. Inauthentic dialogue is my pet peeve as a reader, so I work hard at keeping it real in my own work. I think it’s important to listen to how people really speak and stay true to the essence of that. In real life I find men are often more economical with words. Sometimes what they don’t say is just as important as what they do!

(Kelly) When I first started writing, I really thought this was going to be much more difficult than it is in practice, but it turns out that gender is about the least interesting part of my characters to me. I don’t think too much about it now.

If you could spend the day with a favourite character, who would it be, where would you go, and what would you do?

(Lisa) I really love the protagonist in my 2023 novel. Her name is Dolly Jamieson and she’s a whip-smart, gregarious eighty-year-old. I’d love to spend time with Dolly in London. I’d make her take me to the vintage clothes shop owned by her friend, Adnan, and then we’d go for afternoon tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason. We’d finish the day at her local library, where Dolly is a much-loved regular.

(Kelly) I’d love to spend a day with any of my historical characters in their own time.

Are any of your characters based on real people? Can you share?

(Lisa) Not in the books I’ve published so far, although I stole a couple of settings and situations in The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan from my parents’ lives. I’m currently writing a book inspired by an incident that occurred in the 1930s, and lots of the characters are based on real people. I don’t want to jinx the project by saying any more than that just yet!

(Kelly) Most of my characters probably have traits that I’ve picked up from people I’ve known through my life, but no single character is ever based on a single person. One example is my character Wade, from The Things We Cannot Say, who teaches himself difficult piano pieces as a kind of mindfulness practice. That one trait in Wade was inspired by a young man I know virtually nothing about because I’ve never actually met him. I had a conversation with a colleague in a tearoom years ago, and she mentioned that her son was managing the stress of final exams by learning a Beethoven piece. That little nugget got buried somewhere in the back of my brain and popped back up when I was writing Wade. Character traits often emerge like that when I’m writing.

Who’s been your most challenging character to write, and how did you wrestle him / her into line?

(Lisa) I’ve never had one specific character that’s been particularly difficult to write, but I have struggled with a couple of books. The Art of Friendship was a difficult novel to write. It was my fifth book, but my second women’s fiction and I think it suffered from “second book syndrome.”

My (untitled as I write this) 2023 novel was also challenging to write. It took much longer to finish than normal. That was partially due to “life” (covid, lockdowns, moving house twice!) but also, I struggled to achieve the vision I had for the book on the page. I rewrote the book completely three times. During rewrites it changed from a dual POV to a single POV, and from wholly First Person, Present Tense to a mix of First Person Present and Third Person Past. It’s taken a long time to get it right, but I’m very happy with the end result.

(Kelly) In my 2022 novel, The German Wife, the titular character is a woman named Sofie who is married to a German scientist. Sofie has no idea where her day-to-day decisions will lead her, but as I wrote her story, I was constantly thinking about the ultimate catastrophe of the Nazi regime, and I know my readers will be thinking about that as they read too. In the end I had to make peace with the fact that Sofie’s story was going to be one of regret, and that I had to write her true to the way life really unfolded for people in her position.

What question do you wish someone would ask but no one ever has, and what would your answer be?

(Lisa) I’d love someone to ask me which writer I’d most like to have dinner with.

My answer would be Jennifer Weiner, because I not only LOVE her books, but

I love her honesty, her take on body image and her courage in standing up for

herself and other women writers.

All writers have ‘a voice’. How would you describe yours?

(Lisa) I have no idea! I find it’s much easier to describe the voice of other writers than my own. The comment I most often received about voice when I first started submitting were “fresh”, “warm”, and “strong”.

(Kelly) I try to write in a conversational style. I want reading my books to feel like you’re sitting down hearing a story from an old friend.

Do you have any top tips / advice for managing a writing life, a marketing life; and a family / personal life?

(Lisa) I think this is something we all struggle with, no matter what stage of our career we’re at (or no matter what we do for work!). I have an old-school paper diary and EVERYTHING goes in that. I find keeping track of what needs to be done really helps me to stay focused and on track. I’m a list lover and nothing gives me more satisfaction than ticking off a task in my to-do list! I also make sure to utilise “dead” time. Over the years I’ve written thousands of words while waiting – at school pick-up, kids’ sport, music lessons, hospitals, medical waiting rooms and so on. It’s amazing how much you can achieve in those little cracks of time!

(Kelly) There are windows in my day where I love to brainstorm: pottering about my house, walking, going to sleep. I try not to fall into the trap of consuming audiobooks or podcasts or the news while I’m doing those things for at least part of every day. Embrace mental boredom while you’re going about your life—it’s the secret to brilliant brainstorming even as you’re getting other necessary tasks done . For me, those moments just before sleep are magic for putting myself into the story and trying to imagine how it unfolds.