Catherine, thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you. Your debut novel Love, Lie, Repeat is a powerful read and I feel very fortunate to be able to speak with you.
Can you please tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Canadian and Australian, and I live in Sydney’s upper north shore with my husband and two teenage sons. We have a dog that cameos as “Dashie” in Love Lie Repeat! In Canada, I was a high school English teacher at a private school, but when I immigrated to Australia, I launched a copywriting business. I have a happiness blog that’s read by women around the world, and I work part time as a copywriter.
Why did you choose this location? Have you always lived in Sydney?
A senior publisher at Penguin Random House read Love Lie Repeat and said, “This is your love song to Sydney.” I think she’s right. It’s also my love song to the Pacific Northwest. I’m a dual citizen of Canada and Australia; I’ve lived half my life in each country. The Sydney setting was important to me because it’s my life here, and – as an immigrant – I see and appreciate all the beauty of Australia. The bush, the cicadas, the heat, the sound of cockatoos, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Australian Museum – all of these pieces of Australia are special to me. I tried to evoke a sense of place in the novel. Like Liane Moriarty, who lives just a couple of suburbs away from me, I write about my world on the upper north shore of Sydney.
What are your hobbies / interests?
I am a serial baker! Seriously, take a look at my happiness blog. I love to bake and cook; I truly enjoy entertaining and eating at home. I have two teenage sons, so food is a big deal in our family. I often make dinner, and then ‘second dinner’ for my boys. I also really enjoy reading, of course, and writing (but that’s my profession, though it never feels like work!). I also LOVE to dance and I really enjoy fitness, particularly strength training. I do that at home, with my husband, right in our garage. I find strength training is a great way to reduce stress. And I absolutely LOVE blogging.
Who is your favourite author?
I have loved Margaret Atwood since I was fourteen years old. Other favourites include William Faulkner, F Scott Fitzgerald, and a range of contemporary authors. I adored Gail Honeyman’s debut. I also love Kate Grenville. I read every night before bed, and I always have.
What a successful debut. What has been the most exciting part of the process for you?
Honestly, Melanie, the BEST part of the process is sitting on my patio with a cup of coffee and my laptop, writing scene after scene. I also love how my manuscripts unfold: every Sunday, I print off my week’s work and give it to my husband, and he reads with a glass of wine while I make dinner. Of course, the book deal, working with Penguin and seeing my book in the shops has all been a dream come true, but honestly – the real joy has to come from the writing. I love writing. I love the process. I love the privacy of creation, and the joy of it. At that moment, what exists in my mind is being born on the page and no one can criticise it or judge its merits. It’s just me, my crazy-beautiful brain, my laptop, and the thing I know I was born to do.
This is a very long-winded answer, but I hope it’s encouraging for other new writers. You have to write for yourself. You have to write from your unique experience. In my online writing class, How To Write Your Book This Year, I teach adult beginner-writers from around the world. One of my students in the last class wrote Zombie novels. I’d never read a zombie book – but he loves writing them! There’s a market for them! And I believe it is perfectly okay – in fact, it’s necessary – for us to produce all sorts of books because there are all kinds of readers. So truly, write the book you want to read. If other people love it, they love it. If they don’t, that’s okay; we all need to find our tribe of readers.
There are significant issues raised in the novel, including some insight into mental health issues that teenagers face. Do you hope to raise awareness and contribute to society’s understanding?
I hope Love Lie Repeat makes readers feel less alone. The novel references, in a sophisticated but non-graphic way, issues that affect us all: food stories, self-harm, manipulation, infidelity, which gender we love and why, competitive parenting, and above all, the pressure to be perfect. Those are all big issues. A publisher from Penguin in Melbourne was so intrigued with how I could write about all these themes without being graphic or explicit, in a novel you could give to a 13 year old. She believes that the novel is a genuine Crossover title, and I think that’s why adult book clubs are loving it, and why we’re considering a Mother-Daughter book club at one Sydney school. I hope we can do this at more schools! I wrote the novel like the English teacher I was, and I would love to teach Love Lie Repeat. In fact, the free Teachers’ Resource created by Penguin is excellent. We worked on it together. I think there is so much to discuss in the book, so many topics that could help teens.
What research did you complete when writing your novel?
Writing with Google is such an advantage! We are all so lucky to be writing now. I researched crystals, Sydney landmarks, medical responses, what happens when you get a tattoo. So much of the novel is symbolic, so I needed to make sure that the layered symbolism meant what I wanted it to.
Are any of the characters based on people you have met?
To be perfectly honest, yes. I have felt like a competitive parent; I have been a beautiful teenage girl trying to understand my own power. I write about beauty and power, privilege and the pain that lies beneath. I write about absent fathers and disappointing relationships.
It would have been easier to hook readers with a book about an underdog character, a sweet, likeable girl who has a challenge and overcomes it. I could have written about girls and mothers who were, perhaps, more ‘relatable.’ But I needed to write about beautiful girls and women who were in pain. I wanted to convince my readers to see this pain, to understand it, to learn to forgive my characters, and in the process, maybe forgive themselves.
I wish I could write a book like Wonder, where everyone loves the main character. Instead, I wrote my truth: that even when we are unlovable we all deserve love. All of us have a reason for acting the way we do. Love Lie Repeat is a sophisticated book, though it’s YA. It’s about trying to love yourself even when you know you are so very far from perfect.
If you were able to see readers’ reactions to your novel, what would you hope to see?
What I have been seeing from teenage readers is this: they recognise themselves in Annie. They want to hate her, but then she protects a friend, or champions the Sirens, or tries to understand and forgive her mother. Readers are seeing that the characters in Love Lie Repeat are like humans in real life: complicated and far from perfect. Teen readers are very sophisticated; they realise that we are all a mix of light and dark.