Launch Of ‘Turtle Reef’ plus a Q&A

 

Today is launch day for the international edition of TURTLE REEF! I’m very proud to share this book with the world, for it showcases one of my favourite places – Australia’s amazingly beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Here I talk about Turtle Reef with Kathryn Ledson, Senior Commissioning Editor at Pilyara Press

Kathryn – Lawyer turned author – what happened?

Jen – This is a great lesson in following your passion.  I never had a burning ambition to be a lawyer. I simply chose law because I had high enough marks to get into it – and it made my mother happy. The course was great. Studying law is excellent training in critical thinking, and it teaches intellectual discipline. But when it came to practising law, my heart wasn’t in it.

When I was a child, I did have a burning ambition though – to be a writer. Ten years ago I remembered that, and thank goodness I did. Finally I’m doing what I should be doing. In his wonderful essay ‘Why I write’, George Orwell says, ‘If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.’ Well, I didn’t escape from my early influences, and am very glad I went back to my roots.

Kathryn – Your fans must know how passionate you are about the environment. How did it come about? Has it always been a part of who you are or did a single incident get your attention to its plight?

Jen – A passion and love for the environment has always been a part of me. I think I never outgrew my childhood wonder with nature. Children are fascinated by caterpillars, and autumn leaves and ant nests. I still am. When people find out that I have animal characters in my stories, they often say ‘I didn’t know you wrote children’s books.’ This puzzles me. It’s as if for some reason we’re expected to outgrow our emotional connection with animals.

Kathryn – You write environmental or eco-romance. Do you think you’ve invented a sub-genre of the very popular “ru-ro”? Are you hoping more authors will join you in using fiction to highlight issues around the environment? (Or would you like them all to stay away 🙂 )

Jen – It’s true that very few people are writing Australian rural fiction with environmental themes. But internationally, other authors are doing it, and very successfully at that. Take Barbara Kingsolver and her New York Times best-seller Flight Behaviour for example. She brilliantly weaves rural fiction with a climate-change theme, when the annual migration of millions of Monarch butterflies goes horribly wrong. So I’m already in very good company.  I don’t know why more Australian authors aren’t writing adult fiction with animal characters and conservation themes. I think there should be more of it. Readers love these stories.

Kathryn – TURTLE REEF shines a light on some of the ever-present dangers to our Great Barrier Reef. Tell us about the story that shows this.

Jen – Well, simply put, Turtle Reef is the story of a love triangle between a farmer, a scientist and a coral reef. The main character, Zoe King is an unlucky-in-love zoologist who has sworn off men. She moves from Sydney to the Queensland sugar town of Kiawa, for a fresh start, and at first, it’s a dream come true, working at a marine centre, with the wildlife of beautiful Turtle Reef. But things quickly go wrong. First, she falls for Quinn, her boss’s boyfriend. Then, animals on the reef begin to sicken and die. Things aren’t exactly what they seem in picture-postcard perfect Kiawa. When her personal and professional worlds collide, she faces a terrible choice. Protecting the reef will mean betraying the man she loves.

Turtle Reef was inspired by my passion for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral ecosystem on our blue planet, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It holds a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of most Australians.  I wanted to share my love of the Reef, and pay tribute to its unique wildlife. I wanted to showcase the important part it plays in the human and animal life of Queensland’s coastal communities. And I wanted to entertain readers with a passionate and unusual love story. If Turtle Reef sparks debate about reef protection, that’s a bonus.

Kathryn – Your character Zoe is a force to be reckoned with, but I admit I was sceptical when I first started reading TURTLE REEF. Even though I know and trust your skills as a writer, I couldn’t see how you could pull off what clearly needed to be pulled off. Sydney girl arriving in a tight-knit rural environment, tackling age-old standards to save the reef. Taking on the very beautiful and talented local girl and falling in love with her childhood sweetheart! (What were you thinking!!) But you did pull it off – beautifully so – so, what is it, do you think, that makes Zoe’s journey such a riveting and believable one?

Jen – Zoe is simply a fabulous main character – She’s brave, intelligent, honest and passionate and was inspired by a real life ocean hero, Dr Eugenie Clark, known as the ‘Shark Lady’ who died last month and did her last dive at the age of 92. She was a pioneering marine biologist who dedicated her life to shark research, and defied social expectations about women’s roles in science. But Zoe is also a flawed heroine. She’s naïve – almost gullible at times. She wears her heart on her sleeve and is far too forthright for her own good. And although she’s a zoologist, her knowledge of animals is almost entirely theoretical. In fact she’s actually scared of horses and dolphins. Yet life in rural Queensland and her job at the Reef Centre brings her in daily contact with these very animals. Throw in a crush on the boss’s boyfriend and a mystery out on the reef, and Zoe faces some serious challenges. That’s always interesting. We can all relate to somebody being thrown in the deep end, so to speak. Fortunately, Zoe’s pretty resourceful.

Kathryn – TURTLE REEF doesn’t just address issues around the reef. You clearly have a very special place in your heart for children and horses and love to write about them. There’s a beautiful bond that forms between a damaged boy and equally damaged horse. Without giving away too much, can you tell us a bit about it?

Jen – Ah, you’re talking about Josh, and Aisha, the Arabian mare. And you’re quite right, I do have a special love for children and horses. The healing effect that horses have on children is a favourite theme in my fiction. However that positive impact can work both ways. In Turtle Reef, Zoe befriends Josh, a teenage boy with an acquired brain injury. Josh might not have good people skills, but he’s very wise when it comes to animals, especially horses.  He’s able to help the mare Aisha, as much as she helps him.

Kathryn – In TURTLE REEF I loved the character Einstein and learning about her very special attributes. Tell us about your eight-legged friend and the message she has for your readers.

Jen – I’m intrigued by Einstein as well. Einstein is an octopus. These misunderstood creatures are usually cast in such an evil light. Take the giant, murderous octopus from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, for example, or Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. I think the octopus gets such bad press because it is an alarmingly alien animal. Eight suckered arms. Three hearts pumping blue, copper-based blood around its boneless body. However, I’m a big fan — jet-powered, masters of camouflage, shape-shifters, and highly intelligent. If people want to know about Einstein’s capacity for maternal self-sacrifice, they’ll have to read the book …

Kath – I always learn so much from reading your books. How much did you already know about the reef, its inhabitants, stuffy old rural farmers and their outdated methods? Was much research required and how did you conduct it?

Jen – Oh, you know me Kath. I’m such a nerd when it comes to these things – an amateur naturalist from way back. I actually did know quite a bit about the reef already. But Zoe is a marine zoologist after all, and I’m not. So I took a research trip to Bargara, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Zoe’s love interest, Quinn Cooper, is a fifth generation cane grower. I had a lot to learn about the joys and challenges of sugar farming. The cane trains were especially fascinating. Did you know that Queensland has 4,000 kilometres of narrow gauge track? And that these picturesque little locomotives still transport almost forty million tonnes of sugar cane to the mills each year? Breathing life into Zoe’s character was even more interesting. It involved some island hopping, some snorkelling on coral reefs, some whale-watching and sitting around on moonlit beaches with hatching turtles. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

Kathryn – Finally, you know so much about it all, but can you tell me this: if I punch a Tiger shark on the nose, will it go away?

Jen – It does sometime work. Sharks are reactive animals, big sooks really, and don’t like getting hurt any more than you or I do. Their noses are vulnerable because they bear organs called Ampulae of Loranzini which are used to detect slight water pressure changes like the movement of an injured fish flopping around. These organs are very sensitive and hopefully a good hit to the nose will work – or a jab in the eyes. Hope you never have to try it Kath!

 

Author Branding

Author Branding 3A distinctive brand gives an author a major advantage in marketing their books. It defines what they stand for. It helps them refine and cultivate a unique voice. Not every writer appreciates being ‘put in a box’ so to speak, as if they are a product on a shelf. But books are products on shelves, and readers are consumers. In this week’s blog, fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson and I share our thoughts on the concept of branding. I’ll start the ball rolling.

JENNIFER
Author branding is all about promising a certain kind of reading experience. ‘Brand’ means having a recognisable, consistent voice and approach from book to book, so your fans know what to expect. It doesn’t mean you have to write the same thing over and over. Take the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, for example. His movies range from courtroom dramas like The Paradine Case to historicals like Under Capricorn, set in nineteenth-century Australia. But no matter what the subject matter, you always know you’ll get a taut, psychological thriller. Woody Allen movies are funny, quirky and character-driven, while nobody portrays alienated men living on the edge like Martin Scorsese.

Author Branding 2I was lucky. My author brand just fell in my lap. I write Australian rural fiction with powerful environmental themes. Nobody else does that (I have no idea why!) and it became my immediate point of difference. The books I write celebrate a love affair with the wild, and it gives my publisher a clear idea of how to market my work. Kathryn also has a very distinctive style and voice. She writes fast-paced and funny romantic adventures. ‘Fans of Stephanie Plum rejoice. There’s a new undercover angel in town,’ said a review in Marie Clare. Bam, there’s her brand right there.

Identifying your particular brand isn’t always that easy. You have to figure out the goal of your writing, define your purpose and identify your audience. A consistent, core message should start to emerge. Everyone wants to appeal to a wide audience, but I think it helps to have a specific focus, especially in the beginning. On your blog, on social media, in the way you talk about your work. For me of course it’s the environment. Last week I blogged about Melbourne’s Environmental Film Festival, and tweeted about the repeal of the Wild Rivers legislation. Zeroing in on your own passions and interests helps define you in the mind of your audience.

KATH
Author Branding 1I recently met a writer whose goal was to have her novel published. ‘But I wouldn’t want to do all that public-speaking stuff like you do,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want people knowing my business.’

What many aspiring authors don’t understand is that the “public-speaking stuff” and your business go with the turf. It’s part of your brand. Who you, the author, are plays an intrinsic role in the branding game and, yes, if you want to really connect with your readers, it can be personal. Branding of course is all about marketing and promotion. It’s about finding that unique thing that sets you firmly apart from the crowd and puts you under a spotlight so that, ultimately, it’s your book a reader will pick up, thinking, ‘I’ve heard about this author. She’s the one who (insert unique thing).’ Your brand is like a fingerprint. If you nail it (pun intended), your brand will be so individual that you can honestly claim no-one does what you do.

There are two very important reasons to have a brand. First, to get publishers to notice you. And then to get readers to notice you. Getting readers to notice you can happen via publicity, and your brand is the thing that attracts the media. Every month in Australia, dozens of authors make their debut. In that case, why would any newspaper be interested in you? What’s so special about you? You’re a product. Yes, you are. So, market yourself. Find your brand. Your unique thing.

It’s not necessarily that easy to find your brand and, as Jen points out, she and I are lucky because, although we’re writing for popular genres, neither of us had to work very hard to find our points of difference. Jen writes environmental or eco-romance (isn’t that fabulous?). I write funny, romantic adventure novels. However, that’s not special or unique. Other people write books like that. I write “like Janet Evanovich”, but even that’s not unique because it’s like Janet Evanovich. I think my brand is (currently) my series character, Erica Jewell. Like Evanovich has Stephanie Plum, Helen Fielding has Bridget Jones, Lee Child has Jack Reacher, my Erica is the stand-out thing that sets my work apart. One day, when Erica and her man are finally tucked into boring happily-ever-after, and I write another book or series, then I’ll have to re-brand myself. I think it will always be “funny, romantic adventure novels”, but still that’s a bit dull. Perhaps I can find a new name for that genre: Laugh-Out-Loud Romantic Adventure? LOL Rom-ad?

I’m sure you’ll come up with something wonderful Kath! What do readers think? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of author branding?

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