What inspires a writer? Where do they get their ideas from? What inspiration lies behind a novel? To give you a little insight I include below an interview. As an interview it is a series of questions and answers. Maybe you are interested, maybe not. That is okay. It is not as thrilling as an interview with a vampire.
It is one of a few interviews I have done with people. The very few people interested in me in the world! This one is the most recent and was posted by manybooks.net. I edited it a bit towards the end to update it.
Joni, what is The Last Hotel about?
It’s loosely based on my real life experience. The plot goes like this
It’s March 2020, and as flights are cancelled and hotels close in virus-stricken Europe, seven stranded strangers meet by chance. Out of necessity they form a family in lockdown in the last hotel open on the French Riviera. The virus seems at first an unwelcome disruption to their lives, but in time, each of them discovers aspects of themselves and others, even love, that make their lives richer.
I know we all have Covid fatigue, but many readers tell me they found this book surprisingly emotive, uplifting and optimistic.
What inspired this novel?
Real life inspired this book. Late 2019 I was struck down by a paralyzing and terribly painful supposedly incurable disease called CRPS, after just falling and breaking my arm.
I lost the use of my right arm, shoulder and hand, so could not drive, dress myself, brush my hair etc. With no treatment options in Australia and an upsetting prognosis, I booked a medical trip to Genova, Italy to receive treatment in a clinic.
My husband and I flew out from Brisbane on Feb 28, 2020, two days after the outbreak of Covid in North Italy. To cut a long dramatic story short, with me in hospital, Italy entered lockdowns 1,2,3 and 4. The day I left the clinic, still paralyzed along my right side, we had to leave Italy by train for the French border escorted by police.
Safely in France, many hours later, we realized things were little better and had to move hotels each day as they closed like a pack of dominoes. Desperate, we went to Nice airport where many other travelers were also stranded. While watching humanity in crisis, I decided that day to put us all in a novel. Except, small problem, I could not even type anymore! Nor did I have a computer with me.
How much of your own lockdown experience is included in the novel?
Not so much of mine, that would be boring! but the strangers I met mostly younger than me, started my imagination on a journey. A male ballet dancer for the Nice Opera, a mother and her teenage daughter, two young women from the UK who had just lost their dream jobs in St Tropez, a young British chef…If only I had taken their addresses, then I could have told them later, ’Hey, I put you in a book.’
Why have both your novels been ‘accidents’?
If anyone had said three years ago, ‘you will produce two published books in two years’, I would have laughed. If ever I imagined writing a book, it would be a math or science textbook, not two novels.
So, I feel the books chose me to write them. For the first one, I was on holidays and reading The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. She is an Australian author who writes fantastic novels wherein a character in the present discovers secrets about her family in the past.
I really enjoyed this book and so, having time to spare as it was raining for days, I decided to try writing using my sister’s research of our maternal grandparents’ lives. As I am a math and science teacher, I had never attempted an extended fiction writing exercise before.
Once I started this totally unplanned project, I found this new activity totally compelling, so compelling I kept writing for five months. My husband scoffed when I told him, ‘I am writing a book’. I knew I was kidding myself too, but for a lark, I presented the pile of pages to my sister wrapped in a bow for her birthday.
I had used her 15 years of research, filled in gaps and silences to make a romantic love story. Then she really surprised me by months later presenting me with a contract from a publisher. Sneaky girl had sent it off all over the place, including London. Result is my debut novel, Whispers through Time. Like its predecessor, The Last Hotel was also unplanned, (just like my life, really.)
Besides writing what other skills do you have?
My career has been in the scientific field. I studied at Sydney University and have a master’s degree in Organic Chemistry and a post grad diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics. I still love learning stuff and enjoy imparting knowledge to my students. After raising my own children, I started a tutoring business.
Why did you pick the Riviera for the setting of this novel?
I didn’t pick it, it was where I was, where we became stranded with nowhere to go. But I did choose the quaint village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, near Nice, for my hotel setting as Nice seemed too large and besides all the hotels closed there. I had the idea of a smaller place like a pensione, bit like The Exotic Marigold Hotel, a quirky place.
Magic and serendipity are themes in your novel, why is that?
I love the unexpectedness of life. In fact, I thrive on it. My life has taken many turns, I’ve had a few re-starts, some magic happenings. I am an eternal optimist. Nothing gets me down for long. The character, Kaz in the book is probably me as a girl. This answers the next question as to why my treatment of the heavy topic of lockdown, scary virus ended up as a light-hearted love story. One friend after reading it, said, ‘Trust you to find the flip side of lockdown!’
What part of the writing was the most fun?
Creating the fictional characters to match the real ones I met. The chef, Will had to meet a beautiful French girl, Lotte who has a dishy widowed father. Then I needed some neighbors and of course a bookshop and its owner, Henri who has a stutter. There are two nasty characters though. But since I love the French language, I had to put a lot of French in to create the atmosphere. A few readers reported feeling totally immersed in France which for me was very gratifying.
How has the pandemic affected your perspective on life?
It hasn’t troubled me overly. I feel for those it has though, like the young people and those who lost their livelihoods. Life is unpredictable. In fact, interestingly, I was researching the Spanish Flu, for the sequel to Whispers through Time, when Covid happened. Bit spooky, exactly a century later.
Does the The Last Hotel,
have an underlying message?
I am happy when people find meaning in what I write. Without realizing it while writing, (as I was in strange circumstances) I did construct discourses that some readers have identified with. One is if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Another is to be thine own self be true.
The character, Jenny represents this, albeit a bit later in life and my young lesbian character learns to trust in herself. Another is what seems like a detour, is actually the way you were meant to go. I like this one a lot as it is evident in many serendipitous moments.
Do you have any interesting writing habits?
As I am now a slightly disabled writer, because my hand still has a mind of its own, my writing habits are rather odd. I can’t write for long at a time, so I alternate typing, dictating and scrawling with an apple pencil on an iPad and pressing the magic convert to text button.
But The Last Hotel will always be my special book baby as I totally wrote it with one hand, my left, in a tap tap one finger manner on the old, battered iPad I had with me in Europe. It really was crazy. That book used me as some sort of medium. The words just came from somewhere as did the characters. But it kept me going over five months while I slowly gained back use of my other arm. It was the perfect distraction from real life at the time. Covid and the pain of the right arm.
What are you writing now?
I ‘ve become a history blogger lately with another author, Wendy Tendys. It was her idea so no credit to me. I came aboard to write about women in history, my interest, but end up writing about much more. But we focus mostly on encouraging women about heaps of stuff.
It is great fun. As I already had researched heaps of topics for my two historical novels and The Last Hotel, I decided to share some of this fascinating stuff in blogs which I post there on whispering encouragement.com and on my website, joniscottauthor.com.
Where are your books available and how can readers interact?
My third novel, Time, heal my Heart is at the publisher now. It is the sequel to the first. Meanwhile I am writing the final book in this historical trilogy and written and published my fourth, a contemporary Australian novel with an Indian sub-plot, called Colour comes to Tangles. It is on Kindle Unlimited, so free for members. This means that my fourth novel came out before the third.
Details of my books, blogs and links to buy are available on my website, http://joniscottauthor.com. My email details are there too. Please interact with me and write a review after reading on whichever platform suits you.
The Last Hotel (Tellwell), Whispers through Time (AM, London) and Colour comes to Tangles are available on the usual online platforms in paperback and e book form and through physical bookstores. The Last Hotel also has a hardcover version and is an audio book by Tellwell.