Q&A With Author Hannah Richell

June 4, 2013

We loved Hannah Richell’s Secrets of the Tides and her latest book The Shadow Year is just as brilliant. SheSaid chatted with Hannah about inspiration, getting published and what it’s really like to write for a living.

How did you get your first book published? And how long did it take you to write your first novel?

I wrote Secrets of the Tides over the course of about two-and-a-half years. It was something I began doing while on maternity leave, squeezed into the cracks of the day when my son napped, but I soon discovered that I loved writing so much I couldn’t stop, even when I went back to work part time. When I felt the novel was finished, I submitted it to several literary agents in the UK and got lucky. One agent in particular really seemed to get the novel and as soon as we began working together things took off very quickly. The novel went to auction where the English language rights were sold in just one week, and since then it’s been snapped up by fourteen translation territories too. The whole experience has been mind-blowing.

What is your new novel The Shadow Year about?

The Shadow Year is the story of a group of friends who discover an abandoned cottage in a remote lakeside location and decide to drop out for a year and experiment with living self-sufficiently. Their venture begins with great excitement, but as the seasons shift and tensions begin rise, the year soon spirals into darkness and tragedy. Meanwhile, thirty years later, a young woman called Lila runs away to the same cottage. As she begins to renovate the dilapidated cottage, she starts to uncover the mystery of what happened there all those years ago, until the two stories converge in a dark and twist-filled climax.

After the success of Secrets of the Tides was it more difficult writing your second novel?

The success of Secrets of the Tides was something so unexpected and wonderful that I shall always be grateful for it. The truth was that when I sat down to write my second book I didn’t actually know if I could write another novel, and certainly didn’t know if I could hit a publisher’s deadline. It was a pretty nerve-wracking time, but the pressure was mostly coming from within, I think. I wanted to produce the best possible work I could within the time I had. On those days when I felt like a total fraud, the success of my debut helped to give me confidence.

Can you take us through a normal day in the life of Hannah Richell?

Except for when I’m out and about promoting the books, my days are pretty normal, probably much like any other working mum’s. On my writing days, the early morning is all about the kids – getting them dressed, breakfasted and out the door without too many tantrums or meltdowns. Then I either return home to the kitchen table or head down to a little studio I’ve rented near my house, where I can spend a few uninterrupted hours writing, before picking them up from school and childcare. I’m learning that being a novelist is all about showing up at that desk and getting the words down, even when I don’t really feel like it – just like any other job, I suppose. If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably spend my days drifting aimlessly in my pyjamas, so I should probably be grateful to them for that!

You grew up in England – how did you come to be living in Australia? Do you think you would have been a writer if you still lived in the UK?

I moved to Australia in 2005 with my boyfriend (now husband). We came here together searching for new adventures after ten or so years living and working in London. After travelling across Australia we settled in Sydney and have lived here ever since. I don’t think I would have started writing if I’d stayed in the UK. Australia is a country imbued with such a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, and moving to the other side of the world felt incredibly liberating – a chance to totally re-invent myself, if you like. Besides, I felt very anonymous here when I first arrived, so it didn’t feel as though I had very much to lose in trying.

What is the best thing about being an author? And the worst?

The best thing is being able to daydream for a living, working in my own space on my own time. The worst is those days when I feel like a complete fraud – when it feels as though I will never have another creative idea or write a good sentence ever again.

What other career would you like to have if you weren’t an author?

I would probably still be working in marketing, helping books or movies reach their audiences.

Who are your favourite authors? And did their books inspire you to become an author?

I love reading a wide range of authors, from the more literary such as Jane Austen, Ian McEwan, Maggie O’Farrell, Tim Winton and David Mitchell to the more commercial, such as David Nichols, Jojo Moyes and Stephen King. My perfect novel has a great plot, believable characters and a strong reason for me to keep turning the pages. One of my all-time favourite classics is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and the one I was most gripped by recently was the smash-hit Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. All the books I read inspire me. I don’t think you can be a writer if you’re not also a reader.

What books would we find on your bedside right now? Do you ever read multiple books at one time?

Right now I have Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, and a short story collection by Alice Munro sitting beside my bed. I am just finishing Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, which is a fascinating and beautiful Australian debut about the last woman to be beheaded in Iceland.

I try not to read multiple books at the same time but I have got better at putting something down if I’m not enjoying it. Life’s too busy to persevere if I’m not enjoying a novel.

How do you see technology impacting on our reading habits? Do you have an ipad, Kindle or e-reader etc?

I have resisted owning an e-reader to date. I can see the appeal, particularly when travelling, but I still love the physicality of curling up with a good book, the smell of the paper, the turning of the pages. My house is full of books and even though I’m running out of space, I find it hard to get rid of them. They remind me of the person I was when I read it, or of that special place the story transported me to. Each one is like an old friend.

What’s your favourite new release book of 2013?

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