Author Hannah Downing: Review and Interview

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing my small-pub-sister Hannah Downing, Australian author of Pieces of Us. I loved her novel as you can tell from my review:

Sharp Yet Well-Rounded Love Triangle

Charlotte Barnes has the perfect marriage. Her husband dotes on her, and she delights in the domestic bliss they’ve created. There’s only one problem. She discovers her beloved husband Cameron has been cheating on her.

Lost and bereft, Charlotte hightails it out of town without giving him the chance to explain. She slowly rebuilds her life, meeting a police officer named Owen. When Charlotte and Owen begin to fall in love, Owen realizes that pieces of Charlotte’s heart still belong to Cameron, and suggests they move back to her home town so that she can put her past behind her.

My favorite part of this story is the realism of the characters. Charlotte moves between fury and desperation when coping with the fallout of Cameron’s infidelity:

“Get your hand off me or I will stab you in the thigh with this fork,” I whispered.

Cameron was like a magnet, and even though my heart was shattered into a million pieces, those broken shards were still drawn to him.

Owen is a TOTAL sweetheart. He has a heart of gold, and their romance is warm and cute:

“What is it?” I asked.
“This is the GIRLS’ locker room,” Owen said.
“Uh-huh,” I replied, not really understanding.
He shook his head slightly and gave me a boyish grin. “Sorry. It’s just a teenage fantasy of mine to be in here.”
“Ah, and I’m sure in the fantasy there were lots of naked girls.”
“Just one,” he said huskily.

Yet there are seeds of doubt that creep in:

“I love you,” I whispered.
“Love you more,” he replied.
Owen often replied to my declarations of love that way, and it made me wonder if it was true. Did he love me more than I loved him?

Will Charlotte marry Owen? Will Cameron worm his way back into her heart, once she gains a better understanding of why he acted the way he did? Stay tuned. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists at the end, leaving me with a satisfied feeling. Hannah Downing has written a story that flows well and is an excellent read. Highly recommended!

And now onto the interview!

Jennifer Lane (JL): Welcome to the blog, Hannah, and happy summer! Please tell us about your home in Australia.

Hannah Downing (HD): Thanks for having me, Jen. I live in the city of Cairns which is in the north-east of Australia in the state of Queensland. We are home to the Great Barrier Reef and several tropical islands as well as some of the most beautiful rainforests in the world. Cairns’ slogan is – “Where the rainforest meets the reef.” It is currently our summer and what a summer it is. This past week we have had our hottest on record for decades. This time of the year, we average days in the mid 30s (80s in Fahrenheit) with about 80-95% humidity. I have lived here for almost 10 years and love it, despite the heat.

JL: I really enjoyed Pieces of Us, your debut novel. You explored a range of emotions and portrayed realistic characters. What helps you with characterization?

HD: What matters to me most about my characters is that they are real. I would hope that people could imagine themselves acting or doing things in a way that my characters do. With my dialogue especially, I try to write what a normal conversation would sound like. Sometimes I have to make slight deviations from real conversation as we don’t always speak in grammatically correct ways, but on the whole I just try to picture them as real people. I imagine what I would do in a situation or ask a friend how they would react if someone said that to them. Another thing that has helped me to create real characters is that they are real to me. I know their personalities and how they react in situations. I know what Charlotte will say when Owen says something, or how Cameron would react to something Charlotte does. I know them. I wouldn’t say they are real people to me, because they live inside my head, but when I write them, they feel real.

JL: I was wondering if your job as a social worker might have contributed to your keen characterization. Would you educate us on the training and occupation of an Australian social worker? (I suspect it’s different than in the US).

HD: I think every part of my personality has helped me to create my characters. I put a lot of myself into Pieces of Us and my social worker training is a big part of me, so I would have to agree that it has had some reflection on how I perceive people, relate to people and in turn, write about people. I wanted to be a counsellor from a young age. People have always felt comfortable talking to me and confiding in me and it just felt natural for me to pursue it as a career. I completed a 4 year, Bachelor of Social Work at university which qualified me as a social worker. I believe that in the USA, you have to hold a Masters degree to work as a qualified social worker, but that is not the case in Australia. My current job is that of “Mental Health Worker”. I provide one-on-one counselling to adults who live with mental illness and also facilitate support groups. I also have a very active role in mental health promotion and stigma reduction in the community. I don’t write about mental illness in my debut novel, or the current manuscript I’m working on, but my work has given me a fantastic grounding in the workings of human nature which I think helps me to create realistic characters.

JL: You are correct that you need a master’s degree to be a licensed social worker in the U.S. You’re at a crossroads, deciding whether to pursue social work or writing more intensely. How’s your decision coming along?

HD: *sigh* It moves and then it stalls again. I’m so torn! My dream is to be a novelist and I am willing to work as hard as I need to, to get that goal but even with all the hard work in the world, not everyone makes it to be a success. It’s a risk to put all my hopes on becoming a successful author. At the same time, I have discovered an opportunity to advance my social work career into a fascinating and rewarding, new direction and I would love to pursue it. I have been offered a place in the Masters of International Community Development which would train me to work in developing nations (something I would love to do). But, anyone who has done post-graduate study will agree with me that it is A LOT of work and to get the high marks that I would hope for, I would have to dedicate a lot of my time and energy to study, leaving little to no time for writing. So, I could give up on the writing and take the safe route – study a Masters, get an amazing job and live overseas while I work (a wonderful option, but not my dream), or I could take the risk and write. My horoscope is Libra (the scales) and I have always weighed all my options very carefully which I think is why I have been so conflicted in this decision. My scales are heavily tipped towards writing at the moment and that is what I am working for right now. I have just completed the 50,000 word writing challenge for NaNoWriMo with almost 70,000 words and have almost finished the first draft of my next novel. I think I’m going to follow my dream, throw caution to the wind and take a chance. I want to be an author!

JL: One of my favorite characters in Pieces of Us is Owen. He’s sweet and caring, but he also has a backbone. Any particular inspiration for his character, or for Charlotte or Cameron?

HD: I’m so glad you loved Owen. I love him too. I am a sucker for love triangles and have read a lot of stories based on this idea. I found myself getting frustrated with the love-triangles I was reading though, because there was always one clear winner and one not-quite-as-good guy. I wanted to read a love triangle where both guys deserved to win, and where there was no clear “better choice”. I was also curious about the idea of redemption and whether you could absolutely destroy a loving relationship and then build it back again – was that even possible? Could I get the readers to forgive someone who had wronged the heroine and broken her trust? I wanted to play around with all of these ideas and so Pieces of Us was born. I never set out to write a novel. I had been dabbling with short story writing for a while and loved the feeling of creating a story but never really considered it as a career. Charlotte, Cameron and Owen appeared in my brain one day and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I suppose it started from a stray thought I had about my ex-boyfriend. My first love and I had broken up a few years before I started writing Pieces of Us and I wondered what I would do or say if I happened to bump into him. I had moved on with my life and didn’t want to reconcile, but if he came to me and asked me to get back together, what would I do? I believe that once you truly love someone, a part of that love stays with you forever and I wondered if the love I still held for my ex would be rekindled if he came back into my life, or, if I wouldn’t feel anything after several years apart. So, my mind started creating all the scenarios that could happen and Cameron and Charlotte were created. But, I didn’t want to make things too easy for Cameron and I wanted to play with my idea of an equal love triangle so I brought Owen into the mix. It was really fun writing Owen because I could make him the most amazing, loving and perfect man. Every wonderful attribute I gave to Owen made Cameron’s job just that little bit harder and that was the point. I think I created two men who both loved Charlotte very much and who were both deserving of her. None of the characters in my book are based on any one person but I did take traits that I had seen in people and worked them to either work for my characters or against them as I needed.

JL: What’s next for you with your writing?

HD: I’m so excited about what I’m writing at the moment. About a month after Pieces of Us was released for sale, I was sitting on my bed, laptop buzzing, chatting with a friend on Twitter. She asked if I was going to write another book and I said I would if I had a new idea and then, just like some weird dream, the whole plot, characters, titles, fantasy lore, chapter names and every aspect needed to start writing a book series was just in my head. I can’t put into words what a strange sensation it was. One second I had no writing plans and then the next second I had four fully developed novels in my brain just waiting to be written as if someone had turned on a light switch that couldn’t be turned off. I put my laptop aside and grabbed a notebook. I scribbled down as much as I could think of, adding diagrams, timelines, maps and anything else that I didn’t want to forget. I had never written YA before and had never dabbled in fantasy but these characters were so fully formed that it was as if they already existed and just needed me to tell their story. I immediately told the plot of the whole series to my friend and she begged me to write it because she wanted to read it so badly. So, I am now almost finished the first draft of book one in the series. I have fallen madly in love with these characters and the world they live in. Book One is tentatively titled The Time Walker, and will be the first in a four book series about witches who have different powers. Some witches can travel through time; others can read minds, sense auras or cast spells. It’s so fun to play in a world of fantasy and not have to abide by the laws of the real world. There is a love triangle, but not as strongly developed as in Pieces of Us. The love triangle isn’t the main focus of this story but it plays a role in the lives of the characters. Again, I love both of my male leads and I have to keep reminding myself which guy the main character, Holly, is going to end up with because I keep wanting to give the other guy a chance. Once I have finished the draft and have cleaned it up a bit (it’s still very raw), I will post some teasers on my website.

JL: Thank you for the wonderful interview, Hannah. It’s great getting to know you better by reading your novel and your interview answers.

It’s Thursday, time for Omnific Publishing’s Author Blog Bounce! Read instructions here.

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