It’s impossible to constrain the magic of Louise Cusack to her stirring fantasy novels, and I should know – I’ve been under her spell for 14 years. I was a young, passionate journalist when I heard Louise speak at my first writers conference back in ’98 and this was the advice she shared:
- Writer’s instinct will stop you sending off many a lame story
- The only way to publication standard is lots of practice – practice makes perfect
- Follow your heart – don’t be trapped by rules
- Most women like a wicked hero, but not a callous one
- Let the characters tell you when they want to do something
So I was delighted when this award-winning author left the big smoke for our region’s golden beaches, just in time for the relaunch of her Shadow Through Time fantasy romance trilogy (through Pan Macmillan’s Momentum).
A renowned Queensland writing tutor/mentor and manuscript assessor, Louise is presenting the MasterClass, run in conjunction with this year’s WriteFest. If you have a manuscript you’re working on and want to take it to the next level, this workshop is for you. Louise rules supreme when it comes to creating character and character emotions. I was keen to know what inspired her Shadow series characters and this is what a cup of cyber coffee revealed…
Cheryse: How did rural/regional Queensland inspire your Shadow Through Time characters?
Louise: Some important characters from this series lived in little country towns. Being a city girl, I needed to experience the differences in country-born folk – and see them in action so I knew how they related to my character. During one research trip, I visited a family-run funeral home outside Ispwich, to gather background info on my character Sarah McGuire who finds the Guardian Pagan when he comes through the portal from Ennae, surfacing in a billabong in her lawn cemetery.
L: Readers say they find her very real, probably because she’s based partly on a real person. The funeral home was run by the mother. I’d expected formaldehyde bottles, bodies under sheets and echoing lily-lined chapels, so it was a surprise to find a modern set-up with freezer facilities for the bodies, stainless steel everywhere in the prep rooms and carnations in a carpeted chapel. The matriarch led me around and answered my questions, her no-nonsense manner already helping me imagine what she must have been like twenty years’ earlier, when she was Sarah’s age. There was a quiet integrity that impressed me, particularly when she told me her staff were instructed to imagine a member of the deceased’s family was looking over their shoulder while they prepped the bodies, so they would never be disrespectful. Later, when I was writing book two of my Shadow Through Time trilogy and Sarah was trying to decide whether or not to hide an alien (albeit gorgeous) young man and his infant charge, she does what she knows to be right. No nonsense. No drama. They need her help to survive.
C: Do you still love writing about Aussie characters?
L: I’ve just finished book one of a new series where the main character comes from outback Queensland but travels to a lost world discovered and conquered by Renaissance Italians. Dan’s a young shearer studying Engineering at UQ before being pulled into Florentia and embroiled in the Medici Court’s political intrigues when he tries to protect the young ambassador he’s fallen in love with.
There’s something about characters from country Australia that I find romantic. They have a toughness about them, an inner strength, but also a sentimentality that would surprise a lot of city dwellers I suspect! So it’s lovely to now be living around the sort of people who have inspired so many beloved characters for me. I’m looking forward to soaking up more of their fortitude and generosity of spirit while I’m here, and especially looking forward to being able to write more books!
C: Why did you make the seachange to a small beach outside Bundaberg?
L: I’ve always wanted to live by the ocean so last year I made the move and my productivity doubled. Part of that was leaving behind all the writing-related commitments in Brisbane (there’s always something you feel you should attend), and part was leaving my family behind. I’ve been racking up quite a phone bill and commuting to Brisbane regularly to keep in touch with the people who are important to me, but overall the move has been incredibly positive.
C: What do you love about the Bundaberg region?
L: Being near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef is amazing. My tiny town is surrounded by fields of sugarcane, sweet potato, melons and strawberries that are always growing, being harvested or ploughed which means I never have the same drive through it twice. Even my afternoon ambles along the esplandes are different depending on the tide time, the wind, the cloud cover. So much of Brisbane was the same day after day. I find the constantly-changing environment is really stimulating my creativity. As a fantasy author that’s gold.
Initially I thought I’d miss the ‘culture’ of Brisbane but I’ve attended art gallery openings, art house movies and musical theatre up here, so I’m not feeling deprived in the slightest. My little beach is very tranquil, Bundaberg itself is a very relaxed town, and the arts community is an inclusive one. I haven’t been made to feel like an outsider, which is lovely.
L: Just write. Talking about writing is fine, but you have to write heaps to improve your skills if you want to become published. Eighty percent of the work of creating published novels is in the editing so it’s important to learn that art – and also get professional feedback on your work. I know from my own development as a writer how important it was for me to work with published authors to make that leap across the line from unpublished to contract. As a teacher/mentor I’ve been thrilled to see four books I’ve worked on go through to become published, and see many more writers win competitions and fellowships, so I take a lot of pleasure from helping others realise their dreams. There’s a lot more tips at my writer’s blog, http://ifyoumustwrite.com.
Submissions to Louise’s MasterClass at Bundaberg, From character to plot: creating page-turning novels from the characters up, close this Friday, April 20. Visit www.bundywriters.com for submission guidelines.
Louise’s website, http://louisecusack.wordpress.com, is chock-full of advice for both published and aspiring authors and has just been nominated for the Best Australian Blogs 2012 Award so check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and make sure you download her trilogy set at the same time. If you haven’t met the gorgeous guardian Talis yet, it’s time you did!