As has happened with a number of my guests on Shelf Aware, I “met” Australian author Alli Sinclair in the comments section of a mutual friend’s Facebook page. We had a lengthy exchange about Milwaukee folk rock / country punk band The Violent Femmes. Alli was going to a Femmes concert “over East”, and I was here in the West wishing I could be there too. It has been more than 30 years since I last saw them in concert with a great mate of mine — another Ali — at the old Melbourne Hotel, in Perth. With the exchange of a few remarks about a group of musicians we both admired, Alli and I cemented our online friendship, and we’ve shared many “likes” and “chatted” via Messenger in the ensuing months.
I now know that Alli is a multi award-winning author who, according to her website, “spent her early adult years travelling the globe, intent on becoming an Indiana Jones in heels”. Alli scaled mountains in Nepal, Argentina, and Peru, rafted the Ganges, and rode a camel in the Sahara. She lived in Argentina and Peru for a few years and, when she wasn’t working as a mountain guide or tour guide, Alli “could be found in the dance halls dancing the tango, salsa, merengue, and samba”.
Alli was voted Australian Romance Readers Association “Favourite New Romance Author 2014”, her novel Luna Tango was the Australian Romance Readers Association’s 2014 Book of the Year, and in 2016 she was named Best Established Author in the AusRomToday Readers’ Choice Awards. Alli also volunteers with Books in Homes.
When I learned that Alli would be releasing Beneath the Parisian Skies (Harlequin Mira) this month, I knew I wanted to invite her to write a guest blog for Shelf Awareness. As a bonus, I’ll be getting the chance to meet Alli in person when she is a guest at Stories on Stage, at Koorliny Arts Centre, on July 26. If you’re in the area, pop in and say hello.
For now, sit back, make a cup of hot chocolate — as enjoyed by a couple of the characters in a pivotal scene in Beneath the Parisian Skies — and take a journey of discovery that includes Alli Sinclair’s favourite books and authors.
Q. Alli, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I am a literary travel agent, meaning I write books that take people on adventures to exotic destinations and immerse them in history and culture with a dash of mystery and romance.
Q. What can you tell us about this new book?
A. Set in present-day Paris and the Bohemian era in 1917, Under the Parisian Sky is an emotional journey of intrigue that explores love, truth, grief and passion—and what it takes to fulfill a dream.
In Paris, 1917, Ballerina Viktoriya Budian narrowly escapes Russia with her life. She arrives in Paris, determined to start fresh with the famed Ballets Russes but her newfound success is threatened when her past returns to haunt her. Forced to choose between love and fame, Viktoriya’s life spirals out of control and the decision she makes seriously affects the lives of many for years to come.
In present-day Paris, Australian dancer Lily Johansson returns to the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, hoping to move past her fiancé’s death and to make amends with her estranged sister Natalie, a ballerina with the Bohème Ballet.
Terrified of loving again, Lily nevertheless finds herself becoming entangled with talented composer Yves Rousseau. Lily has many reasons for keeping Yves at arm’s length but as he recounts the drama of the Ballets Russes in Paris, the magic of this Bohemian era ignites a spark within her.
Meanwhile, vying for the role honouring Ballets Russes dancer Viktoriya Budian, Lily’s sister Natalie develops an unhealthy obsession. Natalie’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as elements of Viktoriya’s tragic life resonate in her own. Lily fears for her sister’s safety and sanity so when Natalie goes missing, she and Yves set out on a desperate quest across France to find her and, along the way, battle their own demons.
Will they unravel the one-hundred-year-old mystery that will led them to Natalie before it’s too late?
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. We have bookcases scattered all over the house as my whole family are readers. We have communal bookshelves and individual bookshelves. I have quite a few in my office and they’re overflowing!
Alli’s captions for the above photos:
Left: Living amongst my books are photos and souvenirs from my travels. The collection of stuffed animals are from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. The local women make them by hand and all the animals are found living on the islands.
Right: Books and souvenirs! The coffee set is from Peru and there are also souvenirs from Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, Thailand, Colombia and Egypt. The two paintings with blue matting are from my first trip to Argentina. I met an artist in the tango district and bought these paintings after I watched my first-ever street tango performance and fell in love with the dance and music. Although I wasn’t writing fiction at that stage, tango stayed with me and inspired my first-ever book, Luna Tango. The artwork in the middle is of a woman reading a book and was given to me by my awesome uncle who shares a love of reading and travel like I do.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. This question has come at the right time as I finally went through my shelves in my office and reorganised things! I used to code them by colour (it always looks so pretty!) but I couldn’t find a particular book if I didn’t remember which colour cover it has! Now I’ve gone back to sorting the books into genres – much easier!
Alli’s captions for the above photos:
Left: A few of the travel and climbing books I possess, as well as a handful of the many new-age books I own.
Right: My complete Trixie Belden collection and a handful of Sweet Dreams and Enid Blyton books that survived the various moves I made from country to country! Oh, how I wanted to be Trixie Belden when I was a kid – riding horses and solving mysteries … a dream come true!
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. I have a very eclectic collection of books and they tend to represent the different phases of my life. Back in my late teens and all through my twenties almost everything I read was non-fiction and travel related. I worked as a mountain climber so I have a lot of books by world-famous climbers and explorers, as well as travel guides, travel memoirs and books about history and culture from various countries around the world.
When I first started writing I discovered craft books and even though I have plenty I still keep buying them! You never stop learning, right?
Of course I have a huge fiction collection and it’s really lovely to have so many of my books signed as many are by authors I know and love and have met. My fiction ranges from historical to contemporary and everything in between. Some are romances, some women’s fiction, some pure adventure or mystery. It’s nice to have a wide choice depending on my reading mood!
Alli’s captions for the above photos:
Left: Some of the guide books I’ve used as well as some of my travel diaries I wrote during my years away from Australia. Once again, some lovely artwork from the kids!
Right: My shelves are scattered with lots of artwork by my kids – some of my most treasured possessions.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. Anywhere I won’t be interrupted! One of my favourites, though, is snuggled under a doona at night while the wind and rain smash against my window and I’m dry and warm.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’m currently reading a book about Mae West. It’s for research but also out of interest. It’s a super interesting book and I’m learning a lot about Mae, who is fascinating, intelligent and had amazing business sense.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. Oh, that’s a very difficult question to answer! I’ll name my automatic buy authors to narrow my list down a little. I will read anything by Michelle Moran. Michelle writes amazing historical fiction, mostly from the point of view of someone not famous. For example, Nefertiti is written from the point of view of her little sister. It’s a clever way to give the reader insight into Nefertiti’s life but from a more objective viewpoint. I also love Belinda Alexandra’s books. Belinda’s stories are so colourful and vibrant and it’s very easy to immerse oneself into the worlds she creates. I also love Monica McInerney’s books as she is a master storyteller with such lovable characters.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. Only three? Gah! But if you insist on only three … First, I’d grab, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. At over 1500 pages this book should keep me occupied for some time. Plus I can always use it as a pillow, it’s that thick. I’m a huge fan of Indian writers like Vikram Seth as there is something magical in the storytelling and insight into family and community. I would also take A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson because laughter is good for the soul and Bill’s writing never fails to make me feel good. Number three would be Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel as I love a romance that I can be swept away and lose myself in the story, get emotionally attached to the characters and live their highs and lows and finish the book with a big sigh and a smile on my face while I wipe away a tear (or twenty).
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I would love to meet Chilean author Isabel Allende. I was first introduced to her books when I was living in South America and I fell in love with magical realism and the rich imagery of these stories. I’d love to talk to Isabel about her amazing characters and whether they come to her fully formed or if she layers them with each draft she writes. Her books also have a lot of symbolism in them and I’d like to discuss whether the symbolism is planned or whether it unfolds naturally as the story is written. I’d serve Isabel authentic Chilean pastries with a nice strong coffee.
I’d also love to meet Stephen King. I grew up reading Stephen’s books and they used to freak me out but I still persisted in reading them until the wee hours of the night. Stephen has had such an incredible journey in his career and his personal life and his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, was the first craft book I have ever read and I often reread it. I’d love to hear more about his writing life and his processes. I’m not sure why, but I picture Stephen as a tea drinker and a lover of cucumber sandwiches. I’m hoping I’m right because that’s what I’d serve him!
For a fictional character, I’d love to meet Bridget Jones. From the moment I read Bridget Jones’s Diary I knew I’d found my kindred spirit. When the book first came out my friends nicknamed me Bridget (some still call me that now!). She’s such a fun character and I’d love nothing more than to have lots of laughs over a few wines and tapas.