Let me introduce you to a kindred spirit of mine… I have only known Perth-based author Tess Woods for about 18 months, but I feel like we’ve been friends for so much longer than that. We share opinions on important social issues, such as equality, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, the need for education and compassion around the subjects of suicide and self harm, and the need to bring dignity to disadvantaged and homeless women however and whenever possible. We may even share opinions about a certain small-handed politician in a position of great global power — although this might not be an appropriate forum to dwell further on that.
Tess released her first novel, Love at First Flight, through HarperCollins, last year, in which she bravely tackled the subject of marital infidelity in a sometimes-confronting narrative that brought forth heated discussion among readers. Her second novel, Beautiful Messy Love, will be officially launched later this month, and is already generated plenty of buzz in online reader platforms. I’ll let her tell you more about that in her post, below, though.
As you will see from her answers to my questions, Tess is a dynamo with a heart of gold. She’s warm, witty, kind-hearted and considerate, and she simply cannot help sharing the love with those people who are important to her. I know a couple of her responses will make you smile; and others may even make you laugh out loud. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to sit back, put your feet up, and appreciate this opportunity to get to know a little bit about the delightful, de-lovely Tess Woods.
Q. How would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. Even though my books don’t have a guaranteed happily ever after, which is how the romance genre is defined, I very much consider myself a romance author. I’m published with HarperCollins and my novels are all contemporary Australian love stories centred around issues close to my heart – motherhood, marriage, career, as well as social issues such as the asylum seeker crisis, Australia’s involvement in war, the effects of social media, drug legalisation, mental illness, suicide and self-harm.
How do I do it? What an interesting question… I start with an idea (and believe me, I don’t get many – think one idea a year!) and I go from there. Something I see or hear will inspire me and my ‘but what if’ kicks in.
With my stories I don’t plot, they fall into place on their own and are revealed to me as if they’re being told by someone else and I’m the scribe. I have no writing pedigree, I don’t do writing courses, I write purely on gut instinct and make my editors work really hard!!
The actual ‘how’ part of how I do it is I plonk myself in front of my laptop and I write for hours every day. I never ever want to write. Literally never. I enjoy the results of my writing just as I enjoy the results of exercise without ever being excited about doing the actual exercise!
Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline?
A. My second novel, Beautiful Messy Love, released at the end of July, is my latest project. I’m about to start my book tour for that beginning with a launch in Perth, then off to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and finishing up in Bunbury.
Here’s the blurb, because I’m terrible at describing what this book’s about and nobody would want to read it if I was to put it in my own words:
What happens when love and loyalty collide? Two couples must deal with the consequences of their messy love not just for themselves but for those who depend on them. For lovers of passionate romance in the vein of Nicolas Sparks.
When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers, famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.
Meanwhile, Nick’s sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man who has just buried his wife slips quickly into dangerous dependency.
Through attraction, breakups, triumphs and tragedies, these two couples learn just how much their beautiful messy love might cost. A West Side Story for the modern day.
Aside from the new release, I have so much other stuff in the pipeline too!
I’m thrilled and honoured to have been the author chosen by the City of Wanneroo for National Reading Hour, in August. I’ll be speaking in front of the members of 75 book clubs for that event. Wish me luck!
I’ve written my third novel, Love and Other Battles, which will be out next year. It’s a three-generation family drama. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a Queensland grandmother who, as a young woman, fell in love with a soldier sent to fight in Vietnam and is now dealing with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease; her middle-aged daughter, who has never recovered from the loss of her first love; and her granddaughter, who is struggling with life as a teenager in today’s social media-controlled world. The question of whether legalising marijuana in Australia is a good or bad thing runs through all the stories in the novel. (Seriously, I need my publisher to write me a blurb ASAP, I just read over this and the story is HEAPS better than how dull I just made it sound. I promise!)
I’m also running my first writing retreat in Wales in December and a second writing retreat on the South West Coast in July next year. This exciting development in my life of facilitating week-long writing retreat holidays is something I never saw coming!
And aside from that, I’m organising the West Coast Fiction Festival next November in Perth with my bestie Rachael Johns and our fantastic committee. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken and the whole thing makes me buzz with excitement. It will be Perth’s first-ever event of its kind – a whole day and night of Australia’s best traditionally and self-published authors along with readers, celebrating fiction writing and raising money for Share the Dignity, a charity I’m honoured to belong to.
I’ll also keep up my job as a physiotherapist in the clinics I own and manage with my husband and continue with my own volunteer project, Meals by Mums, where my friends and I cook and freeze meals for the homeless.
Never a dull moment around here!
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 three bookcases at home and four in our offices at my physiotherapy clinics. Are you sitting down for this? None of the books on any of those bookshelves are mine except for one less than full shelf in the lounge room. Yep, I’m an author without a book collection!
Everyone who knows me knows I’m an incredibly sensitive and sentimental person (too sensitive hubby would say!) I still have notes stashed in my room that my best friend wrote to me when I was five years old. But when it comes to ‘stuff’ I’m completely unsentimental. I don’t hang onto any items really that aren’t notes, cards or things that were made by people I love. I’m much more about creating memories rather than accumulating things – hence I live in a totally crappy house with just the basics in it but I’ve had a lifetime of going on heaps of amazing trips and we spend a lot of money on eating out – happy stomach before possessions! I also have a habit of giving everything I don’t desperately need away. I’ll never be accused of hoarding!
And my philosophy of ‘only keep what you need’ applies to books. I LOVE books, I’m an enormous bookworm and it’s only my love of reading that made me become a writer myself. But I haven’t got an emotional attachment to keeping the actual physical versions of the books themselves and (gasp!) this includes signed books or my favourite titles. I think I had my favourite book of all time, The Bridges of Madison County, in my possession for about a week before passing it on, and I never saw it again!
Because I’m in the writing community, I support my friends and buy all of their books so I have bought hundreds if not thousands of books in my lifetime, it’s just that I don’t keep any of them. I only keep the books I haven’t read. The rest get passed around to my friends – I turn up like a bag lady to our get-togethers and they all get excited and dive in to choose.
I lose track of most of my books, and lately this started to bug me because more and more I found that I wanted to recommend a particular book to someone and be able to give them my copy, but I couldn’t remember who had it. So some months ago, I had the genius idea of taking photos of who had which book. But this plan failed miserably because my friends passed on the books to friends who passed them on to more friends and I completely lost track again. Here’s evidence of the dinner where I had the brainwave that I would hold people accountable for which books they had. You can see my mates are literally laughing at me and thinking ‘as if you’ll ever see these books again!’
So there you go, there are hundreds of my books out there in circulation today. Maybe after reading this, you’ll end up with one of my books and see that it was signed for me by the author – wouldn’t that be cool?
With my books out roaming the world, this means that at any stage I usually only have a half to one full shelf of books at home. And then whenever there’s an Indigenous Literacy Foundation Book Swap, I can’t help myself, I get rid of the books left on that shelf too, so then I end up with nothing! We realised about two months after the release of Love at First Flight that I didn’t have a copy of it up on my shelf so I grabbed one from my stash in a box in the shed that I save for giveaways and guess what? That copy I displayed proudly on my shelf went missing and I couldn’t care less! I know I wrote it, I’ve held the book in my hands, I’ve seen it in shops, I know if I need to I can easily get my hands on a copy, I don’t need it lying around. Told you, unsentimental!
So, after having read loads of your other Shelf Awareness interviews, Maureen, and having been in awe at the magnificence of people’s libraries let alone basic bookshelves, the best I can do for you is this photo of my one top measly shelf of books that are between hands at the moment.
This is the bookcase in our lounge room which is shared between the four of us in our family (my kids both have their own book cases in their rooms as well). The titles on that shelf change all the time depending on who I’m seeing and what books they want to take from it or return to it.
And for the second part of that question – YES do I keep my books elsewhere at home! Because my shelf of books on our bookcase is a ‘help yourself’, I need to keep the books I haven’t read yet away from the shelf so that they don’t get pinched by my friends who visit until I’ve read them. So what do I do? I use them as my door-stoppers!
When it’s time to pick up a new book, I’ll roam around the house, pausing in the doorways, to see which one takes my fancy. I keep the book I’m reading next to my bed though. When I’m home I only ever read at night before going to sleep so the book of the moment gets pride of place next to me!
Q. How are your books organised/arranged? (ie alphabetically, by theme or genre, using some sort of formal or informal filing system, by colour perhaps?)
A. Bahahaha – ah, there is no arrangement aside from blobs on the floor! See above.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. Our house of books reflects the rest of my family’s taste in literature rather than mine as they all own more books than me. The four of us are book obsessed. It’s not uncommon on a holiday for all of us to be lying on a beach and nobody speaks for three hours until someone’s hungry because we’re all lost in our books!
The books that dominate our shelves at home include my husband, Paul’s, novels, which are mainly crime, thriller and horror. Stephen King is his favourite author and he really enjoys reading books by James Patterson and Lee Child too.
Tom, my seventeen-year-old son, loves fantasy and thriller. He’s a huge fan of Rick Riordan, hands down his favourite author, and he has heaps of his books on his shelf. He also loves JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien and at the moment he’s devouring the Pittacus Lore series, he has that set of books stacked up on his bedside table.
Lara, my fourteen-year-old daughter, reads dystopian, fantasy and young adult contemporary fiction. Her favourites are JK Rowling, James Dashner, Suzanne Collins and John Green. She has an entire Harry Potter-devoted shelf in her room!
Both of my kids have bedside lamps designed for books where they keep the books they’re currently reading rather than use bookmarks. How cool are these?
And, and, and speaking of cool – check out Tom’s floating shelves with some of his non-fiction books!
As for me, well no books predominate because I don’t keep any!
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. On holiday. Don’t care where as long as it’s somewhere I can read during the day and that only ever happens on holiday!!
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 reading Eliza Henry Jones’ Ache right now (it’s April by the way as I write these answers. I’m just a Type A freak doing my interviews like this one, months before my own book release.) One of the perks of being with HarperCollins is that my lovely publisher, Mary, sends me all the advances of books she thinks I might like. Eliza is also a close friend who I adore, so choosing hers to read when I had the opportunity to before its release was a no-brainer!
So far it’s exactly what I would expect of a novel penned by Eliza Henry Jones, utterly breathtaking. Brilliant. Read it.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. Contemporary general fiction is not only what I write but what I love to read the most too. My favourite non-Australian authors who write in this genre are Maeve Binchy, Kate Kerrigan, Adriana Trigiani and Marian Keyes.
As for my favourite contemporary fiction Aussie author, a couple of years ago I would have said without question it was Liane Moriarty. But I’m not so sure anymore! My love for my friends’ work has taken over. People like Jenn J McLeod, Rachael Johns, Lily Malone, Lisa Ireland, Jennie Jones, Sunni Overend, Nicola Moriarty, Sara Foster all write contemporary stories I’ve adored lately as have many other wonderful contemporary authors – I could rattle off another twenty! We’re so lucky and spoilt for choice.
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. Well, as someone who turfs all her books, I have no collection! Sorry I’m such a dud interviewee for Shelf Awareness :)!
So instead, I’ll choose three books that I loved rather than three I have on my shelf. Let’s go with Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Shell Seekeers by Rosamunde Pilcher and Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes.
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. This one’s easy, forget the characters, I’d go with authors who have passed away and I can only wish I could have met. I’d give anything for an afternoon with Maeve Binchy, Colleen McCullough and Jane Austen.
I’d serve them some Egyptian treats such as my baklava and short bread as well as my non-Egyptian but world famous Rocky Road and I probably wouldn’t make much intellectual conversation at all if I was perfectly honest with myself. I’d be way too busy crying and carrying on, fan-girling, taking selfies – basically acting like the eleven-year-old air-head that I am deep down!
Thanks so much for having me beautiful Maureen, love you to pieces, you gorgeous woman! xx