Before I got to know author and publisher Monique Mulligan I used to admire her from afar, and I was very much in awe of her energy, enthusiasm and her seemingly effortless achievements. She had recently worked at a newspaper where I had worked earlier in my career; she was developing a loyal and sizeable following for her bookish blog, Write Note Reviews; and she was the driving force behind an excellent literary event series called Stories on Stage, at the Koorliny Arts Centre, in my old home town of Kwinana, Western Australia. To top off those achievements, Monique also was (and still is) an exceptional cook, capable of conjuring all sorts of delicious delicacies for those Stories on Stage events.
We’d met each other a few times, through mutual friends, but it wasn’t until she tentatively shared with me a beautifully crafted short story inspired by a minor character in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that I realised I had encountered a “kindred spirit” — all the way down to the fact that Anne of Green Gables remained one of her favourite books since childhood, just as it has remained one of mine.
Countless bookish chats, writing critique sessions, author events and cups of tea (served in elegant fine bone china) later, we remain firm friends, able to finish each other’s sentences, tune into one another’s moods and insecurities, and support one another. Apart from offering encouragement, hope and inspiration to me, Monique has also provided a means for me to make one of my most cherished literary dreams come true. Monique and her gorgeous business partner, Karen McDermott, of Serenity Press, will publish my first children’s picture book early next year, and I couldn’t be happier.
I have wanted to feature Monique on my Shelf Aware blog series for quite some time, and with Christmas looming, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to let Monique tell you a little bit about her two most recent books — one about a flatulent dragon, and the other a charming romantic novella. In this guest post, Monique also provides an insight into some of her favourite books and authors, and shares some photos of her brimming book shelves.
My favourite fictional heroine Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, made this observation: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.” She was right. And I’d like to introduce you to one of mine…
Q. Monique, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. Gee, hit me with the hard question straight away! Basically, I wear many hats (it’s lucky I like hats). Three days a week I do marketing and publicity for an arts centre (where I also run a Stories on Stage event); two days a week I am a publisher/editor/marketer/publicist/admin for Serenity Press, which I co-own.
Somewhere in there I squeeze on my author hat (usually around 6.15am and on weekends), which involves a combination of writing (my novel and blog posts), marketing, admin, creating and running workshops as booked … and so on.
I have to fit this all in around my family, which has its own challenges at times, like ‘Should I stay home with my family or go to that writing event?’ and ‘Should I bake a cake for my family or write?’ Because I love all things writing and reading so much, I have to make an effort to not always talk about it at home!
Q. What can you tell us about your latest writing project/book release?
A. I had two rather different book releases in August – a children’s picture book called Fergus the Farting Dragon, and a short romance called Under Her Spell. The romance was trumped by the dragon, I have to say – kids and their parents have loved it and people sometimes stop me in the street and ask if I am the “farting dragon lady”. True story.
I’m currently working on my second novel with the working title “Wildflower”. Set in the 1970s, it’s a coming of age story: a young girl learns how far families will go to protect each other over an endless, simmering summer. I love the research part because it’s bringing up memories from my childhood growing up in Sydney. I’m juggling the writing with all my other roles, so it’s case of getting up early for 45 minutes’ writing and then putting in a big effort on Sundays.
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 just recently moved our biggest bookshelf into our new guest room (these start to appear once your kids move out). It never really fit into the room we had it in, but there was nowhere else.
I also have bookshelves in the room I use for a Serenity Press office, in my living room and in the family room (where I do my Sunday writing, perched on a lounge that looks out towards the garden).
And there’s a pile of library books in the living room, as well as on my bedside table … and wherever else I leave them as I wander through the house. I have a habit of leaving them in the last place I sat to read.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. My books are mostly arranged by genre, and books by the same author are grouped together. The big bookshelf in the spare room has mostly contemporary/crime/thriller fiction, while the smaller ones have my classics and historical fiction. Over in my new-old writing desk, there are books about writing and non-fiction fairy tale books.
But it’s genre-according-to-Monique, because some authors write books across different genres, so their books are grouped all together.
This works most of the time.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. I think my collection is pretty balanced – when I was reviewing books, the amount of general fiction outweighed everything else, but now that my reviewing has all but stopped, that’s eased back. I’ve donated a lot of books to readers who come to my Stories on Stage events, as well as op shops, school libraries and other places – I was getting about thirty new books a month at one stage!
Now I’m buying more books than I get to review and lately I’ve been building my collection of fairy tale books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. Bed. I read every night before I go to sleep, propped up in bed with pillows arranged just so. In winter I wear fingerless gloves because my hands get so cold. I have the cutest ones at the moment – hand-knitted with owls in the pattern.
My second favourite place is my deep red antique chaise longue. It’s a classy version of a window seat because I can recline against it like an elegant woman, and watch cars and people walking dogs go by (although I do wish the view were better).
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 often have several books on the go because I’m motivated very much by mood when I read. On my bedside table, I currently have The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (I found this gorgeous edition while on holidays), Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz, and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (I’m re-reading this one with different eyes, thanks to all the other reading I’ve been doing.)
I’m almost finished Clever Maids – it’s an engaging and interesting account of how the Brothers Grimm fairy tales came to be. It lacks the dryness that a lot of non-fiction books can have – it has a conversational tone that appeals to me. The Blue Fairy Book is a collection of fairy tales from a range of sources, and is one of twelve books in the complete set. As I’m reading, I’m finding more and more stories to be familiar, but there are still a few new ones. Among my favourites is the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. That’s almost like asking who is my favourite child! I love Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction based on fairy tales and I’m just starting to get into Margo Lanagan’s work (Tender Morsels blew me away). I love Daphne Du Maurier’s writing as well, Hannah Kent, Jane Talbot, … nope, they’re all I can single out. I’m a fan of too many writers!
Among my favourite books are The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (oh, that sense of duty brought me to tears) and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this).
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. Hmmm … knowing my luck they would all be in different rooms. And so hard to choose, but still it’s always good to have a plan … I would have to choose my very old editions of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and my copy of The Blue Fairy Book.
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. Anne from Anne of Green Gables, because I have always known from the bottom of my heart that we would be kindred spirits; Loki from Norse mythology because he cracks me up; and the nameless girl in Rebecca so I could ask her loads and loads of questions, like ‘Was your relationship and life after Manderley fulfilling?’ and ‘Did you ever doubt Maxim’s side of the story?’
What would we eat? I love to cook, so there would probably be a feast – perhaps a little wine (cordial for Anne, the non-alcoholic sort of course), some wonderful produce from WA’s southwest such as cheese and olives, and cake. Which one? Maybe my chocolate banana sour cream cake? It would depend on my mood!