An event that occurred in 1883 reverberates down the years to 2012, when antiques dealer Nic Manton acquires a pendant with mysterious provenance. Its past owners are shadowy and notorious, its value immense, its custodian disturbing. But the secrets it holds, when revealed, astound all who vie for its ownership. Stealth and danger pursue Manton, who needs help to unravel cryptic messages from the past, while his attention is distracted by two very unusual women. An eccentric professor can help—but fear of consequences might stall what starts out as an adventure and ends with violence and confusion.
How would describe your book, its genre? Do you write in more than one genre?
My fourth and latest novel, The Hidden Auditorium, is a romantic adventure, in which history, art, and classical music are the mainstays. I also use brilliant locations and this time, antique jewellery, to evoke the atmosphere I want and ground the story with engaging props.
Genre is always a difficult thing with me. Similar books by other authors are usually categorized as ‘General Fiction,’ but I suppose ‘Romantic suspense,’ or ‘Mystery adventure’ are also valid. All my novels are similar in nature—my short fiction varies a bit more and is rather more literary in its language. An author can afford to experiment more wildly with short fiction.
How long have you been writing? How long did it take to write your book? And what motivated you to write it?
These days I write a novel a year. It takes that long because of the length—about 120,000 words—and because of the research, which sometimes entails travel, but always requires a great deal of reading and looking up of special and little-known details. The art, history, music and literature I weave through my stories is fact-rich, specific, and meticulous, so readers can have fun looking up fine points to see if they are true.
I’ve been writing on and off since 1985, which is why I have fourteen books selling, with my fifth novel due to appear in September 2014. My fans and what they say about my fiction motivate me to write. It’s hard work, but I enjoy the research and rewrites, not to mention the editing and production phases.
I’m an autumn person, probably because I was born in October, in Europe. I dislike very warm temperatures, which we get rather a lot of where I live, in Perth, Western Australia.
Is “The Hidden Auditorium” a stand-alone novel or part of a series? If it’s part of a series, how did you decide to make it a series? How long will the series run?
The Hidden Auditorium is a companion novel to According to Luke—one of the characters comes back. This is exciting, and although the books can be read in any sequence, taking them up in the order in which they were written makes things slightly clearer. The decision was an easy one to make—Bryn Awbrey, the avuncular Welshman all my readers love, is an expert in semiotics whose eccentric ways meant he had to overflow into more books.
Is there any symbolism in your book that you’d care to share with potential readers?
There is plenty of symbolism in According to Luke. And each symbol is unraveled and explained. It is not as marked in The Hidden Auditorium, the more recent novel, because of the props I used, but there are a few clues that are quite cryptic, and there are always puzzles to be solved.
Do any of the characters resemble you? How about friends or relatives.
Of course not. Professional authors take great pains to create quirky, interesting, larger-than-life characters with idiosyncrasies one does not easily find in real life. ‘Normal’ people would make boring reading! Having said that, however, it’s fairly obvious authors cannot get away from themselves and their mindsets, their backgrounds, and their experiences, so attitudes and leanings do tend to filter through to one or two of the characters used, but not in any recognizable way. I would love to be as elegant, articulate, and beautiful as Manuela de Francesch, one of the characters in my new novel. But I’m nowhere as sophisticated.
What is the worst thing reviewers or critics have said about your book?
My work has been found to be highbrow, complicated, and demanding by a very small sector of the public. This is understandable, because I use references that can escape the common reader. My stories are adventurous and full of action, though, so missing some of the references does not take anything away from the rollicking narrative. One reader thought my philosophical references were pretentious—which makes me glad he recognized them.
What is the best thing reviewers or critics have said about your book?
Too many positive remarks to list here! There are dozens of reviews online that praise the way I write, the inclusions I put in my fiction, and the descriptions of the locations, especially. I think I have built myself a reputation for creating atmosphere and detailing surroundings in a few words, for the reader to absorb quickly but intensely. By far the best thing anyone has ever said was, “I finished it and turned right back to Chapter One to experience it all over again!”
If you were to be offered a movie deal, who would you like to see play the main characters? And why?
I often imagine Stephen Fry in the part of Bryn Awbrey, because he does that eccentric, shambolic kind of character very well. It’s highly unlikely my novels will ever be made into movies, though. I prefer to outline a few sketches for readers to form their own mental images as they move from chapter to chapter.
Describe your writing process. Do you outline, create rough synopses, do you do detailed biographies of the characters before starting to write?
Nothing so organized, thank goodness. I am your quintessential higgledy-piggledy, chaotic, and utterly disordered author who loses notes, tries unsuccessfully to remember brilliant ideas that dissolve with the morning light, and works in a study full of sheaves of paper and piles of books. I place my hands over the keyboard and they type…the real work comes when I have two hundred thousand words to bang into some kind of order. That’s the part I love—turning chaos into a reasonably cogent, logical, convincing form.
How much research do you do before starting to write? Where do you find most of your background materials? How do you fact check?
Hours and hours of reading, looking up, watching documentaries and consulting maps and pictures…long hours go into each novel I write, Nick. Because I use so much cultural material, history, authentic props, and real procedures I need to understand everything I use quite intimately. I fact-check things like dates, inscriptions on tombs and buildings, street names, architectural periods, occupations, wars, scientific procedures, decorative and artistic styles, the biographies of musicians and artists. It never ends, and is sometimes vastly more interesting than the actual writing. The Internet is of course infinitely useful, but it’s a double-edged sword, because inaccuracy can confuse even the most careful researcher, and the ease with which one can access information means becoming distracted and taking mental, cultural, and entertaining detours! This can be time-consuming and wasteful, but it is always fun.
Living in a house with several thousand books on all subjects, in five languages, means I can do most of my research without leaving home. I raise dust when in the height of building my research base.
What didn’t you mention in the synopsis that you can reveal here?
That The Hidden Auditorium is about the life and death of Richard Wagner, the famous composer. I have taken a gap in his life and filled it with something that could very well have happened. That’s what I do—that’s what I stand for: feasible fiction, verifiable facts.
If you had to do the experience of writing your work over, would you still write it? Would you change it? How?
Writing my work over! Hah!! I did do this with The Hidden Auditorium—twice or three times. Quite radical re-writes where two whole minor characters fell to the cutting room floor. The main premise changed radically the first time I rewrote; and the second time, after a big plot discussion around the dining room table, I was given a brilliant twist I just could not ignore, so the last third of the novel had to be re-shaped, with an entirely different denouement. Changing and remodeling is nothing new to me: it’s how a novel finds its ultimate development.
How did you choose the title?
Most of my inspiration comes from words. I love words and how they go together. I am tri-lingual from childhood, so fascination with language is natural. A brilliant sentence I read or hear goes a long way, and stories are built on the turn of a phrase, or an unusual new word. So I sometimes have a title before I have anything else…which is what happened for my next novel. But The Hidden Auditorium was a special and rather involved work, which changed titles halfway through. I found a brilliant quote by Rod Serling which was startlingly appropriate, and that was it! Magic.
What is your end goal for your writing career?
My goal is for there to be no end.
How did you decide on the cover and did you design it or did you use a professional designer? However you created the cover, will you being do it that way in the future? Why or why not?
I have a background in publishing. I’ve worked on magazines, newspapers, corporate and academic newsletters, books, and I’ve even read slush for a university press. I’ve worked in a printing press, and have collaborated with designers and photographers during a rather varied career in publishing. I also trained briefly as a graphic artist, and went to art school. So it seemed a no-brainer to do my own covers. The first few were rather basic, but I’ve reached a level that’s quite acceptable and people like my covers, so I’ll keep doing them, improving as I go. I am continually studying and practicing, so I do not rest or feel I know enough, ever—it’s one of the things I really enjoy about what I do. I’ve created all fourteen of my own covers, and regularly design interiors and exteriors for other authors.
Can you summarize your book in 140 characters or less (Tweet size)?
An antiques dealer determined to turn his financial situation around finds a historically mysterious pendant that wreaks havoc but forges bonds.
How much literary license do you take with your stories? Do you create fictional locations? Do you use real locations with some fictionalizing, or do you stick very close to the actual setting? Why?
My settings are all very real and the great majority are personally experienced. I use European locations I’ve been to. My short stories are full of Belgium, Italy, Malta, and Australia. My novels are mainly based in Malta and Italy, and I use Australian characters very often, so the mix is interesting. I never make places up because it’s what readers find most authentic about my writing. I vividly describe places in a few words, through my protagonist’s eyes. So the sights, smells and sensations can’t be faked: the author needs to have been there. And I have.
What types of hobbies do you have? Are you active in sports or your community? Do these activities find their way into your books?
I am a non-sporty sedentary loner who collects stuff (yes, stamps too) and does puzzles such as Sudoku.
What is your favorite time of the year and why? And did you incorporate that into your story? How?
I’m an autumn person, probably because I was born in October, in Europe. I dislike very warm temperatures, which we get rather a lot of where I live, in Perth, Western Australia. I hate being outdoors in hot weather. Spring is nice here, although very brief. I rarely describe the weather in my fiction unless it really affects the action, as it does in the pivotal scene in According to Luke.
What do you feel is the best personal quality you bring to your writing career?
My ability to work with words, first of all. Then there’s my liking of puzzles, and a small measure of analytical capacity, which all help if you are a novelist of cultural adventures full of ingenious mystery, cryptic conundrums, and historical questions.
Where do you see your writing career going? Why do you think that?
I see myself chugging along at this comfortable rate for quite a while. A lot of hard work brought me to this stage, and I haven’t looked back since 2010. My increased output and the publishing revolution have meant I can maintain this pace. All I can plan are my own actions—what readers decide to read is out of my control.
Do you have a special theme, or design that you intend to continue throughout your career as your signature item?
Yes, Nick—I enjoy writing about art, architecture, history, music, and literature so much that I intend to pursue this line of “cultural adventure” for as long as I can and as long as my readers want more.
What is your end goal for your writing career?
My goal is for there to be no end.
If you enjoyed “The Hidden Auditorium,” it’s time to pick up a copy of “The Latin Cushion” from author Rosanne Dingli!