A chat with author Fiona McIntosh

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 Permalink

Before joining Fiona McIntosh for coffee, I knew she was a popular and prolific Australian author. I’d checked out her site researched her meticulously, so knew she was passionate about coffee and chocolate, and about travel and baking. I also knew she ran hugely popular writing masterclasses which are sold out until late 2016. But what I did not know was how committed she is to fostering and mentoring new writers.

In case you’re wondering… my coffee catch up with Fiona was not exactly a tête-à-tête during which she divulged her innermost thoughts and long-kept secrets. In fact, she was visiting Mary Ryan Hervey Bay’s bookstore and speaking to a small group of fans, readers, writers and wannabe writers-like moi. Plus I was drinking coke zero. #coffeeschmoffee

author coffee fiona mcintosh

The teacher and mentor

I was surprised to see a local high school student at the 8am coffee catch-up. She’s not visible in the above pic, but was resplendently decked-out in the purple uniform which I wore some 30 years ago—and which forced me to renounce the colour upon graduation. She and her mum (who was also there) are both huge fans of Fiona’s work and the year 11 student  has enrolled in Fiona’s course later this year. Fiona was happy to put a face to a name and her enthusiasm for sharing her craft was delightful to this cynical old hag.

As a writing teacher and source of inspiration for current and future generations, Fiona’s definitely doing something right. She was (understandably) very proud of the fact that twelve students from her masterclasses have now been published.

And if you can’t make it to her Commercial Fiction Masterclass, in early in 2015 she released a book, How to Write Your Blockbuster which she describes as a ‘young sibling’ to the masterclass.


The writer

Fiona’s own writing career took off after attending a course with Bryce Courtenay. She was keen to write the sorts of books she writes now—period pieces. But he recommended against it (at that point) because of the amount of research involved.

“If you don’t believe me, trust me,” he said. And she did.

At the time Fiona read a lot of fantasy and so that’s what she wrote. Very successfully—and her Trinity series was published in 2001-2002.

Fiona didn’t stop there.

“You need real estate on bookstore shelves,” Fiona explained and wrote book after book—crossing genres into children’s fantasy and crime fiction.

Fiona’s methodical in her time allocation and spends her mornings at her desk. After an hour of email and social media she spend three hours writing.

“It’s a marathon,” she says, “and you need to train.”

Fiona’s less methodical however when it comes to her writing style. She believes people make too many rules around their writing. She doesn’t systematically plot out her novels, and describes herself as a free-faller or gunslinger. She suggests…

If you’re a planner, you risk not asking ‘what if?’ enough.

The Perfumer’s Secret

It was inevitable that Fiona, with considerable bookstore shelf real estate under her belt, eventually moved into historical fiction, penning popular titles including The Lavender Keeper and Nightingale.

And she thrives on the research involved. She believes it’s important to immerse herself in the period she’s writing so researches everything from fashions of the time, to what people were eating and drinking. She explains…

A key part of a reader’s entertainment is escaping into the story.

In fact, while writing The Perfumer’s Secret, Fiona took a hands-on approach and developed her own scent (and in a brilliant marketing strategy had small vials made up for events).

Fiona loved the idea of a 'scratch & sniff' cover but realised it could be overpowering for booksellers!

Fiona loved the idea of a ‘scratch & sniff’ cover but realised it could be overpowering for booksellers!

The traveller

Fiona’s passion for places and travel started when she was young and travelled regularly between Africa and England (her country of birth). But interestingly Fiona credits author Robert Ludlum with inspiring her to write with a focus on ‘place’.

“I wanted to see the places he wrote about,” she said.

And now…

I make it my signature that readers will travel with me AND my characters.

And if you’re a fan, you can do more than that as Fiona hosts tours to the places she writes about. It’s a chance for readers to walk in the footsteps of her characters, she explains.

The inspiration

fiona mcintoshFiona’s background in sales and marketing stood her in good stead for the part of a published author’s life which is a struggle for many writers—the self-promotion. But she recognises this is a struggle for others. And not just writers.

Although she’s already written across number of genres, her desire to empower and inspire seems to be a constant theme. In fact, she says, she’d love to write a book for women. One, she says, which will promote the ability to be confident and emotionally robust.

Final note… from me
I’ve studiously avoided mentioning that I’ve not read any of Fiona’s books. I’m sure she realised that during our conversation. Regular readers of my blog and book reviews will know that I avoid historical fiction and fantasy like the plague. Or fruit.

That of course doesn’t mean I can’t learn a lot from someone who gets so much joy from their craft that they’re keen to share it with others. I’ve been to a few other author events (post seachange and in Brisbane etc) and very VERY much enjoyed (and probably preferred) this informal session with the very effusive and empowering Fiona McIntosh.

Thanks to Fiona (and my fellow attendees and Mary Ryan’s Hervey Bay) for letting me take notes during our discussion. Thanks also to Penguin Australia who are taking Fiona on this roadtrip to promote The Perfumer’s Secret (which is now available in all of the usual places). 

  • Rita @ View From My Home
    October 14, 2015

    I appreciate all your time and effort to give us your thoughts and the happenings of this author event. She sounds like a wonderful motivator and I would like to pick up something by her– just need to figure out which genre I would enjoy starting with the most. Thanks again, Deb.

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2015

      Thanks Rita. It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this. I’m really glad I went as it was a great reminder that – though I might not read a certain genre – writers are writers and can have something great to offer. (I feel that way about readers – don’t care what anyone reads, just love that people read!)

  • Cops and Novels
    October 14, 2015

    This was a great piece, Deb. I agree, you can be a fan of someone without having read their books.

  • Book Birdy
    October 14, 2015

    Thanks for this Deb. I haven’t read Fiona’s books, except for the one about writing. It was full of great hints so I was interested to read your post – she sounds like a wonderful person – someone who takes a lot of pride in mentoring others. So funny that you don’t like historical fiction or fantasy – as I share your reading prejudice. That said, I’ve read a couple of fabulous literary hist fic this year – and ‘The Natural Way of Things’ almost verges on fantasy, doesn’t it??!!!

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2015

      Ah yes, The Natural Way of Things does certainly verge on fantasy but it wasn’t until I was finished someone mentioned its dystopian themes! (I was thinking… “No wonder my logic-loving mind struggled to make sense of some stuff!”)

      I realise I’ve read and a few books recently which have been set in multiple time periods – Early One Morning and Palace of Tears come to mind. I’ve also just finished The Lake House.

  • Amy Andrews
    October 14, 2015

    I love attending these intimate author events. There’s something about listening to someone who is passionate about something that is quite inspiring!

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    October 14, 2015

    Wow Fiona really does do the marketing thing with pizzazz. Her own perfume! She makes a good point about having sizeable shelf space. It does make particular authors stand out.

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2015

      I really liked the way she worded it (real estate on bookstore shelves!). We got little vials of perfume. I think she said they made up 1000 for her.

  • Johanna
    October 14, 2015

    Great piece … I agree, you can learn lots from authors even if you’ve never read a single one of their own books.

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2015

      True – I’m sure it could be said we can learn much from anyone who’s passionate about what they do!

  • Jess
    October 14, 2015

    Sounds like a really talented and dynamic lady. I think sometimes there’s more to be learnt from those who have completely different taste, interests and talents. And as you said a writer is a writer. Her workshops sound really interesting!

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2015

      They do, don’t they Jess? I actually bought her ‘How to write a blockbuster’ book so looking forward to that (even though I don’t usually read non-fiction. As well as historical fiction, dystopian fiction, romance etc etc…) 🙂

  • divabooknerd
    October 15, 2015

    I don’t read too many adult titles, especially shying away from historical fiction but even I’ve heard of Fiona, so she must be doing something right 🙂 I love that she takes the time to still visit bookshops and hold smaller, more intimate workshop discussions. That’s amazing that she developed her own scent purely to celebrate her new release. That’s commitment right there.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed it Deb, sounds like an incredible experience. Thank you so much for sharing <3

    • Debbish
      October 15, 2015

      I think she’s been on a bookshop tour. Indeed she’d been at events in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast before coming here and was heading to a place just north of us the same morning. I think the 8-9am time-slot meant there weren’t as many there as there are on weekend events etc. A local writer friend of mine, for example, came part-way through having had to complete the kids’ drop-off first.

  • Colleen B
    October 15, 2015

    Oh this was really interesting, I love her! I haven’t read this book but I have read several others! She is a wonderful writer!!

    • Debbish
      October 15, 2015

      Those there who’d read the book loved it Colleen!

  • Char
    October 15, 2015

    It sounds like it was a fascinating and informative insight into becoming an author. Glad to hear that not every author plots meticulously – never been great at that.

    • Debbish
      October 15, 2015

      I have to admit I don’t know what I am in a writing sense… By nature I’m a planner or plotter, but…

  • Min (@riteofthemiddle)
    October 15, 2015

    Another fabulous post Deb! So interesting to read! I haven’t read any of Fiona’s books but now I want to! I actually LOVE historical fiction and fantasy. How clever is she to think of making her own scent and having vials available at book events. Not only that but to organise tours in order to take readers to the places the characters in her books have been. That is genius! There are so many books I have read and loved where I would love to do that. 🙂

    • Debbish
      October 16, 2015

      I know, it’s a great idea, isn’t it?!

  • onecurvyblogger
    October 16, 2015

    what fun! I have not read Fiona Macintosh but I have heard of her work 🙂

  • Teddyree
    October 20, 2015

    I’d much prefer an informal, small group chat like this. 12 of her students now published … that’s impressive, she obviously knows her stuff and has lots to offer. I love historical fiction and *confession* I’m a cover whore so I bought The Lavender Keeper and The Perfumer’s Secret because the covers called my name … I will read them eventually lol

    • Debbish
      October 20, 2015

      I don’t think I included it in my review Teddyree, but Fiona said she would have loved the cover of The Perfumer’s Secret to be a ‘scratch and sniff’ but was conscious it would annoy the hell out of booksellers (to have this aromatic pile of books in one corner!).

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