Sunday, June 23, 2013

Interview & Giveaway with Lisa Forrest!

Welcome to Worlds of Wonderment, Lisa!
Thanks for inviting me, Jo-Anne.

You have a couple of YA titles that have been released, for those who haven't read your books can you tell us about them?
I’d love to. The first two books I wrote were YA novels: Making the Most of It and djmAx.
Making the Most of It was loosely based on my own teenage years. I swam for Australia for four years through ages 14 to 18. I won a silver medal in the 200m Backstroke at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, captained the women’s swim team to the 1980 Moscow Games (I was in Year 11) and won a couple of gold medals in the 100m and 200m Backstroke at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. In 1983, I retired and went to work in the media.

In the late ‘90’s, the publisher of children’s books at Hodder Headline (now Hachette) read an article about me in the Sydney Morning Herald and called to ask if I’d think about writing a book for teenagers about those experiences. That surprised me because I’d gone to an Olympic Games that no one wanted to talk about and performed in a way I totally wanted to forget (all the details in my non-fiction book, Boycott). But, by the time Belinda called, I’d been scratching out ideas for a story in my journal about a child prodigy who doesn’t quite live up to expectations (mostly her own). I always thought the prodigy in my story was a piano player or someone really gifted. Belinda’s request to place it in the sporting world was perfect (and obvious) since swimming for Australia is one of the more extreme experiences a teenager can have in this country. And that was before money came into the sport! Even though other countries were finding ways around the rule that said the Olympic Games were for amateur athletes (ie not paid professionals), the Australian Swimming Union would have considered me ineligible to compete if I’d accepted any form of sponsorship or endorsement. So Making the Most of It is a coming-of-age story about a girl called Nina Hallet who has similar experiences to mine except she competes in this modern sports world. Nina is a much better swimmer than I was; when she goes to the Olympic Games she’s a world record holder with the opportunity to set herself up, financially, for life. How does she cope with the fame, with the pressure? How does it affect her family and friends? And what is success anyway?

I wrote djmAx after MTMOI, although it brought together a couple of ideas I’d had for a while but didn’t know what to do with. I have been going out to see bands and dance since I was sixteen years old. By the 90’s, we’d crossed over to clubbing but there weren’t many female DJ’s around. When we first meet Maxine Phillips, she and her grandfather, Reg, are barely speaking, even though they are the only two people in their home. Reg worships the great swing band musicians of the past, particularly Benny Goodman, and he assumes Max still feels the same. But Max long ago began using the money Reg gave her for clarinet lessons for DJ lessons; she’s about to be caught out big time. djmAx is really my love letter to music and dancing; I really believe that the generation gap is much easier to bridge for those of us who share a love of throwing ourselves around a dance floor – no matter what era we’ve been a part of.

I like the idea of your book being set around a circus and its ancient beginnings, how did you come up with the idea?
Thanks, Jo-Anne. Inheritance is inspired by my niece, Indi, who has been a circus girl in Wollongong for many years, by a series of books I loved when I was a teenager about Trixie Belden and her team of super-sleuths, the Bob-Whites, and by the books I’ve been reading with my son, who is now ten, like Deltora Quest, Harry Potter (of course, although I’d read them before he came along), Percy Jackson and the Eragon series.  
I started by tracing the etymology of the word circus. It came to use via Latin from the Greek word kirkos. I started putting those two words together, threw into the mix the famous circus in Ancient Rome, Circus Maximus, and came up with the word Cirkulatti – and began to create a myth around an ancient magical circus troupe, led by a woman, the Eminence, who it was rumoured could whisper to the minds of the crowds she and her Cirkulatti entertained. I imagined her walking into the great ancient hippodromes, high on stilts as the acrobats, jugglers and clowns fanned out around her. I imagined that if this circus troupe was so popular then the leaders of these ancient civilisations would covet the Eminence and the Cirkulatti, want it on-side, if you like, so there was a tradition of rulers honouring the ascendance of each new eminence with a trinket, a piece of jewellery that eventually became known as the Curios of the Eminence.
The more I got into it the more I liked the idea of the circus harbouring these characters of very unusual ‘gifts.’ That’s pretty much what defines the circuses I’ve seen, and attracts us to them I think – that combination of beauty, grace and power, with a strong streak of individual kookiness. Inheritance takes that to another level! I’ve always loved the trail that happens when a twirling hula hoop and the stage lights combine – I want to follow that trail. With Inheritance, I got to do that.

Can you tell us a little about the main character Tallulah?
Tallulah is your regular good girl; an only child whose never been allowed to take her privileged life for granted. But her whole world has been thrown upside-down when the book opens. Her father’s property business has collapsed; she and her parents are moving from the city where she’s lived all her life, back to Seacliff, the town of their childhood. Their change in finances also means that Tallulah’s lost her nanny, and confidante of seven years, Irena, the woman who she has shared all her secrets with including the one big one – she has an ability to communicate with others without speaking. So she’s feeling pretty lost. The only good to come from the mess is that, to help her fit into her new environment, her parents have finally relented and allowed her to go to a proper circus school in Seacliff, one that Irena found for Tallulah before she left.  But looking for some reassurance the night before circus school begins, Tallulah decides to examine a bit more closely a piece of jewellery, a silver cuff, that Irena left with her for safe keeping.  Far from reassuring her, she’s confronted by a freakish vision of a woman, a warrior, a leader of extraordinary ability and Tallulah’s journey through Inheritance is to discover what connection, if any, the woman has to her.

What kind of things does Tallulah have to face in Inheritance?
Everything I could possibly throw at her!
The loss of Irena, along with the fear that her nanny hasn’t just gone away but disappeared, is a huge problem for her. So is the effort to keep up at Cirque d’Avenir which she quickly discovers is no regular circus school.  The exacting physical demands of Cirque d’Avenir trainer, Sasha Robinson and the crushing insecurity she feels around Sasha’s sister, Saskia, require her to call on all that Irena has ever taught her – and then some. And Tallulah has to get beyond her own expectation that the circus would be the family she’s always yearned for. Instead, she finds it’s a group of highly talented, some very competitive individuals; who’s on whose side, Tallulah can never really be sure, let alone where friends, if any, may emerge. Then there are the perils that the cuff reveals – scary yet compelling all at once. And the growing feeling that someone or something is looking for the cuff and that she will have to protect it physically if she is to honour her promise to her missing friend.    

Do you think there are similarities between yourself and Tallulah?
Well, they say there is a little bit of the author in each of her characters. Sadly I don’t have Tallulah’s unique gift! But I hope she’s the girl we’d all like to be: one with unique abilities, who is humble and gracious and willing to think the best of everyone around her until given very good reasons not to. It’s probably fair to say that, like me, like all of us, she must grapple with enormous potential and what to do with it. It takes a lot of courage for women to step up and be who we are meant to be, to stay true to ourselves while being part of a group, be they friends or family – whether you’re 15 or 50. There are all sorts of forces that try to influence us, that shake our belief in ourselves, and it takes a strong mind and a big heart (and good friends) to get to where we want to go.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt while researching Inheritance?
Learning about Theodora, the amazing empress of the Holy Roman Eastern Empire in the mid-500’s.
 I started writing Inheritance with a fictional eminence; then I was reading E.H Gombrich’s, ‘Little History of the World’ and read about this woman who rose from the circus to rule as an equal with her husband, Justinian, something that was unheard of back then.  Justinian changed laws in order to marry a woman from a much lower class. The circus link, the reports of her popularity among the people and her advancements she made for women of the time were just too good to ignore.
Writing the flashback scenes s was fun because I’d been to Istanbul in the late-80’s, when I was a roving reporter on Ray Martin’s Midday Show; the teaming mix of east-meets-west of Istanbul was a mere echo of what it must have been like in the decadent, voluptuous Constantinople of Theodora’s time. 
But of Theodora I only had an internet image of the famous mosaics in the Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna. Last year, after working at the London Games for Foxtel, my husband and son and I went to Ravenna to finally meet ‘her.’ The small ‘old town’ of Ravenna itself was gorgeous but the basilica was breathtaking. A small, hexagonal church with pink marble columns that include the two famous panels of mosaics on the apse side walls of Theodora and Justinian. If as they say, the mosaics were inspired by the beauty of the woman herself, then she really must have been exquisite.

If you could spend summer anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?                                          
Well, I like it really hot so that southern Mediterranean from Spain all the way around the coast of Turkey is where I would like to spend more time. I could happily traipse around ancient ruins for the day and fall into the Mediterranean (or the hotel pool) at the end of the day. And of course, yummy food. And after living in the past, come right back to the present with some great shopping.

What's up next for you and your books?

Well, I’m in the middle of a short course on Ancient Women in the Mediterranean and the Near East. I’m not only enjoying learning about the women (Queen/Priestess Pu-Abi of Ur, Mesopotamia, 2600 BC – you should see her jewellery!) and goddesses but letting my imagination roam over times and places that Tallulah and the gang might get to next. I never stop reading other author’s great books and thinking, ‘hmm, I wonder if I could do that.’ I’m on a panel with Rebecca James at the Southern Highland’s Writers’ Festival, mid-July (last weekend of the school holidays if anyone wants to come and say hi), and after reading her books I said to my husband the other day, ‘I’ve got this idea for a psychological thriller.’ He just rolled his eyes. And I’ve got a ten year old son who says, ‘Mum, you should write a story about …’ But before I can say OK (his ideas are good) he shakes his head and says, ‘Oh, no, I like that idea, you can’t have that.’  So who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll have written the next time we speak!  

Cirkulatti: a person descended from circus performers of the ancient world, rumoured to have supernatural gifts...

Tallulah has always known she was different. She can communicate without speaking, a secret she shares only with her childhood nanny, Irena, who warns Tallulah that gifts like hers are not always welcome.

When Tallulah begins training at the prestigious Cirque d′Avenir school, it soon becomes clear the troupe is not all that it seems. As Tallulah is drawn deeper into a world of dark, ancient powers and centuries-old greed, she must call on the skills Irena taught her -- and on the protection of the mysterious cuff Irena gave her for safekeeping.

But what is the secret of the power the cuff holds? And why are men willing to die to possess it? Tallulah always knew her gift was dangerous... But will it stop her from accepting her true inheritance?

Lisa Forrest is an author, TV and radio broadcaster and Olympian.

Her first career, as a teenager, was swimming backstroke for Australia. In 1978 when she was 14 she won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada; she captained the women's swim team to the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow; and in 1982 won gold medals at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia.

I have one paperback copy of Inheritance to giveaway. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you would run away and join the circus! Giveaway is international* and ends July 7th at 12pm my time.

*If you are an international winner it may take me a little longer to get the book to you.

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