BOOK OF THE MONTH: Rachael John’s The Art of Keeping Secrets
The Art of Keeping Secrets is the second novel in your ‘life lit’ line of novels. What differentiates ‘life lit’ from romance and what’s the appeal of diversifying into a new genre?
So, life-lit refers to what many people call women’s fiction – basically my publicist and I came up with the term after discussing the fact I had many male readers and that in some ways the term women’s fiction was a disservice to them. The main difference between life-lit and romance to me is that my life-lit books deal with the relationships between friends and families and work colleagues, etc, rather than necessarily romantic relationships. Although there are romantic threads in my life-lit books, the romances are not at all the focus. It was never a conscious decision for me to move into a different genre and I still love writing romance as well, but I have always read books that explore the relationships between families and friends – books by authors like Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes, etc – and so I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise that one day an idea for one landed in my head. I love the fact I now write in two genres now as it mixes my writing up a bit and doesn’t leave me room to get stale. When writing a romance (as I’m currently doing) I’m itching to get stuck into the next life-lit and when writing a life-lit I find myself really missing the romance aspect. I think that’s why there will always ben an element of romance in my life-lit novels.
In The Art of Keeping Secrets, we meet best friends Felicity, Emma, and Neve who are all desperately trying to keep certain secrets about their lives private. Secrets from within marriages, financial secrets, health secrets all of which are made clear to the reader therefore giving us ‘the upper hand’ in knowing all there is to know. What inspired a story about secrets, and was there any strategy in the way you’ve presented the secrets upfront as opposed to making the reader guess?
I didn’t consciously decide to write a story about secrets or decide to present the secrets to the reader sooner rather than later. The secrets came when I decided to write about a marriage in jeopardy that everyone else thought as perfect (sorry for the ambiguity – don’t want to give away spoilers). I knew I also wanted to write about three friends and decided the story would work if they were all keeping things from each other. I’m fascinated by secrets and the fact that sometimes even those people we think are closest to us are keeping massive things from us. I wanted to explore WHY people keep secrets and also the ramifications of doing so for years.
I’m an organic writer in that I don’t plot in great detail, so the secrets came out in the plot when I felt it was time. Now looking back (and having read a couple of books lately where the secrets are kept from the reader until quite far into the book) I’m glad I wrote it as I did. I think readers can feel annoyed and almost tricked into reading if they aren’t told major plot points soon enough. Letting the readers in on the secrets in my book at the stage I did didn’t (I hope) dilute the reading experience or the suspense. Only instead of wondering WHAT the secrets were, the readers knew and therefore wondered WHAT would happen when the other characters found out.
What character traits are going to endear Felicity, Emma, and Neve to the reader?
All these women are basically good people who have either made mistakes at certain times in their life or been betrayed by those close to them, but specifically… I think readers will love Felicity for wanting to do what is best for her marriage and trying her hardest to make it work; Emma because she’s a hard working single mum wanting to do the best for everyone and forgetting herself in the process, and Neve because she knows she made a terrible mistake in the past and is now facing her demons despite knowing doing so might have devastating consequences. They are strong women all facing their deepest fears head on.
What was your biggest challenge in writing The Art of Keeping Secrets?
Probably making sure all three women had about the same amount of time on the page. Although one women’s story is perhaps more of a focus, I didn’t want her issue to become what the book was about. Felicity’s secret came to me first and I knew the others needed to have secrets as well, but it took a little more brainstorming to come up with them.
What kind of research was involved in the planning of the novel? Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process?
There was a little medical research into brain tumours, a bit of fun research into Broadway (yes, that involved going to Mamma Mia on Broadway myself) and a lot of reading of forums and articles into transgender issues. I can’t think of anything particularly surprising, but doing this research did make me think a lot deeper about the topics I was writing about and thus challenged my own outlook on the world.
What’s next for you?
My next rural romance, Talk of the Town, will be out May 2016 and I’m just about to start my next life-lit novel. It’s about two very different couples and a baby, but that’s all I can tell you so far J
About the Author:
Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a chronic arachnophobic, and a writer the rest of the time. She rarely sleeps and never irons. A lover of romance and women’s fiction, Rachael loves nothing more than sitting in bed with her laptop and electric blanket and imagining her own stories.
Rachael has finaled in a number of competitions. Jilted (her first rural romance) won Favourite Australian Contemporary Romance in 2012 and she was voted in the Top Ten of Booktopia’s Favourite Australian Author poll in 2013. The Patterson Girls won the 2016 Romance Writers of Australia RUBY Award and also the 2015 Australian Book Industry Award for General Fiction.
Rachael lives in the Perth Hills with her hyperactive husband, three mostly-gorgeous heroes-in-training, a fat orange cat, a cantankerous bird and a very badly behaved dog.
The Art of Keeping Secrets
Little secrets grow up to be big lies…
They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.
But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.
When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.
Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.
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