Book of the Month: Minnie Darke’s Star Crossed
In three words, describe to us your novel:
Joyful. Mischievous. Satisfying.
In Star-Crossed, we meet Justine Carmichael a journalist who in order to win the heart of the man of her dreams tampers with her magazine’s horoscopes, setting in motion an unexpected chain reaction. What was the inspiration for this story arc?
The idea for the novel came to me quite a long time ago, when I was a journalist at a small newspaper. Because the staff were few, and it was handy for everyone to be able to make changes to the paper right up until deadline, I had a log-in that gave me access to the entire publication. I was working late one night when I had the idea that I could, if I wanted to, fiddle about with the astrology column. Hmmm, I thought … I could make the entries spookily relevant to my friends’ lives, or perhaps take a hand – invisibly – in their decisions. I’m not saying I definitely ever did any of that, but it was a seductive idea. It was also, I thought, the good basis for a novel. It was quite a while, decades in fact, before I actually sat down and wrote Star-crossed. In those intervening years, I learned that even people who aren’t ‘into’ astrology, tend to know their own sun sign, and the basic stereotypes that go along with it. For a lot of people, their star-sign is part of what they consider to be their identity, and they’ll glance at their horoscope if they come upon it in a newspaper or magazine – even if they don’t take astrology even vaguely seriously. We humans are reliably interested in questions of fate. Are we living out a pre-ordained pattern? Or are we just drifting, bumbling along? We know that there are forces acting on us all the time, but are some of them as far away as the stars? Could these forces be known, and therefore harnessed in the service of our dreams? These are all interesting questions.
What would you say is your interest in horoscopes/astrology… casual peruser or fanatic? (I ask as a Pisces who owns a 2019 guide and checks my horoscope every week!). What research did you undertake for this aspect of the story?
I don’t know if I believe in astrology, but I certainly like it. I find it hard to resist reading a ‘This Year in the Stars’ feature in a magazine, or scrolling down to read my horoscope in a column if I come upon one, but I don’t really go out of my way to seek guidance from above. I’m probably more interested in how people do – and don’t – embrace and conform to the stereotypes about their signs. I expect I picked this up from my grandmother. She kept two very well-thumbed and dog-eared books on a shelf near her favourite chair. One was her crossword puzzle dictionary and the other was a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. She a great was one for saying things like – ‘Oh your grandfather’s just being a miserly old Capricorn’. Or, ‘your Dad’s not one for risks; he’s a Cancerian after all’. She was a nurse, and a classic Virgo – always ready to patch up people’s ailments, and to take a close interest in their personal affairs. And, of course, she could do hospital corners with her sheets!
Star-Crossed is described as Marion Keyes meets Love Actually, what do you think will most endear the book to your readers?
Something I love about Love Actually is the way the various storylines intersect, so you’ll find that sense of an interconnected community in Star-crossed. I hope readers will enjoy exploring the way that the main characters’ small actions can have big ripple effects in the lives of many people, even people that they don’t know and may never meet.
What makes Australian romance fiction unique?
I’ll answer this by relating two things that American readers have said about Star-crossed. One was a compliment, which was that ‘Australians seem to have a knack for being romantic without being overly sappy’. I think this is a reference to the fact that our national humour has a dry, slightly self-deprecating tone that cuts through the sweetness that you obviously want in a romance. Maybe we Aussies dish up something like a really good Thai meal – just the right balance of sweet, salty and sour? The other thing I’ll relate was not meant as a compliment, but I took it as one anyway. A reader complained that Star-crossed is ‘as Australian AF’. I certainly did not go out of my way to ‘Australianise’ it, but I am pleased that our particular national tone and flavour has turned up in its pages.
What led you on the path of storytelling?
I’ve always been an avid consumer of stories in all forms – novels, audiobooks, movies, plays, television shows, conversation with friends, conversations with strangers, gossip overheard in bank queues or on the bus, you name it! I love to live in the worlds created by other storytellers, and I equally love to create story worlds that I can share with readers.
Is there an author who you particularly admire and what aspect of their work/life/personality has inspired that admiration?
There are lots of possible answers to that question, but today I’m going to settle on Jane Austen. She was such an astute observer of social interactions, and her sense of humour was both piercing and generous. Her stories, many of them written somewhat secretively, have given so much pleasure to so many generations of readers. What an amazing gift to the world to create characters who become as real to us as Lizzie Benet and Mr Darcy, Emma Woodhouse and Miss Bates, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. And what a gift to create stories that take us on long and turbulent journeys, but never fail to bring us to the emotional satisfaction of a well-earned happy ending.
Sometimes destiny needs a nudge in the right direction . . .
When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her old friend Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or perhaps it’s written in the stars. Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life. Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention,
Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to ‘Aquarius’ before it goes to print. It’s only a horoscope, after all. What harm could changing it do? Charting the many unforeseen ripple effects of Justine’s astrological meddling – both for herself and others – Star-crossed is the funny, super-smart, feel-good novel of the year!