23 June 2014

Author Interview: Buffy Greentree

I'd like to welcome Australian author Buffy Greentree to Iola's Christian Reads today. I've recently read Buffy's first novel, After the Winter, which I'll review tomorrow, but first I thought I'd like to get to know Buffy a little better. Welcome, Buffy.

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I was born an hour south east of Melbourne, in a small country town called Lang Lang, population of 800. Growing up in the country was great, I had a fat little pony called Ricky and we used to go on amazing adventures. When I was six, we moved into the city, which was a bit of a shock. Now my family is based out the other side of Melbourne in the Macedon Ranges, which is a beautiful part of the world and I've just moved up to Brisbane for work at the beginning of this year.

Once I finished school I ended up spending about a decade in and around academics. I started in Classics and Archaeology, then moved over to Theology and particularly Old Testament studies. I also managed to pick up a Grad Cert in Business Management, just for some variety (very useful now that I run my writing as a company). However, when I finally got out of it all, I didn't really know what to do with all my skills—although it turns out years of drafting, editing and polishing my own and other people's essays is very good training for becoming an author. For one thing, it kills any illusion that I can only write when I feel motivated. Nope, I'd write essays when they were due, regardless of inspiration, so fiction is just the same. And honestly, it so much more fun to make it all up.

However, I still have a long learning curve to become a master of the craft. I spent almost 10 years in the University system, so I'm giving myself another 10 years as an apprentice writer. I'm two years in now, and already I can look back on my work from last year and see I am better.

You’re a house mother at a boarding school. How does that fit in with your writing?

Honestly, I couldn't believe my luck when I got this job at the beginning of the year. For the past few years I've been trying to write in between working and balancing life. So much time is taken up with the tasks of everyday life; cooking, cleaning, dealing with the electricity company, etc. At times I'd dream about robbing a bank so I'd be incarcerated or handing myself over to a psychiatric ward, just so I'd have no distractions and all my meals cooked for me. Well, living in a boarding house is kind of like that, only it pays and looks better on my resume.

The school provides me with my own little flat rent free, they feed me six meals a day (yup, six: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, as well as toast and ice cream at any time of the day), they pay all my bills, fix all my maintenance requests, and pay me a full time wage. In exchange, I work from 3pm -11pm doing a job I love, and I still get paid school holidays. In the mornings I try to do at least two hours of writing and also go to the gym. During my shift, I still usually get an hour or two to read or work on my blog while the girls are studying or sleeping. The job is at times emotionally stressful, but it is much better than working at a computer all day, then trying to come home and sit in front of a computer for another few hours.

So, for all the writers out there, if prison or a mental institutionalisation doesn't appeal I highly recommend becoming a boarding house supervisor.

Do the girls provide any inspiration? Do they know/ask about your writing?

Yes the girls know. They've even found my YouTube video and websites. They think it is really cool in itself, but also great because I can proof read all their assessments. (There are 170 girls in the boarding house, at times I wish I hadn't mentioned it!)

It's also a very interesting experience for a writer to live with 170 teenage girls. 170? Wow. That's a lot of teenager girls. There is just a breadth of personality that I get to experience on a daily basis. Understanding their motivations for different actions is an education in itself. But I am also going to use them for more specific inspiration, as there is no way I could think of some of the situations these girls get themselves into. In fourth term I'm going to start a boarding house series that will be a cross between Artemis Fowl and St. Trinians. It's about a girls' school for the daughters of evil masterminds. My girls are pretty excited about the work, and are already letting me know what types of characters could be based on them.

Though, I also use my writing experience to help them. Trying to give a teenage girl love advice can be tricky, as it's hard for them to see beyond the next few weeks. However, we've started a game. They will tell me their situation, and then I tell them what would happen if I were writing this as a romance novel. Perhaps there is a girl who is trying to choose between two boys and doesn't know which one to take to the formal. One has been her best friend for years, but the other is the new boy in town and every girl wants to go with him. First I'll ask a few more questions to get a really good character description in mind.

Then I'll bring in commonly known romantic tropes. For example, the best friend next door who goes away and comes back really good looking and popular, which you need to hold on to (think Suddenly 30). On the other hand, the new guy will probably turn out to be self-centred and more concerned about how he looks than how my girl feels. He might even hook up with someone else at the formal and tell her that she's lucky he even went with her (all the girls will nod along to the shared wisdom of this and add in their own interpretation and narrative extension.

Tell us about After the Winter. Who will enjoy it?

It's aimed towards readers who like sweet, inspirational romances. As my favourite romance author is Georgette Heyer, the queen or regency romance (she basically invented the genre), I've grown up with romances driven by dialogue, which is something I've worked hard to capture with After The Winter. As it's set in the 1920's, I've worked hard to capture some of the feel for the period, particularly in language and focus. For those who like racy, contemporary stories it might come across as a bit slow, but for those who want to relax into a book it will be a nice holiday.

What was your motivation for writing After the Winter?

I really had two motivations for writing the book. On the positive side, I wanted to write a story for slightly older women who haven't yet found their partners, encouraging them that love can happen even after society says you're too old. Lucinda is only 27, but at the time that was considered well and truly 'on the shelf', as most girls were married before their twenties. She's also virtuous and moral, something not considered attractive in the 'roaring 20's' when women were meant to be daring and flashy.

I also wanted to highlight the inconsistency in many (secular) romances that try to make happy endings out of bad decision. In a lot of books, the woman has to give in to the sexual advances of the rake before she can have her happy ending. This is a message I'm strongly against (especially now that I look after teenage girls). So I wanted to show that by standing up for her beliefs Lucinda really got what she wanted, a reformed rake not just a currently appeased one.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

My main character Lucinda developed I suppose largely from my own personal fears. I started with an older main character who has been faithful in doing her duty, but because of this feels she has missed out on love. I wanted to write her a story where she is rewarded, where her patience and moral character is an asset rather than the liability people often paint it as. I feel Lucinda is a reflection of the struggles many Christian women face, and I hope she brings joy and hope to some of them.

My main men, Lord George Everdale and John Huntington the Third, are a mix of real life men, movie stars, and their own beings. Lord Everdale is physically based on Stephen Campbell Moore in the movie 'A Good Woman' (I have a Pinterest board with my inspirations if you need to check him out), though with one or two characteristics of a few friends of mine. But over the period of writing the book, he developed his own personality. John Huntington physically is my idea of a Ralph Lauren male model, and psychologically brings in some characteristics of American friends I have. I have always admired the openness of American manners.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

Of course I would love a Lord Everdale to come into my life. However, it is really Lucinda that has my affection. One of my Goodreads reviewers said: "Lucinda is a lovely character who makes you just want the best for her. I wanted to give her a hug at different points and tell her that it would all be ok." I loved this because it's exactly how I feel about Lucinda. When I had to break her heart, I was so upset. I had to keep writing if only to make everything all right for her. While she has aspects that are based on me, she is a lot more passive than I am, and I would like to think I'm a bit more adventurous. Having said that, I've never had the courage to stand up to a guy and tell him what I really think about his libertine ways, despite wanting to a few times.

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

As part of my 'apprenticeship' to the craft, I've set myself a challenge to write first drafts in as many different genres and styles as possible, although I usually try to clump them (e.g. do a series of romances or children's work), so I can learn and build. The first series I wrote (so far unpublished) was a YA Christian supernatural trilogy. It was a lot of fun, though now that I live with teenage girls, I know I need to update some of my language #yolo.

The first two books I published were non-fiction, one on preparing to write (The Five Day Writer's Retreat) and one on internet dating profiles (The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles). After my years of essay writing, the structure of non-fiction was very natural to me. Now I'm working on romances. I've just brought out the 1920's romance After The Winter, and I'm currently writing a contemporary chick-lit serial based in Melbourne. I have one more romance planned for July, and I'll be bringing out the second Five Day Writer's book after that, then I'm back to some YA stuff.

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?

I am trying out a new medium (for me) of writing a serial. Like a TV show, the story is written as a series of episodes which connect into a season. I'll release each episode separately as an ebook, and once the season is complete, bundle it together as a whole book.

The actual story, Virtually Ideal, is about 29 year old Laurie Barker, who wants to be an author but hasn't quite made it yet. Instead, she works as an unpaid intern/slave for a literary agent and does the night shift at a call centre to pay the bills. She's single and unhappy, but refusing to acknowledge that things might not be working out as she planned. However, when her little sister announces that she's getting married in seven weeks, Laurie is forced to realise that her life isn't working. So she sets herself the goal of finding a boyfriend by the wedding. That will show how under control her life really is.

On the one hand, it's a classic chick-lit set in an urban environment (Melbourne, my darling Melbourne), dealing with romance, career aspirations and personal relationships However, it again has developed a much stronger Christian theme than I intended. Laurie starts off trying to do everything herself. She thinks she's a Christian, but doesn't really expect much of God. Realising over the course of the story that this isn't working, she then tries throwing everything into God's hands, and accepting anything that comes along as his will. Finally she realises that being a Christian is an active role, seeking God's will, putting it into practice, and rejecting anything that's against it. Only then will she get what she really wants.

I have to admit, it's a lot of fun to write. Each episode is only 12,000 words so needs to be fast paced. But over the length of the series a lot has to happen, so I have many threads I'm handling at once. People pop in and out, and little events in the first episode might turn out to have huge consequences later on. I plan to finish the first draft by the end of June, and then need to do a complete structural refit as I made a lot of discoveries on my way. So you'll have to keep an eye out for the release date at www.100firstdrafts.com.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Buffy,
    'After the Winter' is definitely going on my TBR pile. It sounds like a lovely story, with an equally tasteful cover. Being a house mother sounds like a very cool job. I'm sure those girls do give you lots of ideas for new stories, and your rapport with them must be excellent. Keep us updated with your boarding school series too. A cross between Artemis Fowl and St Trinian's sounds like something we'd like to read in my household.