Good news for folks who dig Sally Seltmann, novels chockfull of good vibes, and stories set in Australia: the songstress has penned a heart-warming novel that takes place in Balmain, Sydney. It’s called Lovesome, and we got to find out all about in a chat with Sally herself – scroll down to have a read. Oh, and don’t forget to enter our little comp, too – we’ve got five copies of Lovesome to give away.
Tell us a little bit about the storyline of your novel Lovesome. It’s about a 21-year-old visual artist called Joni Johnson, and her search for love and happiness. Set in 1995 in Sydney’s Balmain, Joni thinks her life is pretty good. She works evenings as a waitress at a bohemian, old-world French restaurant called Harland, and paints in her backyard bungalow during the day. When Joni’s best friend, singer-songwriter Annabelle Reed arrives home from a successful tour in the UK – and with news of a new boyfriend from New York – Joni starts to feel like a bit of a failure, particularly because she has been single forever. So begins Joni’s quest for finding a partner for herself. On her journey we get to know the Harland staff: beautiful and feisty Lucy; friendly and funny Dave; annoying yet hilarious Juliet. And we also learn how devoted and connected Annabelle and Joni are as friends. But everything changes when Annabelle attempts to make a move on the one man who seems interested in Joni.
What inspired you to write it? I used to work as a waitress in my 20s, and I always loved the ebb and flow of an empty restaurant when the staff arrive for their shift, followed by full tables of colourful diners, and then the knock-off drinks, where the staff let off steam and have a bit of fun. I felt like that would be a wonderful backdrop for my book. And I’ve always loved Balmain (I grew up close by), so I know it well. Setting Lovesome in Balmain definitely inspired the narrative, and the feel of the French restaurant Harland, and Joni’s bungalow.
How did you approach the writing process? I did some research, and put together two mood boards, with images of interiors of a restaurant in Big Sur, artworks by Paul Klee and Egon Schiele, and Carl Jung quotes. These are all things that the main character Joni Johnson loves. Like Joni, I also studied visual art at university, so it felt natural for me to start with images that reflected the world I wanted to create, and then begin writing and creating the story.
What were the biggest challenges involved in writing Lovesome? Coming from a songwriting background, I think the biggest challenge for me was building the narrative. Songs are often about feelings or emotions, and even a ‘storytelling’ style song has very few words compared to a novel. It was both liberating and challenging having the freedom to build on my initial ideas, to fully flesh out characters, and to create the twists and turns that make for an interesting read.
Did you ever get so frustrated with it that you felt like giving up? I never felt like giving up! Once I was a few chapters in, I was determined to finish it. I also enjoyed the process so much that I almost became addicted to working on it.
Who did you go to for advice? I was very lucky to work with Richard Walsh from Allen & Unwin, and he offered me some great advice. My good friend Holly Throsby offered me a lot of encouragement, but she didn’t read it until I had finished.
Where did you end up writing the bulk of the novel? I wrote most of Lovesome at home, sometimes working in my lounge room, sometimes working in my studio (which is now a hybrid music/writing studio). I occasionally worked at the State Library in Sydney, and Saturday mornings I worked at a café after dropping my daughter to her Flamenco class.
Do you think that your background as a songwriter informed your novel-writing style in any way? Yes! I often found myself rhyming, and you’ll probably pick up on that now when you read Lovesome. I also love to work rhythmically when I’m putting some phrases together, and that’s a typical songwriting trademark.
What did you learn about yourself in the course of writing Lovesome? I learnt that I am very happy when I sit alone at a desk and write a novel. I learnt that no matter how hard I try, I can’t escape the fact that I am naturally drawn to writing love stories. I learnt that giving myself the freedom to write whatever came to me, and not judging myself or being critical, was a wonderful way to move forward as a writer.
Did you fall in love with any of your characters? I felt like I fell in love with most of them, at some point along the way. I love Lucy Bourdillon, the French owner of Harland. She’s absolutely beautiful, unpredictable, feisty and at times really fierce. I loved creating her. James, of course, is gorgeous. And I love Dave, and his playful and enthusiastic outlook on life. He’s the ideal friend.
How long did it take you, start to finish? I wrote Lovesome in about one year. And then spent about six months in the editing process.
Will we be seeing more paperbacks from you down the line? Yes! I am at the very early stages of working on my next book.
What other books are you loving right now? I really love Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. It’s a satire that critiques Hollywood culture. Another book I read a while ago, which I loved, is Euphoria by Lily King. It’s based on anthropologist Margaret Mead, who becomes entangled in a love triangle in New Guinea. It’s amazing!
One piece of advice for aspiring novelists? Just go for it! Set aside time to write when you can and try to stick to a routine. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad writing day. Keep moving forward.
Find out more about Lovesome over this-a-way.