Tea with Mrs B

Tea with Mrs B: Rhonda Forrest

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Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her latest book, Two Heartbeats, is Rhonda Forrest (previously writing as Lea Davey).

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Rhonda Forrest began writing her novels under the pen name Lea Davey. In 2016, ‘The Shack by the Bay’ was her debut novel. A historical romance which has captured the interest of both Australian and international readers, draws together an intriguing blend of Australian characters, unique landscapes and a beautiful romance set amidst the warmth and beauty of the Whitsunday area in Northern Queensland.

‘Silkworm Secrets’ was released in March 2017 and as a work of fiction has been widely praised for covering family issues, as well as weaving a story of strong and loving relationships between families and friends. The blend of lovable characters and the story of two best friends reunited as adults, has resonated with many readers both young and old, who identify with both the negative and positive aspects of family life.

In 2018 it was decided to write further novels under her real name, ‘Rhonda Forrest’. Rhonda’s latest novel ‘Two Heartbeats’ was published in October 2018 and readers will be enticed by a heart-warming romance set in a small mining town. ‘Two Heartbeats’ hosts a group of eclectic characters and a setting that reveals the beauty and harshness of the Australian outback.

Rhonda draws on her experiences gained from travelling around Australia and years spent studying and teaching history to bring together compelling contemporary fiction. Passionate about literacy, she believes in the power of books to not only provide entertainment, relaxation and enjoyment but also to educate readers in both historical and contemporary issues and events.

Hello Rhonda. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series.  To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?

I love to find a quiet shady spot in my garden and have a cup of Chai with honey. You will always find next to my colourful teapot, an old china plate with a melting moment on it. Well sometimes there might be two on there. I cherish those stolen moments of solitude and it is my own rule that there be no phones, laptops, not even a book with me. Just my thoughts.

Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?

I have had three books published in the last three years and all of them fall in the Contemporary Australian genre. ‘The Shack by the Bay,’ is historical romance, ‘Silkworm Secrets,’ is contemporary fiction and ‘Two Heartbeats’ is rural romance. All three are set in the countryside, although sections of them are also set in suburban Brisbane.

Two Heartbeats released last year. Can you describe it in just a sentence?

Hosting a cast of eclectic Australian characters, Two Heartbeats is a story of love and self-struggle, set amidst the dusty outback and mining areas of Queensland.

What came first in the creation of this novel – the title, the plot, the characters or the setting when you first set out to write Two Heartbeats?

I had an idea and it was this idea that made up a tiny part of the plot. It is the part of the book where the two main characters first meet. With that scene in mind, I started writing the book. I knew I wanted the main character, Jess, to be vulnerable in some aspects, but also street wise and smart. The other main character, Daniel, was to be to be a bit older, handsome of course, but also hard-working and at times, bossy.

I always find that I have an idea for the beginning, middle and end in my head and the other parts – characters, plot, settings –  all fall naturally into place as I write. With my first three books I have never written down a plan, it is all in my head as I write. As the story progresses, other characters are created and usually the story will take some twists and turns. I love to add some surprises and unpredictable moments, just to keep the reader on their toes and wanting to know more.

How long did it take you to write Two Heartbeats?

I wrote Two Heartbeats over a year however I also work as a teacher so sometimes it is difficult to get solid blocks of time to write. I would say it took me three months to write the entire novel when I had continuous time to write each day.

It took another nine months or so, to edit over and over again, until I was happy with the finished product. Being self-published, I also have to work on the proof-reading, covers, typesetting, layouts, fonts, plus the marketing, along with a multitude of other factors that give the reader that final polished book. I am fortunate to have good friends and family who are avid readers and some are English teachers. Without this support and their willingness to read over and give me feedback along the way, these books would all still be manuscripts sitting in my top drawer.

Can you tell us more about the inspiration for the stunning Australian setting of your novel?

I love all the different areas of Australia, however it is the ruggedness and harshness of the Queensland outback that makes for a compelling setting, both in regards to its beauty and colours as well as its history. This makes for an intriguing backdrop, for both the characters and plot. It’s hard not to be inspired when you immerse yourself in the more remote and regional areas of Australia; there is a story waiting to be told or a colourful interesting character at every turn. So many areas of Queensland are involved in the mining industry so this also became an integral setting for the storyline.

I also wanted to write about the different seasons and natural disasters that are commonplace in outback Australia. As a history lover and teacher of Australian history I incorporated some aspects of Indigenous history. There are some points about this in the book.

When you put all of those together, you have an amazing mixture of land, history and people.

There are some powerful themes and social issues explored in Two Heartbeats. Did you find it challenging to incorporate these themes into the novel?

As I write I always draw on the experiences that I have encountered in my own life or stories I have been told. They are not always my own, but those of the adults and teenagers who I have known and worked with, over the years. One of the key themes in the novel is about homelessness and foster children. These ideas are drawn directly from a teenage boy at school who I tried to help many years ago. I remember talking to him about why he was getting in so much trouble at school, why when he had so much potential was he wasting it and why was he so angry with the world and those who were trying to help him. He had been in a string of foster homes and had suffered terribly over the years. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Every weekend we go to the park and my mother (who was a drug addict) is supposed to come and visit with us for a couple of hours. Every weekend this is planned and we go and wait. We wait, and we wait. She never comes.’

That scene is in my book and every time I read it, I think of that boy and his sad tearless eyes as he looked straight at me and told me his story.

Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?

The inspiration for my characters comes from the people I have met over the years. Hardened kids like Jess, the main character and then gentle and kind men like, Daniel, the other main character. The group of older men who Jess lives with in the van park, are drawn from the eclectic wonderful characters you will always meet when you are in the rural areas of Australia.

Is there a particular scene in Two Heartbeats that you are proud of?

I always like the scenes that stir emotions and make reader’s reach for the tissue box. There are a few scenes in the book that fit into that category and it is those scenes that often stay with the reader and make them think about what life is like for others and how so many don’t always have the easiest of pathways in life. Readers often comment on the parts where I describe the scenery; they say that they feel like they are really there. This is a fabulous to know that you have drawn a reader into another world and that they are immersed in the setting and story. I particularly like the scenes where Jess, who has a fiery temper, loses her cool and lets Daniel know in no uncertain terms how she feels about him and the events occurring.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Two Heartbeats?

I originally wrote the book as a light romance, like a holiday read. Once I started writing however, as usually happens with me, the deeper more intricate themes that occur in life crept in. I hope that readers will connect with the characters, be taken to another place by the setting and be moved and drawn in by the plot and the way that life works out differently for people who come from a variety of backgrounds.

How has your writing evolved since your first published novel?

I feel that my writing has definitely evolved since, ‘The Shack by the Bay’. I like to think that it has become more refined and I hope I have learnt to shorten scenes or parts of the plot that perhaps don’t need to be so lengthy. In other words, not to waffle on so much. I am also pleased that, ‘Two Heartbeats’ is written under my real name and not my previous pen name, Lea Davey.

I had never written a novel and did not know anything about publishing or writing until I started four years ago. It has been a steep learning curve, particularly because I am self-published so nearly every part of the book has been completed by me. This can make it a lengthy, sometimes frustrating process. The best part however, and what makes it all worthwhile, is when readers don’t just like your books, they love them. They talk about the characters, they ask you questions about the plot and they write to you with praise, questions and feedback. This is one of the best feelings and what often motivates me to continue writing. It really only needs one or two readers to tell you that they loved your book and you know that you are on the right track with your writing.

Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?

I grab any opportunity I can to write. When I am at Tamborine Mountain I love to sit outside on the verandah during the day, where it is always quiet. When I’m up north I have a writing room that looks out over the front yard to the ocean. This is my favourite spot and where I can write both day and night. I can actually write anywhere, as long as I have my laptop I’m ready to go. I have never, not been able to write, once I sit down to start. I think that is one of the best bits of advice I was given; no matter what, just keep writing. Of course writing is always made easier if it is accompanied by a pot of tea and chocolate.

What is next on the horizon for Rhonda Forrest? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?

I am hoping to release a new novel, contemporary fiction, later this year.

I am also working on a lengthy, historical work of fiction that is taking up every spare minute. This novel has required a huge amount of research so my writing is moving a bit slower than usual.

I have also had readers writing to me, requesting a sequel for, ‘Two Heartbeats’ and that will definitely be something I will be looking at in the near future. For the moment though, my aim is to get the next novel published later this year and then to complete the Historical fiction book after that.

What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?

I don’t have any particular ones in mind and I do have some from past years to read before looking at latest releases. I would however like to make 2019 the year that I read more books by Australian women authors. I am also determined to read, ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ early this year.

If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?

It’s not that far back in time, but I loved growing up as a child in the 1960’s. Life was so simple and I still crave and try to live my life the way it was back then. Uninterrupted by technology, a much slower pace and a less complicated lifestyle with more simple needs and wants. I often wish some aspects of life were still like this, so it would be nice to travel back. I would however like to take with me all of the advances in medical and health care, that thank goodness we have advanced to.

Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?

Oh that’s easy. My dear old dad. He’s been gone for nineteen years and I miss him terribly. He loved his cup of tea; strong, two sugars, well-stirred and not too much milk.

Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Rhonda.  Congratulations on the publication of Two Heartbeats.

When Jess heads west for a fresh start in a small mining town, the dusty, outback plains two heartbeats smallare a far cry from her former life in the city. Despite having no knowledge of country life, she finds herself loving the isolation and local people who she lives with. All she has to do is keep her head down and work hard to create a better life for herself and Johnno, the only person she has ever truly cared about.

As relationships develop and change, Jess discovers the caring warmth of a welcoming family and a circle of friends who look out for her. She begins to feel that maybe for once, her life is heading in the right direction.

However, problems arise when her temper and stubborn nature collide with her new boss Daniel, who is suspicious of her background story. Has Jess told him everything, or is there a hidden secret to justify his earlier distrust of her?

With a cast of eclectic characters, set amidst the rugged outback of Australia, Two Heartbeats is a story of friendship, resilience and the hope that ultimately loving relationships may triumph over obstacles defined by the past.

Two Heartbeats by Rhonda Forrest was published on 12th October 2019 by Valeena Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

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