Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, Meet Me in Venice, is Barbara Hannay.
A former English teacher, Barbara Hannay is a city-bred girl with a yen for country life. Many of her forty-plus books are set in rural and outback Australia and have been enjoyed by readers around the world. She has won the RITA, awarded by Romance Writers of America, and has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year award in Australia. In her own version of life imitating art, Barbara and her husband currently live on a misty hillside in beautiful Far North Queensland where they keep heritage pigs and chickens and an untidy but productive garden.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
I’ve written more than forty romances for Harlequin, many of which are set in the Australian outback, as well as eight longer novels for Penguin, which are mostly multi-generational family sagas and often include historical threads from WW2.
Meet Me in Venice releases next month, can you describe it in just a sentence?
A grieving widow gathers her scattered family in one of the world’s most enchanting and romantic cities, where they encounter heartache and a shocking surprise, as well as unexpected happiness and, of course, romance.
What came first in the creation of the novel – the title, plot, characters or setting when you first set out to write Meet Me in Venice?
For me it’s always a situation that comes first – and I need to find a situation that I know will generate emotion, as I believe strong emotion is the key to all good stories. I might start with a young woman searching for her biological father, or making a new start while recovering from heartbreak, or discovering a disturbing family secret. Once I have the germ of an emotional situation, I work out who it’s happening to and where – in other words, the characters and the setting.
So in this case, as I mention later, it was the idea of a lonely widow wanting to gather her scattered adult family together in an exotic location.
How long did it take you to write Meet Me in Venice?
About six months.
Did you need to go on a research trip to Venice to bring Meet Me in Venice to life?
I had already been to Venice a few years back and it had made a big impact, so I didn’t feel I needed to go back again, although that would have been wonderful.
Where did the inspiration for your characters in Meet Me in Venice come from?
Gosh – from all over. The widow Daisy was initially inspired by a conversation with a friend who told me about a widow she knew who cashed in some of her husband’s shares to gather her grown up family for a holiday in Europe. As soon as I heard this, my imagination started firing.
Marc, the IT genius who’s working in Silicon Valley was inspired by another friend’s son, who’s doing exactly that.
Both my daughters have pursued careers in the Arts, in music and dance respectively, and I suppose I have, too, with my writing, so I think I drew on all of our experiences to create Anna, an aspiring actress in London.
How different was the experience of writing Meet Me in Venice, compared to your previous novels?
The big difference, of course, is that I’ve taken the setting offshore. I’m pretty much known for my rural Australian settings, but when I pitched this idea to my editor, almost as an afterthought, she was so enthusiastic I decided to be brave and go for it.
It was fun to write about somewhere quite different, but somewhere I’d absolutely loved. Another difference in this book is that there’s only one timeline. I did consider a historical thread, but decided I had enough story with the current generation of Benettos.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Meet Me in Venice?
While the setting is exotic, this is, essentially, a story about family. I hope readers will relate to the emotional tensions the Benettos face, as well as the way they respond. I imagine that many readers might recognise family dynamics from their own experiences. Of course, I also hope to sweep the reader away for an armchair travelling reading experience in one of the world’s most uniquely beautiful cities.
Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
My creative writing space is actually quite small and boring. I live on the side of a hill with spectacular views, but my office is at the back of the house with no view. I’m better off without distractions when I need to be lost in my story world.
I have often made collages, either from magazine pics or online images to help inspire me, but I don’t have any special rituals unless regular breaks to make yet another cup of tea counts. 🙂
Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers out there?
Write what you love to read. Try to write regularly, even if you can only fit in twenty minutes a day, or at least a few times a week. When writing becomes a habit, your muse learns to turn up. Join a writing group that will give you supportive feedback and, if you’re trying for a traditional publisher, don’t give up at the first rejection. Like in any other job, there’s a need to serve an apprenticeship. You can’t expect to get everything right first up.
What is the best part of being a published author?
I have a job that I absolutely love , I can set my own working hours and start at 4 am if I wish, and I get to hear from wonderful readers who enjoy my books. Oh, and reading is a necessary part of my job. What could be better?
Aside from writing, do you have any interesting hobbies?
I love gardening and watching art house movies and I sing in an a capella choir.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
I’d love to go back to the 1840s when my family first came out to Australia. I’d love to be an eavesdropper as they said goodbye to their families in England, Scotland and Ireland, as they first sailed through The Heads at Sydney Harbour, as they first settled in their new homes…
What is next on the horizon for Barbara Hannay? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I’m currently writing about Daisy Benetto’s good friend Freya, who makes a cameo appearance in Meet Me in Venice. I like writing loosely connected stories and, while each story stands alone, I think my readers enjoy brief revisits from characters they’ve met in earlier books..
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
To be honest, this has been a tumultuous year, partly because we’ve sold our property and will soon be moving, so I’m probably not keeping abreast of the latest books the way I should. I still have Jane Harper’s The Lost Man in my groaning TBR pile and I’m always discovering new books. I’ve recently bought Fake by Stephanie Wood, and I’ve decided I want to read a host of books by Lesley Pearse, so I’m looking forward to those – but there are so many waiting on my kindle.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
My first choice would be Jane Austen. She was so knowledgeable about the society of her day and so witty, I’m just know she’d be great fun and up for a chat. We could perhaps talk about her characters as if they were real. Actually, they are real, aren’t they?
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Barbara. Congratulations on the publication of Meet Me in Venice!
The new romantic drama by multi-award-winning author Barbara Hannay.
A year after her husband Leo’s death, widow Daisy invites her three adult children to join her for a holiday in beautiful Venice. It will be wonderful, her chicks under one roof again in their father’s birthplace. But is it possible to recapture the past?
Marc’s marriage is in jeopardy, but for his mother’s sake, he convinces his wife to keep up appearances. Anna’s trying to hide the truth about the dismal state of her London acting career; and Ellie, enjoying a gap year and uncertain about her future choices, wants to avoid family pressure to conform.
Despite the magic of Venice, family ties are tested to the limit, especially when a shocking secret from Leo’s past is revealed. Now everything they value about love, family, commitment and trust must be re-examined.
How can one family holiday require so much courage? Will Daisy’s sentimental journey make or break them?
From multi-award-winning author Barbara Hannay comes a moving and heartfelt family drama about difficult choices and finding happiness in the most unexpected places.
Meet Me in Venice by Barbara Hannay was published on 6th August 2019 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Barbara here: