It is a pleasure to warmly welcome Petronella McGovern to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a short form author interview series. To help celebrate the release of The Good Teacher, we sat down for a chat. Thanks Petronella!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
Thanks for inviting me to tea, Mrs B! I’d love a mug of Earl Grey.
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
My debut novel, Six Minutes, came out last year and received some great reviews. It has just been short-listed in the Australian Crime Writers’ Association Awards, which is amazing! My second novel, The Good Teacher, has just been released. I’ve always written for work in marketing and communications but, when my children were younger, I struggled to find the time for my own novel writing. I co-wrote two non-fiction books. One was a sports memoir about the first Australian equestrian team in the Olympics, and the other, a travelogue of a 1960s journey in a VW Beetle from London to Calcutta. I really enjoyed researching and writing those historical stories but I was always keen to create my own contemporary fiction books.
Can you tell us what inspired the creation of your new book, The Good Teacher?
A few different ideas came together – articles I’d read in the media but also, some volunteer work I was doing at my children’s school. This gorgeous Kindergarten girl needed a lot of help with her reading. But then a week later, her father was arrested and the family in turmoil. She needed a lot more help than just with reading. It made me think about how much help you can give to change a child’s life, but also the reasons behind why someone wants to help a stranger. Is it always altruistic or are there other motivations?
What are the main themes present in The Good Teacher?
It’s a story about kindness and good deeds, self-interest and betrayal. It looks at who you can trust, and the power of a community to be used for good or evil. More broadly, the story also touches on themes about women’s roles, relationship breakdown, ambition, health and wellness.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you have a set outline of The Good Teacher before you sat down to write this novel, or did you allow this book to take shape during the writing process?
When I sat down to write, I knew the beginning and the end but not everything that happened in the middle! I had done some outlining and a lot of thinking but I had to write my way into understanding the characters and their motivations.
Did you have an affinity with a particular character in The Good Teacher and why?
Allison, the good teacher, is the most like me, in terms of her age, expectations about the future, and her role as a carer for her family. When her husband leaves, I’m imagining how quickly a marriage and a life can fall apart. But I also feel an affinity for the two other main characters. Luke is facing the worst possible fear for any parent – a sick child. While the young gym instructor, Maz embodies my youthful, naïve desire to save the world!
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading The Good Teacher ?
I was editing this book during the summer bushfires and the start of the pandemic. I saw the power of community to help others. The book is a domestic suspense story so it includes the dark side of human nature. But I really want readers to come away, focusing on the positives – the power of compassion and kindness to make a difference.
Have you developed any quirks or habits while writing your books?
I’m not a morning person but I find that writing first thing, before everyone else gets out of bed, is my most creative time. Even if I just write a few paragraphs before having to organise the rest of the family, it keeps me in the flow of the story and characters for later that day. While I’m editing, I eat a lot of home-cooked popcorn with fennel seeds.
How has your writing process been affected by COVID-19?
In those first months, I found it very hard to focus on writing or editing. In fiction, we’re often imagining the worst scenarios for our characters but here it was, being played out in real life. I was completely distracted, worrying about the state of the world and my extended family in Australia and overseas. And then during lockdown, I had all of the family in the house. One day close to my final editing deadline, I was trying to concentrate while my husband talked loudly on a video conference, my son hit a cricket ball against the kitchen wall and my daughter played the guitar for her music lesson. I’m used to being home alone and writing in quiet spaces, so I’m still adjusting to the distractions around me.
What book or books do you recommend that I add to my reading pile?
There are so many great new releases out this year. In lockdown, I’ve bought more books by Aussie authors than ever before. Who We Were by B.M. Carroll is an interesting look at if and how we change from our teenage years to our older selves. How to Be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt is a funny, thought-provoking memoir about a Canadian moving to Sydney. For those with teenagers, Frances Chapman from my writers’ group just released Stars Like Us, a story about talent, ambition, finding love and finding yourself.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
I’m working on my third novel which is set in a seaside, tourist town on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. As with my other novels, it has mystery and suspense, with lots of contemporary issues. It’s a challenge to figure out how to write about the pandemic in a book which will come out in 2022.
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Petronella. Congratulations on the release of your new book, The Good Teacher.
From the bestselling author of Six Minutes, comes a fast-paced, heart-stopping thriller full of gripping tension, twists and turns. A good teacher can change lives…
Every evening, Allison watches her husband’s new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She’s a good teacher, everyone says so – this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.
A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie. Allison takes the sick girl under her wing, smothering Gracie with the love she can’t give her own son. When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison whips up the community into a frenzied fundraising drive.
But as others start to question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison wonders if she can trust herself. Has she crossed a line?
How far will the good teacher go to save a life? And whose life will that be?
An intriguing tale of our times about kindness and betrayal, and the danger of good deeds.
The Good Teacher by Petronella McGovern was published on 1st September 2020. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Petronella here: