It is a pleasure to welcome Jacquie Byron to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Happy Hour we sat down for a chat. Thanks Jacquie!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
Hello Mrs B. Today’s brew is a cup of very strong Barry’s Irish tea (you can feel it staining your teeth), served in my superb Royal Albert 100 Years Regency Blue mug.
Can you give us a brief overview of your writing career?
Well I am a journalist by trade and have written professionally – journalism, PR, copywriting – for 25 years. While busy with the day jobs I always did lots of short courses in fiction and in scriptwriting. I loved it but it was a hobby; I just dabbled. A few years ago I decided to stop doing courses and start doing the actual work. At the end of 2015 I received a Glenfern Fellowship from Writers Victoria which helped me complete my first manuscript Trouble Sleeping. In June 2016 Trouble Sleeping was Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. It remains unpublished. During lockdown in Melbourne last year I pitched Happy Hour, my second-ever manuscript, during a speed pitching session run by the Australian Society of Authors. One thing led to another and I eventually ended up with an agent and a publishing deal. Pinch me!
What inspired the creation of your new book, Happy Hour?
Honestly I was having one of those moments I think a lot of women can identify with where I was kind of wishing I could run away from the responsibilities and realities of my life for one moment. Initially I considered a story of a woman who literally gets in her car and drives out of her life, but the logistics of making that work in this digital age were too tricky, so I began thinking about how one could turn away from the world but still stay at home. Franny swaggered into my mind and Happy Hour was born, though it’s working title initially was Drunken Nana. I still think I could sell that title to a Hong Kong fight movie producer. I’d love to see it.
What is the significance of the title to the book?
There is actually a lot of significance, thanks for asking. Attentive readers will note the book begins and ends at around 6pm but Franny’s life, in those intervening pages, has changed dramatically. A lot has happened and her cocktail/happy hour looks a lot different. Of course, there are other reasons the title works too. The protagonist, Franny, is an enthusiastic, flamboyant drinker. She is devoted to her 6pm knock off but – while the habit can be a positive one for many people – I don’t think you feel it really is Franny’s “happiest hour” at the start.
What are the main themes in Happy Hour?
People often focus on themes of grief and loss with Happy Hour but I actually see it as a love story. It is the story of what happens when you find a great love, just like the romance novels encourage us to, and then that person is cruelly whisked away. What do you do with all that love?
But it is about love in other guises too, and family and where and how you make a family, and the power and significance of friendship. It is also about pets and the role they play in many of our lives.
There is a sub-theme about having your own interests and passions in life and the wonderful gift that represents in your life across the years.
Oh, and it is about really lovely food and really good booze.
Are your characters inspired by any real-life figures?
Now my own mates would read this and giggle because there is a bit of Franny in me but I am younger and – thank heavens – not a widow. But I do have a dog (female) called Whisky and I do like a snifter of Tanqueray.
Because the character of Frank is essentially such a dreamboat, even though we never really meet him, I know my husband thinks he inspired that character. But Frank is close to perfect and well …
I’ve been very lucky over the years to interview a lot of people and a lot of women in particular who have been very honest and open with me. There is something of many of them in this book. No one specific inspired the figures (okay, maybe except for one kind of irritating neighbour) but many of my experiences and the experiences of those I love inspired storylines and characters’ reactions.
How long did it take you to write Happy Hour?
I’d say I started in the middle of 2018 and sent the first draft of the MS to my agent in October 2020.
How will you celebrate the official release of Happy Hour?
We plan and the COVID gods laugh. Official plans are still up in the air but personally my husband has been renovating his wonderful shed/man cave which we’re christening JJ’s Juke Joint and, as long as I am allowed visitors in my home, we’ll have some kind of shindig there at the end of August, early September. Let’s just say Taittinger and Tanqueray will be served!
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Happy hour?
I wanted it to be a funny book and it is – but it got sadder the more I wrote. I guess life is a bit sad sometimes. Honestly, I’d like readers to feel a) it was money and time well spent and b) feel uplifted in the nicest possible way. I think it’s a positive story but it doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff in life. Ideally people will look a little closer at the people in their lives and see the joy they can bring each other. People might also take away the desire to try the cocktail recipe in the back of the book.
Can you tell us about your role in The Mrs Underhill Book Club?
Herding cats … is that a role? I was the benign dictator of the Club for a decade and we still get together on occasion now, when I feel like dictating a book that I want to read and need some moral support. Seriously though, it has been one of the most joyous things I’ve ever done in life. I had eight to 10 gals at my place once every two months, we all took turns choosing a book, then we all drank wine and gobbled baked goods while we discussed it. Of course, there was also a lot of NON book talk too. Franny’s old book club in Happy Hour owes a lot to The Mrs Underhill Book Club.
Can you tell us a bit more about your Melbourne COVID lockdown Instagram feature #coronaclubliving?
No, I have PTSD. Just kidding.
The Corona Club was my way of amusing myself and finding sanity during the eight months (less two weeks but who’s counting?) my husband, mum and myself spent living together in Melbourne during lockdown. My gorgeous mum, 88-year-old Mausie, became very popular with my mates. Any video I posted of her got the most likes. We cooked and ate our way through many meals and photo opps. Mum underwent some awful (but successful) skin cancer surgeries during that period and we documented that too. It was bonkers really.
How did feel to be shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award?
That actually blew me away. I had no idea how even being commended (don’t overegg it, I was not shortlisted ha ha) would attract so much interest. A number of publishers got in touch and were really generous, helpful and kind. It was actually overwhelming. I have since (name drop) interviewed the amazing Jane Harper (aka The Dry) for a newspaper article and we talked about what a big deal that award can be. She said she actually thinks anyone who gets a gong could do with mentoring through the process. That’s how impactful it can be. If there are any budding writers out there I would wholeheartedly recommend you submit your MS.
What book is next on your reading pile?
Do not ask about my pile. It is shamefully huge. I am currently reading a DCI Vera Stanhope novel by Ann Cleeves called The Darkest Evening but I should be reading Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver for book club in a fortnight (gulp). And I LOVE audiobooks and have just downloaded Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl.
When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love audiobooks and podcasts and I combine them with walking my dog Whisky. She and I love beach walks. I also spend a good bit of time with my mum, getting out to movies or the market, Mausie loves to shop. My husband is a great cook and we are blessed with an amazing circle of friends so we tend to entertain at home a lot. But he and I also love to pour a good Scottish whisky and retire to his shed to listen to music. It’s all pretty simple stuff. We used to travel overseas every second year but that’s seems like a bit of a pipe dream for a while. Still … first world problems.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
Oh, I am having so much fun right now on a new book that I hope people will really have a great time with. There are two main female characters and one is just a blast to write, larger than life. I am genuinely getting a lot of amusement out of dressing her and creating her amazing home. But it’s a book, like Happy Hour I hope, that, amidst the laughs and cringes, still has some fairly serious, thoughtful ideas to ponder too.
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Jacquie. Congratulations on the upcoming release of your new book, Happy Hour.
Thank you Mrs B. My first real interview so one to be treasured. It’s usually me doing the interviewing.
Elizabeth Strout meets Marian Keyes in this wonderful, joyful, funny debut novel from Australian author Jacquie Byron.Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing wiser.
Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.
Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio – beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh – cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny’s wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?
A story about one woman, two dogs and the family next door, Happy Hour is a hilarious and uplifting insight into grief, loss, true love and friendship.
Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron was published on 31 August 2021 by Allen and Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Jacquie here: