Welcome Rebecca James!
I am delighted to feature Rebecca James at Book’d Out today and talk a little about her newest release, Sweet Damage. Rebecca James was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1970 and grew up in various different places throughout New South Wales, including Bourke, Sydney, Wellington and Bathurst. During her twenties Rebecca worked as a waitress, an English teacher in both Indonesia and Japan, a bartender, and (most memorably) a mini-cab telephone operator in London. During her thirties Rebecca spent most of her time having babies, she has four sons, and helping her partner run a small kitchen business in Canberra.
Rebecca’s first novel Beautiful Malice (Allen & Unwin 2010), a young adult psychological thriller, placed Highly Commended in the 2010 FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) Christina Stead Award and became a international best seller.
Sweet Damage is a compelling story of suspense that I devoured within hours. My review is available HERE and I have three copies to giveaway, for now I am going to let Rebecca tell you more about her fabulous new novel, read on…
Q&A with Rebecca James
Q: Can you give us the ‘elevator pitch’ for Sweet Damage?
Rebecca: Laid back surfer Tim Ellison can’t believe his luck when he scores a cheap room to rent in a Sydney mansion. The only catch is his new flatmate, Anna London: withdrawn and agoraphobic she’s not exactly easy to make friends with. When strange and terrifying things start happening in the house, Tim wonders if he’s made a mistake taking the room and soon he’s caught up the tragic mystery of Anna’s past and the discovery of secrets both shocking and horrific.
Q: What was the first element of inspiration for creating Sweet Damage?
Rebecca: I was thinking about anxiety and agoraphobia and how having a person who’s basically trapped in a house had a lot of potential for a story. And then I started thinking about how a lot of people view mental illnesses like agoraphobia, how they see it as a weakness, a failure. I thought it would be interesting to narrate most of the story from Tim’s perspective – a well-meaning but slightly insensitive guy who is completely baffled by Anna’s situation, her inability to leave the house. That was the basic set-up and then I had to put Tim and Anna under a whole lot of pressure and create a big mystery and lot of twisty plot elements to keep readers guessing and turning the pages.
Q: Sweet Damage is written in the first person view from a young male, did his gender pose any difficulties for you as you wrote?
Rebecca: Sometimes, yes! In my first draft my editor made the comment that Tim at times sounded like a 40 year old woman rather than a young man in his twenties. In redrafting I had to be really conscious not to let my voice override his, make sure he wasn’t thinking the way I would in his situation.
Q: Is Fairview, the house in which Anna and Tim live, based on a real location?
Rebecca: The location is real but the house itself is a product of my imagination. I know Fairlight the suburb pretty well, as I’ve lived there myself (in a small flat, not a mansion!) and my grandmother used to live in the very street – Lauderdale Avenue – in which I set the book.
Rebecca: I didn’t set out to write YA fiction. When I was writing my first book, BEAUTIFUL MALICE, I wasn’t thinking about categories or genres at all. It wasn’t until I started looking for an agent that I had to start thinking of how to pitch it. Interestingly, Beautiful Malice sold as a YA book in most territories, but as an adult book in others. in fulfilling my contract (BEAUTIFUL MALICE sold in a two-book deal) I had to try and write a book with similar crossover appeal – and so I hope SWEET DAMAGE is the same as BEAUTIFUL MALICE in that it will appeal to both teens and adults.
I’m definitely drawn to psychological thrillers. I think it must be my favourite genre in both books and movies. I enjoy the element of suspense and I always love it when there’s a completely unexpected twist that you don’t see coming.
Q: Do you and your sister, Wendy (The Mistake) talk about your writing with each other?
Rebecca: Yes, we do. We read each other’s manuscripts and give feedback. We talk about plot and characters and pacing and style – all the elements of novel-writing basically.
Q: Name three of your favourite novels by Australian women writers
Rebecca: It’s difficult to name only three and I find it hard to list favourites as I don’t tend to think of books in that way. So I’m going to list three books that kept me thinking about the characters and the writing long after I closed the last page.
OUT OF THE SILENCE by my sister Wendy is a book I couldn’t get out of my head for a long while. Maggie’s plight really brought home to me how dreadful and unfair life could be for women before feminism made abortion possible. Her story’s a great reminder how important feminism has been for women (and still is) and how much we’re now able to take for granted. (OUT OF THE SILENCE has just been republished as an ebook by Momentum press so you can now buy it from Amazon).
THE SPARE ROOM by Helen Garner is another book that resonated for me. I love Helen Garner’s ability to apply a her sharp critical lens to the domestic life of ordinary people. She’s honest about people’s motivations, and their small pettinesses and there’s a courage and beauty in that honesty that I really admire.
I also love Liane Moriarty’s work, particularly WHAT ALICE FORGOT (I haven’t read her latest yet, but intend to remedy that very soon). Liane Moriarty reminds me a bit of Anne Tyler in that she’s fundamentally kind to her characters. She shows people in all their flawed glory without being judgemental or superior, which is, I think, a great novelistic skill. The idea that people can be both flawed and lovable, that life is sticky and complicated, and that people can surprise themselves in both good and bad ways, is, for me, a recurring message of her work. Her books somehow make me feel more optimistic and cheerful.
Q. What is your preference?
- Coffee/Tea or other? Tea.
- Beach/Pool or River? Beach. But I love pools too. And rivers.
- Slacks/Jeans or Leggings? Jeans. (Slacks? No way! They sound so old -ladyish!)
- Butterfly/Tiger or Giraffe? Giraffe. They have cute faces. Though I don’t know what I’d do with one.
- Swing/Slide or Roundabout? Actually the thought of either makes me a feel a bit queasy. I’d rather just sit on a bench seat and read, thanks very much!
You can connect with Rebecca James at
Sweet Damage is available for purchase
A special edition of Beautiful Malice, with a preview of Sweet Damage, is currently available from Allen & Unwin