AWW Feature: Susan Johnson on Landing an Idea



I’m happy to welcome Susan Johnson to Book’d Out today to celebrate the release of The Landing.

Susan is the author of ten books; eight novels; a memoir, A Better Woman; and a non-fiction book, an essay, On Beauty.  Several of my books have been published in the UK, the US, and in European translation (French, Polish) as well as in Australia. She has also written for newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Times, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Q Magazine of The Courier-Mail).

She has lived in the UK, France and Greece but returned to Brisbane, Australia, to live with her two sons in 2010.

The Landing is a funny, delightful and poignant novel that lays out the human condition – looking for love in all of its many forms with secrets, polite lies, desperation, compromise and joy.

“Jonathan Lott is confused. His wife has left him for a woman and he doesn’t like living alone. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her? There’s a lot happening at The Landing, where Jonathan has his beach house, and he’s about to find out how much love matters.”

Please read on to learn how Susan got the idea for The Landing…

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

by Susan Johnson

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most common questions asked of writers. I always say, well, it’s like dreaming: how do you get your dreams? How is my dream so different from yours and why is your dream yours alone?

The answer to the question is really that a book – or an idea – comes from everything that makes a writer up, where he or she was born, who they love, what his or her mother was like. In other words, a book represents the sum of the whole, a kind of outcrop of personality.
The idea for The Landing came to me in a rush, following a visit to a friend’s beach house on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland, Australia. Driving into this little hamlet near a lake, he started pointing out who lived in which house, and all the scandals of the town, how so-and-so had run off with so-and-so and how that guy had gone broke and how that woman was a drunk.
I got home and immediately wrote a scene in which a heartbroken man drives into a little hamlet. Suddenly it was as if the little hamlet was as if on a brightly lit stage, with all the action happening, like a play. It gave me a perfect framing, if you like, a nice fence around the yard: I just had to find out exactly what to put in it!
I’ve lived away from Australia for a long time now – in London for ten years, France and Hong Kong for a couple years more – and returning to Queensland, to Brisbane, the city where I started my young adult life was fascinating to me in lots of ways. I was born in Brisbane, but grew up in Sydney, returning to Queensland to finish my last years of school and to start uni and work as a cadet reporter on the local newspaper, The Courier-Mail. I came back to Brisbane to live in 2010.
There’s been lots of changes since I last lived here in the 80s, and as a writer I was keenly observant of those changes. Soon my little idea started fanning out into a comedy of manners about contemporary Brisbane life – everyone in Brisbane asks where you went to school, for example. I love small English novels – Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Fitzgerald – that take a slice of existence and examine it for its griefs and foibles – while also managing to be funny.
I’m also interested in the idea of shame, and its many impacts. In one of my earlier books, The Broken Book (2004) inspired by the life of the late Australian writer Charmian Clift, I did a lot of research into unmarried mothers, and the shame and grief those women experienced. I wanted to write a bit more about that and, over time, a French character developed, a woman who has effectively re-invented herself, powered by a deep shame.
I guess everything I am goes into a book: my own knowledge of exile, my personal history, and yet a book is never just an autobiographical expression. The act of writing is above all an act of empathy, and so I believe a woman writer can write a male character, or a male writer a woman, a straight writer can write a gay character or else a writer in the present moment can write about a character from the imagined past or the imagined future.
The books I love best tell me something of the great mystery of existence. I want that – something of the pain and grief and joy and wonder of being alive – but I also want to make my dream as recognizable and truthful as your dream. It won’t ever be the same dream, but in the end I hope it resembles yours just a little.

Available to purchase from

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Review: The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky


Title: The Waiting Room

Author: Leah Kaminsky

Published: Vintage: Random House Au September 2015

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Status: Read on September 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Waiting Room is the debut fiction novel from Leah Kaminsky, a physician and best selling non fiction author.

Dina is a family doctor living in contemporary Israel with her husband and young son. Haifa is a world away from the Melbourne suburbs where Dina grew up, the only daughter of holocaust survivors. Eight months pregnant with her second child, Dina is exhausted and increasingly anxious. Her marriage is strained, she is tired of her patients needs, and she is terrified by an escalated terrorist threat in the city.

As Dina struggles to simply get through a single day, overwhelmed by traffic, a broken heel, demanding patients, and a promise to procure apples for her son, her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. She finds no comfort in the casual assurances of her husband, nor the ghostly opinion of her long dead mother, who berates, cajoles and nags her daughter for her failings.

The sentiment of The Waiting Room is haunting and moving, relieved only by a rare glimpse of dark humour. The prose and dialogue is sharp and articulate. The pace builds until Dina’s day reaches an explosive conclusion.

The Waiting Room is a short but powerful novel about survival, terror, love and death.

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Seasoned Traveller 2015



Review: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


Title: We Never Asked for Wings

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published: Ballantine Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, The Language of Flowers, was an impressive debut that captured my heart. We Never Asked For Wings is a similarly poignant and touching story.

We Never Asked for Wings is a story of redemption as Letty Epinosa picks up the mantle of motherhood when her parents decide to move back to Mexico. After years of benign neglect, she has to learn what it means to be a parent who is emotionally present in her children’s lives while providing for them as best she can. Letty makes a lot of mistakes as she negotiates her new responsibilities but slowly she begins to find her feet, wanting the best life that she can possibly provide for her fifteen year old son, Alex, and her six year old daughter, Luna.

Meanwhile Alex is falling in love for the first time and Letty is terrified he will repeat her mistakes, sabotaging his dreams with a teenage pregnancy. Alex however is far more responsible than his mother gives him credit for, but in trying to help Ysenia, an undocumented immigrant, escape the bullying she experiences at school, he unwittingly puts both their futures in jeopardy.

We Never Asked For Wings explores social issues including single parenthood, educational inequality, poverty and immigration, and themes such as family, love, regrets and redemption. Birds and feathers are symbols of migration, patterns, hopes and dreams.

Sensitively and beautifully written, Diffenbaugh paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to overcome adversity and forge a stronger, united future in We Never Asked For Wings. This is a wonderfully engaging and affecting novel that tugs at the heartstrings.


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Review: The Crushing Season by Peta Jo



Title: The Crushing Season

Author: Peta Jo

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Peta Jo’s second novel, The Crushing Season, is an engaging story about friendship, family, love and loss.

Leah, May, Tate, Alex and Benny are the best of friends. They met in high school and more than fifteen years later, despite the separation wrought by their busy lives, remain close. When May is hit by a double crisis, her friends rally to support her, but none of them realise how badly she has been affected, until she does the unthinkable.

I became quite attached to all of the Crushing Season’s protagonists, who are wonderfully developed characters. Tate is a feisty news editor, struggling to balance her commitment to her work and new motherhood. Leah runs her own successful restaurant, but is plagued with a history of bad relationships. Benny is a frustrated writer on the verge of giving up on his dreams. Laid back Alex is suddenly anxious about his future. May is the linchpin of the group, whose gentle and caring nature never hints at the dark secrets she holds close.

The dynamic between the friends is skilfully rendered. I enjoyed their rowdy reunion, their affectionate ribbing and bickering, and of course the way they supported each other in times of crisis. Even when their bond is complicated and strained, the connection is clear. In many ways, they remind me of my own close circle of friends whom I don’t see as often as I would like.

Peta Jo’s exploration of the books somber issues such as abuse, depression, suicide and guilt, are thoughtful and compassionate. Most importantly, the characters emotions are sincere, and their behaviour genuine. Though there is real sadness in The Crushing Season, there is also plenty of heart and humour, which often made me smile.

Well paced, with excellent characterisation and a strong plot, The Crushing Season is an affecting tale, both achingly poignant and truly heartwarming.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

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AWW Feature: Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

I’m happy to welcome back Peta Jo to Book’d Out today to celebrate the publication of The Crushing Season, her second novel.

Peta Jo is a seasoned journalist and subeditor who shamelessly embraces the side of her that writes fiction. Her first book, Feral Bells, was released in 2011 under the original title of Wedding Etiquette For Ferals at the Queensland Brides’ Wedding and Honeymoon Expo before being picked up for distribution by Bermingham Books in 2012. She currently works from home as a subeditor for regional Queensland newspapers whilst simultaneously feeding, entertaining, educating and, above all, loving her two children (and husband, though he requires far less educating).

About The Crushing Season

In the smoky haze of a small town’s cane harvesting season, May grew up as the silent bearer of her father’s vicious beatings. But four schoolmates save her with the simple act of their friendship.
Now in their thirties and busy with their own lives, the four friends are unaware how important they still are to May: Tate, a ballsy newspaper subeditor is struggling with her new role as mother; Alex, a bohemian soul has let his anxiety get in the way of his future happiness; Leah, the “boy mad” gal is one French backpacker away from her next heartbreak; and Benny, a die-hard romantic is about to give up his dreams and surrender the fantasy of being with the one girl he’s ever loved… Leah.

But it’s May that holds their friendship together and she is up to something that will change their lives forever. “


My review of The Crushing Season can be viewed HERE, in the meantime please read on as Peta Jo shares her personal connection with her story…

Seven People by Peta Jo

It had been a bad year for us. Two family members had attempted suicide.
It got so that, when the phone rang, I braced myself for more bad news.
The first call was like a blow to the side of the head. He was en route to the nearest ICU, hours away. It wasn’t looking good, and I rang another town’s hospital, desperate for information to disseminate amongst our shocked family.
He survived.
The second call, one month later, was like stomach pain. Miraculously, they found her in time (she’d driven away and hidden herself, to spare her family the pain of finding her).
She, too, survived.
But that’s not the case for many. Lifeline studies showed there are almost seven deaths by suicide in Australia each day. That rate more than doubles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
My second book, which dealt with suicide, languished as we focused on family and tried to even our keel.
What was to be a short sabbatical from writing stretched out though, as my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died soon after.
We slipped quietly into mourning. I’m kind of still there two years later.
In fact, I can barely fathom the masses of families and friends of SEVEN people each day, suffering in such a way.
How the world continues to function at all, with so many people grieving, confounds me.
But there is nothing to be served by pretending these things don’t happen. There’s nothing weak about someone’s struggle with poor mental health.
So while this was written before our own experiences with suicide, I hope The Crushing Season opens up a supportive dialogue for everyone, helps those dealing with the fallout to feel less alone.


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Review: The Callahan Split by Lisa Heidke

Title: The Callahan Split

Author: Lisa Heidke

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Callahan Split is Australian author Lisa Heidke’s sixth novel but her first foray into the world of self publishing, supplementing her successful career in traditional publishing.

Professional doubles tennis champions, sisters Samantha and Annie Callahan, have each others backs both on and off the court. Riding high after winning a gold medal at the Olympics they are favourites to win the Australian Open, until Annie’s new boyfriend drops a bombshell just before their first match, and the girls relationship begins to falter. Samantha, ambitious and driven, is irate as a love-struck Annie loses interest in their childhood goal, and is completely devastated when her sister severs their partnership to pursue a singles career. Without Annie by her side, Samantha is lost and is forced to wonder if winning is really everything.

The Callahan Split is a story about sisters, Samantha and Annie share a close personal and professional bond which is severely tested when their goals in life no longer coincide. The main theme takes Heidke’s protagonists on a journey of self discovery, but it also explores serious issues such as depression, anxiety, and abandonment.

I didn’t relate particularly well to either sister initially. I found Samantha’s single-minded focus and emotional immaturity draining, and Annie’s desertion selfish. To be fair, the sisters have their reasons, not the least being their mother’s abandonment, which had a significant impact on them both, and I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic to the pressure they were both under as elite athletes trying to stay on top. Most of the story unfolds from Sam’s perspective, and I grew to appreciate the hard earned growth her character experienced. I felt her relationship with Violet and her family, and her romance with her coach, Bear, also softened her sharper edges somewhat.

I have to admit, I’m not that interested in tennis, though I spent several sleepless nights watching the Australian Open in 2003 as Andre Agassi and Serena Williams claimed the title, while nursing my newborn daughter, however I did enjoy the behind the scenes look this elite level sport, including the gossip about the on and off court antics of the players.

A tale of personal and professional adversity and triumph, The Callahan Split is an engaging story, another winner for Lisa Heidke.

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Also by Lisa Heidke


Review: The Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield

Title: The Guilty One

Author: Sophie Littlefield

Published: Gallery Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 10 to 11, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

As a parent, facing the horror of your precious child being murdered is one thing, confronting the truth that your child is a murderer is another. In The Guilty One, Sophie Littlefield’s 15th novel, Maris Vacanti and Ron Isherwood wrestle with the loss of their only children under very different circumstances.

A year ago, Maris’s teenage daughter, Calla, was murdered, and shortly after Maris’s husband left her, declaring their marriage a sham. Too emotionally depleted to even feign normalcy, Maris has let her suburban life lapse but is at a loss as to how to move on when a random encounter offers her the chance to escape and start anew.

Ron was horrified when his son Karl, Calla’s ex boyfriend, was charged and later convicted for Calla’s murder. Though his son, and wife, maintain a plea of innocence, Ron is racked with guilt because he believes his son is responsible and worries that it is his legacy of explosive violence, and the mistakes he made as a father, that contributed to Karl’s actions.

An emotionally wrenching novel, The Guilty One is a character driven story that explores the themes of grief, guilt, forgiveness and redemption as Maris and Ron struggle to reconcile themselves to all they have lost, and find a way to move forward.

While the perspective of a bereaved parent of a murdered child has been examined often in fiction, the aftermath for the parents of the murderer have rarely been examined. To the best of my recollection, in most cases the killer’s parents are absent or highly dysfunctional. Ron and Deb are ordinary middle class people and I appreciated the author’s decision to humanise them, and acknowledge their grief and loss.

The pacing is measured, the writing and dialogue of a good standard. Though there is little in the way of overt action, Littlefield maintains a low hum of suspense, as Karl’s culpability is in question.

I found The Guilty One to be a touching and thought-provoking novel, with a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion.

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan


Title: The Art of Baking Blind

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Published: Hodder & Stoughton UK August 2015

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Status: Read from August 09 to 10, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Art of Baking Blind is pleasant debut novel for British journalist Sarah Vaughan.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published ‘The Art of Baking’, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. A year after her death, a competition is being held to find the ‘New Mrs Eaden’, where the winner will receive a £50,000 contract to advise the supermarket on its selection of baked products, take the lead in an advertising campaign, and write a monthly magazine column. Four women and one man have been chosen to compete, striving for the perfection in the kitchen, that has eluded them in their real lives.

The novel unfolds through the viewpoints of Vaughan’s four main female characters intertwined with Kathleen Eaden’s story, and excerpts from ‘The Art of Baking’.
Vicki, mother to three year old Alfie, is finding being a stay at home mother difficult and is excited by the challenge of the competition. Jenny has given all of herself to her family, but with her daughters having flown the nest and her husband disinterested, baking is all she has left. Karen strives for perfection in all things and views the competition as a way to prove herself. Claire is a hard working single mother who hopes that winning the contest will give her and her daughter a chance to better their lives.

While the contestants strive to turn out perfect pastries and pies every weekend, Vaughan slowly reveals the challenges each woman is facing at home. Jenny, for example, is almost certain her husband is having an affair, while Claire’s daughter’s father makes an unexpected return. There is depth here, though I think perhaps Vaughan spreads herself a little too thin and some of the characters, and their stories, are truncated. Karen’s story finishes quite abruptly, and Mike, the fifth contestant, is little more than a token.

The competition to become the next Mrs Eaden bears similarities to the television show, The Great British Bake Off, though this contest is not televised and there is no weekly elimination. Sadly there are no recipes included in the book, but the descriptions of the contestants offerings, ranging from Chelsea Buns to a Springtime Quiche, are ambrosial and I couldn’t resist baking a simple after school treat for my children when I’d finished the last page.

A story about family, relationships, and the art of baking, I enjoyed this engaging novel.

“There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

Available to purchase via

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Review: Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica


Title: Pretty Baby

Author: Mary Kubica

Published: Harlequin Au August 2015

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Status: Read from August 03 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Mary Kubica’s second psychological chiller, Pretty Baby, has been hotly anticipated since the success of her debut novel, The Good Girl.

When Heidi Wood spies a young homeless girl toting a squalling infant and a battered suitcase during a rainstorm on Chicago’s streets she tentatively offers her a raincoat, then a meal and on another cold and wet day, a place to stay. Heidi’s husband and daughter are horrified that she has invited a stranger into their midst, Willow could be a thief, a criminal, or worse, but Heidi sees only a vulnerable young woman and a beautiful baby girl desperately in need of refuge. A refuge she is determined to provide…but at what cost?

Pretty Baby unfolds from the perspectives of Heidi, her husband Chris, and Willow.
We learn Heidi works for a non profit organisation, Chris works in finance, traveling regularly for his job, and together they have a twelve year old daughter, Zoe, who is on the cusp of teenage rebellion. Their lives are comfortable and ordered, until it is upset by the introduction of Willow and her baby.

“Heidi was the first one in a long time who was nice to me.”

Willow claims to be eighteen, though Heidi suspects she is much younger. Willow is defensive and secretive, afraid of thunderstorms, she is bruised and scarred. The baby, Ruby, is just four months old. She resists the Wood’s prying into her past, but the reader is privy to it as Willow relates her history to ‘The lady with the long, silver hair, combed straight. And big teeth. Like a horse’s.’

“I didn’t want to hurt her,” I say. “Or her family.”

As the story progresses, tension grows. Chris and Zoe are irritated by Willow and Ruby’s presence, and while simply Zoe rolls her eyes, texting her displeasure to her best friend, Chris, who is absent more often than not, hires a private detective to investigate Willow. meanwhile Heidi is growing increasingly attached to Ruby, delighting in her infant gurgles and the warmth of her small body, as Willow watches silently. The dynamics between the characters twist and warp as Kubica takes the plot in a direction sure to surprise and unnerve.

“I peer down at the baby in my arms and think: Juliet is here. She is safe.”

An intense and engaging read, Pretty Baby offers an unpredictable story and intriguing characters. Recommended.


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Review: Six Degrees by Honey Brown


Title: Six Degrees: The Power of Attraction Connects Us All

Author: Honey Brown

Published: Jane Curry Publishing/Ventura Press August 2015

Status: Read from August 06 to 06, 2015 {Courtesy Simon& Schuster}

My Thoughts:

Six Degrees is a stunning departure from the psychological thrillers that have made Honey Brown a bestselling author. Subtitled ‘The Power of Attraction Connects Us All’, this book is a a collection of six loosely linked passionate and sensual short stories.

It begins with ‘Threesome’ and ends with ‘First Time’, each of the six stories exploring the tension and ecstasy of attraction, of connection, of desire. There is no judgement, no pretence. Brown’s tales are a celebration of shared lust and intimacy.

The characters are ordinary people, among them a cafe owner, a pharmacist, a bartender and a tyre salesman. They speak and behave in ways which are authentic and familiar. Though each story is related in the third person, the women are more often than not (the major exception being ‘Two Men’) in control, seeking pleasure, closeness and fulfillment.

Unusually, the subtle connection that links the characters in Six Degrees is the tragic death of a man – a stranger, a father, a best friend, a neighbour. Studies show that a craving for intimacy in the wake of loss is not uncommon, and sex is a natural way in which to instinctually deny death its power.

The expressive writing is explicit yet tasteful. The collection is erotic but not pornographic. The scenes of sexual intimacy are hot, sensual, and provocative but there is real depth to the characters and their circumstances.

Six Degrees is alluring, exciting and seductive.


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