Name: Johanna Craven
Where are you from? Melbourne, Australia
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I spent the first 24 years of my life in Melbourne before moving to Los Angeles to study film and TV scoring. After my course, I returned to Australia for a few years before moving to the UK in 2011. I currently live in London with my partner, where I work as a musician and writer and run workshops for artists.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My second novel, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was recently released by London-based Endeavour Press. This book took me years to research and write so it’s a great feeling to know people are finally reading it!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing stories ever since I could spell. It’s something I’ve been doing for so long I couldn’t tell you how I started- it was just a need that I had. I used to write purely for myself, but now I’m selling my books, I can see it’s so much more rewarding to be able to entertain other people with the characters and worlds I’ve created.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not really until I published my first novel. Even now I sometimes still feel like I’m faking it!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I wrote my first book, Music From Standing Waves to combine my two loves, music and writing. There are parts that are quite autobiographical- like the protagonist, Abby, I studied at Melbourne Conservatorium and found it often very challenging. Writing about it helped me make sense of the experience in a way.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’ve been told my writing is quite lyrical- I pay close attention to the sound and rhythm of the prose, which I’m sure is a result of my musical background!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That the line between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ can sometimes be blurred. That people are too complex to be labelled as ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. I rarely write characters with the aim of making readers love or hate them. I just write them in all their complexity and leave it to the audience to determine where their sympathies lie. I know there are plenty of authors who disagree wholeheartedly with this approach, but I feel that human nature is too complex for a character to be labelled as good or bad.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The book is based largely on a true event: the earthquake and tsunami in 1692 that left the pirate haunt of Port Royal, Jamaica, at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. The characters in the book are fictitious, but I have stuck as closely as possible to the events of that day, as preserved by eyewitness accounts.
While writing, there were some great coincidences, where I needed something in particular to happen in the story then discovered while researching that that exact thing had happened in real life. For example, I wanted the crew to be forced to row into Port Royal, as there was no wind. I discovered that at the exact time I wanted them to arrive- the morning of June 7th, 1692- a dead calm had fallen over that area of the Caribbean. I also needed the governor to be occupied when the pirates arrived. In my research, I discovered that on the morning of the earthquake, the governor of Jamaica had called an emergency council meeting as they suspected French spies in the colony.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
As a kid, books by Judy Blume. As a writer, I’m influenced by authors like Hilary Mantel and Susan Fletcher. I was also really lucky to have author Rebecca Smith as an editor/mentor while writing The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Her advice and support was incredibly valuable, particularly as I was beginning to doubt if I would ever see it finished and published!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love the Sons of Odin series by Erin S. Riley. It’s set in the Viking era and has a fantastic cast of complex characters. Great writing and story telling.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Definitely the network of fellow authors I have built up since publishing my first book. Publishing is such a huge learning curve and it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off people and share our successes and failures.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career? Absolutely
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Haha I don’t want to think too hard about that one in case I come up with things I want to change! I don’t think so- I’m very happy with the final product!
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not really- I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My work in progress, Forgotten Places, is an historical novel set in colonial Australia. It’s based around the true story of a group of convicts who disappeared into the bush- one of whom was never accounted for.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The amount of research needed for historical fiction is definitely a challenge! In today’s digital age, there’s so much pressure to do everything quickly and there are many authors producing numerous books a year. With so much research needed for my books, I can’t imagine ever being able to match this pace!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Yes, I love travelling to do research. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to travel to Jamaica to research The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, but I’ve had research trips in Tasmania and Cornwall for my works in progress. It’s such a great experience as it makes my writing so much more authentic. I’ve found locals and historians are always so willing to help out when they hear you’re researching a book.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Staying historically accurate. It puts me off if I’m reading a novel and I find an anachronism. Hopefully I haven’t let any creep in!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a ridiculous amount about pirates! I also learned that’s it’s okay to write a really terrible first draft. I still have early drafts of The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and they are hilariously bad. It’s really inspiring to be able to look at the finished product and see how much it’s improved!
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
Anyone but Johnny Depp! I love Pirates of the Caribbean but this is a very different type of story.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be patient. With self-publishing so easy to do, I think there’s a tendency for people to click ‘publish’ as soon as they’ve finished a draft or two. Take your time, have a break and come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Spot Goes For a Walk?? No, I really don’t remember. I was a big Enid Blyton fan as a kid though, and after that, I loved the Babysitters Club.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry? Pretty much everything! I cry at the drop of a hat.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Henry VIII’s wife Katherine Howard. History makes her out to be such a ditz, but I don’t believe anyone that brainless could have risen to the heights of queen. I’d love to know what she was really like.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
No headstone for me- I’d rather be cremated and thrown over the sea! I have a severe case of wanderlust and this way I never need to stop travelling!
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I love travel (see above…), cooking and I’m learning the Celtic fiddle!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love horror films- anything with a good ghost story! I was a huge X-Files fan and I’m currently obsessed with Once Upon A Time.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Chocolate, red, 80s pop!
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
When I’m not writing, I’m teaching, playing and writing music. I’d keep doing all of these things.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? https://www.johannacraven.com