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Night Nurse and Freo Doctor*, novel set in Fremantle and Perth

5th January 2013

5 Peppermint Grove by Michelle Jackson, set in Fremantle and Perth, Australia

An absolutely delicious novel, warm, well-developed characters and a fluid style of writing that just had us captivated here at TF.

1842235516.01.ZTZZZZZZRuth has decided to relocate so that she can get some new bearings in her life: her love life to date has not been great. Great friend Julia has set Ruth up with the new job in Perth and as the story progresses there is joy, heartache and some real life sadness, all bound up in a tale of two cities – Dublin, where the story opens and Perth where much of the story settles. Wonderful descriptions of Dublin, balanced by the “sense of hopelessness” that has pervaded the city over the past years with the economic downturn, and the consequent loss of so many people leaving the country to find work. Perth – heat and light permeate everything in this far flung city on the West Coast of Australia, that has beautiful vistas and a wealth of eateries and bars, just like Dublin.

The TF team was in Perth several years ago and reading this novel now brought back such great memories of the trip. Rottnest Island (derived incidentally from the Dutch, as the Dutch thought the quokkas were large rats; and the island where young boys were incarcerated for truancy and bad behaviour in the early 20th century); Fremantle (ah, Cicerello’s for Fish and Chips) and just the general feel of the city….the CBD (central business district)…the parks…the vineyards. A perfect choice for a perfect read if you are heading out that way!

*Night Nurse is in fact a kind of cider and the Fremantle (Freo) Doctor is a southerly wind that brings fresh air to the city. So enjoy a great storyline and learn a little about this part of the world.


TF: An inspired idea: your books are numerically sequential, One Kiss in Havana, Two Days in Biarritz….5 Peppermint Grove. What inspired you do this?

MJ: My first novel was entitled ‘Two Days in Biarritz’ and it was a very personal novel that I wrote after spending a weekend with my best friend in Biarritz. I sent the novel to a publisher in Dublin and she liked it but asked me to make some changes. I told her that I would get down to it after I returned from a short break to New York and jokingly added that the title of my next book might be ‘Three Nights in New York’ – she liked the idea and the rest in history. I signed a contract for three books and suggested that I would like to set my next book in Cuba but to finish off the trilogy I would like to tidy up the numbers and called the book ‘One Kiss in Havana.’ Now I find it a fun way to come up with titles for my books. I love to travel and the travel theme has stuck with each book. With my background in art each new destination gives me an opportunity to explore new environments with different architecture, surroundings, sites, sounds and cuisine. It also gives me the opportunity to explore my Irish characters out of their comfort zone which usually gives me the basis for my plots.

TF: How did you come to writing?

MJ: I was always involved in the arts – my mother had an art gallery and was an artist and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. However, even when I was very young I adored reading books – I started off with my grannie’s Mills and Boon novels. Then, when I was about nine I got a hold of my mother’s library tickets and I adored reading different English and Welsh authors. Dylan Thomas poetry was music to my ears. In my teens my focus was on the visual arts but I did write a little poetry and I had numerous pen pals – letter writing was a part of my day. I didn’t read much while I was in art college or when I worked as a hosiery designer in the 1980’s. I started to teach Art in the early nineties and while I loved it I found it difficult to express myself visually as I was giving too much of my own creativity through the teaching process. It wasn’t until I had my own children in 2005 that I had an epiphany and started to write – I often call my daughter Nicole my muse as I sat down at the computer for the first time hours after she was conceived.

Then after a very eventful trip to Rome with my students during which Pope John Paul II died I wrote my first novel which took three months – it had a life of its own and poured out of me. The Rome book was never published but I didn’t give up – I turned forty in 2006 and started to write ‘Two Days in Biarritz’ which was my first published novel.

Many actors, artists and musicians also write and I think that the creative process comes from the same point in all of us and it is sometimes a matter of choice which medium we decide to use.

TF: How important do you feel location is in a novel?

MJ: Any good property expert will tell you that location is the most important consideration before going to buy a house but for me it is crucial in finding the plot, characters and inspiration for my books! Where to start is the key and I usually let serendipity lend a hand with this matter. For all my books I have used my own personal travels to set the scene for each novel. So planning a family holiday or weekend away with the girls may well be the starting point for my next novel. I like to write a book in the present and if possible reflect what is going on around me socially. This is why my book ‘Three Nights in New York’ was written at a time when people were travelling in their hundreds of thousands to the big apple to shop! My fourth novel ‘4am in Las Vegas’ came about after I met the NYC tourist board and they suggested that I take on Vegas as my next destination. Havana especially was a place that I had always wanted to visit as I am a big Ernest Hemingway fan and I made it my mission to trek to all the places that he frequented while he lived in Cuba. I remember clearly sitting on the harbour wall in the little town of Cojimar where Hemingway used to fish and where he found the inspirational character of Santiago for his novel ‘The old man and the sea.’ While I sat there, near a bust of Hemingway that is beautifully made from the anchors and hooks that the fishermen donated, a wedding party passed by and they were tooting their horns and calling out and I made a mental note to put a similar scene into the novel when I wrote it. In a way it is like painting a picture with words and this is where my background in the visual arts has helped me considerably.

TF: You have clearly been inspired by the city of Perth, as it comes to life through your writing – what first brought you to the city?

MJ: After hearing the devastating news that my friend Rachel, was moving en famille to the other side of the world I went through all the usual emotions – sadness, despair and then I did the only thing that I could – I wrote about it! My new novel is entitled 5 Peppermint Grove – Peppermint Grove is a beautiful suburb of Perth in Western Australia overlooking Freshwater Bay. Its roads are lined with stunning houses and mature trees and as I drove through it my imagination ran wild as it has a habit of doing while I am on a research trip. I had my name for my next book all I needed was a theme!

That was staring me in the face too as my friend was coping with all the issues that come with emigration. Rachel had spent her teenage years living in Australia and has a terrific network of friends out there so it wasn’t as if she was blindly moving to a new country but it is half a world away nonetheless. That didn’t deter me from deciding to visit her and of course the whole family had to come too – my husband and children weren’t exactly complaining I might add. So we spent two marvellous weeks with them last year and I got to see the best of Perth first hand.

TF: What is the title for your next book and where will it be set?

MJ: My next novel is entitled Six Postcards and is slightly different as it is a love story that charts thirty years in the lives of my characters Karen and Greg. Over that time Greg sends Karen six postcards from different destinations and after each has been delivered a new chapter of their lives unfolds. It is a story about the power of true love and will be published in October 2013. Location is mainly set in Dublin however there will be sections of the novel set in London and Boston.

You can follow Michelle on Twitter and via her website.

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