Hi Fiona, great to meet you! First of all, can you give us a little insight into you and your journey as a writer?


I came to my storytelling late – wrote my first book aged 40 and that first attempt at a manuscript was picked up by a global publisher and I was offered a three-book deal.  I haven’t looked back since. However, I realised I have been a storyteller all of my life but just didn’t think about writing them down and pursued a wonderful career in sales, marketing PR and travel magazine publishing, which I also realise required a lot of writing and indeed storytelling.  I began writing fantasy novels and have 14 epic tales on bookshelves around the world and in many translations.  Then I wrote some children’s books before moving into crime novels. And finally I wrote what I always wanted to, which is historical. I now write both crime and historical side by side. I have 42 books to my name.  And next year I begin writing children’s picture books for fun.

Your first book was published in 2001 and your latest book earlier this year. In that time, what do you think is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?


To never say no to an invitation to talk about my work and my storytelling. I received this advice at my writing course with Bryce Courtenay and then again before my first book came out. I didn’t say no to Girl Guides, schools, festivals, even audiences where there were only two people seated in the library; one of whom was asleep and the other came in from the cold. I was terrified of public speaking to begin with but I kept saying yes and staring down my fear. It really was sound advice because all that practice taught me how to have a natural and authentic presence on stage and how to engage with the audience.


We are so excited to have you joining Cunard’s Australian Literature Festival at Sea! Can you tell us what has piqued your interest in it?


I’ve read about it on cruises overseas and longed for it to arrive here but also to participate so I feel extremely chuffed and privileged! And I have always thought it a marvellous concept because firstly I am a cruise lover and love being in a new place each morning to explore. Days at sea, however, is when I risk getting bored as I am not someone who can sit still and sunbake or doze. Dreadful at both. So I love the idea that there’s somewhere to go on board to learn about something – whether it’s cooking, about the history of a region we’re visiting or as in this case, about books, writing and the life of an author. I think we all love to glimpse someone else’s world and writers allow us to escape through their stories so the notion of meeting well known writers and learning about their lives and work is not only fascinating but inspiring. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours on sea days and if my presence and talks might inspire some new writers to sit at the keyboard… even better.

Your latest book, The Sugar Palace, is set in the heart of Sydney right where the Literature Festival will take off! What kind of research on Sydney did you have to do for The Sugar Palace?


All my historical novels require around two years of research and The Sugar Palace is no exception. It took four trips to Sydney specifically for this novel to walk in the footsteps of the characters and to be able to immerse myself in the era of the 1920s of this ambitious and colourful city that was just beginning to show itself off to the world… its new harbour bridge concept for instance captured the world’s imagination for that single span bridge. I read a tower of books of non-fiction as I always do so I can learn about the times… fashion, food, transport, social structure, politics, the people of the city – what did they do, how did they entertain themselves, and then I can find those corners where my characters can play. I needed one set of characters to be from around the historic Rocks area of Sydney and then I had another set of characters who ran riot through the city from their gangster bases in places like Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo. Great fun to research but the best bit was playing with all the confectionery and learning about those nostalgic sweets and treats and how I could use them in the story to add all the light and colour and fun.


What are you most excited to experience on the cruise?


Hobart is like a second home to me and the thought of sailing to Hobart, which I have never done before, is truly exciting.

Queen Elizabeth features a stunning library on board for guests to enjoy. What are some of your top book recommendations for passengers to check out?


Well if anyone is a thriller reader as I am, then I would urge passengers to try and find a copy of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes who was originally a Sydneysider – that book will amaze thriller fans and for good reason. It’s a global phenomenon and his latest, Year of the Locust has also been released ten years after his debut.  And I suspect it will be devoured all around the world as well. Passengers might like to hunt down some Jack Hawksworth if the library has that series – Bye Bye Baby, Beautiful Death, Mirror Man and Dead Tide. It’s hugely popular in Australia and I’m pleased to say has been optioned for a TV series. And if you can find The Pearl Thief, don’t hesitate, also optioned for a movie. Never say no to Sharon Penman’s historical fiction or anything by Bill Bryson, including his shopping list.


To wrap us up, can you tell us what’s coming next for you?


Well, I never stop writing. So as we sail away, I will have just released The Fallen Woman, which is a novel set beneath the great spire of Salisbury Cathedral in the UK.  And the latest Jack Hawksworth will be out called Foul Play, which is set in and around London. But also by the time we sail, I will have delivered my new manuscripts for 2025 – one historical and one crime novel. I like to work well ahead. In amongst the books I have plenty of travel to do for research in Scandinavia, Scotland, London, Paris and Tasmania!


The Australian Literature Festival at Sea sails from Sydney on 11 December 2024. Book your place on this special Event Voyage today, and join Fiona and many other famous faces from the literary world on board.

On board with Cunard