by Lorie Lewis Ham
& Marilyn Meredith
Lorie Lewis Ham interviews mystery author Diana Hockley from Australia, and Marilyn Meredith reviews her first book, The Naked Room. At the end of this article are details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of this book!
Lorie: What is the title of your latest book?
Diana: The Celibate Mouse
Lorie: What is the release date & what is it about?
Diana: Officially in Australia, 11th May. Quite possibly before then in USA, UK, Canada and Europe.
Detective Senior Sergeant Susan Prescott, who is on stress leave, arrives in an Australian country town in southeast, to house-sit for her in-laws. En route to her destination, she and one of her twin daughters, Marli, stop at the local showground (fairground) to buy a puppy from a breeder who is competing in the working sheepdog championship. They climb up into the grandstand to watch the proceedings while they wait and are on hand to witness the final competitor being shot with a high-powered rifle. For Susan, battling demons from both her domestic and professional life, this is a personal nightmare. Things go downhill from there…
Lorie: Who is your publisher?
Diana: Self-published, but using Publicious for design and setting up worldwide distribution. Australia has very few agents and publishers compared to other countries, with the possible exception of New Zealand. Only a few of these accept submissions in the crime genre, so this means that there are lot of authors scrabbling for just a few agents! The established authors always get first “dibs” and the unpublished author is a “wail in the wilderness.”
My first book, The Naked Room, was rejected a number of times and I became very disheartened. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? After calling all agents a pack of weasels who didn’t know a comma from a full stop – and that was the polite bit -I decided to obtain a professional assessment. Much to my delight, it came back with a very favorable review. My characterization was “flawless,” the plot reached a peak at just the right time and the manuscript was full of excellent hooks.
However, there was a lot to be desired about my grammar, which was as geriatric as I am. So I set to work and fixed the technical details. What to do next? I knew that by the time an agent picked me up and publication occurred, I could very well have “cashed in my chips.”
I attended the Brisbane writer’s festival in September last year and my husband, who was prowling around in the forecourt checking out the agents and publishers, found a company named Publicious. Andy McDermott, the CEO is a self-published author and understands how pathetic and needy writers really are. I was very impressed with the set up, the products displayed and of course, the price was very competitive. The Naked Room has borne out all my expectations. It is a very handsome book, which looks as though it was far more expensive to produce than it actually was!!
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Diana: Since I was a child, but I got side-tracked by raising children. I painted for a number of years, but didn’t have the urge to do that anymore. I needed to have something to think about other than mice – I spent around 3-8 hours per day in the shed catering to their every whim. I decided in 2005 that my next project would be to return to writing. (Diane used to run a mouse circus-watch for a future story on that)
Andrew was away on tour with the mice, sometimes for 5-6 weeks at a time, so I needed to do something else. We were living on a small farm at the time, so I started my rejuvenation with short stories and articles on country Australian life, which were very well received by several magazines. Our animals were a rich source of material!
I had written a novel in 1971 which was never published and I thought I would try my hand at one again. The Naked Room took three years to write – The Celibate Mouse was started in the last year of writing Naked Room.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out and could you tell us a little about it?
Diana: 17th November, 2010.
When classical pianist, Ally Carpenter, goes missing after a night out with friends, the implications stretch far beyond her disappearance. Veteran detective, Senior Sergeant Susan Prescott believes that sexual predators may have abducted Ally. However, after two women with connections to the Carpenters are murdered, she realizes there may be more to the crime than at first thought.
While Prescott puts all her efforts into solving the crime, those close to Ally battle their own turmoil. Friendships become strained and secrets come to light, as Ally’s terrified mother, Eloise, is forced to confront the lie she has perpetuated over 26 years. Cellist, Briece Mochrie – determined to discover what has happened to the girl he loves – is swept into a dangerous undertow of murder and revenge.
The kidnappers have their own agenda; Ally’s life is on the line.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries? If not what else have you written?
Diana: I love writing mysteries – I have a devious mind – but I also write humor, usually with malicious glee and sometimes a crime included. I have written a few poems, one I won and award for which was about Water – an environmental subject. The other is humorous. I am a devotee of the English poetess, Pam Ayres.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Diana: All novels start with questions: what if? Supposing this happened? Why? Who would want to murder him or her? Andrew and I went to Launceston, Tasmania on holiday. As members of the Australian Working Sheepdog Association, we were keen to watch the Tasman Cup championship between Australia and NZ. The Tasmanian club had done some enormous publicity so that altogether, 2500 people came to see the last day of the championship.
As I was sitting there, I thought: ‘You know you could pick him off quite easy if you wanted to…’ and the first line came to me in a glorious red mist:
“There is no mistaking the crack of a high-powered rifle.”
The rest was a series of procrastinations and bursts of productivity!
This book is The Celibate Mouse, Book Two after The Naked Room. It’s not a sequel as such because it doesn’t include all the characters, but I have taken and featured one of the main characters, DSS Susan Prescott, whom I liked very much. This book is set some months later and we find out what four of the main characters are doing, through Eloise’s phone calls to Susan.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Diana: Mainly to entertain. All my life I have found great joy in reading and used it to relax, to escape whatever is happening in my life. Right now there are around thirty books lined up on the floor along my bedroom wall, awaiting their turn to be read! However, in Naked Room, one of the main characters learns some valuable lessons.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Diana: No. Anytime, in the car waiting for my husband to run in and out of hardware stores, in bed with a notebook beside the bed. Mostly walk around in a fog – I forget meetings, afternoon teas (fancy forgetting to be where the goodies are!) I carry a notebook with me at all times. I am a champion procrastinator, having the life skills to down tools and leap to the washing up, the gardening, cleaning and of course, playing with the ratties (that’s a favorite) at the first sign of a writer’s block.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Diana: I keep notes, and when I think of something for the characters to do next, I write it all out in longhand like an essay, word for word – especially dialogue – so I can just slot it into the manuscript. I may tinker with it later, but it saves time to write it as well as I can the first time. This is especially good for when I am stuck. Sometimes I will write something simply outrageous, knowing that I will have to back it up with a scenario to fit it. I killed off a character in Naked Room that way and it was very successful – except that some readers were disappointed! I also have a white board on which I can keep chronological time and family trees.
If I think of something during the night, I have to write it down; because there is no way I’m going to remember it in the morning. Sometimes I think of whole conversations for my characters which just come into my head as though I’m eavesdropping. Driving is always a good way to think. We have a town near us called Beaudesert (pronounced bo-desert) and I plot a lot of my short stories and chapters for the novels while I am driving there.
Writers are evil creatures. We pick up any stray words or actions and store them away for future pitiless use. In 1997, I overheard something funny as I passed two women at a dog show. One said to the other: ‘I gave it to the cat, but he said he didn’t like it.’ Guess where that turned up? You’ll have to read The Celibate Mouse to find out!
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Diana: I like to write early in the morning, but owing to rodent valeting, it’s during the day. Sometimes for eight or more hours at a time with only a break here or there. Other times I’ll lie on the bed, reading, eating chocolate and wailing because I’ve come to a stop.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Diana: I was very fortunate to find a market for my articles and short stories almost immediately. My first novel was rejected endlessly, which is why I self-published and why I am doing the same with Celibate Mouse. (You can check out an article on Mouse Care & a fun short story by Diane right here in KRL)
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Diana: Yes, I received a rejection letter saying (exact words):
“We hope you find someone more enthusiastic about your work than we are.”
My brother-in-law, who lives in Wales, said: ‘Not bad for a first effort, I suppose.’ (His wife loved it) Still, not everyone is going to like it. That would be impossible!
Lorie: What kind of promotion do you find most affective?
Diana: Word of mouth. It helps that I live in a small community and am very well known through my participation in local community work. The internet is also very good! I gave Naked Room its own Facebook page. If you can get good newspaper coverage that is an enormous help and of course, articles such as this one and a good review or two is always a boost. I am now starting to get guest speaker gigs, but not because I asked for them, but because satisfied readers have recommended me, for which I am deeply grateful.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Diana: Finish Book Three! I’m only at Chapter 4.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Diana: Julia Spencer Fleming and the late English writer, Frank Muir. Julia is the master of the crime novel; Frank was the master of dry wit!
Lorie: I love Julia too. Person you would most like to meet dead or alive?
Diana: Alan Rickman. I think he is the sexiest man alive!!! Eat your heart out, George.
Diana: Three adult children and three grandchildren plus two eighteen and a half year old cats and five rats.
Lorie: I understand that rats are always a part of what you write-can you tell me how they play a part in your books?
Diana: I adore rats and I like to get across in my novels and some short stories how charming, interesting and mischievous they are. I would love to see the day when rats are regarded as “just another household pet” rather than evil, dirty and disgusting. I like to point out that we owe rats an enormous amount. Who hasn’t taken drugs for an illness at some stage? Rats gave their lives so that we could recover from the diseases which we frequently inflict on ourselves.
Lorie: Also tell me more about your association with rats/mice-how long have you had them as pets, do you have some now, why do you love them?
Diana: I do not have any mice now, but I am the mouse judge for the Queensland Fancy Rat & Mouse Shows. These are held every three months in an air-conditioned hall in the city and lately there have been quite a lot of new members, which is marvelous. We have raffles, snacks on sale and purveyors of fine rat and mouse goodies available.
Lorie: You ran a mouse circus correct? (watch for articles on the circus in future issues)
Diana: We had a mouse circus for ten years and this was our principal source of income and a registered business. It took about a year before it actually started to become known, and evolved as an agricultural show attraction for the kids, but quite frankly, just as many adults enjoyed it! We also did children’s birthday parties, school fetes (galas/fairs) shop promotions, street parties, vet surgery open days and of course, the Million Paws Walk for the RSPCA.
During the ten years, we calculated that around 750,000+ people saw the circus in action. The mice performed at the huge Brisbane Exhibition for five years, the audience growing and growing every year. It was featured TV and was one of the “must see” attractions. It was also taken home by tourists from all over the world. The last year it was there (the show committee only hired performers for five years and no longer) the counter recorded 65,000 people over the 10 days of the show. People would stand there for ages watching the mice perform.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Diana: Many people say “I could write a novel if only I had the time.” There’s only one way – make time. I taught writing courses at U3A and every one of my students, middle-aged and retired women, all thought they wanted to write, until they found out how time consuming it is. There is only one way to do it – and that’s do it!!
You can learn more about Diana on her website.
Her books can be purchased at Amazon USA, UK, Canada and Europe in both paperback and e-book, also Booktopia, The Book Depository and countless others. If you google The Naked Room, you will find that lots of little bookshops will get it in. It is also available from Diana’s website and she will happily send a signed copy anywhere. Be advised, however, that postage is very expensive for overseas and it needs to be registered.
KRL recently published a short story by Diana called The Cloud.
The Naked Room, Diana Hockley
Review by Marilyn Meredith
The story centers around the kidnapping of a concert pianist who disappears before the rehearsal of an important concert. The author is an artist of words when it comes to showing the anguish Ally, the kidnapped woman, experiences. Set in Australia, the different word usage is an added plus as are the descriptions of the unfamiliar places.
Hockley does a great job leading the reader on several unexpected paths showing the detectives at work, the emotions of all of Ally’s friends, and eventual unveiling of her enemies. A secret Ally’s mother kept from her is brought out in the open as it is the only way that Ally may be saved. Beautifully written, there are many surprises along the way, including murder.
Highly recommended to those who like to read unusual mysteries set in far-away places. This one is a definite page-turner.
To enter for a chance to win a copy of The Naked Room, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Room”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, March 12, 2011.