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Episode 74

It's 2023 and we're back! Join hosts Veronica and Darren for episode 74 featuring a powerful and heartfelt interview with author Michelle Tom, discussions around drop bears, using mother nature as a character and why powerful words are sometimes needed. Plus, we have industry news, our Reader's Café featuring book spotlights, special guest author Kevin Klehr drops into the Writer's Lounge with details about Authors at the Pub, and a whole lot more...

Intro - 00:00
News - 18:10
Reader's Café - 30:05
Author Interview - 40:20
Interview Discussion - 1:44:30
Writer's Lounge - 2:00:45
Episode Wrap Up - 2:15:40
Book Review - 2:17:50


When did you first admit that you were a writer?

When I was a teenager, I went against my father’s wish to run his construction company, and instead chose to go to journalism school.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Heidi by Johanna Spyri.

What inspired you to write this book?

When my sister died, I became the last surviving sibling of three. I’d also just survived the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010-11, although I had lost my house, and I felt the need to explore why I had survived, why I wasn’t already dead like my brother and sister.

Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I intended to reach other sons and daughters of ‘difficult’ parents. I wanted to let them know that they’re not alone, and that estrangement is an option. I wanted to bring the topic out of the shadows of shame, really.

Is there anything specifically Australian about your book?

Australia became my sanctuary, so in some ways it is the hero of the memoir.

Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

There are situations that I know other children of difficult parents will understand, that others who were more fortunate may not necessarily see for their importance. If my siblings had not felt so alone in the world, they might have been saved, and I wanted to reach out to similar people in the community.

I also like to think I’ve made art from my trauma, and in doing so, I’ve transformed the experience of it.

Why do you think listeners should read your book?

I think it gives a rare and honest insight into the dynamics of a family, which to all outward appearances once looked successful and on track. It shows that what you see isn’t always accurate, and that families are complex, especially when inter-generational trauma is a factor.

Is there a message in your book?


Yes. The main message is that there is hope, even after great loss and resulting grief. Life wants to be lived.

Who is your most or least favourite character to write?

My favourite had to be my sister, because although she was unwell and difficult at times, she was vibrant, and honest, and fun.

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

I received an email from a woman who thought she was all alone in the world with these kinds of problems, and she said it gave her heart to know that I had walked this road before her. She was who I wrote for, and the book had found her. That made me incredibly happy.

What genre/s do you write in?

Memoir, and currently I am working on a fictional true crime novel which is based on historical true events.

What genre/s do you mostly read?

I am a chaotic reader of many genres. Lately I’ve been reading mainly fiction, and a few American classics. I love American writing.

As a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?

Definitely a Virgo plotter!

How much research is involved in your writing?

A great deal. For Aftershocks I many hours researching historical earthquakes in New Zealand, and seismicity in general. Little of it makes its way into the text, but I like to think you can feel it there, beneath the words on the page. For the current novel, I spent two years transcribing old court documents and newspaper reports to create a timeline. It’s a good thing that I love research!

What’s your writing routine – if you have one?

I rise every morning at 6am and write 1000 words. Then I summarise that day’s work and loosely plan the next day’s tasks.

Where do you write?

At my dining table, downstairs. I usually have my cat Lou on my lap, and it’s very quiet because I’m the only one awake that early in the morning.

What’s your favourite writing food and drink?

Hot water only. Snacks are distracting!

Who helped you most when you were starting out?

Fellow author and friend, Amanda Webster, who inspired the concept of combining family and fault lines in Ten Thousand Aftershocks when I met her on a memoir writing course, and also encouraged me to keep going.

What’s the most useful writing advice you’ve been given?

I’ll borrow this from my writing friend Laura Russo, who likes to remind me that when you’re writing the first draft, you’re not even making a pot from clay. You’re making the clay. So don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re only making clay!

What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

To complete my first fiction manuscript.

What inspired your book cover?

My publisher, HarperCollins, handled the cover design, which is by Sandy Cull. I was so happy with it, and it was long listed for the Australian Book Design Awards in 2021. So many people have commented on how effective it is.

Who would you most like to read your book as an audiobook?

Margaret Attwood, without a doubt.

What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

Learn the rules, but then find a mood, or an atmosphere, and write to that. And keep going!

Any final words for potential readers or writers?


Thank you for reading, for supporting writers and letting us fill your heads with our words. I’m grateful for every single person who purchases or borrows my book, and I can’t emphasise that enough. And for the writers, just keep doing what you’re doing and creating stories. It is a joy and an obsession, but it is what sustains us.

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