Today I’d like to welcome Josephine Moon to the blog. She is the author of ‘The Tea Chest’, published by Allen & Unwin, and she’s a self-confessed tea lover!
Josephine, tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be a novelist?
I was born in Brisbane and now live on the Sunshine Coast with my husband, toddler and an unreasonably large collection of animals. I write fiction and non-fiction, with a different publisher for each. I love good food, aromatic wonders, nature and animals, and am a self-diagnosed spa junkie. My aim in life is to do all my work from the spa.
I took the long route to novel writing, and wrote ten manuscripts in twelve years on the way. I studied journalism at Uni, taught English and Film and TV in schools, worked as a technical writer and then five years as a professional editor, all the while writing and hoping to one day be published. Finally, in 2012, I got a literary agent and three book contracts soon after.
The title of your debut novel, “The Tea Chest” makes me want to open up the book and delve inside…what’s the book about and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a mad tea woman. I just love tea, teapots, tea rituals, high teas, doilies, silver spoons and teeny tiny cakes. One day, I was wandering through a T2 tea shop (around 2007), inhaling aromas and shaking bowls of tea, and I thought, ‘What an awesome job! Who gets to design all these teas?’ And with that, the character of Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, arrived.
In the book, Kate Fullerton has just inherited fifty per cent of the company from her mentor and must decide what she will risk, both for herself and her young family, in order to take a chance to follow her dreams. Along the way, she’s joined by Elizabeth and Leila, two women at crossroads in their own lives, who join Kate’s venture to help realise The Tea Chest’s success. Set across Brisbane and London, with a backdrop of delectable teas and tastes, lavender fields and vintage clothes, The Tea Chest is a gourmet delight you won’t want to finish.
What are your plans for your next book?
My next book is currently sitting with my publisher and I’m anxiously awaiting her feedback! It is due to be published next year. It’s called The Chocolate Apothecary, and is set across Tasmania and France, is a family drama with a strong, classical romance structure, and continues my fascination with artisan food, lavender fields, sensory delights and chocolate, which wasn’t so good for my waistline and I’m now carrying the kilos of two years of hard research.
Which writers have had the greatest influence on you both as a reader and as a writer?
James Herriot, Monica McInerney, Liane Moriarty, Nick Earls, Kimberley Freeman (Kim Wilkins).
As a reader, what do you expect from a novel that you pick up?
I want to escape to another place, meet new characters that I love, and be taken on a journey. I avoid anything that is stressful, dark, involves violence or misery — I think there’s too much of that around us in real life and I’m not interested in spending my leisure time living it through books. So I want something nurturing and entertaining.
What are your most favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?
Good question! I truly think I have the best job in the world and I would be doing it (and indeed I did do it for twelve years prior to a publishing deal) even if I wasn’t being paid. So I’m blessed to be excited to ‘go to work’ each day and I feel stressed when life gets in the way and I can’t work. I never feel happier than when I’ve had a great writing day.
There are of course moments of pain, too. I explain it like that moment when you’re running, or swimming or on the exercise bike etc. and you hit that pain barrier where you think, oh man, I’m not enjoying this and I want to stop now. But if you keep going, you reach another level and if you’re really lucky you’ll hit that zone where you’re just flying and scoring goals and nothing can stop you. I used to get that playing netball and it was a magic place. Some people call it a ‘runner’s high’. I now call it a ‘writer’s high’ 🙂 I’ve learned that when I hit that moment of pain in writing, when I really want to stop there, that’s the moment to just wait it out. And so often (so often!), I’ll get a second wind and some really great words.
So, in summary, that moment of pain where I feel like I’m pathetic and this is hopeless and I’m never going to be able to finish this scene let alone this book… that’s unpleasant. But getting into ‘the zone’… that’s magic!
What did you learn from writing “The Tea Chest”?
Before writing The Tea Chest, I’d written ten manuscripts across a huge range of genres and styles. It took me a long time to really find my voice and know what I wanted to put out into the world. So the biggest thing I learned from The Tea Chest was to write the book I wanted to read.
Do you see social media as key to reaching your readers?
These days, I think you have to embrace social media as a keystone in relationship building and connection with everyone from all walks of life. For me, social media is a double-edged sword. It can be wonderful for that instant communication and feedback, entertainment and promotion and socialising… but it also takes up a LOT of time and, more concerning for me, headspace. I recently discovered ‘Freedom’ a computer program that blocks the internet for you. Whenever I find myself ‘looping’ on social media (you know, you check stuff, post something, move on, but then someone comments and you feel you have to reply, then you have to check if they replied and on and on) I switch on Freedom, go through a few moments of panic that I might actually NEED the internet for the next two-and-a-half hours (!!) and then get over it and write some great words.
Have you had reader feedback about “The Tea Chest”? Are there any responses that you have particularly treasured?
I have had so many lovely readers contact me to tell me how much they love The Tea Chest. And I really treasure each one. I mean, at the end of the day, you write so someone will read it, don’t you? So that kind of validation is really meaningful to me. I do remember one woman wrote to me and said she hadn’t read anything since leaving high school and The Tea Chest was the first book she’d bought since then and I’d turned her back into being a reader. I mean, wow.
Do you find some scenes harder to write than others? Are there any types of scene that you do your utmost to avoid writing?
Yes! I’ve definitely found racy scenes difficult to write in the past, but just in the past two years I think I’ve worked out what my style is and how I should approach them and so they intimidate me less now. A huge re-write happened in The Tea Chest in the first couple of drafts and during the structural edit I took out a lot of racy scenes. They just weren’t me and weren’t working. Liane Moriarty writes brilliant sex scenes, I think, and I’ve learned a lot from her writing.
The other thing I try to avoid are emotionally painful scenes (such as when someone has died). But that’s because I don’t want to feel all that pain. I do get back to them eventually; it just takes me a while to face them.
And finally…Do you have any strange writing habits? (That you’re willing to share of course!)
I don’t think so (other needing my ‘writing pants’ to work in… which are generally pyjama bottoms). But I do seem to need chocolate to edit. I don’t know what that’s about but it just seems to be as necessary as the red pen.
Thank you so much for having me along. I’ve really enjoyed these questions! Jo x
Thank you Josephine for talking about yourself and your book. I’m just over halfway through ‘The Tea Chest’ at the moment and it’s a great read…I don’t like tea but you never know, you may have converted me!
Helen R 🙂