Fabulous Fiction with Stella Quinn & May 2021 guest Pamela Hart
Welcome to Fabulous Fiction, a blog by Stella Quinn which celebrates books so good, you just want to hug them when you’re done reading.
I was so thrilled this month to be blogging about Pamela Hart's new book.
It's like two of my favourite genres - crime and romance - hooked up on a date. Rush out and grab this wonderful new release, out on June 2nd, the first in a series featuring a quirky new sleuth, Poppy McGowan.
And I'm not the only one loving this book - look what a quick internet search just found:
'Fast, fun and ferocious in turns' - Candice Fox
'Digging Up Dirt is a clever, blackly funny murder mystery of our times' - Petronella McGovern
STELLA: Tell us a little about your book, Pamela
Digging up Dirt by Pamela Hart
Renovations are hell – and that’s before you find the body under the floorboards…
When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).
Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep, and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.
When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?
Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back?
Digging Up Dirt is the first in a new series: the Poppy McGowan Mysteries.
STELLA: Okay, now let’s get to know the author behind the book!
Pamela Hart giving us a lovely shelfie in a New York bookstore!
Pamela Hart is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Digging Up Dirt is her first full-length mystery, and is the first book in the Poppy McGowan Mysteries series. Her last book was The Charleston Scandal, set in London in 1923 where the world of theatre and aristocracy collide (featuring Fred Astaire and the Prince of Wales). Prior to that, her ANZAC novel series told the stories of women living through the changing times of WWI.
She is also well known as Pamela Freeman, an award-winning children’s and fantasy writer published worldwide. Her most recent children’s book was Dry to Dry: The season of Kakadu, which is a 2021 Book Week Book.
Pamela teaches at the Australian Writers’ Centre, where she is Director of Creative Writing. She says the most lasting benefit of having a doctorate in this subject is that when people ask you, ‘Is it Ms or Mrs?’ you can say, ‘It’s Doctor, actually.’
Fabulous Fiction Q & A
STELLA: Fabulous fiction stays with us long after we have finished reading. Pamela, why will readers find Digging Up Dirt a book they’ll want to hold close (a hugworthy book, we call this on the Fabulous Fiction blog)?
PAMELA: I feel a bit shy answering this – but I think it’s hugworthy because it’s a book which combines mystery, romance and family with what reviews are calling ‘a darkly humorous take’ on modern life. And because of Poppy, who is my favourite main character ever!
STELLA: Do you have a favourite genre to read? To write?
PAMELA: Well, romance, obviously! I read pretty much everything, but I do like combining romance with other genres, both to read and to write. Historical, fantasy, and now mysteries…
I think mystery and fantasy suck you in…and I do like a happy ending, which you’re most likely to get in these genres (particularly the ones which have romantic elements…)
STELLA: When YOU read, what are the “must haves” in a book for you to love it ? (For me it’s character: there has to be someone that I love)
PAMELA: I have to care about the characters, I think – after all, I reread my favourites all the time, and clearly I already know the plot! So I think it’s a combination of characters I care about, and a ‘world’ – a setting that gives me a feeling of connection to place and time.
STELLA: Has a reader let you know the special something in any of your books that has touched them? (I have a major tissue-sniffle session whenever a book has an old, grey-whiskered dog in it)
PAMELA: I often get emails from people about places, oddly enough. I am a sucker for writing Sydney stories, both past and present, and I’ve written about a variety of settings, from Egypt to Italy to London. I do get people saying, ‘I can just imagine it!’ or ‘That’s exactly what it’s like!’
I guess one other ‘special something’ readers mention is the relationships I like to have between younger and older women – whether that’s family or friends or mentors. As a member of a large family, I treasure the relationships I had with my aunts as well as my mother, and I’ve had brilliant mentors in my career. I like to portray positive relationships (although not always easy ones) between the generations. It’s not something I see very often in fiction, and readers clearly respond to it.
STELLA: I absolutely agree. My book (coming out the same day as yours, Pamela!) has a friendship emerge between the heroine, who is emotionally repressed and prickly, and a retired florist, Marigold, who imposes on Vera in the most hilarous ways (forced yoga, for example). I think these multigenerational friendships give a book a lot of heart.
STELLA: Has a comment in a review from a reader ever stayed with you? What was it? Why does it make you happy/proud/vengeful?
PAMELA: Well…vengeful….a review in the Sydney Morning Herald said the reviewer would rather ‘roll in the hay with a pitchfork’ than read my kids’ book. That book (Victor’s Quest) was a Book Week book, is by far my best-selling children’s book, is still in print after 25 years, and is being turned into a musical – so I guess that’s pretty good revenge!
But another book of mine…The Soldier’s Wife is about a woman in WWI, whose recently-married husband goes off to Gallipoli and comes back wounded; they have to struggle through some post-traumatic issues and the fact that she’s changed a great deal in the time he was gone. I got reviews from soldiers and soldier’s wives saying that I’d got that part of the story right, which meant a great deal to me.
STELLA: What are your dealbreakers? The things that make you throw a book across a room? (For me it’s sadistic pleasure, or when my hero is done away with – think Buffy running a sword through Baby Booth. No way was I returning to that show.)
PAMELA: Hmmm….I hate women being degraded. But the thing which I just can’t cope with is when none of the character motivations make sense. If I start asking, ‘Why would they do that?’, I often don’t finish the book.
(And thanks for retraumatising me over that Buffy episode!)
STELLA: [* laughing]
STELLA: How likely is it that you would be crushed if a meteor landed in your backyard and your TBR pile fell on you while you were sleeping? What are some of the books in there at the moment?
PAMELA: My TBR pile is mostly ebooks, so I think I’d be okay. I’m reading Sarah Hawthorn’s A Voice In the Night right now, which I’m loving. Very suspenseful! Next up: Sue Whiting’s A Book of Chance (fab YA). And Miranda Kaufman’s Black Tudors (because I am a history nerd – it’s about African people in Britain during the Tudor period. There were more than you think!). Then I’m going to reread our own Bronwyn Parry’s Regency romance, A Clothier’s Daughter, which has just been shortlisted for a major prize in the US.
STELLA: I love Sue Whiting's books. I was lucky enough to do a workshop with her last year as part of the CYA Festival in Brisbane.
STELLA: How busy does writing life make you? Are you snowed under? Do you have to put limits on your reading and writing and social media so you don’t get burnout?
PAMELA: If it were just writing, I’d be okay. But I also teach writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and this year has been insane! Everyone who has ever thought, ‘I think I’d like to try writing,’ decided that lockdown was the perfect time, and I’ve been taking twice as many classes as normal. Which is great, because I love helping new writers! There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a new writer from their very first paragraph all the way through to them getting published. But it has put a bit of a strain on my writing time, and I’m having to plan time off so I don’t burn out.
STELLA: Have you ever caught the bingewatching bug and lost your reading or writing mojo? What was the binge show?
PAMELA: I binge as a reward – for finishing a draft, for example – so I see it more as a recharging process. It actually helps me write better! (That’s my excuse, anyway.)
STELLA: Oh, me too. I think I may be the only person on the planet who hasn't watched Bridgerton (and I am a HUGE Julia Quinn fan) because I am saving it up for a reward when I have finished the first draft of my current manuscript. I was at 99800 words this morning at my Sunday-morning-cafe-writefest, so inching closer ...
Now for the nitty-gritty:
Favourite Australian holiday destination: Oooh, hard. I’ve just published a kids’ picture book about Kakadu (Dry to Dry) and that is pretty fabulous. I loved my time there.
What’s your preferred drop? Diet Coke. I know, I know, it’s not good for me, but it’s my only vice! (I’m allergic to alcohol.)
Guilty pleasure? I refuse to be guilty about my pleasures! But… Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie marathons might fit.
Pet peeve: Stories where everything could be fixed easily if the main characters would just talk to each other! (Especially if this is in a contemporary setting.)
Favourite fictional couple and why? Can one go past Phryne Fisher and Jack Robinson? And why: because they work their way through some actual problems and barriers with mutual respect and a good dollop of heat. Also, gotta love a man who can wear a hat well. [Stella butting in here to agree wholeheartedly about Jack. When he wraps his scarf about Phryne's neck in the stadium ... ]
If you could pack two non-essential items for a deserted tropical island, what would they be?
A nice mug to drink from and a really big fluffy towel. (I’m assuming books are essential?)
Writers you wish you could invite over for coffee?
You, for one: Come for coffee! I’d love to invite Ellie Griffiths and her husband over (her husband, like mine, is an archaeologist, and she writes mysteries, so there’d be lots to discuss!).
Best thing about being a writer?
Not having to put shoes on to go to work. And getting emails from happy readers.
Worst thing about being a writer?
Those moments when you’re sure the book you’ve written/are writing is a boring, terrible, no good, very bad story. It always happens, and all you can do is tell yourself is ‘it’s part of the process’ and keep going.
You’re about to be stuck on the space station and you can take a crime novel OR a romance novel – what would you pick?
Why choose? There are lots of crime stories with romance in them (ahem…such as Digging Up Dirt….just sayin’).
TV/film crush: Henry Cavill in The Witcher.
The silliest thing I ever won was… when I was still at school, I won a meat tray on a chocolate wheel. My dad was a meat inspector. We were not short of meat! My dad took it back to the wheel and swapped it for chocolates.
Top three favourite places to read? 1. In a food court on a weekday just after lunchtime. Seriously. It feels like a moment out of time where no one knows where you are and you can read and eat wonton soup. Love it. (Now that I think about it, this may be my guilty pleasure…) 2. In the bath. 3. While doing other things – snatching a few pages feels so wicked!
What themes do you love to see shining through in a book?
I’m a big, big fan of compassion; kindness, openness to others, putting judgement aside to help.
Pineapple on pizza, yes or no? Preferably no, but I’ll eat it. It’s not a hill I’d die on.
Chocolate should be kept in the fridge, yes or no? No.
Holiday: beach or bush? Beach!
Proudest writer moment? Being in one of the biggest bookshops in New York and seeing my book on the shelf.
Three fun facts about you:
I cook quite a lot of food I don’t eat (because allergies). But that’s okay! I like to cook for other people.
I was a big Star Trek fan in my youth (still love it, just don’t spend time on it)
I’m a drummer. (Mostly jazz or whatever my husband is playing on the piano.)
Keep in touch with Pamela Hart
Pamela’s newsletter subscription can be found at www.pamela-hart.com/newsletter
(A free 1920s romance novella on sign-up)
Pamela's book Digging Up Dirt can be bought at all good book stores and here is an online link:
About your blogger, Stella Quinn:
When Stella Quinn isn’t sitting in the sun scribbling in a notebook, she can be found walking her dog, roaming her neighbourhood in search of the perfect latte, or thrashing her children at scrabble. She grew up in England, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Australia, and spent five (long!) years at boarding school in country Queensland.
Stella writes contemporary romance novels that are warm-hearted and filled with characters you want to be best friends with. She loves rural small-town settings, island settings, and everyday heroes. Imagine if Sea Change and Virgin River had a series of fictitious bookbabies ... they’re the books Stella writes.
Her series include The Island Escape Series and The Clementine Springs Series, and she is an author for Sweet Promise Press’s Gold Coast Retrievers Series.
Stella Quinn’s awards in the fabulous world of romance include winning the Valerie Parv Award in 2018, winning the Sapphire Award in 2019 and 2020, winning the Emerald Award in 2017 and coming second in the Sapphire in 2018. Stella was shortlisted in the Australian Society of Authors/HQ Fiction Commercial Fiction Award in 2020, and in the 2020 Ruby Award for best contemporary romance. With her writing group (who published a Christmas anthology of novellas) she was shortlisted by ARRA for best small-town contemporary romance in 2019.
Follow Stella Quinn:
Newsletter www.stellaquinnauthor.com/subscribe - (there’s a free novella waiting)