Author Joanne Horniman’s new novel About a Girl will be available in February.
Author Joanne Horniman’s new novel About a Girl will be available in February.

The secrets of writing a good book

Local author Joanne Horniman’s most recent book About A Girl tells the story of Anna, a young woman who grew up in Canberra and moved to Lismore, and her first love.

“My first love was not as romantic as that – Anna is much more intense than I was,” Joanne said. “But I do think all the drama and melodrama of it is like that whenever you fall in love – I don’t think that’s limited to teenagers. When one of my first loves dumped me for someone else I was appalled – she wasn’t as intelligent, wasn’t as good-looking, I just couldn’t understand it!”

Joanne will be talking at the Lismore Library on Friday, March 12, at 5.30pm. She will discuss what inspiration is; why Lismore is a good place to write; how plots fight with character, piles of nappies, three-legged dogs, sliding downhill through mud, and other assorted essential aspects of writing a novel.

In About A Girl, Anna feels like an outsider; she’s a gifted child, her parents have split up, she has a sister with special needs and although she’s recognises her homosexuality since she was young, she is yet to come out to her family or friends.

“To be honest, writing about that sort of stuff is not that different to writing about anything, it’s not qualitative – you just really imagine what’s going on at the time, just take yourself there and imagine what it’s like,” she said. “That’s why it’s so hard, why I’m lying on my bed at the moment and putting down notes, putting off what I have to do.”

Writing this book, Joanne spent a month is Canberra at a residential writer’s residence. Her characters, Anna and Michael, wander around parts of Canberra.

“What I was really doing was wandering around and taking everything in,” she said. “I came back and wrote 12000 words, longing to be in Canberra, it was the easiest part of the book to write.

“When you’re working well, it all flows so well, and needs the least editing. Canberra was an easy part to write; it’s a bit of a melancholy place, so bare, often you don’t see people. I think I must like melancholy, parts of the inner north of Canberra at times it’s almost like a neutron bomb has gone off. All those trees with Autumn leaves – no-one’ s going to run you over and that beautiful area going up to Mt Ainslie, it’s a wonderful place to run around.”

Joanne writes specifically with young adult female readers in mind but addresses some difficult and emotional topics, including Anna’s sister Molly, who is intellectually disabled and Anna’s battle with depression.

“I just made that character up entirely; I just wanted Anna to fell neglected by her mother, to have this little sister that took so much energy. But she also loved her little sister and had a sense of guilt, – she was meant to be looking after her when a car hits her, so she has a sense of guilt about that as well – all these things, led to Anna’s depression, she’s the cuckoo in the nest, no-one understands her. She comes from a happy middle class family that breaks up and she does blame herself at first. She’s really bright, in a class for gifted children, and feels the weight of all the family’s expectation. I think a lot of kids do break down. The HSC and uni can be such a hard time, kids just crumble under it.

I just wanted to build up to Anna totally losing it. God knows how I thought all that up I just did,” she said.

Joanne will talk downstairs at the Lismore Library on Friday, March 12, starting at 5.30pm.


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