1 February 2017

Penelope Janu — a real, live author — drops by…

So this is pretty cool. Right now Aussie author Penelope Janu is cruising about the country (mostly via cyberspace) talking about the release of her debut novel, a romantic comedy called In At The Deep End, and today she’s decided to stop by Say Anything Sare for a cup of earl grey and a chat.

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of In At The Deep End and, um, I totally loved it! You can read my review here.

As of last week In At The Deep End is sitting enticingly on bookshop and department store shelves ready for readers to dive in. 

So, while Penelope’s here there are some questions I'd love to ask her about the book and, of course, about what life’s like now she's living the dream as a fully fledged author.

Hi Penelope, thanks so much for stopping by.

No worries. It’s lovely to be here.

Well, let’s dive right in shall we? I want to know what came to you first? The plot for In At The Deep End, or the character of Harriet?

The character of Harriet came first, and the fact she’d be an environmentalist. I wanted her to have an interesting past—but also be someone readers could relate to. Having said that, the climate change and global warming aspect was a starting point too — and was always going to be part of Harriet’s story.

Yes, I found her very relatable despite being under-informed on environmental issues myself. Actually, the book made me want to pick up my game in that regard, so thanks!

The opening scene in the book - Harriet’s dramatic rescue from a sinking ship in Antarctica — felt so damn real…and scary. How did you craft such a great scene? Have you experienced anything like this yourself?

Thankfully not! But I have had the odd moment in a yacht where I’ve been hanging on for dear life because the boat has been airborne (and there’s that heart thumping feeling of being suspended over the ocean). I have a friend who is a Captain in the Australian Navy (not a regular reader of commercial romantic fiction) who was nice enough to read my book. He explained the mechanics of what happens when a large ship sinks, and what might play out afterwards, given the extreme weather conditions. 


I loved all the travel adventure stories from Harriet’s youth that were peppered throughout the book. Her out-of-the-ordinary upbringing made her such a rich character. And it got me thinking….I know Per’s the ‘one’, but who was Harriet’s first love? I feel sure there must be some funny/beautiful tale of teenage love that happened to her in a far flung destination.

It was definitely a Peruvian boy. I’m not sure how I can say that so definitively but I can! They trekked together in the Andes for a week, and were almost inseparable — in that intense way only 14-year-olds can be!

Ooh, I reckon there could be a YA novel in that…maybe something to think about?


OK, so Per is my favourite male lead in a long time. I developed a crush on him as soon as he appeared in the book and was head over heels for him by the end. What made you decide he was going to be Norwegian and did you seek out assistance with the sections of dialogue where he spoke in his native tongue (which I loved btw!)?

Thank you, Sarah. I liked writing those parts as well! The reason Per is Norwegian is … my first manuscript has a Norwegian hero called Lars, who once told the heroine (as they were gazing at the boats on Sydney harbour) that his cousin was ‘the youngest commander ever in the Norwegian Navy.’ As soon as I had Harriet’s character, a Norwegian naval commander popped into my mind. Per!

And yes I did get help with the Norwegian. A very talented young flute player friend, Rosie, introduced me to her equally talented flautist friend, Andreas, who she’d studied with for four years at Juilliard in New York. Andreas was helpful on nuance and everything else — this was important because just about every scene I sent him to review involved Per and Harriet making out! Andreas is now playing professionally in an orchestra in Europe.

That is a very cool behind the scenes story. Love it.

Before becoming a novelist you had a long career in law and academia. When and how did the writing bug strike? And how strongly do your former careers influence what you want to write about?

I had a secret wish to write … always. It was suppressed. And all I ever wanted to write were romances. They were the stories I imagined for years before writing anything down. 

But that’s not to say I feel I haven’t felt satisfied in the other careers I’ve had. I like to read, and write interesting plots, so my characters have to get over various obstacles before they are ready to be together. I think my experiences in life, my career and my family, really help with that.

Well, I think you’re really brave and you’re obviously very determined  — you made the author thing happen! Lots of people have a stories inside of them but not that many actually get them out. The writing journey isn’t an easy one to sign up for.

What is your favourite aspect of novel writing? Creating characters, plotting, research? Or all of it?

Because I don’t plot terribly much, the plotting always worries me until the end — when it all comes together it’s a cause of celebration! I love creating characters — main characters and supporting characters. 

And I enjoy the research as well (that’s probably my legal background). I became obsessed with Scott and Amundsen’s journeys to the South Pole, and it was an effort to condense all that information into a form that was appropriate to Harriet and Per’s story.

When I enjoy a book as much as In At The Deep End I can’t wait to get my hands on whatever else the author has written. When is your next book due out and what is it about?

I’ve written a companion novel to In At The Deep End, and that is with my publisher now. The heroine has a backstory that was a lot of fun to write, and she’s a speech pathologist, which brings up all sorts of opportunities to think about how characters communicate with one another, through speech and in other ways. The hero is Per’s twin brother Tør, a Norwegian diplomat (and possibly a spy). He’s very different to Per, but I like to think they share some essential qualities. I loved writing this story — and still miss the characters!

Oh, I hear you. It’s so hard to let great characters go. The new book sounds awesome. I’m keen to meet Tør. Thanks so much for all the interesting insights Penelope and congratulations on In At The Deep End.