December 2009


Michelle Holman is the author of three novels, Bonkers, Divine and Knotted. She lives in Cambridge, New Zealand.
(Interview by Paula Phillips)

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  1. 1. How did you become a writer?

    By accident - seriously, it was a total surprise! I've written since I was about 11 and my first attempt was a love story about me and a rock star which thankfully, I never completed. I wrote stories in between having my children and working 12-hour shifts as an emergency department nurse and managed to produce six half-finished manuscripts because I always hit a wall and couldn’t complete them. I don't do New Year's resolutions but at the end of 2005, I decided that 2006 would be the year I finished a book and sent it to a publisher. Bonkers was that book. I'd like to say the NY resolution was fuelled by a burning ambition but too much wine would be closer to the truth.

    2. How have you injected a distinctly New Zealand flavour into your books?

    I write about what I know plus I don't think we appreciate how unique this part of the world is or how funny "DownUnder" humour is. We say something with a few words and a look that other people can convey in a paragraph.

    3. Have you ever experienced problems with your books "translating" into an international market?

    Bonkers was released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on November 1 this year as "Einfach Himmlisch" (Simply Heavenly) because there isn't a German word for Bonkers and the German publishers are now interested in Knotted, so fingers crossed that means my books can make the leap successfully.

    4. Which character are you most like - Danny, Lisa or Tara?

    Danny! Minus the blue hair but according to my husband I do have her sharp tongue. He's English and has commented that it's a wonder my lips are still attached to my face. I've explained it's DownUnder "insight" but he remains unconvinced - mind you, he gives as good as he gets!

    5. Have you based your characters on real friends and family?

    Corrine Cathcart, the owner of Mud in your Eyes cafe in Divine, is based on Carolyn Parkes, a friend of mine who owns the Deli on the Corner in my hometown of Cambridge. Carolyn was thrilled when she took a night class not long after Divine came out and after everybody introduced themselves, a woman pointed at her and said, "You’re that woman in that book, aren't you".

    6. What was the inspiration for Divine, the book, and Divine, the town?

    I wanted to write about rural New Zealand and came up with an idea for a story about a woman whose husband leaves her to become a woman. I'd seen several documentaries about men undergoing sex reassignment surgery, and they got me thinking about what it must be like for their families, and in particular, their wives. Divine really is a fictitious town - and it came out of my head, but no matter how many times I insist that it isn't based on Cambridge, people living here don't believe me. I've been stopped in the street and asked if Gil and Barney is so-and-so and never have a clue who they're talking about. Though I'd be keen to meet Gil Sorensen's doppelganger, if he exists.

    7. Tell us about the dream that inspired the Bonkers storyline?

    George, the angel in Heaven's waiting room, is actually my father-in-law who died in 2001. He would have done exactly what George the angel did and sent Lisa back instead of Dan's wife, if he didn't think the right decision had been made. I think that particular dream must have happened during that wine-fuelled New Year's resolution setting! No seriously, I dream a lot of the scenes in my book and keep a pad and pen on my bedside table so I can jot ideas down. I can write lying down, in the dark and still read it in the morning - multi-talented or what? My husband knows not to give me a kick if I'm muttering in my sleep, or at least, not until I've scribbled something down.

    8. How did the telephone sex job arise in the novel Divine, as it just seemed out of the ordinary?

    Snort! That came about following one of those sessions with a friend over a glass of wine (oh dear, starting to get a theme going here) when you complain about your job, that the dishwasher won't magically empty itself, that you put two socks in the washing machine/ dryer and only get one back etc. I have a friend called Tina who has a posh, sexy English voice. I told her she should start doing telephone sex, that she could be at home in her pyjamas doing the dusting and make money telling them they've been naughty boys (you get paid per the minute). The response from women when I talk about researching the telephone sex industry is always amazing! Once their initial surprise has worn off I can literally see the wheels turning in their heads as they consider it as a possible career. I think I should be a career counsellor. Tina has changed jobs but I'm disappointed to report that she didn't follow my advice.

    9. There's a scene in Knotted where Danny throws an apple in the supermarket at Ross, what was the inspiration behind that?

    I've had so much feedback about that scene and the answer is, I don't know! I'm not even sure I dreamed it. When the characters start writing themselves, I know I've got a handle on them and they sometimes take off and do things I didn't have planned for them. Yes, I know that sounds loopy but it's the truth. All the odds are stacked in Ross' favour, he has power, money and time, and should be able to make Danny do exactly what he wants. Danny is every bit as stubborn and determined as he is but because she doesn't have his resources she has to be inventive which is how things like the apple scene happened. Danny and Ross got into a fight. In a supermarket, nothing to do with me.

    10. You also touched on a variety of different cultures - was there a particular reason behind it?

    There is a strong family theme in Knotted, Ross has too much and Danny has none. Ross is American. I wanted him to come from a family of strong women and somehow it seemed natural for his mother to be Irish and his father Italian. Danny's mother was Maori but Danny has been cut off from her heritage. Ross's family drives him nuts whereas Danny longs for a family.

    11. Whose body would you like to return to Earth in?

    Daniel Craig and Viggo Mortensen - just so that I could look at their bodies, I don't know how they go along in life without me. I'd quite like to be Sandra Bullock because she's gorgeous and sarcastic, and I’ve always had a fantasy about standing on a podium receiving a gold medal for an equestrian event at the Olympics so any gold female medallist will do, as long as she's gorgeous and sarcastic.

    12. How important is humour to your writing?

    It's paramount. I write what I like to read, stories about strong women and men in difficult situations that make me laugh but can also put a lump in my throat.

    13. What's the best thing a fan has ever said to you?

    Actually, it was a fan's husband when he stopped me in a supermarket and asked if I was "that writer, Michelle Holman". I had a bag of frozen peas in my hand and he was on the opposite side of the freezer next to the frozen chickens/turkeys so you can understand my hesitation in answering. When I said yes, he complained that his wife hadn't cooked dinner all weekend because she was reading one of my books. Thankfully, the turkeys/chickens stayed on his side.

    14. What are you working on now?

    Bonkers is the first of three books about the Jackson kids and I'm currently writing Sherry and Glen's story. People who have read Bonkers will remember that they got off on the wrong foot when Sherry almost arrested Glen for breaching NZ biosecurity when he arrived at the airport with a banana in his golf bag. I was planning on writing another book but they came bugging me and I had to give in and write their story. I'm having alot of fun with it.

    15. Besides writing, what are your plans for 2010?

    Not sure. Perhaps another wine-fuelled New Year's resolution.

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