It’s definitely the hardest career I’ve ever had. You need to be strong, resilient and determined to break through the rejections. Also, write because you love it, not to be published. It’s very difficult to be published and there’s many variables outside your control such as being in the right place at the right time, and the zeitgeist. Good luck everyone!

NLK: How did you start writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

SR: My profession was PR. I worked in areas I was passionate about, environmental and universities. But the chop and change of politics and its negative impact on crucial issues was dispiriting. I started to think about writing the book I’d always wanted to rather than another press release, interview, annual report, ministerial or policy document. It was a gradual evolution and I didn’t seriously start until I’d lived in France a couple of years. But the niggle started when I was writing as a PR professional.

I’d always had a fascination with books and writers, with writing movements like the Bloomsbury Group for instance. I like the sense of creation and imagination and the opening of worlds and promise for readers. I think Le Chateau started a bit as a challenge, a dare, could I do it? Would I last the distance? Did I have ‘a book in me’?

NLK: I notice you refer to David Bowie throughout your novel Le Chateau. What’s your favourite David Bowie song? (I ask this because I spent much of my teens trawling through second-hand record shops searching for Bowie LPs)

SR: I trawled for David stardust too! Hmmm, that’s an almost impossible question to answer for a super fan. I mean Bowie produced more than 27 albums of more than 270 songs so for me it’s a mood thing. What period, what vibe am I in the mood for? Bowie has a song for every emotion or sensation you may be feeling or wanting to feel. But if I had to choose and album I’d choose ‘Station to Station’ for many reasons It’s from my favourite period the ‘Thin White Duke’. Bowie was excruciatingly handsome and ethereal but to be honest as I was a young teenager during the ‘Let’s Dance’ years. That period’s physical perfection was much appreciated too! I digress – back to the music – ‘Station and Station’ sounds like he had a lot of fun making it. That’s palpable to me and I love sensing that joy and passion, especially now he’s passed. To listen to it now and hear him at his peak, so alive, and jamming and bursting with his abundant creativity and talent. It was experimental and according to legend it’s the album he can’t even remember making! What genius to have been so prolific and audacious. The album he can’t remember creating is actually my favourite. I love the piano and the tinkering and jazz riffs in there and the lengthy, luxurious, philosophical epics like the title track. My favourite track would be a three way tie between the eponymous ‘Station to Station’, ‘Word on a Wind’ and ‘Stay’. But then there’s ‘Wild is the Wind’, which Bowie didn’t write but interpreted in the most moving, passionate and romantic way. I always get goose bumps when I hear it. As a teenager I would imagine he was whispering it in my ear. I’m sure I’m not alone there! These four songs are referenced in ‘Le Chateau’ as they all have a relation to Charlotte’s journey.

NLK: I loved your book Le Chateau and admit to being a teensy bit in love with Henri. Does he resemble a famous male celebrity? (British model, David Gandy, springs to mind)

SR: Actually, I was a little in love with Henri too! But, sorry to disappoint, no. He came from my imagination of what the ideal French man would be like. The mix of qualities and also a photo from an interview in a French glossy of a father and son who run a large business or restaurant empire together. The son in some ways physically resembled my idea of Henri and I had the photo on my desk while I wrote for a while but it probably has been lost in one of the moves from France to Ireland or from the Northern to Southern Hemisphere! But to me Henri is not model ‘plastic / perfect’ if you forgive the term (sorry models). He’s intelligent, funny, cultured, sexy and handsome, but with an earthiness a centredness thrown in. He had to be pretty special I thought to allow Charlotte to initially hook up with him and all the risk and difficulty entailed in the cross cultural romance. Not just a pretty face. A few readers have asked me who I think should play Charlotte and Henri in the movie version. Charlotte to me has to be an Australian actress and I’d like Henri to be French. Who do you think, Nadia? (French actor Jean DuJardin could be a contender in my mind.)

NLK: What has been your most memorable career achievement to date?

SR: Other than being published? It’s hard to top that! But being selected to appear in two sessions at the 2016 Brisbane Writer’s Festival (BWF) is up there. The program was so exciting with Alexi Sayle, and unexpectedly controversial with the keynote address. There were many great authors from all round the world. I enjoyed local Australian talent such as Emma Viskic and Gary Kemble. It was a huge honour for me as both a Brisbane resident and writer, to be asked to participate in this  important, progressive and dynamic festival. I have loved attending as a ‘friend’ for the last few years since we returned from living in Europe. To actually appear there, sandwiched between Le Chateau‘s release and its Avid Reader launch felt auspicious and special to me. It was also a great blessing to be in conversation with the talented Cass Moriarty (author of The Promise Seed, UQP) and fellow QUT Alumna, at the BWF. I really enjoyed it and especially socialising and getting to know other authors at the Festival including Cass Moriarty, Natasha Lester, Leah Kaminsky, Rajith Savanadasa, Nick Seeley, Suki Kim, Marie Munkara, Cathy McLennan – among others – was stimulating and unique.

NLK: What advice would you give to new and emerging writers?

SR: Apply for competitions like QWC / Hachette Manuscript Development Program and others that promise connections with editors, publishers and agents. I’m sure selection was a huge help in my journey to publication. It’s hard to get a foot in the door of publishing. Selection for such prestigious programs is noticed and understood in the industry. It gives you a better chance and that’s what we all need.

Trust your own judgement and remember there are no guarantees in publishing. Publishers can change their minds very fast. Also, write what you’re interested in. It’s hard to pick the zeitgeist and it’ll probably have changed anyway by the time your book is ready for publication and then what happens to your book?

It’s definitely the hardest career I’ve ever had. You need to be strong, resilient and determined to break through the rejections. Also, write because you love it, not to be published. It’s very difficult to be published and there’s many variables outside of your control such as being in the right place at the right time, and the zeitgeist. Good luck everyone!

I admire anyone who writes – published or unpublished – because I know how hard and challenging it is. It’s an endurance race. Respect to all writers! Kudos.

About Sarah Ridout

Sarah Ridout’s, ‘Le Chateau’, was selected for the QWC / Hachette Manuscript Development Program. Sarah appeared at the BWF2016 and her book was released in September this year by Echo Publishing, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Australia. It is available Australia wide through bookstores and Booktopia and internationally through the bookdepository. Sarah has a Masters in Creative Writing from UCD Dublin (First Class Honours) and ‘Le Chateau’ is her first novel.

For more information please visit Sarah’s website and Facebook author page 

Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Instagram

An Excerpt from Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout

Through the car window an unfamiliar landscape of cypress trees and vineyards flashes by in a green shuffle. It’s not London; it’s not Australia. I touch my head and recoil from the short, sharp prickles of new hair.

We round a corner and four gleaming turrets like witches’ hats loom. Trees circle the building that wears them, like a moat. Jérémie, the doctor, drives. He seems late thirties and has a kind face.

‘Do you recognise the chateau, Charlotte?’ he asks.

I shake my head.

The car slows, Jérémie flicks the indicator and the noise reminds me of the relentless beep of hospital machines. We drive through an old iron gate set in low walls, passing statues of a three-headed goddess and a weathered cherub with its nose chipped off. Like me it has seen better days. We follow the circular route of a pebble drive, the talk between tyre and gravel the only noise.

The structure comes into full view, sitting aloof and solid, dominating the land with its cream walls, those towers, and the imposing weight of slate, stone and statuary. It is perfectly symmetrical and sure. Clouds move in the sunlight and produce a morse code of shadows across the tiles that I cannot decode.
I scan the flashcards on my lap. Patient: Charlotte de Chastenet. Family: Husband, Henri; Daughter, Ada; Mother- in-law, Madame de Chastenet.

I stare up at the facade.
‘Don’t be scared.’ The doctor pats my hand, right on the bruised, sticky patch where the drip had been.
‘I don’t recognise anything,’ I say. ‘Is this really home?’

The imposing edifice immerses the old Mercedes in shade.

Nothing. Husband, daughter, mother-in-law. I remember nothing.