Penguin Books Aus
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Zoe Greene manages the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and she’s just signed the author of the most popular and loved book of the moment to turn it into a movie. Now she needs to find the production company that’s going to give her the best deal because Zoe also manages her own career and she wants to get into making movies. When she meets with misogynistic Jeff Beerman, the head of Palladium Pictures, sparks fly.
Maggie Hall has been at the top of her game for the past ten or fifteen years. The actress has made a string of successful films and was once married to the Aussie heartthrob actor Will MacIntyre. But Maggie has always been searching for more, something like what author Hugh Cavell, author of The Art of Love once had with his late wife. Maggie is desperate to play the role of Simone in the movie and desperate to meet Hugh. But when she does, he’s not at all what she expected.
Will MacIntyre’s son Elliot has been through a rough time. He was sick for much of his life but now he’s had the life changing operation he needs to start living – if only he could bring himself to do so. Reluctant to get out of bed, weirded out by the feel of what’s happening to him, Elliot needs something to motivate him, to convince him to begin living again. And that comes alone in the form of Dylan Mercer.
Dylan is in Hollywood on a secret mission. The last thing she expected was to be befriended by the famous Maggie Hall and end up with a job helping her former stepson Elliot. Dylan thinks that her dream to find the birth mother who gave her up for adoption nineteen years ago is almost an impossibility. However what she seeks is closer than she could ever have imagined. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
There’s a fascination with the lives of the rich and famous, whether people want to admit it or not. Their faces and dramatic headlines about pregnant or not, getting married or not, getting divorced or not, new lovers, losing weight, putting on weight etc sell magazines and newspapers. Millions of people watch a family famous for doing nothing for series after series as cameras follow them around everywhere. Everyone wants a peek into a lifestyle so dramatically different from theirs. And Close Up does a little bit of that but it’s also got some surprising depth.
Zoe Greene and Maggie Hall have been friends for a long time – a very long time. The narrative of this story is split with part of it being set back in 1996 and the other part in 2014. Zoe and Maggie have stuck together for a long time, Zoe getting Maggie parts in movies and carefully crafting their careers until they are in the highest echelons. They have a lot in common, a similar background being one thing but their tight friendship is tested in this book when Maggie wants the lead of Simone in the movie version of The Art of Love and realises that Zoe is testing other actresses.
I enjoyed the character of Jeff Beerman and what Forster did with him a lot – much more than I expected to. His introduction is less than flattering and it’s obvious he’s a character that’s supposed to get your hackles up at first but the more Zoe gets to know him as they hammer out the movie deal, the more he also has hidden depths. I liked the way their friendship developed. Jeff has been divorced many times, each wife younger than the previous so Zoe is well aware that she’s “far too old” for him (she’s in her mid 30s). They have a great dynamic and the way that Zoe is supportive and caring for Jeff after he suffers an illness really strengthens their growing feelings for each other. Likewise Jeff begins to realise that not all women are gold-diggers or out to cause trouble and that he’s been looking for the wrong things every single time.
I also thought the inclusion of Elliot’s story was a very interesting touch. His powerful family have managed to keep what he has gone through very tightly under wraps but now Elliot is a little depressed and struggling to deal with what he has received and at what cost. He wants to write, perhaps therapeutically, to help get his feelings out there but isn’t sure how to begin. Maggie hires a young woman named Dylan to be his assistant but really it’s Dylan’s job to get Elliot out and about, get him interested in life again. The two of them are quite sweet together.
There’s no denying that there are a lot of coincidences in this book. You have to put that aside really and not focus on it too much because they’re not exactly uncommon in stories like this, where people who are desperately searching for something suddenly find it’s there right in front of them and has been all along. The writing in this story is engaging enough to make a lot of this slide away and I think for me it’s because it’s fleshed out with people not in movies – Hugh, the troubled author, Dylan and Elliot who are as in the beginning, undecided on what they want to do with their lives. It takes the story away from movies, even though it’s revolving around attempting to adapt a book into one. It gives the author a chance to better flesh out the people and make them the real stars, flaws and all.
Book #18 of 2014
And thanks to the fab peeps at Penguin AUS, I got to ask Kate a few questions about writing!
Q1. Hi Kate and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To get started, let’s talk writing. What made you first put pen to paper and when? What was the road to publication like for you?
I started writing when I was coming out of a clinical depression. I was unable to work in my former role, and upon my doctor’s advice, she encouraged me to explore a creative activity. Writing was all I knew how to do, so I started a story about a woman with no problems, but soon enough the character came to life, and so did her problems.
Eventually I shared the story with some girlfriends, and they insisted I write the rest, so I did. I wrote it for them really. The road to publication was long. I managed to get an agent with my first thirty pages and a submission letter. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was all part of my therapy, as my doctor suggested I see what happens with the story.
The manuscript required work, which took about six months, and then it went to Penguin, where it was picked up by the lovely Kirsten Abbot, who became my editor. Then I had to wait for a year, when the book, was scheduled to be released. It was a long process, and I learned so much in that time.
Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: do you write full time and if so, do you have a schedule? Do you have a favourite place to write, such as a study or café and is there anything you consider essential to the creative process, such as music or coffee?
I write full time, because I really can’t do anything else. I have no real skills, except being an archivist of useless information, that finds a home in my books. I have health issues from my depression, which require very specific management and routine, so I made it a choice to write full time, which is my way of earning money. This has meant I take on as much as I can because you never know what’s next, and also because I have an abundance of story ideas.
I write best in the mornings, or very late at night. The afternoons are for my family and house, but if I’m on deadline, I’ll work through the responsibilities. I have a very supportive husband and older children, which helps enormously.
The creative process is so personal. It’s how ever you worship your muse. For me it’s coffee, then website trawling. Then another coffee, and then start work. An average writing day for me is 3500 words. A great day is 5500. The biggest day was 10,000, but that was the night I didn’t sleep as the book was due the next day. I felt like I was on speed, until I crashed after sending to my editor.
Q3. What is it about the ups and downs of Hollywood, its inhabitants and the movie industry that attracts you to set your stories there?
I love that world because it’s so carefully controlled, but it’s not that hard to read between the lines, look under the rugs and peer beyond the red carpet. Celebrities are like anyone else, and its their problems that make them real, it’s just we don’t often get to see enough of that when overzealous publicists take over.
Q4. What inspired you to include Elliot’s illness and the resulting treatment?
The idea of having another person’s heart in your body is incredible. It would be impossible not to ask who’s heart it was before you inherited it, and what tragedy befell the person, that allowed you to live. Elliot’s survivor guilt is a terrible burden, almost worst that his illness.
Q5. Against all odds, I found myself really loving the character of Jeff Beerman. Was his evolution a very deliberate thing or something that unfolded naturally in the writing of the book?
I loved that you got Jeff! He became funnier and funnier the more I saw of him, as I wrote. He’s got terrible taste in women, so he hates them as a result of his bad choices, but underneath that is self-esteem issues. I nearly killed him off, but then I missed him, and he wasn’t happy with that choice, so he came back into the book after him yelling at me in my head about the ‘bullshit’ choice I made.
Q6. If you had to describe yourself and also your novels in 5 words, which ones would you choose?
Funny, smart, top-shelf, strong, real.
Q7. Share five of your favourite books and/or authors
Lace- Shirley Conran
The Treehouse- Naomi Wolf
Night Film- Marisha Pessl
Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Oxford Dictionary
Q8. And lastly…what’s next for you?
I have two Young Adult books out this year, and I am writing a new Adult fiction novel. It’s my passion. All I do is dream about this book and the characters. It’s a cracker.
Thanks so much for your time Kate!
Close Up is the 7th book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014