Copy courtesy of the publisher
Erica Jewell is a little down on her luck. Her husband walked out on her, leaving her for a blonde bimbo in a sports car. He did sign over his half of the house to Erica but in return for that she had to take responsibility for his gambling debt, which is large. Erica obsesses over her bills, forever calculating how much money is coming in compared to how much money is going out. It’s a struggle for her, a big struggle and she’s only just keeping her head above water.
Her bad fortune seems to continue when she arrives home one night and finds a man bleeding of a gunshot wound in her front garden. He begs her not to call the police and despite the fact that they seem to be everywhere circling the block, Erica decides not to. Instead she phones her friend who is a nurse and together they tend to the mysterious man, calling a number he provides for them. Later they are given instructions where to leave him and they comply. Erica assumes she’ll never see him again.
This doesn’t turn out to be the case – Jack, as he calls himself, calls Erica begging a favour and then explains bits and pieces of who he is and what he does, asking for her assistance in a job he has going. He works for a private organisation helping to stop terrorists before their plots can become reality and he needs a little bit of help from Erica. She will be rewarded handsomely for her efforts but it isn’t just the money that drives her to accept. It’s the chance to do something, to shake up her boring and predicatable life that hasn’t been much fun since her ex-husband walked out. And then of course, there’s the benefit of Jack Jones himself. Handsome and charming when he wants to be, he’s also clearly emotionally damaged. Erica finds herself liking him, the many sides of him, which could prove more danger than she can handle.
Erica Jewel has been touted as ‘the Australian Stephanie Plum’ and there are some similarities. Erica is probably the same age and she’s had her marriage break down, leaving her struggling with debt. Unlike Stephanie, Erica does have regular employment but both of them possess embarrassing and overbearing families and the propensity to stumble into danger. Oh and they also have good looking and mysterious men hanging around them.
Rough Diamond has some giggle moments and some really interesting ideas but some things did have me raising an eyebrow. Jack works for a private counter-terrorist unit and they consider it their civic duty to take out the terrorists before they can take out the population which seems to run similar to the line of Ranger Manoso’s “legally grey, morally right” line of work in the Stephanie Plum novels. He appears in Erica’s life out of no where, bleeding and almost unconscious in her garden and I think that was the only problem I had with the book. It really was quite a stretch to believe that Erica wouldn’t call the police on the man with the gunshot wound in her Melbourne-suburbs front yard or deliver him to a hospital, who would take it upon themselves to call the police, as is standard for those with gunshot wounds. She’s a woman living alone and the character of Jack is presented dubiously enough to have even a brave woman reluctant to admit him to her home, probably without a bullet wound. It is a tiny bit far fetched to believe that someone would do that. Yes Jack turns out to be super awesome – rich, flirty, handsome and dangerous but in the good way. But when he’s lying bleeding on her front lawn, Erica has no idea who or what he is. Likewise it seems unlikely that Jack, who clearly has skills, would involve someone like Erica in the work they were doing, however innocently it seems at first. Of course Erica draws the attention of a psycho with a grudge against Jack almost right away, which is pretty much why it seems unlikely that anyone would think it a good idea to involve someone so clueless about her own safety.
The plot though, is a really workable idea – a truckload of fertiliser (the type used to making bombs) is stolen and the race is on for Jack’s team to stop the terrorists before they put into action their plan to target Australian icons for mass casualty rates. I enjoyed that part, it made me wonder just how much is done to ward off any likely attacks (even if there are any likely attacks) and also made me give thought to how catastrophic such plans could be.
Rough Diamond had some definite positive moments and a strong plot that gave it a good backbone and a very strong protagonist voice in Erica Jewel. I did enjoy the way in which she threw herself into things, whether it be for her day job or for her new found work with Jack and the way in which she was able to fit in, despite not being trained for or knowing much about this sort of work. I particularly liked her burgeoning friendship with Jack’s offsider, which provided quite a nice touch.
I’m curious to see where Ledson takes Erica and her involvement with Jack and the Team down the track in these novels. I do think they have the potential to be a fabulously action packed series with a bit of mystery and maybe some romance and plenty of humour. It’s the type of series that would have broad appeal although hopefully the author will embrace plot and character development and not restrict each book in the series to a similar format.
Book #280 of 2012
Thanks to the publisher, Penguin AU I had the chance to ask Kathryn Ledson a few questions.
1). Hi Kathryn, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me. You worked in the corporate arena for 25 years and then left to tour with bands like Dire Straits and AC/DC as a PA. How does someone go from that to writing a novel? Or did you always write, even while you were working in other careers? Can you share a little about how you came to be published?
I’d never really felt comfortable in my role as a PA, no matter what industry I was working in. When I was retrenched from my last corporate role in 2005, I jumped on that opportunity to do something different. Writing – editing really – had always been a part of what I did, very much so (my husband likes to remind me that when we first met, I was PA to his boss at Wesley Mission. Paul used to deliver his monthly report to my desk and I’d send it back, covered in red pen). But even with strong writing skills, when I did the Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing it didn’t occur to me that I’d one day write a novel. I took mostly non-fiction subjects – journalism and corporate writing – assuming that’s what I’d do.
But Erica Jewell came to me and I felt I had no choice. This character was shouting in my head for me to give her a life. I saw the opening scene of my novel and away I went. That scene has never really changed from day one. Day one being the day after my diploma course ended in November 2008. In February 2011, I sent an email to Belinda Byrne at Penguin asking if she was interested in looking at my novel. ‘Yes please!’ she said. Almost two years later, Rough Diamond is on the shelves. (Sitting here shaking my head in disbelief about that – still!) Mind you – there were rejections before then. Actually, not rejections, just silence from other publishers. I did get to first base in the Hachette Manuscript Development program, but no further.
2). Are you the sort of writer that meticulously maps out your plot and characters? Or do you like to sit down and just ‘wing it’ and see where the book takes you?
Well, because I had NO idea what I was doing when I started writing Rough Diamond, it all just poured out of me. There were reams of romantic scenes between Jack and Erica. It was almost like I had to get it out of my system so that I could get on with writing the actual story. But in the end, there was very little plot. I understand now why other publishers wouldn’t take my manuscript. It was a structural mess. But Belinda loved the voice of Erica, and took a chance that I’d be able to produce the goods. She reckons I have – thanks to her brilliant coaching – and I’m SO delighted with the result.
This current novel – Emerald Island – well, I’m a bit more hesitant about just rushing in there, and I’m doing much more planning. It’s different this time. There’s a contract and an expectant audience and I understand why Book Two can be such a challenge for a writer. I’ll eventually hand it over to Belinda, confident that it’s in much better shape than Rough Diamond was at the same stage. (Confident because I have an angel in the wings in the form of author, mentor, plotting and structure genius, Sydney Smith, whispering in my ear.)
3). Do you have a writing routine? (Do you try and write at set times each day or just when the mood takes you.) Do you have a particular place you like to write, such as a study, or perhaps a café and do you have certain favourite snacks that keep you fueled up?
Hmm. I think I’ve rejected my former life so thoroughly, all my PA skills (apart from touch-typing, thank God) seem to have vanished. I’ve become a terrible time manager. So easily distracted by Facebook, emails, the pretty parrots outside in the bird bath. I seem to need complete silence and visual stillness to be able to write my novel, and nothing else that needs doing (otherwise those things poke at me and I can’t concentrate).
I love writing at the dining table so I can be part of what’s happening around me. I don’t like being locked away, missing out on things (pretty parrots, etc). You can see why there’s a problem.
Yes, eating is very important as another form of distraction. “I’ll just make a cuppa and have that chocolate and then I’ll write the next bit.” A lot of chocolate gets eaten.
So, in an ideal world – if self-discipline and time management skills were things I possessed – this is what I’d do. I’d get up at 6, walk the dog, do some pilates, eat a healthy breakfast, write until 5, organise dinner, spend the evening doing Facebook, emails and the like. But my days are never, ever like that (big sigh) however I’m lucky in one thing. I’m very productive under pressure, and there’s no greater pressure in this business than a looming deadline.
4). Rough Diamond is quite a funny novel but it also contains a very serious issue, that of terrorism. Did you find it hard to balance out the seriousness that threat deserved with the lighter, more humorous moments?
I guess I chose terrorism because I wanted really awful baddies, and for me, terrorists are the pits. I mean, they don’t care who they hurt, they have no fear of death, and that’s pretty scary. How do you stop a bloke who’s about to blow something up? “Stop or I’ll shoot!” This doesn’t work with terrorists – they just go ahead and blow up the thing, taking themselves out at the same time.
The humour’s something I can’t help. There’s nothing deliberate about it really – the balancing act between the seriousness and the humour. It’s what comes out of me. Remember that scene from the second Bridget Jones, when she was singing Madonna songs with the prostitutes in the Thai jail? I mean, really. But how funny! That’s not something a writer plans – I reckon Helen Fielding would have been as surprised and delighted as her readers when that scene came to her.
5). Australia isn’t perhaps a very likely target when thinking about terrorists (or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part!). How did you decide what to choose to be a focus for an attack? Did you ever think about setting the novel elsewhere or was Melbourne always your first choice?
It was always going to be Melbourne because it’s what I know. Personally, I enjoy reading about exotic, mysterious places (I love reading fantasy for this reason), so I was surprised and delighted with so much positive feedback about the Melbourne setting. Readers seem to love travelling to familiar places with Erica.
I guess the Sydney Opera House was an obvious choice for a target, and I think I chose the Melbourne Cup because it was happening around the time I was writing that scene. But I don’t think all the books in this series will be about terrorism. They’ll probably be about unlikely things. And ridiculous and outrageous things. The baddies will be really awful. I also like making my bad guys look stupid for some reason.
6). Did you always plan for this to be the first in a series or did you realise while writing it that there were still more stories to tell about Erica?
As I was writing the final scene of Rough Diamond, I knew I wasn’t ready to finish it. I wanted much more of Jack and Erica. I hope there’ll be at least four or five in the series and Penguin felt it was made for a series. I do have ideas for the next couple and I’m SO excited about Book Three, I’m absolutely busting to get to it. While Emerald Island sends Erica on a very scary, very exciting foreign journey, Book Three will see her back home, involved in one of Melbourne’s iconic annual events.
7). Do you have a favourite author or novel? Who inspires you?
I have a couple of favourite crime novelists but they don’t really inspire my own work. I’m not sure about that – where the inspiration comes from. I certainly learn things from other writers but my voice, the voice of Erica, is just what comes. I’ve learned structural and plotting tricks, writing techniques and the like from other writers and teachers, but not the voice. The story lines come out of conversations with friends and there’s usually wine involved. “I think Jack should go undercover at the ballet.” Yes, I think he’d look pretty hot in a pair of ballet tights! Who knows? There might be a ballet-dancing bad guy in Book 4!
8). And lastly, what’s next for you?
Have a party for Rough Diamond, finish writing Emerald Island, start plotting No. 3 (which I reckon will have a sapphire in it) and go to America on a holiday. I’ve never been – very exciting!
Thank you so much Kathryn (and Penguin AU!) and good luck with Erica and her future adventures.