By day Ann Grech lives in the corporate world and can be found sitting behind a desk typing away at reports and papers or lecturing to a room full of students. With her quirky glasses and shiny leather briefcase, she has the librarian look nailed. All laced up tight in her pencil skirts and killer heels, her students can only fantasize about what she gets up to in her spare time. If only they could see those tattoos! Oh, and the notepads of story ideas tucked away in odd places that would be sure to have them fanning themselves.
By night she’s a wife and mum and a purveyor of saucy stories that are filled with lust, raunchy scenes and ultimately love. Ann’s an avid reader of anything sexy and firmly believes in the motto ‘leave mummy alone, she’s reading or writing.’ Because of that, she is pretty hopeless when it comes to getting dinner on the table on time or cleaning the house.
She also publishes her raunchier short stories under her pen name, Olive Hiscock.
Now, on with the interview...
ME: What is your favorite childhood book?
ANN: Um? Growing up I loved the Nancy Drew series. Read every single one of them with my bestie. She had the series so would bring the one she’d just finished to school for me each week and we’d pour over them.
As a teenager, my favourite book was To Kill a Mockingbird. It inspired me to study law, to become a lawyer and to practice something that I thought would make a difference to the world. I still love it but I haven’t read it in years. The scene at the end where Scout is sitting under the stairs is still one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever read.
Now my fave books to read to my kids are the Pig the Pug series by Aaron Blabey.
ME: What is the first book that made you cry?
ANN: That’s an impossible question for me to answer. I do remember reading one book as a kid where the parent or child died and they were talking to god. It was a religious book and it absolutely broke my heart.
ME: Is writing your primary 'job' or do you have another source of income?
ANN: No, I do have a full-time job. Juggling is a little difficult sometimes because my job isn’t 9-5. I could quite easily work it seven days a week and still do more, so balancing the job, family life and writing is always a challenge.
ME: Do people around you know you write romance/erotica and what do they think about it?
ANN: Yes, but there’s an unspoken agreement that I only speak with a few people about it. My family isn’t hugely supportive of what I write – it’d be fine if it was straight romance, but the gay and bisexual element is problematic for them. The fact that I’m a loud and proud ally and will push for understanding and acceptance among anyone I meet is also problematic for them. The marriage equality hell we went through last year really brought home to me how much I utterly disagree with many of my family’s opinions.
I have some friends who love to chat about my writing. One of them bought and read all my books just so that he could show his support. Others will ask me how I’m doing and what I’m working on, where I get inspiration and what the processes are, and others still just don’t care.
ME: Do you believe in writer’s block? If not why not? And if so what suggestions do you have to start the juices flowing again.
ANN: Yes, absolutely. Thankfully I haven’t really had too severe a case of writer’s block. When my motivation is low, I move on and try to do something else. I’ve usually got so much on that I have plenty to do even if I can’t wrangle my writing mojo into line.
When it’s longer lasting than a day or two, I give myself a break away from writing. Usually it’s because I just need some time to recharge that I hit a wall.
ME: Let's talk your process for a bit. Are you a plotter or fly by the seat of your pants kind of writer?
ANN: I plot out the bones of a story but let the characters speak to me while I’m writing. I’m the sort of person who needs to walk around with a notepad and pen (I’m old school) to write down ideas and plot developments as I go. I was in the middle of giving a presentation a while ago and the solution to the problem I’d been having with the plot popped into my head. Luckily I remembered it when I was on a break so I could write it down. I won’t tell you that I was unprofessional enough to write it down on the spot (although that might have been what I did!).
ME: LOL. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
ANN: Depends what I’m researching. Sometimes it’s as simple as Googling a picture. Other times it’s more involved. Dance With Me is based on a cruise ship, and is inspired by my Christmas holiday crush. I read countless blogs about working on cruise ships, conditions, privileges, etc. Then I spoke with a couple of colleagues I work with who have backgrounds in hospitality and cruise ship research. Ultimately, I didn’t use much of it but I thought it was important to know.
Another character of mine, Connor, from Delectable suffers from PTSD and is ex-army. I spoke with ex-Armed forces personnel about their experiences, gun experts on weapons, and read a lot of books, both fictional and informational, dealing with PTSD and its impacts.
ME: Would you rather write standalones, standalones with connections to your other works, or multi book series with no true conclusion until the very end?
ANN: All of the above, except the ‘no true conclusion’ bit. My Unexpected Series is a three-book series with the same characters—Reef and Ford. Their story continues across the books but the first two have HFN endings, so you don’t have to read all three (but IMO, Whitewash is the best of the three). Nearly all of my other books are standalones with connections to my other works – mostly relatives and friends of Reef and Ford.
ME: Where do your story ideas come from?
ANN: Whiteout came from a cool breeze on my face followed by a snowball (yes, to the face too) while standing on a mountain in New Zealand. Certain scenes from White Nosie came from stories friends had told me about their experiences as gay men. Whitewash was an outlet for stress relief for me. The tension in that book was exactly what I felt when waiting for my PhD to be assessed by the examiners. Over a half-decade of work was in the hands of those three people and all I could do was wait. Reef and Ford became my outlet.
Dance With Me was inspired by Eddie (as I mentioned before, my cruise ship crush) and All He Needs was from a class I took on sport law and doping. Listening to athletes talk about performance enhancing drugs and their use gave me the hook I needed for Caden. His story flowed from there.
ME: Do you ever base your characters, events or locations on real people, events or places?
ANN: Absolutely. I write contemporary romance so it’s definitely based on places I’ve been or really want to go. In terms of people, characters may have certain traits that my friends or family have inspired, and if someone’s pissed me off enough then they’ll get a mention.
Declan and Ollie from Always Him and their experience in the nightclub was inspired by the fear that’s been present since Pulse Nightclub, and for the LGBTIQ community, far longer than that. There might have also been a dig at the shit storm in US politics too.
Connor, Levi and Katy’s experiences after Levi was outed and the criticisms I couldn’t hold back in that book were my honest opinions on the Church and its involvement in the marriage equality debate.
ME: Is there a character in one of your books loosely based off yourself?
ANN: No, but as I said things that I’m going through will strongly influence my writing. I’m politically outspoken and that permeates my writing. If I’m stressed or happy or down, then my characters will feel that too.
ME:What process do you use for selecting the names of your characters?
ANN: Sometimes it’s the name that inspires the character. Other times I’ll name the character after someone. Timmy from my MF romance is named after my tattoo artist (thank you Tim from Borderline Tattoos).
When I see a name I love, if it sticks with me, I’ll write a character around them. Reef and Ford were like that—a little boy named Reef went to kindy with my youngest and Stratford was someone British whose name suited the family background I had in mind. When I heard it, I instantly knew it was the right name for him.
Other times, I go online and look at baby name lists (then cop months of baby product advertising because Google is too smart for its own good!).
ME: BAHAHAH, stupid advertising. Who has been your most difficult character to write so far?
ANN: Two characters for me. First up was Connor, mainly because of his background. I wanted to do him justice as well as all our other Defence Force personnel. I truly admire our armed forces, but PTSD is an issue that so many deal with and aren’t supported enough with. I had to get the right balance between sensitivity, strength and respect and that took a while to get right.
The other was Caden. He’s an easy character to dislike in Whitewash but he’s so much more below the surface and he was begging me to tell his story. He’s gone through a lot and it’s shaped the person he is. It was important to me to show him in his true colours (and he’s beautiful and flawed and strong and broken and yet with all that, his capacity for love is boundless).
ME: Have you ever killed off someone who pissed you off in one of your books?
ANN: Me? Never! *walks away whistling innocently* (shhh, I totally have).
ME:What was your hardest scene to write?
ANN: I won’t give you details of the scene but it involves Caden. It ripped me to shreds. I cried as I wrote it (and it took me weeks to get it right) and I cry every time I re-read it.
The other one was the finale of Whitewash. I’d spent two years immersed in Reef and Ford and writing the ending took me months because I was heartbroken having to say goodbye to them. But giving them their happily ever after was so rewarding too. Those boys helped me through some tough times and I really wanted to give them my all.
ME: Does writing energize or exhaust you, and why?
ANN: It’s my getaway, where I can escape into my world of make believe and forget about the deadline I have or the stresses of real life. I do put pressure on myself, so that can be exhausting, especially when I make my self-imposed deadlines too short. Thank you to my editors who don’t mind receiving things at the last minute because I’m still working on them five minutes before I hit send! But usually, it energizes me.
ME: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal, and why?
ANN: A white doe that radiates purity and light racing across the sky to ward off dark thoughts—is that too Harry Potterish? ;-)
Truly, I have no idea! Probably a dog—my dog to be specific. He’s boisterous and sweet, a cuddler and full of life, but he’s just as happy to curl up and sleep the day away in the sun. He lords over his domain with a fierce protectiveness and had a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude when it comes to his food, toys and especially his humans.
ME: On to some advice for the budding writers out there. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
ANN: Find your tribe, love them hard. Value the people in your life above all else. Don’t work as hard in your 20’s. Travel more, go out more, have more fun. Start writing earlier because it would have helped the person I was back then a lot.
ME: What are common traps for aspiring writers?
ANN: YOU. ARE. NOT. AN. EDITOR. I don’t care how much you’ve written or read, I don’t care how good at English you are. You need an independent set of eyes on your work, and those eyes need to be on someone who is qualified to pick up on the nuances of the English language (or whatever other language you’re writing in). Don’t write a story and publish it without a good editor on your team. Ask around for recommendations, find editors who edit in your genre, find editors who are qualified, and then try a few out on different manuscripts. Understand what the difference is between a line editor and a content editor and find the right person for you. It’s okay to have high expectations, but they won’t write your story for you. Value their opinion—they’re paid to be honest and if they tell you your manuscript needs work, chances are it does. Oh, and get your editor’s help with your blurb. It’s critical. It can literally make or break your book—trust me on this I’ve learnt the hard way.
Covers are another issue. Some people are great with graphic design. Others—like me—are not. There are some fantastic pre-made covers that are affordable. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but you do need someone reputable and who knows the rules around image use.
ME: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
ANN: Paying for a great editor. It made all the difference with Delectable. I thought it was good when I submitted it, but the finished product is truly something I’m proud of.
ME: Thanks for your time, Ann. You've shared so much with us. Can't wait to see you at RTC2018!