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Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredient

secret ingredient blacklock1 Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredient

Why did you introduce me as your current wife?

The opening line of Dianne Blacklocks The Secret Ingredient certainly packs a punch.

Right away we know that were looking at a relationship on the rocks, a common theme in fiction aimed at this audience.

In fact, its familiar enough that I cant help but wonder whether the ending of a relationship and the subsequent renaissance of a protagonist the adult equivalent of the moving schools trope that is so often used as a catalysing force in young adult fiction.

When I ask Blacklock for her thoughts on this, her response is thoughtful.

Women's fiction is largely about relationships, so it's little wonder that break-ups are a universal theme.'Women too often lose themselves in relationships, whether as a spouse, or a mother, a daughter, even as a friend.

She adds, So when there is a loss of that relationship, or at least a significant shift, it opens the way for a woman to change, to reinvent herself, to do it differently next time.

Its something thats happened to her, as well as to others around her, and Blacklock finds it fascinating source material.'Of course, the breaking up, or breakdown, of a significant relationship is also an excellent source of conflict.

Change and growth

I like to begin my novels right on the precipice of a calamitous event that will take the character out of her, and sometimes his, comfort zone and set them on a new path. This then becomes their character arc, and often guides the entire novel.

I think what's interesting about a break-up is that the other person is usually still around, but things are different, and the terrain has to be navigated from a new perspective, says Blacklock.

After all, when a significant relationship comes to an end, a number of changes need to be addressed: work, lifestyle, finances and more. Together these elements provide substantial scope for creating both interesting drama and an exploration of character.

Though they loom large on the narrative horizon, its not just romantic relationships that offer grist for the mill: Blacklock acknowledges the key role of family and friend relationships in her work, something she believes is essential in a genre that hinges so strongly on relationships. I just can't build a character in isolation from all those influences, the way you may be able to in more single-minded genres, such as romance and perhaps adventure or thrillers.

The inclusion of these relationships helps to round out the characters in a book and provide a range of perspectives, she adds. These can be vital in giving the reader additional insight into the character, and when various viewpoints can be drawn upon, allow the reader to see something of a character about which she may not be aware of herself.

On craft and cooking in novels

dianne blacklock Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret IngredientCertain external elements, of course, can be used to do the same thing: very often characters begin to find affirmation in back-to-basics activities such as gardening, craft, and perhaps most common of late, cooking. In The Secret Ingredient'Andie undergoes considerable growth as a result of rekindling her love affair with the culinary arts.

There is much theorising out there that the further we move away from doing the basics for ourselves, such as growing our own food or making our own clothes, the more fascination these tasks hold, the inherent drudgery forgotten in a haze of nostalgia.

But despite the rosy view taken of such activities, Blacklock acknowledges that many are essentially creative in nature, making them excellent tools for self-exploration. In this novel, food and cooking connect Andie to happy memories of her grandmother, but at the same time bringing up some less than happy memories of her mother. Andie is forced to examine why the significant people in her life keep her from fulfilling her dreamsand why she is allowing this to happen.

On covers and reader expectations

Though food plays an important role in the novel, the cover seems to suggest that the audience may be in for a novel less about hatted restaurants and up-market delis and more about rustic, slow-food approaches.

I wasn't particularly enamoured when I was first shown the cover of The Secret Ingredient, admits Blacklock. Though she loved the styling and the vivid colour of the design, she didnt like the inclusion of someone who is ostensibly Andie, believing that readers should be able instead'to form their own picture of characters in their head. One of the lovely things about reading is that it's such a personal experience, she says.

But in the end, a cover has to appeal to an audience, and faces on books tend to translate into sales. I'have to accept there are people who know better than me about what will make someone pick up a book. And ultimately I want as many people as possible to pick up the book!

And her publisher is working hard to ensure that this is the case: Blacklocks covers have been through three incarnations since her debut. The first three, published around ten years ago, were very much in the vein of the Marian Keyes covers at the time. I saw this very much as a brand identification process. I was a new author, so it was a way of telling the reading public what kind of books they could expect of me.

call waiting blacklock chicklit cover1 206x300 Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredientcall waiting blacklock 195x300 Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredient

and on changing expectations

When Blacklocks fifth book was published, it was given an elegant photographic cover, and her entire backlist was reissued in a similar style. I loved those covers. I had a lot of input into the choice of images, and for the most part, I've felt they've been a reasonable reflection of the content, giving potential readers an idea of what to expect.

There was one misstep with Threes a Crowd, but Blacklock admits fault here. My publisher showed me the image of a man and a woman walking along the shore and because it immediately reminded me of a scene in the novel I leapt at it. But when the book hit the shelves, she realised that the cover made the book appear very much to be a straight romancewhich it wasnt. The book was about a group of friends, and the impact that the loss of one has on them all.

And what of blurbs, which are designed to beguile and enticebut not give too much away? Blacklock admits that they can pose as much of a problem as covers in their own way. Blurb are'notoriously difficult to write. Obviously you dont want to say too much about the book, so the language ends up becoming a strange hybrid of hints and suggestions, posed questions, slogans and cliches. The issue isnt limited to womens fiction, of course, but applies across a variety of print and even digital media.

Even now, Blacklock still wonders on occasion whether her covers and jacket copy may be alienating readers who may not be interested in reading romance novels. I wonder whether some readers may believe'that's what all my novels are about. It's a dilemma. I'm not sure how you can market to all individual tastes. The increasing prominence of ebooks may help solve the issue, though: with ebooks, it may be possible to offer a variety of different covers for a single book, allowing the publisher to appeal to a broader demographic range.

Of course, there are limits:'I realise there's very little chance that a man would pick up one of my books! I can probably live with that, given that women are the biggest book purchasers by far, and most of the men I know who read my books will read their partner's copies anyway.

On remaining fresh and relevant

From this its clear that Blacklock has a very clear sense of audience. But as an established career author, how does she balance coming up with something fresh and new while ensuring that the needs of her existing readerswho expect a certain type of bookare met?

As it turns out, this very issue was one that she struggled with when developing the cast and backstory for The Secret Ingredient. I was very wary of repeating myself. But'I ended up tying myself in knots and it wasn't any good for me or the book. The truth is, in real life people are more alike than they are different, she says.

And given that there are famously only seven prototypical stories in the world, some degree of repetition is inevitable. It's bringing your own voice to those stories that makes them unique.

Fortunately, the consensus is that Blacklock is skilled at doing so. I have been assured on many occasions that my novels are all very different, my readers say they don't know what to expect from me next. There is so much to explore in human interaction that I can't imagine ever running out of material. Murders, explosions and zombies are off the agenda, too, as much as my dad would love that!

Having readers who trust her as an author is also an immense help. I'feel that I can take them with me wherever I go next, she says. For example, though her current work-in-progress will touch on some controversial themes, the readers she has consulted have been supportive.

My focus is always on character, the rest is merely a backdrop.'The Secret Ingredient isn't about food and cooking, but about relationships. The main characters just happen to work around food.

See my review of The Secret Ingredient'Australian Women Online'Rating: star Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredientstar Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredientstar Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredientstar Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredientblankstar Interview: Dianne Blacklock, author of The Secret Ingredient

Giveaway: I have a copy of Diannes excellent The Secret Ingredient'to give away to one lucky Australian reader. To enter, just leave a comment on this post and provide a valid email address. The winner will be drawn on the 30th of November.

Edit: the winner of the giveaway is Marianne!

Find Dianne Online

Visit Diannes website, her'blog, or her'Twitter'and Facebook'accounts.

Dianne is published in Australia by Pan Macmillan Australia.

Other books by Dianne Blacklock

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  1. Kathryn Willshire /

    Love hearing about new authors and have only recently come across Dianne Blacklocks books via another authors blog. Her books sound exactly like the types of books I love to read. Cant wait to start working my way through her books once I finish the book Im currently reading.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks so much for visiting, Kathryn. The Secret Ingredient is Diannes 8th book, so youll have plenty to work through! I too love discovering a great author with an extensive backlist. :)

  2. Ooh would love to win a copy! I have Call Waiting and Wife For Hire but havent read the others will have to look out for them. Enjoyed reading the interview thanks

    Shelleyrae @ Bookd Out

  3. Stephanie /

    My pleasure, Shelleyrae. I can highly recommend The Secret Ingredient, and definitely plan to check out Diannes other work. :)

  4. What an excellent and enjoyable interview Stephanie. Its made me so excited to read The Secret Ingredient especially with that opening line it will be the 4th Dianne Blacklock novel Ive read so I still have a few to go.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Bree :) That first line is an absolute kickerit says so much about the characters involved, and suggests so much about whats to come. Best of luck with the giveaway!

  5. Thank you for one of the most truthful reviews I have yet read about Dianne Blacklocks books and you are right about that first sentence: it is a real hook. I enjoy this authors books so much, have read them all and after having read The Secret Ingredient, have gone back to Call Waiting to read them all again. They are that rare breed of books that can be read, and then re-read, with enjoyment because the characters are all so believable.

  6. Stephanie /

    Im so glad you enjoyed the interview, Sue. I completely agree with you about Diannes charactersthey are amazingly vivid. There were times in The Secret Ingredient where I was so frustrated with Andies decisions, but the more I reflected, the more I realised how utterly believable she was. People dont necessarily want to change or strike out on their own, and often it takes many, many attempts before being able to do so. I think Dianne captured this perfectly in this novel.

  7. Stephanie, you are so right! I got frustrated by some of Andies choices too but that is exactly what makes her so believable. Its like watching a movie and saying mentally to the character on the screen Dont go down that alley. Cant you hear the background music?! guess thats what makes a good story, when you can believe in the characters so much that you get annoyed by their unwise choices.

    • Stephanie /

      Very true, Sue. I just wanted what was best for Andie, even if she had no idea what it was herself!

  8. Marianne Vincent /

    a great interview! I love Dianne Blacklocks books as theyre local and the people sound just like those you hear around you at the cafe etc. My 88-year-old Mum loves her books too. I would love to win a copy of The Secret Ingredient for my Mum (then Ill get to read it too!)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for your lovely words, Marianne. I completely agree with you about Diannes books having that local, familiar feel. Best of luck with the competition :)

  9. I havent read a Blacklock book yet. It sounds interesting. I find books like this harder to read. I think its because they are so real. The situations, the people etcit could be you, your friend, your sister. Ill have to check my library out.

  10. Stephanie /

    This was my first Blacklock, Mo, but I was very impressed. The characters are very real, and it can be a little bleak at timesI always end up looking warily at my fiance after reading a book like this! :)

  11. Such a great interview I have every single one of Diannes books (except Secret Ingredient!) and it was nice to read her thoughts.
    She is an exceptional writer, waiting 12 months between books is hard, I have re-read them all time and time again :)

  12. Marianne Vincent /

    Im thrilled to win this and I know my Mum will be too! Looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the giveaway, Stephanie.

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