Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Australian-born writer, pianist and film composer, Johanna Craven. Johanna has recently published her debut coming-of-age novel, Music From Standing Waves set in the 1990's Australia. She is also an avid traveler and environmental activist and is currently based in London, England.
Norm: Good day Johanna and thanks for participating in our interview.
I notice you wear many career hats, how did you get started as a film composer and what did you do to break into composing music for films?
Johanna: I studied composition at university, with the view of specializing in film and TV scoring. I used my time as a student to network with filmmakers who were also studying. I worked on a lot of student productions, which was invaluable not only because it taught me to score to picture, but also because it gave me a great insight into how the film industry works and how much collaboration is required to make a film.
I then moved the US to further study film scoring, which was a huge learning curve. But while my formal qualifications taught me so much, it was predominantly the relationships I made as a student that helped me break into the industry professionally. As the student filmmakers I had collaborated with worked their way up, they took me with them!
Norm: What inspired you to write your first book, Music From Standing Waves?
Johanna: Music From Standing Waves is a combination of my two biggest passions; writing and music. For my first novel, it made sense to me to write about a world I love and know very much about. Hopefully my passion for music comes through in the writing!
Norm: Could you tell us a little about the book?
Johanna: Music From Standing Waves is the story of Abby, a young violinist growing up in a tiny country town in Far North Queensland, Australia. Desperate to leave home to pursue her career, Abby throws herself into her music at the expense of relationships with family and friends. At eighteen, she is accepted into the Melbourne Conservatorium and finally has the chance to follow her dream. But when she meets fellow student, Matt, she realizes that love for a person can be even more powerful than love for music. Suddenly Abby finds herself questioning everything she thought she ever wanted.
Essentially a coming-of-age novel, Music From Standing Waves explores themes of sacrifice, self-discovery and many different types of love.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Johanna: Each of Abby's relationships, be it with family, friends or boyfriends, is colored by her passion for music and her desire to make something of herself. I believe music has the power to shape the course of people's lives and this is something I aimed to illustrate in the book.
I am also passionate about creating strong female leads who, while they may be flawed, are independent and able to drive the story forward through their actions. Hopefully I have succeeded in doing this with Abby!
Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing and what was the most difficult part of writing this book? As a follow up, are you a plot or character writer?
Johanna: I think my background as a musician comes through in my writing. I hear the rhythms and cadences of sentences in the same way I hear musical phrases. As a result, I am very particular about sentence lengths and punctuation. Each line of prose has to have a rhythm I am happy with.
As Music From Standing Waves is my first novel, the most difficult thing about writing it was learning how to work within such a big structure. Like many writers, I have very little formal training and it took a lot of practice and reworking to develop a coherent and (hopefully!) engaging narrative.
I am most definitely a character writer. I need to know my characters as well as I know myself, in order to make a story successful. And yet sometimes my characters still manage to do things that surprise me!
Norm: Is there much of you in the book and are the characters in your book based on people you know or have encountered or are they strictly fictional?
Johanna: A lot of the setting of Music From Standing Waves is drawn from my own life. Like Abby, I grew up in Australia in the 90's and remember my childhood as innocent, isolated and full of make-believe. I also studied at the Melbourne Conservatorium and experienced plenty of the rivalries that go along with the place. Despite this, my characters are strictly fictional. For me, using real people to base characters on is quite limiting; whereas creating entirely fictitious characters allows me to take their personality and quirks in any direction, without being pulled back to reality!
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
Johanna: A lot of listening to music! I familiarized myself with the pieces Abby plays and listens to, so that I was able to accurately describe them. I also did a fair bit of studying scores and chatted to violinist friends of mine to ensure the technical descriptions of Abby's playing were correct.
Norm: What process did you go through to get your book published?
Johanna: After having the book professionally edited and assessed, I published the book via Amazon as an ebook and paperback. I have since discovered an amazing network of independent authors who have been so supportive and helpful in the publication and promotion process.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Johanna: This book taught me how to write! I finished the first draft many years ago, purely to see if I was capable of writing a novel. As with so many first novels, it sat in the metaphoric bottom drawer for many years. After working on several other projects, I decided to revisit it and make some serious changes. So perhaps the more accurate comment is that this book taught me how to self-edit!
Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
Johanna: Once a writer puts their work into the public arena, then yes, I believe they owe it to readers to provide them with something that will enrich their life in some way. Depending on the genre, that may be entertainment, knowledge, or a sense of escape. Readers have invested their time (and usually money) in the work so they need to receive something in return. Of course, writing can be a very private means of self-expression, which owes nothing to anyone but the writer. So it depends on what the writer is trying to achieve from their craft.
Norm: What are you upcoming projects?
Johanna: I am concentrating on writing in my favorite genre; historical fiction. My second novel Gods and Beasts Beneath the Sea, set in 1692 Port Royal, is currently under submission. I am also in the draft stage of a novel based on a dark and little known incident from Australia's convict past.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your debut novel?
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Johanna: I wish someone would ask if the house across the road is really haunted. And the answer is: of course! As for the significance of the haunted house; well you will just have to read the book to find out!
Norm: Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.