Stephanie: Hello, Virginia! Thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about yourself?
Virginia: Hi Stephanie. Great to be here. I started my career as a teacher then moved to unemployed ex-teacher, before landing a job as a producer of children’s read-along audio-books and from there getting into writing for children. Fifty books later, I started publishing books written by children and my publishing company won an innovation award in Australia. Along the way, I created writing workshops for adults and children, based on my philosophies – ‘let the writing be the thinking’ and ‘say yes to serendipity’. But my real passion wasn’t publishing or teaching, it was writing and I wanted to write for adults. So in 1999 I sat down at the keyboard and wrote one sentence: All she had to do was jump. I had no idea how to write a novel or what it would be about but 15 years later it became the complex psychological mystery The First Lie and won a BRAG Medallion.
My other interests include yoga, acrylic painting (quirky French interiors), and learning French.
Stephanie: Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG? How has your self-publishing experience been thus far?
Virginia: Before The First Lie was published I stumbled across indieBRAG during some online research. The website looked classy and the process looked rigorous and I hoped my book might be good enough to win a Medallion.
Self-publishing has been an adventure for me – expensive, stressful, but also a lot of fun. Although I’ve been a publisher it was before social media and I didn’t have any kind of profile when I published The First Lie. I’ve written a good book so now it’s a matter of learning the best way to find the right audience. I don’t give up – as evidenced by the long lead time in writing the book.
Stephanie: Please tell me a little about your story and what genre it falls under?
Virginia: Selkie Moon is a woman of thirty-four who has fled to Hawaii to escape an abusive husband. Selkie was named after the Celtic seal people – they peel off their skins and dance in the moonlight on human legs. The irony of her life is that she almost drowned as a toddler and has been afraid of the sea ever since. Selkie thinks she’s free but soon her refuge begins to unravel. A series of bizarre events force her to investigate the past and face the shocking truth about herself.
The First Lie is a bit of a genre-bender – psychological mystery with touches of the mythical and mystical. After reading Haruki Murakami, I got very courageous about playing with elements of the surreal to add to the psychological layers. Selkie is a business woman who’s very grounded in the modern present but she does get to ride a wild mythical roller-coaster at times.
Stephanie: Why did you choose Oahu (Hawaii) and Sydney (Australia) for the setting of your story?
Virginia: Sydney is my home town and The First Lie was set there for a long time. Then one day when I was struggling with the writing, I grabbed the camera and set out to visit all the locations in the book thinking I’d get my mojo back. This involved a whole day in the car because I now live a couple of hours out of town. When I got home totally exhausted, I burst into tears because none of the places in Selkie’s story spoke to me. So it was an act of desperation to send her to Hawaii but the pressure it put on me worked. Selkie was suddenly on the run, a stranger in a new place and I got to go on a journey of discovery with her – which has given the story the edge it needed.
Stephanie: What is one of the examples of the mythical traditions you used to create the complex layers of the mystery in your story? And what fascinates you about that tradition?
Virginia: Selkie herself is named after the Celtic myth, so that’s the basis of the story. I adore folktales and mythology for their psychological layers and I’ve been collecting versions of the selkie story for years, not knowing why. I created an imaginary cove on Oahu with Irish connections and interwove Celtic mythology with Hawaiian mythology. Without giving too much away, there’s a mirror that has visions and a Kahuna (oracle) who lives in a bus shelter and makes one-word prognostications. I also had a lot of fun with graveyard symbols from folktales.
Stephanie: Your character Selkie befriends interesting people in Hawaii. Name one and please tell me about Selkie’s weaknesses and strengths in her relationship with that person.
Virginia: Selkie’s mother died when she was a baby. Her step-mother and then her husband both controlled her in a way that amounted to psychological abuse. Selkie’s only answer was to run away, but in Hawaii she runs into the arms of an Englishman called Roger Nightingale. He seems so different from her ex, but she’s vulnerable because she hasn’t yet learned to trust her own intuition. The reader and Selkie’s new friends aren’t too sure about Roger – he seems harmless with his goofy sense of humour as he peppers his speech with puns, but he likes to photograph gravestones and he keeps his filing cabinet locked. The discovery of his dark motivation causes shock waves in more ways than one. It’s one of the harsh realities Selkie has to face on her journey of self-discovery.
Stephanie: Please tell me a little about Selkie herself.
Virginia: Selkie is a modern woman who presents business seminars. When she escapes to Hawaii she says she’s ‘all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a life raft’. She makes new friends but she doesn’t know who to trust. Past experience has made her wary of close relationships. When she’s confronted with a series of bizarre ‘happenings’ she’s pushed to the edge of sanity. Through it all she keeps her quirky sense of humour but the reader senses her vulnerability. She’s on a journey and, as the tension mounts, she knows there’s no turning back.
Stephanie: Were there any challenges in writing your story? If so, what were they? How long did it take and where in your home do you like to write?
Virginia: I’ve already touched on the fifteen years it took to write the book and the challenge of changing the location of the story. The other real challenge was working with an editor – and trusting her – when she proposed some serious changes to the manuscript. For example, what I called ‘interesting detail’, Nicola O’Shea (www.ebookedit.com.au) called ‘padding’. Whole chapters disappeared! I’ve learnt that when she thinks something isn’t working she’s right. The pressure this puts on me always makes something ‘pop’, with amazing results. I now understand the meaning of ‘an elegant solution’ because Nicola’s comments inspire me to find them. This relationship has been extremely important for my writing journey and has resulted in the quality of The First Lie.
I live in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, overlooking a valley full of birds. It used to be a tiny holiday house so I had to write on the kitchen table getting crumbs in my keyboard. Then we were able to add on an extra room. So these days I’ve got my own writing room with colour on the walls and surrounded by paintings – some of them my own. I’m lucky enough to also have a rural retreat – with two pet alpacas. Both homes are great places to write.
Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?
Virginia: Beyond my collection of selkie stories, I wanted to write a multi-layered psychological mystery series – the kind of involving books I like to read – so I started with the mystery of Selkie’s own history. I didn’t actually know her until I started writing. The story evolved as I wrote and I discovered its layers in serendipitous ways. Any tiny events from my own life have been fictionalized beyond recognition. I love that part of writing, taking some snippet of experience that’s true (like a conversation overheard on a bus) and letting the creative process transform it, sometimes into something surprising or magical. Because I don’t have a plan when I write, the writing itself is my inspiration.
Stephanie: You’ve just changed the cover of The First Lie. Tell us about both covers and what led you to make the change.
Virginia: In some ways writing the book was easier than choosing the title and the cover. Covers are your first chance to hook a reader in a crowded marketplace. Before they get to the blurb, a potential reader must choose to turn the book over or click on the thumbnail to find out more. The painted image of the woman’s face is the old cover and I was drawn to her haunted look. Before publishing, I showed it to booksellers who found it compelling. You can never really know if a cover is working but I’ve had a sense – based on statistics and feedback from reviewers – that the image doesn’t really work as a cover because it doesn’t tell a story or invite the reader in. It’s been a hard decision to change it, but I’ve worked with Julia Kuris at Designerbility (www.designerbility.com.au) and together we’ve come up with the new cover. It’s not trying to spell out the story in any literal way. It reflects a lot of elements from the book – the dark blue says mystery and moonlight, the water reflects Selkie’s frightening relationship with the sea, and the women’s faces give hints of the intriguing psychological layers that the story reveals.
If readers of Layered Pages would like to vote on their choice between these two covers, they can go to a cover poll on A Lover of Books
Fantastic, Virginia! I voted.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Virginia: The First Lie is available in the Kindle store, and will soon be available as a paperback:
For a notification about the publication of the paperback please email me from my website or follow my Facebook page.
Thanks so much, Stephanie, for this opportunity to talk about Selkie Moon and the first book in her mystery series. Book Two goes to Nicola O’Shea for a structural edit at the end of February.
You’re most welcome, Virginia! It has been wonderful to chat with you!
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Virginia King, who is the author of, The First Lie our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The First Lie, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.