Saturday, October 26, 2013

Set Me Free - a book review and giveaway!

Brisbane author Jennifer Collin may not be a household name in her hometown yet, but she's making a name for herself in literary circles overseas.


Her debut novel, Set Me Free is currently sitting in the top 25 of the Amazon Bestsellers List for both Women Writers and Fiction, and Contemporary Romance, in the UK.
It's getting five-star reviews and a publisher has expressed interest in purchasing the series (Set Me Free is the first in a trilogy about the Evans family).
Set in Brisbane's arty West End, the novel follows quirky gallery own Charlotte Evans and her quest to avoid her growing attraction to apparently devious property developer Craig Carmichael.
Whilst leading feisty tenants on the Battle For Boundary Street, Charlotte drags artist sister Emily and best friend Ben along for the ride, as both Craig and Charlotte risk losing - or winning - everything.
It's a sexy tale of love, friendship, family and community, all set in a backdrop that will be familiar to anyone who has spent more than a bit of time in Brisbane. 
I loved it. It's a fun-loving romp that explores family, friendship, love and community - think feel-good chick lit with a distinctly Australian flavour. 
I was keen to find out more about this fresh new voice in Australian women's fiction whose first novel is doing so well in Europe.
It turns out that Jennifer is 39, and married to Norm Higgins, 41, who is somewhat of a celebrity in the Brisbane skateboarding scene. They have two children Audrey, 7, and Lola, 5. Jennifer took time to talk writing, the midnight shifting and ebooks with MIA. 




Set Me Free is your debut novel. When did you start writing, and when did you start writing the novel?

I've been writing on and off since I was eight years old, when I received my first positive bit of feedback from my primary school teacher. But I've had a fairly tumultuous relationship with my writing, because, like many writers, my ego is fragile, and I have been easily discouraged. Honestly, high school english teachers have a lot to answer for!
I wrote my first angst-ridden manuscript in my early twenties, and while it was a cathartic process, the end result really wasn't fit to be seen. After that I began a whole bunch of books I never finished, including Set Me Free. Then, after having kids, and successfully getting them past the age of five, I went back to writing, and Set Me Free, with a vengeance. After all, if you can parent, you can do anything, right? I picked it up again in early 2012, when my day job was under threat, and I needed to revisit what I was going to be when I grew up. I fell back in love with the characters, and had the mental space and drive to finish their story.

What made you set it in Brisbane? West End is kind of like a character in itself!

Set Me Free is a David vs Goliath story of a small time art gallery owner taking on a property developer. It's a story that could be told in almost any small community, with the neighbourhood very much a central character. It was very important to me to make that character genuine, so that the reader was as caught up in its story as they were in Charlotte and Craig's. I chose West End because I know it, and am fond of its quirkiness and diversity. At times I poke a bit of fun at it, but always with affection.

Did it require a lot of research? Eg, frequenting bars, art galleries and coffee shops?

Ha ha! I love this question! Why yes, I spent many years undertaking research for Set Me Free… Seriously though, in many ways it does reflects my life before kids. Again, I was writing what I know, because I wanted the story to be genuine. I still frequent galleries and coffee shops, though the experience is a little different with small children in tow. Bars on the other hand…
I also spent a bit of time on YouTube, which is a great research tool for writers who do the midnight shift.

With two young children, when do you find the time to write?

Ah yes, the midnight shift. After the kids have gone to sleep (to sleep, mind you, which is different to when they've gone to bed) it's time to turn on the laptop. It's very hard, because at the end of the day you really want to switch off, not on, which is why the drive to write is so important. When I wrote Set Me Free, I was working full time. I reached a point where I realised I was trying to do too much, so I took a step back. I am lucky I have the luxury of working part-time now, and I have two writing days per week…in theory…
There are still times when I have to neglect my husband and children, but they are fewer and of shorter duration now.

It's part of a trilogy. Do you have the rest of the storylines planned out?

I didn't when I started. The idea to do a trilogy came about as I was writing Set Me Free. I found Charlotte's sister Emily had a story of her own developing, and I didn't want to wrap it up by the end of that book, because I wouldn't do the story justice. Emily needed her own voice, her story needed to be told. And then, once I'd decided to give Emily her own story, I couldn't deny their brother Andy the opportunity to tell his.
One thing I learnt from writing Set Me Free, was the importance of mapping the story out before you start. I did it loosely for Set Me Free, and found the story evolved dramatically as I wrote. I did it more thoroughly for Book Two, and found it still evolved, but not as much. I was also much more conscious of setting up the story for Book Three as I wrote. Book Three at this stage has a loose plan, but I will be fleshing it out a little more before I start writing.

Why do you think the book appeals so much to Europeans?

Sometimes I wonder if it's just a bunch of ex-pats buying it up because they are homesick for some sunshine! Seriously though, it is a light read that can be devoured, so it does offer a little vacation to somewhere warm and sunny. People do like to travel within the books they read.
But I think it has more to do with the market for ebooks around the world. While I did do a small print run of physical books, Set Me Free is primarily an ebook. Ebooks are now outselling print books in the UK and US, and buyers over there are familiar with the sellers, such as Amazon, and how to discover new authors online. There are also hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers (like yourself!) online, who do wonderful things to promote authors. I have found it difficult to find Australian-based bloggers.
The only reason I did a print run of Set Me Free was to ensure my friends and family who don't read electronically could have a copy of the book. Anecdotally, we Australians still have a love affair with the feel, smell and look of a printed book. And rightly so, I might add.

What was your day job before writing and do you still have it?

Yes, I still have it, and dream of giving it up to write full time. As I mentioned earlier, I do it part time now. It's not a very exciting job, but it has helped me keep my writing tools sharpened over the years. Not to mention being fodder for storylines! I am a public servant, which could mean any number of things, so I like to describe it as developing policy to make the world a better place.

How much of you is in your characters?

Apart from the fact that they do things I used to do, and enjoy similar things to me (eg vintage fashion, coffee, Pimm's), not a lot. My characters are bolder and more extroverted than me. They are not afraid of conflict and are sure of their place in the world (see previous comment about fragile egos!). They've got a lot more sass than me! In many ways I live through them vicariously. Running an art gallery, and developing property have both been on my list of things I might do when I grow up.

Set Me Free is only 99c as an ebook. Why is it so cheap?
As a new author, I am an untested commodity for my readers. In an environment as competitive as the book market, I don't expect to make money from Set Me Free, so the audience reach is far more important. I want to ensure I reach as many readers as possible, and making the book accessible, and a low risk purchase, is part of that.
Interestingly though, it seems the Europeans and Americans are much more ready to spend $1 on an ebook than the Australians. From speaking to people, I think there is an assumption in Australia that if a book is that cheap, it must be crap. But most often, 99c price tags are set by writers like myself trying to reach readers, not because someone has determined the book is poor quality. It's the reviews that are the best measure of a book's quality, not the price tag.

Set Me Free is available at  Amazon here , and is available at other ebook retailers.  Limited edition print versions are also available, and its best to contact Jennifer direct at setmefreethenovel@gmail.com to get one of those.

Jennifer is giving a lucky reader a copy of her debut novel Set Me Free, either as an ebook or as a paperback. To enter, leave a comment below sharing whether you prefer 'real' books, or ebooks and why. 
Entries close at 5 pm AEST on Sunday November 3, 2013. 

The competition has closed, and the winner is Nicole M. Jennifer was feeling generous so has gifted an extra ebook to Magnetoboldtoo for making her giggle. Please contact me so we can send off your prizes. Thanks. 

34 comments:

Amber Boyce said...

I prefer 'real' books. I find it so much easier to read them, and I like having a bookcase to display the books that I have.

Kimmie said...

There is nothing like the smell of books, both new and old. If someone ever bottled the smell, I would be all over it ;)

So book please :)

Nicola James said...

I love physical books, the smell, the thrill of turning a new page. But it is much easier reading in bed with an eReader, and I go house-sitting weeks at a time and it is wonderful being able to take 600+ books with me in a gadget the size of a paperbook!

Dabsey said...

I love real books, They never run out of power just when you want to read them

Tania Stolpe said...

Definitely real books! Curling up in a quiet, cosy spot for an hour or more of peace, fingertips on the edge of the next page in anticipation of what might happen next...the smell of printing ink possibly mixed with a little dust! These thing just can't be recreated with an electronic gadget!

linda1963 said...

Definately prefer real books.There is something very staisfying about turning Pages:-)

jarree shelverton said...

I prefer "real" books, because they don't go flat, will always "work" and are totally un-complicated.

Emily Rose said...

Real books foster a sense of commmunity that e-book readers can't offer. There's nothing better than a Sunday trip to the library with the kids, browsing in a second hand bookshop with your best friend, or loaning your mum your dog-eared, annotated copy of 1984. It's not exactly practical to loan out your Kindle!

Melinda said...

I just love books! ebooks for space saving and portability, paper books for special much loved novels :D

Melinda said...

I just love books! ebooks for space saving and portability, paper books for special much loved novels :D

Shelley Marsh said...

I love e books - just because they are so convenient and don't require storage!

Mary Preston said...

I read - a lot. Holding a 'real' book in hand is part of the whole experience for me. I hope the day never comes when tree books go the way of the dinosaurs.

kirby said...

I prefer 'real' books for their feel and smell however I love that with e-books I can take my whole bookshelf away with me when I go on holidays!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Well done to her! That's fantastic that a publisher wants to purchase the series. Writing a book is such a labour of love :)

VickiLorraine@lefthandednotions said...

I love real books too, but must admit I folded to pressure and bought a kobo mini not that long ago

Unknown said...

Real books, nothing compares to holding one in your hand.

Travelling Macs said...

ebooks ... hands down!!! They always fit in your bag, there's always a new one if your flight/ appointment etc takes longer than expected and your book had only a little left to read...and ...most importantly NOTHING TO DUST!!! (yes I'm shouting with glee lol)

Daniela Barbaro gammadm2@yHoo.com.au said...

Real books,I love having my book case full of exciting books that the family can enjoy

Kim maxwell said...

I need to have the paper, the cover and the feel of a real book. It adds to the experience, same as one of my favourite places is the library

Kim
galwayst@hotmail.com

Abby said...

I prefer real books as I like being able to share the book with friends once finished.

Nicole M said...

I prefer real books, because I love browsing my bookshelves and seeing all my faves there!

Maxabella said...

I love seeing a brand new author get published. I'll be looking out for a copy of Jennifer's book. Best wishes growing your readership, Jennifer!! x

kelley @ magnetoboldtoo said...

Ebooks but only on my old school kindle.

Does that make me a hipster?

Laura J said...

real books don't strain my eyes,
The pages mesmerize.
That book smell,
I know it well.

kk said...

Real books please!

Janet Camilleri said...

Sounds like a great read! I'm a book girl all the way. Spend all my working life staring at a screen so for me, flicking the pages of a magazine or rustling to turn the pages of a book = relaxation. :-)

jowill said...

I love real books - the feel in my hands and the smell of the pages. Somehow it's just not the same snuggling up in bed with a laptop.

tracy wedding said...

Real Book I like to turn the pages and see the covers

Maria said...

Real books for me. Flicking through the pages give me a real satisfaction. And they look great in bookshelves.

Chris Gamble said...

I prefer E-books simply for the ease of carrying my library

88dreamers said...

I prefer real books, I like to hold the book in my hands, touch the pages, smell the book smell, it's just not the same experience with an ebook

Anne Costello said...

I much prefer the feel of a 'real' book and the sight of ink printed on paper.

Anonymous said...

I prefer 'real' books. I get excited ( and a bit sad) when I'm getting to the end.

Michelle W said...

Real books hurt less when you drop them on your head in bed.