Well, this is a Book Birdy first! Sunni Overend is the first writer to be featured twice on the blog, which I think is testament to the fascinating nature of her personal writing story and also her fabulous books, which are a really fresh take on contemporary women’s fiction.
Sunni first came on my radar last year when I was listening to an interview with her agent, Jacinta di Mase, who mentioned this hot new author who’d come to her from a self-publishing background. I was intrigued and immediately set about tracking down the book, March, which I really enjoyed.
Now, Sunni’s back with a new book – The Dangers of Truffle Hunting – but this time around, she has the backing of a major publishing house….
Congratulations on The Dangers of Truffle Hunting!
I just had a look back at our last interview, and of this book you said, ‘Expect characters in creative turmoil with wardrobes better than Vogue, sexual angst and frustration to rival True Blood, interiors from Belle and more food porn than Instagram.’
Well, you absolutely delivered! Reading the book was a totally hedonistic experience. Thank you!
Hi Cassie – thanks so much for reading the book. It really means the world to me that you read and enjoyed it, and thanks for having me then and having me back again now.
I get the sense that when you wrote The Dangers of Truffle Hunting, you had very specific images and metaphors in mind, the key one being ‘hunger’. Is this how you write, that is, starting with a central word/image and developing the story from there. Or is it the other way round, that is, that the imagery comes after the plot is nailed down?
My training was previously in graphic design so I admit I am quite a visual person. That being so, I do find that I write strongly from imagery – imagery I’ve seen or imagery I’ve conjured, and I had a lot of rich imagery in mind when I wrote The Dangers of Truffle Hunting. ‘Hunger’ is most certainly the central theme in the book, and that was something that developed with time. I think usually a central character comes to mind and their “issue” unravels as I’m writing, growing more and more pronounced as the story evolves.
Your last book, March, was set in the fashion world, but the new book takes us into the world of photography, food and furniture design. Is this a case of ‘writing what you know’ or ‘writing what you’d love to know’? Or a bit of both?
With March and The Dangers of Truffle Hunting it was a case of writing what I enjoy and what I know but there was still research required to make it whole and accurate. I was running a fashion store at the time of writing March so that certainly filtered through. With The Dangers of Truffle Hunting I do quite a bit of photography myself, I love to cook, and in secondary school I designed and photographed my own food magazine which was exhibited at Melbourne Museum’s Top Designs – perhaps that the character of Kit Gossard was beginning to emerge even then! I’m intrigued by quite a few creative vocations and I suppose writing about them allows me to explore without getting my hands dirty.
A lot of people don’t like the term ‘chick-lit’ and others (rightly or wrongly) say chick-lit is dead. But your books seem to inject something new and fresh into the genre (whatever you call it). What are your thoughts?
I think for me as a reader I find it quite difficult to find women’s stories that are true to my life as well as transporting, cool and sexy. I don’t max out my credit card on shoes, go to cocktail bars every night, or agonise over my waistline, but these clichés have become synonymous with commercial women’s stories. What I personally enjoy in stories is escaping to curated places with women who are real, of the now, and who I can relate to. I think there’s a real gap in commercial fiction for grounded, relatable stories that are also escapist and page-turning. It’s what I enjoy writing and I hope there’ll be people who enjoy reading it.
For what it’s worth, I think the term chick-lit is dead because we’re moving into a time where women’s stories shouldn’t be set apart from men’s with labels.
Following on from the question above, I love your approach to writing sex scenes. You write them quite short and sharp and there are no euphemisms for genitalia! Is this something you’re conscious of?
Haha – I’m so pleased you enjoyed them! I think I probably write them that way because it’s what I’d enjoy reading. Blow-by-blow sex scenes don’t work for me as it leaves nothing for my imagination to do. I like a sex scene to be explained enough that you know generally what’s taking place but still short, sweet, and obscure enough that it leaves the reader wanting just that little bit more …
While you self-published your last book, this one has been released by HarperCollins. Can you talk me through the key differences in both of those publication experiences? For example, I know you have a design background, so how much input did you get on the cover for ‘The Dangers…’ (which is absolutely gorge, BTW)?
There have been wonderful and challenging things about coming over to a publisher, but overall my experience with HarperCollins has been magical. The three-phase editing was brilliant and I’ve loved not having to do the arduous task of publicity organisation thanks to my wonderful PR manager. I think where sharing control has been difficult has been in the branding – I had such a strong vision for how the book should look but I wasn’t the only one! The cover you see was hard won so it’s great to be getting such good feedback about it. It was designed in-house by Hazel who did a lot of designs before finally a batch were sent out for an external vote because we couldn’t agree on the style, haha! You can imagine my relief when this one came back the winner – it was my favourite. It blends femininity, seduction, mystery and strength, plus Pantone’s colour of 2016 is pink so it’s perfect, no?
I’m quite interested in your approach to social media, because I sense that for you, it’s more about quality over quantity. What’s your philosophy?
Yes, it’s challenging because frequent posting is key to successful social media, but crafting attractive, curated content takes time. It’s a juggle doing it when you’re working full time – it’s been nice having so time to work on it during the marketing phase.
What are you working on now?
My deal with HarperCollins was for two books so I’ve just finished my next manuscript. Now I’ll now be moving into the editing phase with that – stay tuned!
Thanks Sunni! And have a great Xmas.
*Review copy supplied by the publisher