Interview with Rebecca Lim, author of The Astrologer's Daughter

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rebecca Lim is the Melbourne-based author of sixteen novels(!), most well-known for her phenomenal paranormal series, Mercy. I met her a few years back at the Somerset Celebration of Literature (2011, I think), and she's both a lovely person and an amazing writer - so it's a pleasure to have the chance to interview her about writing her latest novel, The Astrologer's Daugher, her writing process and inspirations!


Rebecca: Hi Steph!

Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, I’m really honoured.

Steph: The Astrologer's Daughter is set in Melbourne, and so I'm wondering how you managed to evoke that setting so beautifully and what you drew on - personal experience, research? Did you have any specific process for developing that setting and using it to amp up the atmosphere?

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Melbourne for most of my life and I’ve lived in suburbs all over the metropolitan map, so I had a lot of personal history to draw on. My extended family also has a long history with Chinatown and I’m lucky to have been able to see behind the façade of a working restaurant from time to time, so all that helped.

I’m also a huge walker. I always make sure I look up and check out all the detail of the buildings and of the city, so all that factored into the atmosphere and “look” of The Astrologer’s Daughter.

I also just love Melbourne, daggy but true. Any chance I can get to set a story in my hometown, I’ll do it.

The astrology included in The Astrologer's Daughter seems incredibly detailed and realistic, and lends a great deal of authenticity to the characters of Avicenna and her mother - why inspired you to use astrology so centrally to the plot, and what sort of research was involved?

I was actually seated next to a stranger at a wedding a few years ago who made his living from astrology. Like a complete idiot I kept saying things like, “Oh, it must be great to be working with the latest telescopes” and he finally had to gently point out that I was talking about astronomy (the science of star-taking) versus astrology (the “occult science” of star-taking). He told me he had plenty of clients who wouldn’t make an important move in their lives without having a star-chart done first, and it got me thinking about fate versus free will and how dangerous it might be to place all your trust in the outcome of your life in a stranger’s hands. My personal belief (like Avicenna’s in the novel) is that these things can become self-fulfilling if you let them.

I read many background texts on astrology in which there were case study after case study of astrologer’s predicting their own deaths or astrologer’s correlating key points in their client’s lives with particular conjunctions of stars. I don’t profess to have a view whether what I read was true or not-true, but the character of Joanne believes in it and Avicenna comes to respect her mother’s viewpoint a great deal more by the end of the novel.

Readers of some of my other novels might remember that I usually have some kind of paranormal thing going on as well. If you’ve read Exile, Muse and Fury, you’ll see that one of the recurring characters from those books appears in The Astrologer’s Daughter. I’m not done with him yet. We’re going to see more of him, hopefully.

The Astrologer's Daughter seems a very tightly-plotted novel, so I'm wondering what your writing process is like - do you have a clear plan before you begin writing? Do plots come naturally to you or do you have to work it out once you're writing the story?

I try and set up a strong first chapter. I also like to have the ending worked out before I start — sometimes it’s nothing more than the final line, or the final “event”. All the main players have to be rock solid from the start, too. I always ask myself questions like: What happened to this person to make them the way they are? What is the defining incident in their life that kicks off the story? How do they deal with pressure?

But I like to go “off road” with the middle of a novel. I’m a great believer in the universe just throwing things in your path. Current news stories are always great fodder for building the atmosphere or events in a novel. The things people do to each other in real life are mental. You can’t make some of that stuff up.

And crime and mystery novels have their own internal rhythm, their own urgency. The genres themselves demand tightness, complexity, thrills and chills. I’ve read a lot of crime, thriller and mystery fiction in the past, as you can probably tell.

Genre-wise the novel is covering a lot of ground: there's mystery and there's suspense and it's contemporary with a paranormal edge. What were your inspirations for this novel? Did you set out to write a story like this?

I read as widely as I can across the genre spectrum and draw on a lot of real world events for inspiration, so I’m kind of conditioned to writing things you can’t neatly box up. It drives some readers mad that I do books “with the lot” and I don’t like the neat ending, but life isn’t tied up in lovely bows. It’s dark and complex and chaotic and, sadly for most of us, not replete with multiple love triangles of hot boys.

You've written both series (the Mercy series) and standalone novels. I imagine there are different challenges in writing each - does your process differ when writing a series as compared to a standalone? Do you prefer one over the other? (Is there any possibility of a sequel to The Astrologer's Daughter?)

There is definitely a possibility! But I’ve got at least 3 things lined up to go before any sequel might appear and maybe no one will be interested in it by then.

My process for a series is kind of like this: What is the meta-mystery/story arc? What is the central mystery/story arc for the individual novel in the series? Which makes the process not so different between writing a series and writing a stand-alone. But with a series there is obviously a bigger universe of characters and settings to play with. And not everyone will be happy with what you have in store for the characters or how you “end” things so, as a writer, you need to be prepared for that. I don’t think I was.

I tend to have a lot of storylines on the go, in my head, so stand-alone novels give me the illusion that I can get onto the next book sooner rather than later. But I’d be happy to write both series fiction and stand-alone fiction. In the brave new world of publishing, you’re just over-the-moon if someone wants to read your work and give you a gig, quite honestly.

(And because this is my favourite question to ask everybody...) Imagining you could travel back in time and give advice to your younger self without the space-time continuum collapsing in on itself, would you share any advice about writing and/or life? What would you say?

About writing: It’s a far stranger beast than you thought it would be, that’s for sure. About life: You know that time you did a piano recital in front of hundreds of people and completely stuffed up? That was nothing. You’ll survive.

Thanks for having me on the blog, Steph, and happy reading to all.


Here's my review of The Astrologer's Daughter, and of Mercy. For more info about Rebecca and her novels, here she is on Goodreads.
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