“Write the damn book” – Literary legend Fiona McIntosh’s advice to aspiring authors

Renowned Australian author Fiona McIntosh is a writing powerhouse, having penned over 40 novels in various genres throughout her career. She is best known for her historical fiction works, which transport readers back in time.

Ahead of her virtual author talk on Wednesday, November 24, Focus caught up with Fiona to discuss her latest book, The Spy’s Wife and all things writing related, including her favourite genre to write and the best career advice for budding writers.

This is what Fiona had to say: 

Q: Why should people attend your virtual author talk on November 24? 

A: Because it will dramatically enhance their reading experience when they discover the stories behind The Spy’s Wife.

Q: How did the idea for The Spy’s Wife come about? 

A: At 19, I began commuting to London from Brighton for my work and had time on my hands to devour books on the train. I read Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle and was astonished to learn there had been German spies in England.  It percolated for 40 years and then I made a decision to write a story about a German spy in England and an English spy in Germany with some blurred lines.

Q: How long did it take you to write? 

A: The usual…about 18 weeks I give myself. But it’s two years’ worth of work. A year in research and another year in writing, editing, finessing.

Q: The Spy’s Wife is set to the backdrop of World War II. How much of the story is inspired by true historical events? 

A: All of it. The Great War, Spanish Flu, the Great Depression… it all led into the 1930s and permitted the rise of Nazi ideology.  I used all that history to fashion this story, keeping in mind that my characters do not know that war is coming in 1939…they simply fear the breakout of war again.

Q: You’ve dabbled in many genres throughout your writing career – historical fiction, crime, fantasy and romance to name a few. Which is your favourite genre to write? 

A: Historical is what I always wanted to write but I had very good advice from Bryce Courtenay not to attempt historical until I was ready for the pound of flesh it would demand from me. I wasn’t sure what he meant back in the Year 2000. Even so, I listened to him and wrote what I was reading at the time, which was fantasy. I wrote 14 big books that sold all over the world and in a dozen languages enjoying success as a novelist. I knew how to wrestle a big plot and lots of characters into an engaging story so I’d effectively completed my apprenticeship.  I realised I was ready to commit to the huge research that I now understood each of these historical novels demands.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given as a writer?

A: You’re not ready to write historical.  Write what you know….what you’re reading and loving.

Q: Do you have any advice for those wanting to pursue a career in writing? 

A: No one cares! Get on with it…stop talking about it, thinking about it, promising yourself you will sometime, explaining yourself and your story to others, planning agents and movie scripts.  Write the damn book…and then write the next one.  Finish every project.

Q: What’s next for you? 

A: I’ve finished the next historical for 2022. It’s called The Orphans. I’m about to start the new DCI Jack Hawksworth novel.  And I’m busy researching the historical novel for 2023.  You see, I get on with it!

You can catch Fiona in conversation with Mel Tong from Macquarie Regional Library on Wednesday, November 24, as part of her virtual author talk. 

For more information and to book your place now, visit https://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Upcoming-Events-Activities/Virtual-Author-Talk-Fiona-McIntosh-presents-The-Spys-Wife.

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