Jacquie Byron on dangerous totes, dictating scenes and Happy Hour
What a fabulous debut! Happy Hour caught my attention and held it right from the get-go, and I couldn’t help but adore the cantankerous, loveable and ultra-fashionable main character. A widow who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, 65-year-old Franny Calderwald has worked tirelessly to isolate herself from the well-intended but ultimately infuriating friends and family. Her wardrobe is every bit as amazing as her art studio and well-stocked alcohol cabinet, her two best friends are her canine companions (aptly named Whisky and Soda), and she’s perfectly happy that most of her conversations are between her and framed photos of her late husband Frank. New neighbours throw a spanner in the works, and suddenly there’s turmoil in Fran’s hermit-like habits.
This warm and uplifting novel is full of laughs but brace yourself for the odd tear or two with the storyline also carrying undercurrents of grief, addiction and forgiveness. There’s a wealth of cooking (don’t read on an empty stomach), hilarious cameos from the children next door and a lovely thread of friendship throughout.
Five fast minutes with... Jacquie Byron
Do you have a good luck charm or a special token that sits on your desk/in your office?
It sounds mad but I always have this little Sideshow Bob (from The Simpsons) miniature that my husband picked up years ago. It may even have been a “gift with purchase” from McDonalds. Don’t ask me why. Also, because there are normally a few tea and coffee cups gathering throughout the day, I always have a couple of coasters that mean something to me. Currently one is from Clunes when I went to the book festival there last year and the other one is from John Kay’s Bookshop in Edinburgh from a 2019 trip.
Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?
I try and keep up a bit of yoga to fight off lower back niggles. And beach walks with my dog Whisky are my absolute favourite pastime.
What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?
Two faves are crumbed chicken with a wombok salad or pork and pineapple tacos. Both tasty but fresh and pretty fast to prepare.
Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?
Designing crockery and soft furnishing fabrics. Or interior decoration, but without clients hassling me haha.
Chocolate, potato chips or cheese?
Must I choose? Cheese, preferably something on the mild blue side, maybe with some lovely figs or something as well.
Have you done anything special with any of your advances?
Hell yes. I have only had one advance, but I used a portion to take a four-month sabbatical from my day job to promote Happy Hour and commence book two. It is the greatest gift I have ever given myself and I am so glad I did and feel very, very fortunate.
Spot where you seem to get the best bursts of inspiration?
Driving the car and walking the dog. In the car I have been known to voice record ideas for scenes or chunks of story on longer commutes (without other passengers of course).
Worst writing/book related injury?
Funny question 😊. I did the round of bookstores in Sydney recently to sign books which was wonderful but I made the rookie mistake of introducing a new tote bag to proceedings which led to really annoying shoulder and neck pain that lasted for a fortnight. Stick to the old faithful bag readers!
Do you have a writing ‘uniform’?
Normally I go straight from dog walking to writing so active wear is my go-to ensemble. If I am writing at my favourite library I may step it up a bit. Which basically just means jeans and eyeliner.
Aussie novel you’re most looking forward to in 2022?
Hmm tough one. Can I say two? The first is Shelley Burr’s Wake – as a reader I love a good crime novel, and as a (now) author I’m always curious about books that cause a stir in the industry. The second is The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird by Diane Connell – because I love the combination of heartbreaking and funny.
Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?
Positive: “This opening suggests the confidently handled mix of eccentric wit and genuine emotional heft that defines this charming and poignant debut novel.” — Gemma Nisbet, The West Australian, 4 September 2021
Negative: “Amusing in the beginning, then descended into melodrama. Sigh.” (I can’t help it, I find this one from Goodreads hilarious.)
Share a quirky habit or something readers might be surprised to discover about you.
This is dangerous. Sometimes when I am cleaning the house I pretend I am the housekeeper of someone wealthy and famous and I’m being shadowed by a television crew as I explain what my daily routine involves.
Growing older doesn't necessarily mean growing wiser.
Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.
Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio - beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh - cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny's wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?
Jacquie Byron was born in Melbourne and, in this post-pandemic, travel-restricted world, she will most likely die there. Her home includes treasured items, including her Irish dancing costume and her Scottish whisky collection.
A journalism graduate from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Byron’s work has taken her from the world of pop divas and jewellery designers to light commercial vehicles and Ugandan IDP camps. In 2015 she was awarded a Glenfern Fellowship and in 2016 her work, Trouble Sleeping, received a Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
Happy Hour is her debut novel, released with Allen & Unwin August 2021.
Find Jacquie online
Website - Jacquiebyron.com
Facebook - @JacquieByronAuthor
Twitter - @jacquie_byron
Instagram - jacquie_byron
Win! Win! Win!
For your chance to win a copy of Jacquie Byron's novel Happy Hour and Fancy Meeting You Here by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, read this interview, and the interview with Ali and Michelle HERE and then enter the contest on my WIN page. Entries only open to Aussie addresses and newsletter subscribers, please. Closes 5pm January 9. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review and giveaway copies.