Lisa Ireland’s sixth novel - The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan – will be released by Penguin Random House on April 28. The story opens with Shirley Sullivan plotting to ‘rescue’ her husband Frank from an old folk’s home. A dual narrative comes into play, giving readers an insight into the enduring relationship between Shirley and Frank, and the many challenges and heart-aches they faced together, both in the past and in the present.
Lisa tactfully explores themes of ageism, sexuality, women’s rights and the power struggle between parents and their adult children. She also shone the spotlight on dementia, with poignant scenes that tugged at my heart and others that made me giggle. I found myself cheering for the elderly couple throughout the story and I was still thinking about the ending long after I finished. It was a treat to discover in the acknowledgements section that parts of the story were inspired by Lisa’s family, particularly love letters sent between her parents at the start of their relationship.
Now a full-time writer, Lisa lives in Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsular. Her background in education, and work in city and rural schools, took her across Australia and overseas, and inspired an interest in human rights, particularly advocating for asylum seekers and refugees. A definite Jill-of-all-trades, Lisa has lent her hand to many roles over her career including bank officer, newspaper distribution manager, shop assistant, supermarket manager, HR manager for a family business, professional organiser (before Marie Kondo made it cool!) and factory hand. Lisa’s spare time is centred around her family and strong community of writing friends, and when she’s not writing or reading, she can be found running (slowly, according to Lisa).
Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.
Lisa answers the Kiss & Tell with Maya Linnell
Short and sweet questions
Current book on your bedside table: Riptide by Kirsten Alexander
Where do you do most of your writing? In my home office, where I am sitting right now. Occasionally I’ll write in a library or a coffee shop. I’ve trained myself to write pretty much anywhere – on planes, in airports and hotel rooms, at the hairdresser, in waiting rooms and in my car while I’m waiting for kids.
Favourite Australian holiday destination: I live at the beach so when we go on holidays I like to go to the city. I love Melbourne and make sure I visit as frequently as possible. I also love a good road trip – to pretty much anywhere! I’ve had some fabulous holidays on the NSW south coast. I really love that part of the world.
What’s your preferred drop? I love a crisp Pinot Gris but am equally happy with a glass of bubbly!
Guilty pleasure? I don’t really feel guilty about it, but I drink an insane amount of coffee! I also freely admit to watching a lot of TV, mainly very late at night. (I don’t sleep much!)
Pet peeve: When my kids return the milk carton to the fridge with a teaspoon of milk left in it. Grrr! Favourite fictional couple and why? Just one? Recently I read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I read with my heart in my mouth – desperately wanting this young couple to get their HEA. I also really love Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes from Downton Abbey.
If you could pack two non-essential items for a deserted tropical island, what would they be? 1. My dog, Lulu. I really miss her when I’m away. 2. A copy of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, which is one of my favourite books. Or maybe a copy of Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables. Can I cheat and say a big box of my favourite books?
Name an emerging author to keep an eye out for: Eliza Bennetts. Eliza writes beautiful romances with mature characters. She’s a star of the future for sure!
Established authors who inspire you? So many! Two of my favourite Australian authors are: Kylie Ladd. I recently told Kylie that I want to be her when I grow up (we’re roughly the same age!) Kylie makes me care deeply about her characters and her stories are emotionally rich page turners. Kelly Rimmer. Kelly writes deeply emotional stories that wreck me for days after I’m done. (I’m a glutton for punishment!)
Best thing about being a writer? Working from home. I love spending the day in my office with my dog at my feet. Because my time is my own, I can choose to go for a run or walk the dog to my local coffee shop if the words aren’t flowing (or at least I could before we were in the middle of a pandemic!) I also like that I can work at any time – in the middle of the night if the mood takes me. Having said that I do tend to stick to a loose routine. I write (or do writing related stuff) between 10 and 5 on weekdays. I often work on weekends too, especially if I have a looming deadline.
Worst thing about being a writer? Working from home! Because I don’t usually leave my house to write, I have trouble convincing others that I am actually working and not available to run errands/have lunch/talk on the phone. Dealing with interruptions is a constant battle, but I have learned not to answer my phone during work hours. Or pretty much ever. Working from home also means I have no use for all the lovely clothes I want to buy.
Do you prefer music, podcasts or silence when writing? What song/channel/podcast do you have on high rotation? I prefer silence when I’m writing, but I can deal with background noise like chatter in a café. I could never write while listening to a podcast or music but I always have a playlist for every book I write, and I listen to that when I’m driving or doing housework. Right now, I have an alternative 90s playlist on high rotation. I’m particularly enjoying listening to Malibu by Hole.
Favourite perfume: I don’t wear perfume but I love citrus-scented anything!
TV/film crush: This is a tricky one to answer. I tend to have crushes on writers more than actors (and I’m not outing myself with those because I could never show my face in literary circles again!) As far as actors go, I do quite like Rodger Corser in Doctor Doctor.
The best non-writing related prize I won was… I honestly cannot remember winning anything not related to writing – not even a meat tray!
Top three tips for aspiring authors? 1. Read often and widely – in your genre and outside of it. 2. Write. All the theory, workshops, craft books in the world cannot help you if you don’t write. Writing is a skill that improves with practice. 3. Submit. If you want to be published, at some point you are going to have to bite the bullet and submit. Don’t work on the same book for years without seeking impartial feedback. (Your friends, family and even the members of your writing group are not impartial!) Once you’ve edited a manuscript to the best of your ability, it’s time to send it out to the world – to a competition, a manuscript assessor, or an agent or publisher. Getting unbiased feedback is the best way to grow as a writer.
What theme do you hope shines through in your writing? Each of my books has its own theme, but I guess in general I like to write about importance of being true to yourself.
Proudest author moment?
When a reader told me reading The Shape of Us had changed her life for the better. At first I thought she was just being kind, but when she told me how I was blown away.
Three fun facts about the author:
1. I’m an AFL tragic. If you want catch up with me in winter, you’ll need to check the Geelong Cats’ game schedule first. Now we have a team in the AFLW I have even less free time!
2. New York City is my favourite place on earth. I’d live there if I could.
3. I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars franchise.
Follow Lisa online