What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Penelope Janu

I’m delighted to welcome Australian author Penelope Janu to my blog today to celebrate the upcoming release of her debut novel, In At the Deep End which was published by Harlequin Mira on the 23rd January.

A few years ago, after a fulfilling career as a lawyer and legal academic, Penelope thought it was time to start writing the kinds of stories she’d always thought up but never written down. Not coincidentally, they were also the stories that she loved to read – stories that had little to do with corporations law or conveyancing contracts, and more to do with adventure, romance and happily ever afters.

On the pretext of improving her editing skills Penelope enrolled in a one year course … which ended up being a master’s degree in creative writing. Being surrounded by others who were passionate about writing was just the boost she needed to start her second career as an author.

Penelope is currently working on her second novel and has a third in the pipeline.

She has a wonderful husband and six fantastic children who, to varying degrees, are happy to proofread her scenes ... And when she’s not writing (or thinking about writing), she happily embraces (most of the time) the chaos of a busy household, work, a large garden, travel, and walking her dogs - Bella and Daphne.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know Penelope.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Anna from Alphabet Communications, for making this interview possible.

Penelope, it’s really lovely to welcome you to my blog.

It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I think you’ve set everything out in your introduction! I have a background in law, I have a lovely family, and I’m very lucky to be starting out in a new career as an author.

Could you tell us in your own words what In At the Deep End is all about?

It’s the story of Harriet Scott, a well known Australian environmentalist, and Per Amundsen, a Norwegian naval commander and scientist. They meet in Antarctica when Per rescues Harriet from her sinking ship. They end up working together to a common end—to replace the ship. Harriet is a passionate and persuasive risk taker. Per is unfailingly competent and conventional—he likes to think things through. They think they have nothing in common but … actually they do!

What are the major themes in In At the Deep End?

Fear is one theme. Harriet has aquaphobia, a fear of the water, as the result of a trauma she has suffered. Per is afraid because, beneath his action hero persona, he’s as vulnerable as anybody else.

The environment and how issues like climate change affect it is another theme. I wanted to explore this in a factual rather than purely emotive way. As Harriet says at one stage, rising sea levels have devastating consequences for many nations, and humankind, no matter what the cause is.

In your opinion, what makes In At the Deep End stand out from the crowd?

The climate change aspect of the novel, and the historical aspect (Harriet and Per share the same surnames as Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, the men leading the first and second teams that trekked to the South Pole) are fresh, and interesting. The fact the novel explores serious issues like loss and fear, yet is essentially light-hearted, will also, I hope, make it stand out.

Is there anything you’ve found particularly challenging in your writing?

In respect to the book, yes! It was challenging to present some of the content in an engaging way. As I got to know Harriet as a character, this aspect became easier. How would she get her message across as an environmentalist? I tried to tap into that. And challenges in writing? Finding the time to sit down and write—a common problem for writers, and trying to be positive about what I am writing (otherwise I’d never make enough time to finish the book).

When you began In At the Deep End, did you already know how it was going to end? Or did it unfold organically as you wrote?

I knew Harriet and Per would get together, but I wasn’t sure how that would be achieved. It was definitely an organic process, and the characters took control of their destinies on many occasions!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Oh my goodness! I have to limit this to one?

When I started writing creatively, one of my lecturers once said to me, ‘But why do I need to know that?’ I quite liked the chapter I’d laboured over for weeks, but she was entirely right, it wasn’t necessary to tell the story (or could be condensed into a paragraph or two).  After I’ve completed the first draft of a book, I apply this question. It doesn’t always result in me deleting what I’ve written—sometimes it leads to other scenes that clarify what I’ve written.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

That no matter how experienced or inexperienced a writer you are, you have a voice that is all your own. We all strive to be the best writers we can be through learning our craft, but what is likely to excite the interest of a publisher or reader is the writer’s unique voice. Have faith in your voice, and the stories you write.

If I think I’m a writer, how would I know for sure?

Last year I visited one of my daughters, who lived for two years in remote NT with an indigenous community. The artists in that community told beautiful and complex stories though their artwork. They were storytellers, which I think makes them writers. Telling your children imaginary stories at bedtime can make you a writer. ‘Writers’ are people who create characters, and build made-up worlds around them. Some of us write them down and some of us don’t (though sometimes it’s nice to write them down so others can enjoy them!).

What’s the best thing about being an author?

Spending time with my characters. And, as a new author, getting to know a warm, generous, insightful and talented community of readers and writers.

So now that we have the official part of the interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer it?

Hmmm …  Question: I understand there’s going to be a movie of In at the Deep End, and that you’ve been invited to go to Antarctica, where the early scenes will be filmed. Will you go?’ Answer: Yes!!!!!!!

Beer, Wine or Cocktail?

Wine. Though I confess I can’t differentiate between cheap and expensive wines, so the house white wine will be fine, thanks.

Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?

I don’t. Maybe I should!

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

If my book club is anything like my writing group we’d be reading crime, literary fiction, children’s fiction, romance and contemporary fiction (our writing preferences). We are a diverse bunch of writers but happy to read anything, which is probably why we get on so well.

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!

I can’t watch violence on screen (it gives me nightmares) so I shut my eyes and put my hands over my ears (then I annoy my family by asking what happened).

I can walk on stilts.

I can’t help feeling like Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice in wanting to see my two sons and four daughters happily settled. 

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?


Penelope, it’s been an absolute delight having you here today and I so look forward to reading your next novel. Before you go though, would you mind sharing with us an excerpt from In At the Deep End?

Chapter 1 of the book was published in on-line media all around Australia on Christmas Day as part of a ‘books to look out for in 2017’.

I'll also leave you with a bit more! Here is the start of Chapter 4—it’s the first time Harriet has seen Per since the Chapter 1 rescue. 


The legal firm’s conference room is on the twelfth floor of a Macquarie Street building, and overlooks the Botanical Gardens and harbour. Even though I’m on time, the men are there already. 
When I was six years old, with no front teeth, we were in Venezuela. Mum was rowing across a piranha-infested river in a hollowed-out tree trunk to pick Dad up; he was abseiling sixty metres down a waterfall. I was photographed frowning. My lips were tight. The shot was used for publicity for years after that. I suspect I have the same expression now. 
Per gets to his feet first. He’s strongly built yet slender, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. His suit fits him well. When he shakes my hand he looks at my mouth, and then he stares into my eyes. My recollection of the night he treated me for hypothermia on the Torrens is hazy, but I remember the rescue vividly, and his gaze is just as intense today as it was in the storm. His eyes beneath his straight black brows are dark like charcoal. And he’s tanned, which accentuates the narrow white scar on his cheekbone.
I shake hands with the lawyer, James Talbot, and mediator, Neil Reid, and then we sit at the circular table. It has an aged oak grain and is at least two metres across. Per’s legs are long, but even stretched out they’re still quite a distance from mine. He’s opposite me. His lawyer is on my right. The mediator is on my left. 
I’m well prepared for this meeting because the legal studies teacher at school gave me a thorough briefing—on the mediation process, and the principles of negligence. I often sketch when I concentrate, so I pull out a small notebook and reach for my pen¬cil. I attempt to draw Per as the scowling Scar from The Lion King. When the good lion Simba takes shape I have to turn over the page.
‘Miss Scott, I’m concerned that you don’t have a lawyer with you,’ the mediator says. ‘Have you understood everything so far?’ 
‘Mediation enables the parties to a dispute to formulate solutions that have a greater likelihood of satisfying both parties,’ I say. ‘As opposed to litigation, in which the judge imposes a decision that may satisfy neither party.’
The mediator nods. 
‘Which is not to say that Commander Amundsen doesn’t have an excellent case in negligence, should the mediation not result in a satisfactory outcome,’ the lawyer says. 
My hair is in a ponytail. I tighten the band. Then I address the lawyer. ‘The inquiry’s findings into the sinking of The Watch were inconclusive. There was no clear case of negligence. And even if you proved it, I’d hardly be worth suing. All I own that has any value is my house, which is heavily mortgaged. Any money raised from its sale would disappear in legal costs. So why are we really here?’
Per sits back in his chair. He links his fingers together and puts his hands behind his head. He’s taken his suit jacket off, and the fabric of his white shirt stretches tightly across his chest. He has enough confidence for ten alpha males put together.
Introducing the Book

A quick-witted, contemporary romance about losing your cool.

What woman doesn’t love a real-life hero? Harriet Scott, for one. The fiercely independent daughter of famous adventurers, she grew up travelling the world on the environmental flagship The Watch. So when Harriet’s ship sinks in Antarctica and she has to be rescued by Commander Per Amundsen, an infuriatingly capable Norwegian naval officer and living breathing action hero, her world is turned upside down.

Like their namesakes, the original Scott and Amundsen who competed to reach the South Pole first, Per and Harriet have different ways of doing things. Per thinks Harriet is an accident waiting to happen; Harriet thinks Per is a control freak. But when Harriet realises that Per is the only one who can help her fund the new ship she desperately wants, she is forced to cooperate with him.

Per refuses to assist unless Harriet allows him to teach her to swim. But there is more to Harriet’s terrible fear of water than meets the eye. Can Harriet face her fears and come to terms with the trauma and loss of her past?  And will she begin to appreciate that some risks are well worth taking—and that polar opposites can, in fact, attract?

Where You Can Buy It From


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