My latest novel is “Strapped for Cash”, the third book in my Sexy Seventies Series (although it can definitely be read as a standalone). It’s been described by one reviewer as being “Not chick lit. Not pure comedy. Not romance. Not crime. But a delicious mixture of all those genres.”
The inspiration was where the main character, Brenda, chose to take me, something that can happen when you’re writing a series. Being something of a loner, I wanted her to find the love of family and that wasn’t going to happen with any of her blood relations, mainly because most of them were doing time for various petty crimes. While starting out in Melbourne, the main part of the story is set in London allowing me to catch up with favourites like Eadie, an old aged pensioner who’s going down fighting and Charlie, the world’s largest black and white cat, who’s also prone to going down fighting.
2. When did you take up writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, from essays at primary school through to poetry in high school. I even remember reworking the lyrics to several songs for a talent contest when I was travelling around Europe on a bus tour – we won!
After that there was a long break with work getting in the way, but it was this very thing that got me back into my writing. I was sent on a presentation skills course for work and part of that was writing a speech for the graduation ceremony. Mine was entitled “Breeding Before Forty”, with a funny take on just how loud that body clock can sound in the small hours of the morning. This was recorded and a workmate at the time saw it and next thing I know I’ve been signed up for a Rookie’s Night at a local comedy club.
Luckily for me it went well and the organisers asked me back and I stayed on the professional stand-up circuit for three years. It could be either an amazing or a gut-churning experience, without a lot of middle ground, and it didn’t get any easier. Eventually, I made the decision to concentrate on the writing as it was this I’d always enjoyed most. Fast forward to me taking a lot of writing courses leading to a finished manuscript and the rest, as they say, is history.
3. How important is setting/place in your writing?
It’s important but I certainly don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all. I like to put enough in there that my readers can picture the setting, but I’m not a fan of there being so much about the setting that the book reads more like a travel or real estate brochure. To me, this distracts from the main story and can slow the pace. Unless it’s vitally important to the plot, I tend to leave it out.
4. Do you have a favourite character (s) in your current novel?
Yes, I’ve actually got three. Flo an 80+ plus cleaning lady whose energy levels are such that she could “Clean for England”, Eady, who’s the wrong side of 70 and an ex-dominatrix to boot and Brenda, my protagonist. She’s rough around the edges, but buried deep beneath that hard exterior is a heart of gold.
5. What’s the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Without a first draft, you have nothing to edit.
It seems obvious, but when I was first starting out, I’d keep on going back and editing and re-editing and editing some more, making sure that what I’d written up to that point was 100% perfect. It’s called a ‘draft’ for a reason and so now I go for it and keep moving forward, no matter how rough the draft is. If I think of something that needs to be fixed, I make a note of it, knowing I can do this when I complete the first full edit. This approach has saved me months of work.
6. Do you have a schedule for writing?
I like to write first thing in the morning and I’m lucky I don’t need to be at my day job until 10:30am giving me a good chunk of time to get stuck in. Afternoons are for editing and plotting.
7. Are you a plotter or someone who tends to wing it?
I do plot but not to the inth degree. I prefer to call myself a plantser. I plan out quite a lot as regards what happens in each chapter and overall and after that, I fly by the seat of my pants. I’ve also learned to give my characters free reign because they often have a better idea of what they’re up to than I do. I used to try to corral them into shape, now I give them their head and hold on tight. They don’t often let me down and often the story is stronger for me leaving them to it.
8. Can you name three or four of your current favourite books or recent reads?
Yes, and they all belong to a series I’ve been following. The Blackwood Security series by Elise Nobel are a wonderful read. Emmy Blackwood is a bit like a female James Bond, and the books are full-on action with the bad guys getting a good dealing to. They’re also very funny in places (in a dark sort of way), and with lots of hot men in the offing, what’s not to love?
9. Can you tell me a little bit about what you are working on now?
I’m currently working on DietVale, a comic horror set on a fat farm in a remote corner of New Zealand. The inspiration behind the novel was watching the likes of Survivor and the Biggest Loser and wondering what would happen if those two worlds collided? Both shows put their contestants through hell, so why not ramp it up and have a few laughs along the way. It’s amazing the ‘gallows’ humour that comes out when people are truly facing adversity.
I’m up to the editing stage, adding more tension and fixing any plot issues. So far, it’s reading well and I hope to have it out to my horror beta readers in the next week or two.
In the background I’ve been working on my next adventure, which will be a seven book series, but it’s too early to talk about that yet, with far too much research still required.
10. What advice would you give to a fledgling writer to assist them on their journey?
While I believe there are those who can sit down and write a cracking book, these individuals are incredibly rare. Even if able to tell an amazing story to friends and family, I believe every budding writer needs to take a course or two, especially when it comes to the fundamentals like structure, plot, characterisation, etc.
Having said that, there also comes a time when you have to put pen to paper, or fingers on the keyboard. Don’t become a course junkie, simply take one or two to get you going, confident you’re not going to have to rewrite everything when you realise the rookie mistakes you’ve made.
Strapped for Cash
Set in London at the end of the seventies, when the country was grappling with the iron rule of Margaret Thatcher, and the economy was in serious need of some CPR, we see Brenda struggling to sort out her own finances, with the irony she’s being screwed out of her own nest egg by a bloke not lost on her.
But, never keen on the nine-to-five and much preferring ninety-five-and-loaded, Brenda opens a school for girls, teaching the art of opening the wallets of old chaps who can afford it. She hopes it pans out, because apart from the financial implications, she doesn’t fancy a love life that’s destined to be littered with dodgy prostates and emergency CPR. Perhaps the most valuable thing she learns through her school is there’s a lot more to family than the blood relations you’ve been lumbered with.
Strapped for Cash is the third in Andrene Low’s Sexy Seventies Series with humour that takes no prisoners—unless that’s what they’re paying for.
Originally published as "Screwed for Money" so check out all the lovely 4 and 5 star reviews over there
Excerpt of Strapped for Cash
ALL THIS EFFING WHITE! Jeez, Martin might just as well have popped his clogs already. Cue the sodding harp music.
Brenda hates hospitals with a passion and adding to this misery, her arse hurts, thanks to a chair designed to ensure any visit is brief. It hasn’t been upholstered: the bloody thing’s been panel-beaten.
Holding the clammy hand of her elderly lover, Martin McGowan, she can’t help but feel responsible for his current condition. It had been her idea to try that particular position and it was only due to her rough and ready mouth-to-mouth that he hadn’t snuffed it on the spot. Although, he’d assured her while they were waiting for the ambulance that he wouldn’t have minded kicking the bucket in such a spectacular fashion.
A vision in white pops her head inside the door of Martin’s private room. “She’s on her way.”
“Bloody hell, I’d better go.” Brenda disengages her hand and is unable to stop herself from wiping it on her jeans. A quick kiss to Martin’s forehead confirms this is also covered in a fine sheen of cold sweat, though how anyone could feel chilly in Melbourne in the middle of a stinking hot February is beyond her. If anything, it feels even hotter inside the air-conditioned hospital than it had outside where there had at least been a lacklustre breeze.
Thoughts of longer goodbyes are forestalled when they both hear Mrs McGowan’s strident tones at the other end of the ward, already ordering people about.
“You’d better go or we might have another heart attack on our hands,” says Martin, grimacing.
Brenda isn’t sure if he’s referring to his harridan of a missus or if he’s experiencing more chest pains. Either way, she punches the call button before hightailing it out of the room, managing to disappear into the patient lounge just along from his room without being spotted.
Waiting in hopes that Mrs McGowan’s visit will be of the brief variety, Brenda stares out the large window that allows unforgiving light to flood the room. If it hadn’t been an emergency, Brenda doubts Martin would be in a public hospital but the ambulance had come here and so here he stays. His bitch of a wife hasn’t stopped living up to her reputation since the first hospital corner had been tucked in using a T-square and protractor.
She’s flipped through all the women’s magazines and is down to reading pamphlets on prostate health before she decides to bail. Bloody woman’s arse cheeks must be iron.
After a steadying breath, she readies to make good on her escape, releasing her long, dark hair from the ponytail high up on the back of her head and draping it artfully around her face. Pulling her jacket on to cover her skimpy red boob tube, with head down, she hurries past Martin’s glass-windowed room as fast as her platform shoes and ankle-trapping flares will allow. It’s not that she’s worried about having a showdown with Mrs McGowan but she’d prefer to avoid anything that might upset Martin.
She’d take that cow on in a heartbeat.
Brenda’s surprised at how upset she is over Martin’s ill-health. Sure, he’d started out as a meal ticket, but she’s come to care for the old codger. Even the sex hadn’t been too bad, although she’ll be cautious about that in the future. It wasn’t as if either of them wanted to risk necrophilia.
Near the double doors fronting the ward, she hears Mrs McGowan’s cut-glass tones. “For goodness sake, if you haven’t managed to find a pulse by now, he doesn’t have one.”
Freezing, Brenda listens hard. Unable to hear the nurse’s response, she retraces her footsteps to one side of the door to Martin’s room. On hearing him trying to placate his wife, she slumps back against the wall.
“How much longer must I suffer visiting my husband in this, this …?”
Brenda can clearly envisage the expression that must be pasted on the woman’s face. It’s the ‘poo under the nose’ look she uses at the least provocation and Brenda’s borne the brunt of it in the past. So what if she was caught swimming in the McGowan’s pool in her undies? Martin hadn’t given a hoot.
The distinctive rattle of the clipboard being unhooked from the end of Martin’s bed follows, then the sound of charts being flipped.
“It looks as though it’ll be another week,” says the nurse, her voice firm. She adds “Maybe even longer,” and Brenda hears a touch of glee.
“For goodness sake, this simply won’t do! I’m going to arrange a transfer right now.”
The visitor’s chair screeches in relief and Brenda knows she’ll never make it out of the ward in time. Luckily there’s a door right behind her and, without hesitation, she opens it, walks in and closes it quietly before sliding to the side so she’s not visible through the tall skinny viewing pane. Her hopes that the room is vacant are dashed when a creaky and rather hopeful voice says, “Are you here to give me my enema?