Today I am featuring an interview with author Phillip Overton, author of The Last Wish of Summer, which I will review tomorrow.
INTERVIEWER: What led you to sit down and write what would eventually become your first novel, The Long Way Home?
PHILLIP: It’s said that everyone has at least one story inside them waiting to be told. It’s often more interesting to hear the circumstances that draw these stories out. When I look back, my first novel in 2005 was probably the result of a mid-life crisis. It was a time I found myself reminiscing on those golden childhood dreams I sensed the sun had long since set on, one of which had been to write a book. Setting the story in my childhood home town of Gosford in New South Wales, Australia enabled me to revisit a time I realized I would never get back. Shortly after I set out to write my book, I seriously injured my shoulder on vacation while racing against my daughter in the swimming pool and had to take three month’s leave from work. It’s funny how an unfortunate event can ultimately provide an unexpected opportunity. I spent the majority of that time typing left-handed with my other arm in a sling. If I hadn’t vowed to have something to show for those three months, I probably would never have finished writing what became my first book.
INTERVIEWER: Your passion and drive to write is obviously strong. How has allowing yourself to fulfill that passion changed or enhanced your life?
PHILLIP: I guess it all comes down to wanting both a creative outlet and a sense of personal achievement. I wanted something to show for my time here on earth that was more than simply holding down a 9 to 5 job. I used to run, my times were never going to catch the attention of national selectors but I was good enough to pick up some prize money in local fun runs, and a training regime of up to a hundred kilometres a week gave me a great sense of mental discipline. I can look back and say I finished two marathons. It helped later in having the mental discipline to see through a project as demanding as writing a novel. Writing provides me with not only a creative outlet, but also with a feeling of being able to escape the ordinary and believe that I can achieve something greater. It is a line of thinking that has spilled over into my way of life. I don't know if I would have found the courage to quit my job, sell our house and move my family away from the city to start a new life close to the ocean if I hadn't believed I could do it.
INTERVIEWER: What is the biggest obstacle you face when writing?
PHILLIP: I love reminding myself that life is a cruel arm wrestle of time and money. If you have the time you don’t have the money, and if you have the money chances are you don’t have the time. I’m not the only writer who tries to balance his or her writing with being a full-time parent and having to work a job of some kind to pay the bills. But after years of juggling all three I think I finally have them evenly balanced. But I always think that some more time to put the way of my writing would be nice.
INTERVIEWER: What process do you use when gearing up to write that allows that heartfelt connection to flow from the mind into words?
PHILLIP: I have to be in the groove so to speak when I sit down to write. I like to surround my thoughts in what I feel is a positive environment. Creating that environment can be as simple as playing the right music in the background to match the mood I'm wanting to capture, going for a nice, long walk along the beach with my wife to clear my mind or watching a favourite movie or TV show the night before you plan to have a day writing. Once I'm in that groove, heart, mind and fingers all seem to work as one.
INTERVIEWER: The Long Way Home had a celestial feel to the book despite it not being considered a Christian novel. Where did the idea of a guardian Angel working to reunite a father and son separated through a divorce come from?
PHILLIP: I was a big fan of the television series the X-Files. I loved the line in the opening credits that simply said ‘I want to believe’. I thought the idea of having Angels at work in people’s lives, intervening in a timely manner when circumstances became too big for people to handle on their own was a great idea. The more I researched, the more I discovered documented cases of people having encountered Angels, appearing both suddenly and miraculously in the form of ordinary people before disappearing just as quickly and leaving them wondering if perhaps they had imagined the whole incident. The idea was to thread a story of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation and challenge the reader to question what they believed to be real. When people ask if The Long Way Home is in any way based on experiences from my own life, I tell them I have encountered enough moments in life that border on the unexplainable to be able to say ‘I want to believe’.
INTERVIEWER: With each of your books so far you have adopted a very different approach in writing them. Can you tell the readers more?
PHILLIP: I guess the way a writer approaches each book is a reflection of where they are at that moment in life. With The Long Way Home I approached the book in a reflective manner, reminiscent of an era gone by and with the story told over a long period of time. A Walk Before Sunrise however was set in a present day context. I introduced the character and then bang! Something happens that shakes his world to the core and sends him off in pursuit of a new beginning. You could say I was influenced at the time of writing it by a lifestyle change where my wife and young family decided to leave the city behind for a change of scenery by the sea. Last Wish of Summer I guess is the culmination of that sea change. That fact that it is such a fun and fast paced book reflects the enjoyment I had in immersing myself in my new beach side lifestyle.
INTERVIEWER: Do you prefer setting your novels in a fictitious location, or the pressure that comes your way as a writer trying to get all the details right when using a real location?
PHILLIP: I think a great story will grab a reader’s attention no matter where a book is set. Setting a fictitious story in an actual setting can enhance the believability factor in the reader’s mind, but I guess the novels where this works the best are the ones that hop around the world, using common landmarks as reference points for the reader. I can speak from personal experience as I am currently re-writing my second novel A Walk Before Sunrise to make it more friendly for the US market. There was a lot of detail written into setting the story in Byron Bay, Australia that in hindsight was probably lost on readers who don’t even know where it is. I felt most comfortable when writing Last Wish of Summer set in the fictional town of Kings Beach. Although Kings Beach is the main life guard patrolled surf beach in Caloundra, the town where I live, I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to perfect the setting without being 100% true to the geographical details.
INTERVIEWER: Are we likely to see more novels set in Australia from you in the near future?
PHILLIP: Definitely. I am currently working on my fourth novel which is set between Australia and Alaska at the height of the Gold-Rush era. I’m fascinated by the history of that era and how easily we accept the version we are taught of it based on the writings of a visiting reporter of the day and a sketchy black and white photograph of an emerging town or city. Ultimately it was an era that defined both American and Australian history. Both countries had a lot of similarities at the time as towns sprung up overnight only to disappear just as quickly when the gold ran out. But the wealth that each Gold-Rush left behind would ultimately develop two uniquely different national identities.
INTERVIEWER: Are there enough ideas in the think tank to keep your writing career fueled for another ten years?
PHILLIP: I can’t see myself ever running out of ideas. I’m sure it will reach a point one day where I’ll say, you know what? I’ll never get the time to write a novel for each great story I’m sitting on. That will probably be the moment you’ll see me come out with a collection of short stories to clear some room in the memory bank. For now however, the secret is to know when an idea is ready to be activated from the thought process and into writing mode. The novel I am currently writing for example spent eight years being developed before I even typed the first word.
INTERVIEWER: What advice do you have for a budding writer wanting to follow in your footsteps?
PHILLIP: Think big, but start small. It is important to see some results for your work. So try some short story contests, write some book reviews and try to understand as early as possible what writing style you want to be known for. Start a blog. It is an easy way to begin building your presence as a writer. And if you have an idea for a brilliant 200,000 word epic novel, sit on it for a while. A publisher is more likely to take a chance on a first time novelist with a well written 70,000 word novel.
Phillip Overton's writing has been compared to none other than Nicholas Sparks (http://www.readerviews.com/ReviewOvertonAWalkBeforeSunrise.html), and his latest novel Last Wish of Summer offers readers the perfect book to sepnd a summer’s day reading at the beach. In a book that reminds us to be careful what we wish for, it manages to weave the wholesome, virginal qualities of the main character Tanya with her band of misfit friends in their pursuit of being able to reason why a washed up message in a bottle is somehow granting their every wish come true. Often in a manner that is both coincidental and strangely bizarre.
Just as a movie adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel will appeal to people of all ages, so too will this story that follows the adventures of a group of twenty-something’s on the last day of summer. The book not only manages to cut through any pre-conceived ideas we hold on morals, body-image and social status, but delights in helping us discover what may already be right under our nose to begin with.
Links to Buy (currently paperback only) Amazon | Barnes and Noble
Title:Last Wish of Summer
Author: Phillip Overton
Date Published: 1/18/12
As the sun prepares to rise on the last day of summer, three friends find themselves totally unprepared for the events that are about to take place around them. For Tanya it is a chance to find peace three years after losing her parents in an auto accident. Deciding she simply can’t continue blaming God for her loss, she places a heartfelt poem in a bottle and throws it into the sea on the eve of her birthday, granting her birthday wish to whoever finds it.
Early the next morning, her best friend Anton and his buddy Johnno find the bottle washed up on the shore and set about putting it to the test. When Johnno falls for the new waitress at the café where Tanya works, it stirs up feelings of jealousy in Tanya. Surely Johnno couldn’t be the man that God had in mind for her? Suddenly, strange wishes are beginning to come true, but is it all a coincidence? Or is God about to change people’s lives for the better?
Welcome to Kings Beach, where the forecast for the last day of summer promises to be hot, hot, hot, with a definite change in the air.