Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing debut author Rae Cairns. We discuss her new thriller The Good Mother, her Ned Kelly Award shortlisting and the experiences that led her there. And, thanks to Harper Collins Australia, one lucky reader in Australia will win a paperback copy.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
Q&A with author Rae Cairns
Thanks so much for having me on the blog!
The Good Mother is the story of Sarah Calhoun, a regular Sydney soccer mum, keeping terrifying secrets from everyone she loves.
When two men from Northern Ireland hunt her down, she’s forced to return to Belfast to testify at a murder trial – where her past catches up with her. Caught in the crossfire of an obsessive policeman and a brutal IRA executioner, Sarah faces an impossible choice: lie and allow a killer to run free, or tell the truth and place her children in the line of fire.
With her family and innocent people at risk, Sarah must find the courage to fight for the truth. But righting the wrongs of the past just might cost her everything…
I understand this fictional story was in part born from a very personal case of an early relationship that went wrong. Can you share a little about that experience?
During the final years of Northern Ireland’s violent conflict, known as ‘The Troubles’, I worked in Belfast mentoring disadvantaged youth, many children of paramilitaries such as the IRA and UVF. I was in my mid-twenties and dating a charismatic guy who swept me off my feet. Until an acquaintance let a horrifying fact slip. It turned out my boyfriend was a dedicated paramilitary member. I broke things off immediately but I was left with so many questions. What if I hadn’t found out about his allegiance until much later? What if the relationship had never been real, but just a ploy to gain information? What would happen if our paths crossed today?
Years later, when I finally put pen to paper I used these questions, and my experiences in Northern Ireland as a springboard for the story.
After your formal training in the performing arts, what drew you to working with disadvantaged youth?
I grew up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, raised by a single mum in a housing commission area, but I was fortunate. My mother made education a priority, even arranging for my sister and I to attend schools out of area because they were better resourced. But locally I saw how a lack of interest and connection could stifle education and limit the opportunities of young people.
I enjoyed performing but I’d worked in the industry since I was eighteen months old. My first gig was as the face of Velvene, on their shampoo bottles and in the print ads. By my mid-twenties that career had run its course. I now wanted to actively contribute to giving underprivileged and disadvantaged children, like my childhood neighbours, a voice. Fortunately, my Degree in Performing Arts was useful for this, as music and drama are brilliant mediums for expression of lived experiences and ideas, and very effective ways to connect across cultures.
Was there a particular catalyst for you choosing to enrol in a creative writing course?
I’ve always been a storyteller of some sort – a singer, an actor, a director and even as a mentor of disadvantaged young people – but I really wanted to explore the eighteen-year-old idea for The Good Mother in written form. I enrolled in a creative writing course at The Writers Studio to get the story down then went on to complete a year-long mentorship with Kathryn Heyman, through the Australian Writers’ Mentoring Program, to learn how to write.
I understand what is now on bookstore shelves is actually the second iteration of The Good Mother. What was it like to be the only self-published debut to make the 2021 Ned Kelly Awards shortlist and then be picked up by HarperCollins?
When a friend rang to tell me that The Good Mother had been shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Best Debut Crime Fiction Award I didn’t believe them. I’d entered the book believing it didn’t stand a chance up against traditionally published books, especially when there were so many extraordinary debut titles to choose from.
Being shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award changed my life. Two weeks afterwards, I signed with Cameron’s Management, and one week later I was offered a two-book deal with HarperCollins. All of a sudden, I had a team of industry professionals at my back, each one an expert in their department. I felt excited, a little in shock by the influx of emails and offers, and amazed that my life could change so completely almost overnight.
Having experienced both the self-publishing and traditional publishing routes, do you have any tips for budding authors?
For me, writing and publishing has always been about learning as much as possible from the experts in their area then striving to do the absolute best I could do at every stage of the process, from the writing to editing to cover design to publishing and marketing.
I had to be brave and persistent. Not just on the path to publishing but with the work itself. I can’t tell you how many drafts I did of The Good Mother but the final two were with my editors at HarperCollins. The version out on the shelves now contains 10,000 new words and additional scenes.
Most writers are avid readers. Can you tell us about the last book you read that you absolutely loved and recommended to all your friends?
The Hush by Sara Foster was my standout read of 2021. I told all my friends to read it, even insisted it be our book club’s first read of the year! It’s a multigenerational female-led thriller set in the near future about a dynamic group of women fighting to overcome a terrifying conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the British Government. The way Sara Foster weaves the intricate stories had me in awe, and yet for all the nuances, nothing was lost in pace. As Dervla McTiernan said it ‘is the book I wish I had written’.
I understand you are currently hard at work on your second standalone thriller. Can you share any more details with us about this?
I’m excited to say I’m about to hand in the completed draft of my second novel to HarperCollins. All I can tell you for now is the story opens with a budding journalist receiving a call from her terrified sister who has awoken, trapped, in the boot of a moving car.
Thanks so much for joining us today Rae.
Thanks again for having me.
Industry reviews of The Good Mother:
‘This taut, propulsive debut celebrates female strength and speaks to the extraordinary courage and resilience of mothers everywhere … Brilliant’ – Anna Downes
‘Surprising, moving and utterly heart-stopping. A stunning, thought-provoking debut’ – Kathryn Heyman
‘A gripping page-turner. I was hooked from the first page until the final twist’ – Tim Ayliffe
Get your copy of The Good Mother from:
Paperback Giveaway of The Good Mother
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