I first met Toni Jordan on a bus ferrying authors from our hotel to the Perth Writers Festival. We fell into conversation and afterwards I bought her book, Addition, and went along to hear her speak. She was so clever, so funny, so engaging, I’ve been a fan ever since. Her latest book, Dinner with the Schnables, is just as brilliant – it had me laughing out loud (no mean feat), and I’ve been pressing it into the hands of friends and relatives ever since.
Toni’s books include Addition (which unsurprisingly became an international bestseller), the Indie-award winning Nine Days (which I adored), Our Tiny, Useless Hearts (longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award), and The Fragments, which I described as “part-romantic comedy, part-literary mystery, and part-historical drama, all of which add up to a fresh and beguiling story centred on the lost novel of a mysterious woman writer of the 1930s.” (You can read my review of The Fragments here: https://kateforsyth.com.au/what-katie-read/book-review-the-fragments-by-toni-jordan)
I would have loved to have had Toni over for dinner myself, so that we could have devoured a feast while talking and laughing and sharing writerly stories. But, you know … pandemics and lockdowns and all that jazz. So we are saving our writer dinner for when the world is a little calmer. In the meantime, Toni was kind enough to answer some of my eager questions:
1) Tell me about your new novel
My new novel is called Dinner with the Schnabels. It’s about a man, Simon, who’s at a low point in his life. He’s lost his business, his home, and his self-respect. His wife’s family, the Schnabels, have asked him to do one little job—landscape a garden that will be used as the venue for an important Schnabel family event. Simon has one week to restore his dignity and make something beautiful for his wife, but circumstances keep conspiring against him.
2) How long has this story been growing in your imagination?
This was a quick novel for me! I wrote it in 2020, in lockdown.
3) What was the first spark of inspiration?
I was streaming a lot of television in that long winter of 2020, but increasingly I found myself drawn to two shows: Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. I realised I hadn’t read many novels like that: stories of people who loved each other deep down, and who often do wrong things for the right reasons. I decided to write a story about people who are deeply flawed but funny; something that would cheer me up if I read it.
4) How long did it take you to write?
About seven months! But I had nothing else to do.
5) What were the greatest challenges for you while writing it?
I wanted to write an engrossing plot, but with very low stakes! I didn’t even know if it was possible. I wanted no tragedies, no villains, and nothing bad to happen—but I still wanted it to be a page-turner. So the biggest challenge was: how can I possibly make readers care about whether or not one depressed middle-aged man landscapes a garden on time?
6) How carefully do you plot out your story before you start writing?
LOL, no! I am a textbook pantser. I don’t even know what I’ve done until after I’ve done it. I just try to sit down every day and write the best 1000 words I possibly can, and I don’t think about anything else. For me, the whole secret of writing is getting out of my own way and not overthinking things.
7) Tell me about your major characters. How do you got about making them so alive?
Thank you! For me, it all begins with dialogue. I’m actually pretty terrible at describing people—I’m not very visual and I find that kind of thing to be very difficult. But I’m good at listening carefully when people speak. Once I can hear how my characters would say something, I get a very clear idea about their characters. Simon was great fun to write, because he gets a lot of things wrong. He’s clueless—partly because he’s a bit depressed. Life hasn’t worked out how he imagined it would. I can relate to that!
8) Are you a daydreamer too?
Of course! I was always in so much trouble with my parents for being away with the fairies.
9) Have you always wanted to be a writer?
It never occurred to me until I was in my mid-thirties, when I enrolled in a TAFE writing course in order to start my own business as a scientific and technical writer. I chose a fiction subject just for fun, because I loved reading novels so much. Once I started writing fiction, I just couldn’t stop. I am an accidental novelist!
10) Where do you write?
At my desk, in my little study at home in Collingwood.
11) What is your favourite part of writing?
I love everything about it. Being able to sit down every day and make up stories is an incredibly privilege.
12) What do you do when you get blocked?
Sometimes the story is slower than I’d like it to be—but that means I have to be patient. My unconscious mind works on its own timetable and it’s the boss, not me.
13) What’s next for you? Are you working on a new book?
I’m not finished with the Schnabels yet! I’m working on a book about Kylie, the oldest Schnabel sibling.
You can read my review of Dinner with the Schnabels here (link to WKR review), and connect with Toni on Facebook
And if you haven’t read any of Toni’s work yet, I can promise you are in for a treat!