Literary talent abounds in the Greater Port Macquarie region – and we now have another newly published author to reinforce this point! “In for a Pound” is J.J. Byrnes’ debut novel, and it’s a rollicking good read … full of twists, turns and suspense.
John introduces us to the book’s main character, Sam Leach, and explains some of the thought processes behind this work …
Hi John. What led to you and your family settling in the Greater Port Macquarie area?
In 2012, we decided we were tired of the traffic and the Sydney rat-race, threw it all up in the air and moved to Port Macquarie. We had been holidaying here for years and always loved the beaches, the cruisy vibe and laid-back lifestyle. Since then, other family members have joined us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more turned up as well. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
Many of us toy with the idea of writing a novel, but never get much further than writing a chapter or two! How did you find the motivation to persist with your debut novel, In for a Pound through to completion?
There is no doubt about it – writing a full length, eighty thousand plus word novel is tough. You have to be committed, you have to set goals, and you have to make sacrifices, especially with your time and your social life. However, motivation isn’t too difficult to find if you are really into the story and the characters. I absolutely love the characters in this book – they seem like real people to me – and I had this weird relationship where I could hang out with them every day and follow their bizarre adventures as they occurred.
I only ever had a vague idea where the story was heading, so it evolved moment by moment. The characters did and said things that really surprised me, so I am sure that readers will be just as engaged with the characters and surprised by the twists and turns in the plot as I was.
Why was crime/suspense the genre you chose for your first work?
You write about what interests you, what excites you, what gets your heart racing. At least, I do. I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction and true crime stories. It’s like taking a sneaky peek through a keyhole at people treating each other appallingly, committing unspeakable acts, doing things that you wouldn’t dream of doing – or maybe you would!
I am fascinated by the bent-out-of-shape characters you find in true crime and crime fiction novels. There are some interesting character traits of a few real life criminals embedded in my characters. There are pieces of me in there, and some other things we all have lurking in the shadows, whether we admit to them or not.
The main character, Sam Leach, sounds as if she’s a very strong, determined character. What do you most like about her personality … and how do you feel you’d relate to her if she was a real person and you both met?
I love Sam. She is a young lady having a red hot go under some very trying circumstances. Yeah, she is strong and determined, but not because she wants to be, but because she has had to be. I am sure that if Sam had a normal upbringing, if her mum hadn’t left and her dad wasn’t in gaol, then she would have ended up as another average young suburbanite, but she didn’t – so she isn’t. Her life is a train wreck, there are some very bad people trying to find her, she has to deal with psychopaths and scumbags on a daily basis, she’s stacking up cash under the bed, but she has no real friends.
I think that if I met Sam in real life, she would probably consider me a complete lightweight and ignore me, but I’d follow her around like a puppy.
How have your own personal travelling experiences shaped the way in which you wrote this book – a large proportion of which is set in Asia?
I have sailed up the Mekong and into the South China Sea. I have travelled through northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and the wild hill country known as the “Golden Triangle”. It is infamous for the mass production of Heroin and the trade of other illicit substances.
The place left a strong impression on me; it has a weird vibe, the people up there are a bit wary, a bit stand-offish, and there aren’t a lot of smiles. But I loved it, it is so different. And, so is my book.
How would you sum up the primary plot of In for a Pound in a few sentences?
A savvy young entrepreneur, a prison break, and a revenge driven psychopath on the loose. There are corrupt cops, a kidnapping, and a desperate rescue attempt across the outback, up through the Malacca Straits and into a remote river in South East Asia. What is the common thread that links it all together? What are they all running to or from? Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
What are some of the themes you explore in your book – and why do they interest you?
I loosely look at gender equality and diversity. I believe in giving everyone a fair go, so I have provided people of every creed, colour, and sexual orientation an equal platform to display just how appalling we can all be to one another. It is also about forgiveness and trust, learning to open up and let people in.
Where can we find out more about you and In for a Pound?
You can have a look at my Facebook page – J. J. Byrnes, or you can go to the publisher’s website – www.highlightpublishing.com.au or best of all, visit Bookface bookstore at Port Central on 27th October, where you can meet me and buy yourself a copy of In for a Pound. The book is also available through all the usual online book retailers.
Also, you can come along to Port Macquarie Library at 10:30 am on Tuesday 6th November (Melbourne Cup Day) or Kempsey library on October 29, where I will be presenting a thrilling and informative talk on In for a Pound.
Interview: Jo Robinson.