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Minnie Darke answers questions about her first novel, Star-crossed

Q) In one sentence describe what your novel Star-Crossed is really about.
A) Star-Crossed is about the fundamental question of fate – can you take it in your own hands and direct it, or does the universe have plans for you that are way beyond your control?

Q) Star-Crossed is being described as Love Actually meets Bridget Jones’s Diary. How do you feel about this as a descriptor?

A) Well, entirely flattered, really! Bridge Jones’s Diary is a huge amount of fun; I love the playful way that it reworks the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which is possibly the world’s best-loved romantic comedy. As for Love Actually: it’s probably the great-great-grandmother of Star-crossed. A lot of what I know about romantic comedy comes from film. Amelie and When Harry Met Sally are my favourite big-screen rom coms, alongside Love Actually.

Q) What was the inspiration behind Star-Crossed?

A) So, once upon a time, I was a journalist at a small suburban newspaper. Because our staff was so small, it ended up being practical for me to have quite a powerful log-in that gave me access to the layout of the whole publication. I remember working late one night, with the horoscopes open on my screen, thinking, ‘I could just…’ And, I’m not saying I definitely ever did tweak the astrologer’s words, but the idea that I could never left me; I knew there was the kernel of a novel in it.

Fairly recently, when I had just finished Star-Crossed, I came upon a former colleague of mine – an older man, a very fine journalist and editor – and he asked me what I was up to. I told him about the novel, and as I did so, I saw a blush creeping up his neck. Then, he confessed to me that when he’d been a young journalist, he’d pursued the woman of his dreams ­– an Aries – by rewriting her horoscopes in a newspaper for which he was the sub-editor. I’m happy to be able to report that he did, in time, marry her.

Q) Star-Crossed has been picked up in numerous countries around the world for publication as well as optioned for film! Could you have imagined so many people would fall in love with Justine and her story?

A) I’ve never had any idea how my books would be received. It’s a strange business, spending years working deeply, intensively, on a project, while having no idea whether or not the finished project will find an appreciative market, or indeed, any market at all. I’m beyond thrilled at the reception Star-Crossed has had from the publishing industry; now I have to wait to see how readers respond.

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'Intricately plotted, pacey, racy and deftly written, it is a playful work by an experienced hand who knows well how to obscure the efforts of her labour. That’s why the publishing world is going nuts over it: books of this calibre in this genre don’t come along very often.'

Amanda Ducker, TasWeekend, on Star-crossed

Q) Tell me all about your amazing writing space which you describe as an artist’s caravan– why you have it, how you got it, what’s special about it?

A) My writing studio is a hand-made timber caravan in my garden. It was made for me by a craftsman who also makes medieval musical instruments, and his partner, who is a painter and leadlight artist. My favourite Roald Dahl novel is Danny, Champion of the World, in which the two main characters live in a caravan like mine. The way most people would describe these caravans is ‘gypsy caravan’, but I understand that in some parts of the world the word ‘gypsy’ is used in an unfortunate way. My caravan has leadlight windows with sunflower designs, a desk with a green leather top, a pin-board for ideas and quotations, a bed for afternoon naps, and – perhaps most importantly of all – beds for my dogs, who sleep there while I write (and might, ahem, occasionally be allowed on the actual bed).

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Q) We hear you are a fan of audio books – and knitting! Do you find the two go hand in hand? What have you been listening to lately?
A) My definition of a perfect few hours is to sit down with my knitting, while listening to an audiobook. I love the way that scenes from the story seem to weave their way into the garment that you’re knitting. I often find myself picking up a sweater or a cowl and getting a little flashback to a story I’ve listed to. Right now I’m listening to Dominic Smith’s The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, and knitting a beautiful aran sweater for my son, using a really scrumptious Quince & Co yarn. Other audiobooks I’ve enjoyed lately are Beartown by Fredrik Backman and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Q) What do you love about the magic of reading?

A) Only everything. But seriously, I love stories. I don’t really mind how I encounter them – through novels, through non-fiction writing, on film, on television, in children’s books, in short stories, while talking to friends, while talking to strangers, listening to speeches, while eavesdropping … the list goes on. I love the emotional journey of becoming part of someone else’s adventure – whether that’s a big and outlandish escapade, or a much more quotidian series of events. I love how stories stretch our understanding of the range and breadth and depth of human – and not just human – experience.

Q) What are you working on next?
A) Without giving too much away, my next book will – like Star-crossed – have a cast of interconnected characters. This time, music will be the theme that holds everything together. (And so, the The Lost Love Song was born.)