Ryders Ridge and Zombies: a Q&A with Charlotte Nash

200.Ryders.RidgeI’d heard lots about writer and researcher Charlotte Nash. Not only had we completed the same post-grad writing and editing course, we also had mutual friends. But it took until last week for me to meet her officially, when she joined Write Club, our informal but occasionally productive support-meets-gossip group.

It turns out Nash, who was born in England, who grew up Brisbane, and who has completed degrees in mechanical engineering and medicine, has a book just about to hit the shelves. She’ll be launching it (the first of three books Hachette has signed her on for) at Avid Reader in Brisbane on 9 April.

Needless to say, it was a prime opportunity for me to find out more about her book, her writing process, and her take on zombies …

Where did the Ryders Ridge idea come from?

The idea for Ryders Ridge was a synergistic moment at our writer’s retreat. We were talking about rural fiction, and I was thinking about the experiences I’d had as a med student in North West Queensland. The two were a natural pairing, and given I was looking for a new project, perfect timing.

It’s your first published novel. What’s the experience been like?

The main low points were before the manuscript was accepted, having to do a lot of editing on enduring faith that someone would want it, and much of that in a foreign city where I was living at the time and missing my friends back home. Being accepted was a high, as was each milestone as I sent them back—structural edit, copyedit, proofs. The actual experience of the book appearing in final form is unreal, and I don’t think that will change. But that’s ok with me.

I was also extremely fortunate to have a friend and mentor in Kim Wilkins [she also writes as Kimberley Freeman—I recommend checking her work under either or both names out], so I didn’t have really any moments of discovering things I wish I’d known about. Perhaps the only revelation was how much time is invested after writing the first draft (I blogged about it because I found it really interesting), even though it was the fourth manuscript I’d written. But perhaps it’s best not to know these things in advance.

You’ve got a fantastically diverse background. How did you come to be a writer?

Yes, depending on people’s perspective, they see my background as either diverse, quirky, unusual, or fickle, and I’ve struggled a lot with explaining myself in a society that identifies people very strongly with what they do for a living. I’ve always identified with being unconventional, and it drives me to do interesting things for their own sake (many have become enduring interests).

I started out an engineering student hell-bent on applying for medicine. I even sought out an honours thesis trying to meld the two fields (it was on oxygen pooling and materials flammability in hyperbaric oxygen chambers—now say it three times, fast).

I did indeed then go to medical school, and found it a very bad fit for me, for whatever reason at that stage in my life. That revelation was extremely unpleasant, and it took me the entire length of the degree to make the decision not to pursue it. I only made this choice after trying very hard to shoehorn myself into the mould, even taking on a combined PhD program (which ultimately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, failed).

That’s not to say I didn’t, at times, enjoy myself and learn many interesting and useful things (I had the best time ever with an army unit at Enoggera, and I still reckon I could do a mean suture). But I simply felt at the time that pursuing that path was a really bad idea. (Do you still hear the echoes of having to justify myself?) Instead, after graduation, I ended up back in engineering, first in composite materials and rockets at CSIRO, then as an incident investigator in private industry.

But, to where writing comes in. I’m not a person who can claim to have ‘always written’. I’d had a few halting attempts at fiction in my late teens through into my early 20s. In all honestly, I had no skills. But I loved good books and movies, and when I finished med school I decided to take a course, thinking about technical writing being an avenue for me.

Well, that landed me in Kim Wilkins’ class at UQ in 2007, where I found my passion for writing fiction, learned some skills, and the rest is history. I wrote fiction as a hobby from then, gradually selling a few short stories. I switched my work to writing (mostly technical) in 2010, and sold the first novel in 2012. I still hanker after technical, hands-on work. I’m hoping to find a way to combine that in the near future.

You’ve just signed on for another two books but have actually already written a first draft of the second. Can you tell me about trying to avoid the second-book syndrome?

I tried not to think about it. I’ve even avoided trying to fully understand what second-book syndrome is. I saw it as simply a task to get it written, then go to work on the edit.

What’s your writing process?

Project-based. I generally set a goal with a timeframe, and then work out how to hit the deadline. Novels get coarse-planned on index cards, and fine-planned five–six scenes in advance. I do a lot of research on the fly. Short stories sometimes flow and sometimes are planned. And I edit myself extensively.

If there were a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, what would your protagonist do to survive?

Ah, a zombie apocalypse question—excellent! My female protagonist, Daniella, would be the medico of her survivor band, but she’d be handy in a physical situation if it came to that. After all, she doesn’t flinch from a confrontation and has seen her share of trauma.

My male protagonist, Mark, would be the leader-type, knowing his way around firearms and organising others. Sort of like Rick in The Walking Dead, I imagine. Actually, the whole cast would probably make a good survivor band. Maybe I can write Ryders Ridge And Zombies one day. LOL.

Actually, maybe it would be a cool project for a bunch of authors to write a short zombie story in the setting of one of their novels. I’d do it. 🙂

That’s a veritably brilliant idea. Might be one for further discussion at the next Write Club (AKA Emerge from the Sugar Coma Club, which will kick off at lunchtime on Easter Monday) …

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.