Johanna Craven is an Australian-born writer of contemporary and historical fiction. She is also a film composer, music teacher and pianist. She has lived in Melbourne and Los Angeles and is currently based in London.
Her more questionable hobbies include ghost hunting, meditative dance and pretending to be a competitor on The Amazing Race when travelling abroad.
Johanna's debut novel 'Music From Standing Waves' was released in August 2015.
So Johanna; Music from Standing waves! I absolutely loved this book. Tell me all about it.
Music From Standing Waves is the story of Abby, a young violinist growing up in the 1990s in a tiny country town in far north Queensland, Australia. Desperate to leave home to pursue her career, Abby throws herself into her music at the expense of relationships with family and friends. At eighteen, she is accepted into the Melbourne Conservatorium and finally has the chance to follow her dream. But when she meets fellow student, Matt, she realises that love for a person can be even more powerful than love for music. Suddenly Abby finds herself questioning everything she thought she ever wanted.
Many have described this book as a coming of age story, which I would go along with. Why did you decide to write this type of story?
I wrote the first draft of Music From Standing Waves when I was in my early twenties, to see if I was actually capable of writing a novel. There was never a conscious decision to write a coming-of-age story, but rather to work within confines that were very familiar to me. I knew what it was like to be a young musician making the journey into adulthood, so it felt very natural to use this as the premise for my first book. They always say you should write what you know!
Quite a lot of the story revolves around Abby and her determination to get to the Conserveatum in Melbourne. I know that you also attended the Con. Did you have the same drive as Abby did and if you did, do you put the same amount of drive into your writing.
Actually, until a couple of months before I went to the Con, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to be a film composer or a writer. I was at the point of tossing a coin to determine my uni preferences, but then I heard a song that really affected me and I decided I wanted to study music. Of course I soon came to the realisation that I was able to do both- today I freelance as a writer, pianist and media composer. When I set myself a goal, I am very driven to achieve it, but I have never been as single-minded as Abby.
What do you really think of Abby, do you like her or do you think she is a little selfish?
I believe no-one is all good or all bad and as such, I don't like to create characters that can be labelled as 'goodies' or 'baddies'. Rather, I prefer to portray my characters as realistically as possible, letting readers make up their own minds who to root for. I've been advised against this technique by other writers who believe it is a novelist's job to make readers passionately love or loathe the characters. While I know there is huge value to this approach, I believe a well-drawn character, with all his or her flaws, can be equally engaging. Abby is certainly selfish, but hopefully readers are able to see that this selfishness comes as a result of her drive and independence. I realised recently that in my attempts to create strong female characters, I've ended up with a string of rather bitchy leading ladies, so have worked hard to highlight some of their positive qualities as well! I certainly don't want to perpetrate the myth that a strong woman has to be a bitchy or selfish one!
It's been really interesting to read reviews of Standing Waves- I've had some readers say they love Abby and others say they really don't, but the comment I've heard the most is that she is realistic, which makes me really happy. Personally, I like her, but I like her because of her flaws. I have a pet hate for characters that are too good to be true!
With coming from Australia and attending the Con did you feel you had to do any other research regarding your book?
Very little! I also write historical fiction, which obviously requires a huge amount of research, so Music From Standing Waves was a comparatively easy story to tell. I'm not a violinist, so there were a few technical things I needed to check. I also closely studied the scores of the pieces I mention in the book to make sure all the references were musically accurate.
Has there been any other instances in your life that has influenced anything in this story?
There are a lot of little things in the book that come from my own life; especially from my childhood. Like Abby, I grew up in the 1990s and, although I grew up in the city, I remember my childhood being quite sheltered, innocent and full of make-believe. 'Shipwreck' was a game we used to play in my neighbours' back yard and we grew up wondering if the mansion across the road was haunted!
One of the first things that caught my eye about this book was the cover. Personally I think it is fantastic and quite thought provoking. What is the story or the thinking behind the design?
Yes, I love this cover too! Actually, I planned to hire a designer to do my cover and I had all these elaborate ideas about weaving in beachy elements and music and blues and greens etc, etc… (Clearly I have very little design sensibility!) Then I stumbled across this design from an online artist and realised it was exactly what the book needed. I love it because of its simplicity, but also because the partially broken violin is a great metaphor for the conflicts Abby faces on her musical journey. The drops of water tie back to her childhood by the sea.
Now for everyone that hasn’t read your book. What would they gain from reading it?
I could list things like gaining an inside look into the classical music industry, or what it's like to be a student at a specialist school like the Con, but I believe one of the main benefits of this book is that readers will get a story they can relate to, regardless of their background or upbringing. The coming-of-age story is universal and I believe this is what makes this genre so timeless.
Are there any themes or messages in Music from Standing Waves?
The theme that runs throughout is the constant battle between love for music and love for a person. This is explored not only through Abby and her various romantic and platonic relationships, but also through characters like Andrew and Hayley, Clara and Abby's mother, Sarah. The story aims to examine the ways music has the power to change the course of people's lives.
Does the band Standing Waves exist?
It doesn't, but as a composer of contemporary classical music, I agree with many of Matt's views on the lack of new works that receive public performance. Some of my biggest musical influences are composers like Phillip Glass and Michael Nyman, who have ensembles dedicated to the performance of their own works. This is something I'd love to do at some point in my career.
What are your future plans as a writer and will we see Abby again?
I've had some interest from a UK publisher in my second novel, Gods and Beasts Beneath the Sea, so fingers crossed we may see that out and about in the not-too-distant future! Gods and Beasts is set in seventeenth century Port Royal- historical fiction is a genre I am loving working in right now.
I am also working on a new contemporary novel, which features issues surrounding marine conservation. I am passionate about the environment, and while I certainly don't want to preach to my readers, I think my books can be a powerful way to highlight issues I care about.
At the moment, I have no plans for a sequel to Music From Standing Waves. I have had several readers say they would be interested though, so who knows what may happen in the future!
Now I know this is a common question for writers but tell my why do you write?
Actually, this is a question I have never been asked before and I had to think really hard to work out exactly why I write! For many years, my writing was a very private and personal thing and I loved to lose myself in the worlds of my characters. Of course, now I write for the public and the joy comes from sharing those worlds and characters with others. I hope that my writing has a strong sense of place, and I love being able to transport readers to a place and/or time they may never have been.
Another common question. Where do you get your ideas?
For Standing Waves, as I mentioned, I chose to write largely from my own experiences, so the answer in terms of this book will be different to my others. I usually find that I will hear about an issue or historical event that really strikes a chord with me and I'll play around with that idea for a while until it has become a coherent story. A lot of my writing also has an Australian setting. As an expat living in London, I find that writing about home is a really great way to connect me to my country.
When you first started writing any of your novels; did you plan them first or did you just get straight into the writing?
In the past, and particular with my first novel, Music From Standing Waves, I had nothing more than a vague idea when I started writing. While I am very happy with the finished product, this approach required countless rewrites and restructuring. Needless to say, I learned a lot- especially in terms of what not to do when writing a book!
I'm now working on my third novel and writing has become a business for me, so I've had a much more structured approach; having a good idea of where the novel will end before I even begin.
Now, I would be the first one to admit I have many faults as a writer. Writer’s block is certainly one of them. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and if you do how do you get over it?
Definitely! My favourite technique for busting writer's block is to listen to music. As a film composer, I am aware of the strong link between music and picture. If I am unsure where a scene is going to go, I will listen to a piece of music that could underscore the action and see where this leads me.
If for any reason you were unable to write; what would you do?
I'd focus on my career as a musician.
Apart from the genre you write in which other books do you enjoy reading?
I love horror, particularly good old-fashioned ghost stories. I just finished This House is Haunted, by John Boyne- such a great, creepy read!
Johanna; it has been an absolute pleasure doing this interview with you. I wish you all the success you deserve.
Here's a bit of information for you riders out there! There's a very good book out at the moment from an Australian Author named Johanna Craven. The book is called, called Music From Standing Waves and it is without a doubt a five star read.
I first came across this book when it was recommended to me via a site on Facebook. So of course I decided to have a look. Now let me tell you the first thing I noticed about this book was the cover. It intrigued me somewhat, so much I just had to look that little bit further. I liked what I saw, downloaded it and I tell you what, I loved it. Now to cut a long story short, so to say, I managed to organise an interview with the Author.
This is what Johanna Craven had to say about it, but first a little Bio, just to get to know her a bit.