Book Review

Interview with Sonya Heaney

Recently I was able to get a copy of an advanced copy of The Landowner’s Secret, due out from Escape Publishing/Harper Collins. The blurb from the publisher:

“When Alice Ryan wakes to find thugs surrounding her cottage, on the hunt for her no-good brother, she escapes into the surrounding bush.

It is wealthy landowner Robert Farrer who finds her the next morning, dishevelled, injured, and utterly unwilling to share what she knows. With criminals on the loose and rumours that reckless bushrangers have returned to the area, Robert is determined to keep Alice out of danger, and insists on taking her into his home-despite the scandal it may cause. Convincing her to stay on with him for her own safety, however, is going to take some work.

What Robert doesn’t expect is his growing attraction to the forthright, unruly woman staying in his home. Before either of them can settle into their odd new situation, their home and wellbeing come under threat and they will need to trust each other to survive. But they are both keeping secrets, secrets that have the potential to ruin their burgeoning love, their livelihood … and their lives. “

Due to be released on September 12, this historical romance took me to a location and time period I knew literally nothing about. Since I’m lucky to know Sonya IRL (IDL– in digital life?), she was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of her debut about writing historical fiction, what it’s like to write sex scenes, and her path to publication.


How did you get interested in the time period? 

I was always obsessed with history. I used to be a ballet dancer, and in my first professional performance I played a Victorian era child. When I was eighteen I moved to London, and my first home was in a (possibly haunted!) building constructed in 1667. In my years there I also lived and worked in a bunch of 19th century buildings.

Writing historical books set in historical Australia (or any colonial time) means you have to consider what was happening then. European settlement in Australia began in 1788, and I didn’t want to write something set in those early days. My current series is set in the 1880s, and I am including more issues to do with racism and the consequences of colonialism in my next books.

Tell me a little about your research for this novel. What was your process like?

The series is set in a town with a fictional name, but it’s really Queanbeyan, which is just across the state border from my city, Canberra. In the past the region was infamous for its bushrangers (highwaymen). One of the reasons I changed the town’s name was because the current mayor’s wife is a well-known historian, and that terrified me!

I used names and dates and events from Queanbeyan’s real history as a basis for the books, and then bought a couple of “housewives’ guides” from the 1880s to understand what people were wearing and eating and doing at the time. Sometimes I wonder why I torture myself writing historical fiction…

Australia didn’t exist as a nation until 1901. In the 1880s we were a collection of colonies. From a colonial perspective (but definitely not an Indigenous one!) we’re a very young country.

Will there be a book two? I have to admit, I really wanted to see more of Australian wine country AND the romance continue to bloom…

There’s a second book – and hopefully a third! I’m having talks with my publisher about them now, but expect book two to be out in the first half of 2020.

I never intended to write a trilogy, but halfway through writing the first one I realised I had other characters and potential plotlines I wanted to expand on, and so I rewrote parts of the first book with future stories in mind.

The wine theme wasn’t in the story at the beginning, but then I read an article about the development of the industry in Australia, and suddenly my characters were making Riesling! By the 1870s Australian wines were winning international awards in blind tasting competitions, but were then being stripped of the awards when it was discovered where they’d come from! I continue with that theme in the next books.

Sonya Heaney, author of The Landowner’s Secret

How has working with a US and Australian publisher been? Anything surprising in the world of international publishing that you can talk about? (okay if you can’t! I can delete this question).

I’m really lucky to be able to work with Australian editors, but to have my book listed alongside my favourite “superstar” authors in the US! It’s still new enough to me that I take a screenshot when I find my book in the “you might also like” section when I’ve searched for a different author. (Yes, it’s pathetic.)

For this particular, Australian-set series, I think it’s really helpful to have my editors based in Sydney. It’s also very useful to be in the same time zone as they are – at the moment, when it’s midnight in New York, it’s 2pm the next day where I live.

Are you a plotter or a pantser (or somewhere in between)?

I’m a mess. I usually think about a book for ages before I sit down and write it, so I guess I’m more of a plotter. However, I either write the book in a patchwork of scenes I later have to put together like a puzzle, or I write the first few chapters and then the last few before writing the middle. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I nearly had a breakdown with the book I’m currently working on, because at the last minute I decided to restructure the whole thing. Each change in one chapter messed up every other chapter. It was totally my decision, so I don’t even get to blame anyone at my publisher for it!

You know you’re in a mess when your editor starts emailing to check if you’re okay!

What was your path to publication like? Any words of wisdom to share?

My favorite writing advice is take your time.

By the time I was brave enough to submit a book – this book – I was fairly confident I knew what I was doing. When I sent it off I already had years of writing behind me, and had a number of finished manuscripts on my computer.

I completed a university degree in writing years ago (not an English degree, but a specific course in creative writing). I switched out of a “sensible” psychology/law degree when I finally got the courage to do what I really wanted.

Even though I had that degree I didn’t submit anything for years, mainly because I’m a coward!

By the time I did I’d been working with books, and helping other people with their books, for ages. I’d been invited to conferences (and paid!) to interview famous authors onstage. I’d won a bunch of short story and travel writing awards. I’d done everything except try and get published.

I started getting frustrated watching other people having success. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was having trouble sleeping; I was that annoyed with the fact I hadn’t even tried to get published.

I took a gamble with The Landowner’s Secret (then called Secret Land), even though I also had contemporary and suspense manuscripts ready to go.

I sent partials off to two publishers in October, went overseas for a few weeks, and – in November – came home to two requests for the full manuscript.

My first offer came in February, but it wasn’t the publisher I wanted, so I panicked and sent an email – complete with a big typo I still stress about! – off to the other publisher, asking them what I should do. I nearly fell over when they came back and told me they’d try and rush my manuscript through.

The book was first read by one of the editors, who then sent it straight to the publishing director – who I didn’t know was out of the country at the time – to read over the weekend.

I was told there’d be a decision for me on Monday, and was wished a wonderful weekend, and… how was I going to have a “wonderful weekend” when I was waiting for this massive news??

Monday was a public holiday, and so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hear anything. I went out to lunch with my family, not saying a word about my book. I came home, spent a couple of hours staring at my computer screen, and was about to give up when an email came through.

The subject of the email was one word: “Offer”.

Because I’m pessimistic, I thought it was spam (as my brother said: it sounded like a Viagra ad!), and was about to delete it when the name of the person who’d sent it (that publishing director) finally registered.

As a reader, do you prefer open- or closed-door romances? How about as a writer?

Well, I knew the only way I was ever going to be able to write a sex scene was if it was a bit funny! I don’t mind books in my reading either way, and I write both ways, but I thought *this* story couldn’t be closed door.

I was VERY scared of writing scenes like that, but – worse – of having to discuss them with my editor! She actually suggested adding a bit more – ahem – action at the end, which means she’s more mature about it than I am!

The fact I’m publishing under my real name is pretty scary.


As a reader, I can tell you the sex scenes (and the rest of the book!) ended up fantastic! Make sure to add Sonya’s book on Goodreads and consider purchasing it or requesting it for your local library.

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