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Thursday, 11 February 2016

VBT & #GIVEAWAY - Making Headlines by Jennifer Hansen


Contemporary Fiction



Working as a TV reporter has its challenges, but when Rachael Bentley decides to aim high and become a newsreader, she faces a whole new minefield of explosive scenarios.

Rachel's path sees her pitched against egos in the newsroom, office politics and corrupt politicians, not to mention rampant sexism, and a mystery stalker. Juggling a messy personal life doesn't help, nor does the emotional impact of reporting on life's tragedies and when it all takes a toll and Rachel starts partying too hard, she finds herself making the headlines instead of reading them.

Will she survive a world where dreams are shattered daily and will she find the man who can help her keep her soul?

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It was late in the afternoon but an early start for Rachel. She’d come in before nightshift to meet with Tony. He’d always been her mentor, but now he was leaving she was concerned he might not be as keen to help her along the career path she so desperately wanted to walk. If only she could get him to assign her a newsreading shift before he left, she might have a chance. She walked into his office full of trepidation.

‘Hi Tony, how was Sydney?’ Rachel smiled politely. It was 5 pm but it looked like he’d already packed his briefcase and was about to head home. Unusual, given he normally stayed to watch the news.

‘Ah Rachel, good, yes, good. Just in time. Take a seat. So, what is it you wanted to chat about?’ He half-sat on his desk, tapping a pen against his palm.

‘Well, firstly, I just wanted to say congratulations on your new job, though everyone is really sorry you’re leaving. Especially me. I mean, because you gave me my first break and all … I guess you only have a week or so left now, and ah … um …’

Folding his arms, Tony smiled as she fumbled to find the words. ‘Rachel, that’s very kind, but I get the feeling you came here for a reason?’

She took a deep breath. ‘Yes, I did. Look, you know how much I want to be a newsreader and I’m just worried with you leaving, that your replacement might not have the same faith in me that you’ve had. The opportunity to try reading updates might take another year while the next news director gets to know me. Is there a chance you could put me on an update roster before you go?’ She looked at him cautiously.

Tony adjusted his glasses, like he was taking in the changes to her appearance for the first time. Not that Rachel had done anything drastic. She’d taken up jogging and lost a few kilos. Perhaps he thought her nose was too big? She hoped he liked her hair, now that she’d added blonde streaks to liven up the mouse brown and was making an effort with blow-drying. It was a challenge trying to look the part but she was doing her best.

‘Right. Okay.’ Tony paused. ‘Well, that’s a bit out of the blue, but I will see what I can do. Don’t get your hopes up, though. Reporters usually do at least a year on the road before getting a chance at reading. Good to see you’re ambitious It’s good to aim high.’ He took off his glasses, polishing them with the corner of his jacket.

‘So there might be a chance?’ she asked, clutching at the end of her seat.

‘Definitely a chance. I’ll take a look at the rosters tomorrow and let you know.’ Tony was already standing, collecting his coat and briefcase. Her cue to leave.

‘Thanks Tony, that means a lot. Thank you.’ She smiled gratefully and walked back to her desk, buzzing. Tony was a man of his word so there really was a good chance she might get her first crack at newsreading. Her excitement grew as the possibility became bigger.

Rachel had several hours to fill before she was officially on nightshift. She thought about Tim and picked up her phone. They needed to talk. Their relationship was about as vibrant as a bowl of porridge. Was she being paranoid, or had Tim distanced himself from her even more since her trip to Sydney? Or was it just his growing drug problem? He’d made little effort to acknowledge her birthday. His gift, a pair of silver earrings in the shape of two gum leaves, was given as a half-hearted gesture. She stared at his name on the screen and put her phone down. No, they needed to talk face to face.

She began sifting through a pile of mail on her desk. She picked out an invitation to the opening night of the musical 42nd Street for Saturday week. She’d RSVP’d ‘yes’ but had yet to invite a guest. Judging from the glossy card, it was sure to be a gala evening. Tim hated A-list functions. Worse still, he made no effort to hide his complete disinterest when introduced to some of the minor celebrities she had come to know. Still, it was a musical and he enjoyed the theatre. She picked up the phone, paused and changed her mind again, sighing. No, she would phone Tim. She picked up the receiver for the third time and began dialling. They would talk. Over lunch. This weekend. Finally, she’d made up her mind.

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(1) Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’ve always been a creative person and always been capable of amusing myself. I’m rarely bored because I always have a variety of projects on the go and am self-sufficient enough that I don’t rely on other people to keep busy. Writing, music and painting are my passions.

While that might make me sounds like a solitary person, I should also stress that I love spending time with my friends and family, and enjoy a busy social life as well. I’m married to an actor and I work in commercial radio, so we are lucky enough to be invited to many events as well, although we tend to go out less these days. I do, though love going to the opening of a musical or play.

(2) What do you do when you’re not writing?
Some of the things I like doing I touched on in the first question. I should also mention that Alan and I have two children and even though Tom (18) and Veronica (20) are now older and more independent, they still live at home so domestic life and family responsibilities still keep us pretty busy.

I also love working out at the gym. Writing is dreadful for the back and neck and it’s crucial to keep as fit as possible. Even if you don’t feel like it, exercise is essential for both physical and mental health and I’ve learnt that unless there’s a deadline – daily exercise even comes ahead of writing! I now see a personal trainer twice a week to make SURE I get to the gym and keep up that commitment.

(3) Do you have a day job as well?
For my regular job, working in radio – on-air at SmoothFM 91.5 with Mike Perso, I read the news and we chat in-between about what’s going on in Melbourne and personal stories. It means I have to get up very early – at 4am, but at least I finish early enough to then be home by lunchtime. That’s a huge bonus in terms of being able to get things done.

(4) What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved anything by Enid Blyton – especially ‘The Naughtiest Girl In School’ series. I had two older brothers and always tried to keep up with their reading, so I read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ when I was quite young – in Grade Two – and was struck by the injustice of the story and that has always stayed with me.

When I was in Grade Four, I read the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series that my mother had kept as a child and loved those.

(5) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope I’m still working in commercial radio as well as writing creatively as much as I can. If my radio career comes to an end, the happy outcome is that I will be able to spend much more time on my writing projects! I would hope to have finished my second novel, ‘Black Angels’ by then – hopefully within two years.

(6) When did you start writing and when did you finish your first book?
It's taken many years AND tears to finish MAKING HEADLINES and I am so delighted and relieved that it is finally making its way into the world. All up, it's more than nine years since I started thinking about this project.
The book has also gone through many incarnations since I began writing it. It did start out as a novel and has always been a work of fiction from the start, however it might surprise some to learn that in it’s early days, MAKING HEADLINES was also the basis of a TV script.
One of the first people to read the very first chapters of MAKING HEADLINES was a film producer friend of mine, BOBBY GALINSKY. He suggested it would make a great TV show so the two of us then began working on writing a TV series, which at the time was called GIRL MOST LIKELY.

Back then, Rachel was American and the show was based it Atlanta. We shipped it around some Holly wood studios and while it went quite a way up the ladder at HBO, it didn’t quite make it in to production. But I was grateful to Bobby for showing some early faith in the book and encouraging me to continue.

The next step was to get serious about the art of writing a novel. So I went back to school. I took up the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT part-time and yes, again the book went through many changes.

I work-shopped much of the book in class at RMIT – a terrifying experience reading out your own work for the first time among a bunch of super talented writers.

The most painful part of writing is choosing which bits to leave on the editing floor. It’s called Killing Your Darlings. That’s tough. I have killed hundreds of my darlings in re-writes and it can be very painful.

I thought the very, VERY final edit of the book had been completed in early November last year with a book launch slated for early December but then MARY RENNIE the editor at Harper Collins, phoned me – only half an hour before I was about to push the send button on a SAVE THE DATE email to guests I was inviting to the launch – and she said the book needed one FINAL edit.

AGAIN it was back to the drawing board – this was the hardest edit of all – dropping characters and slashing scenes. But it worked out for the best.

(7) Where do you get your ideas?
For this novel – my first – it was drawn from my career as a television journalist. This is because when I studied creative writing, we were taught to write about  a world we know well as subject matter for our first book.

MAKING HEADLINES, is based on the life of a television reporter and newsreader, and I actually worked in those roles in real life for twenty years myself, so I didn’t need to do much research about the television industry.

There was however, an aspect of the book that did require a little investigation. And that’s because the main character, Rachel Bentley, is haunted by a stalker.

The idea for my next novel, BLACK ANGELS, came to me in a dream. I keep a notebook by my bed and often write down ideas from dreams. Sometimes when you read them back, after another bout of sleep in-between, they seem ridiculous, but every now and then, something wonderful arrives in the middle of the night.

(8) Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Sometimes I come across hurdles when it comes to plot lines, but with the actual writing – no. If I have a problem with plot, I find it best to go for a walk and try NOT to think about the plot problem, and then it often pops into your head unexpectedly.

If I’m struggling with the actual writing of words, I start with a fresh page and write random, free thoughts, as if someone has a gun to your head and you have to write, no matter what comes out. Eventually it starts to make sense again.

(9) Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
MAKING HEADLINES is about a TV reporter, Rachel Bentley, who is just getting used to the challenges in the industry when she decides to aim high and become a newsreader,. That;s when she faces a whole new minefield of explosive scenarios.

Rachel’s path sees her pitched against egos in the newsroom, office politics and corrupt politicians, not to mention rampant sexism and a mystery stalker. Juggling a messy personal life doesn’t help, nor does the emotional impact of reporting on life’s tragedies. When it all takes a toll and Rachel starts partying too hard, she finds herself making the headlines instead of reading them. It’s about her struggle to be true to herself and find a way through when her dream job becomes her biggest nightmare.

(10) Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I have had to be careful to make sure all my characters are completely fictional, so as not to upset any one that I may have worked with in the TV industry. At the same time, I didn’t want to compromise my desire to tell a story that also examines the way bosses can abuse their power in any work situation to make life difficult for those working under them. I wanted to show people – women in particular – that no matter who you are and what position you hold – your satisfaction in your job and your self-esteem can be greatly diminished if someone treats you badly or bullies you.

I had many wonderful bosses in the TV industry so this is not a message directed at anyone in real life – rather an exploration of a theme. I have witnessed though, other people being treated badly and have had to deal with a couple of tricky situations myself – and not just in television.

(11) Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
The worst advice I ever received was to send my manuscript to just ONE publishing house and to wait for their response before sending my novel to other publishers. The publishing industry has changed very quickly so I now advise other authors to send your book to as many as possible at once and go with the first offer you get.

(12) What has been the best compliment?
One of the students in my Novel class at RMIT, wrote a line on the bottom of my manuscript after I sent one chapter of this book around for feedback. She wrote, ‘I bet you any money you will write a best seller.’ I cut that out and stuck it on a notice board in my office to give me confidence on the days when I was losing faith in my work.

Jennifer will be awarding an eCopy of Making Headlines to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here

JENNIFER HANSEN is best known to TV audiences as the former co-host of Channel Ten’s 5pm news. These days Jennifer works in radio as part of Smooth FM’s breakfast show where she reads the news and chats with Mike Perso about all things Melbourne. In between media gigs, Jennifer went back to ‘school’ - taking up the ‘Professional Writing and Editing’ course at RMIT. That has helped her complete her first novel and two screenplays. Occasionally she remembers to look after her family - including husband Neighbours actor Alan Fletcher (aka Dr Karl Kennedy) and their two children, Veronica and Tom.

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