Sally Thorne lives in Canberra, Australia and spends her days writing funding submissions and drafting contracts (yawn!) so it's not surprising that after hours she climbs into colorful fictional worlds of her own creation. Sally believes that romance readers are always searching for intensity in their next favorite book - and it isn't always so easy to find. 99 Percent Mine is her second novel.
Readers absolutely loved your first book, The Hating Game. Was it difficult to create another book that was as just funny and steamy, but with such a different cast of characters?
Sally Thorne: Writing a second book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was surprised by the success of The Hating Game and had never had to follow anything up before. I’d never even intentionally written a book before- I wrote The Hating Game as a gift for a friend and had no grand plan of publishing it. I’d never had readers or expectations and as a result I got terrible writers block that lasted for over a year. Everyone I saw at barbeques and parties asked me how I was dealing with ‘the pressure’- which made things worse. I wasn’t dealing with it. I was sick with nerves. I had unwittingly set myself a very high bar and I didn’t know how to try to hit that target again.
I gradually remembered that the best part of writing is that you can create your own dream book. When the title 99 Percent Mine popped up in my head I got goosebumps, and suddenly I was excited. It became a mantra when things got hard.
I love the brother’s best friend trope and I wanted to try a twist on it: a bad girl trying to keep her hands off a good boy. I wanted to create a tough girl who says what she thinks (Darcy Barrett) and a genuinely lovely, good man (Tom Valeska). The connection between Darcy and Tom has always been an intense, animalistic thing, and I gave Darcy a lot of traits often reserved for the hero in romance: she’s protective and possessive of him and can’t be in the same room without getting a bad case of the lust-sweats. I hope it is Darcy’s lust for Tom, and how hard she loves him, that will be the hook that gets the reader falling for her too.
Romantic comedies are incredibly popular at the moment - who are some authors that you enjoy reading?
Sally Thorne: I love Christina Lauren, Sophie Kinsella and I will always buy Marian Keyes without even needing to read the back blurb. I really love how this genre is having a resurgence, and that’s flowing on to cinema deals happening. The success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix, and Crazy Rich Asians on the big screen, shows what an appetite there is for rom-coms. The Hating Game is being developed for a major motion picture, and I hope I have great news on that front in 2019.
Who is your ultimate book boyfriend?
Sally Thorne: Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma. He’s smart, snarky, fun and the ever-present moral compass for Emma. Every scene where they’re in the same room together has an electricity, and you can feel how much Austen enjoyed writing it.
Mr. Knightley sees the real Emma, underneath her perfect and carefree veneer. He worries over her. He knows her flaws and weaknesses in a way that only a lifelong friend and close observer ever could. Her entire world coddles and spoils her, but Mr. Knightley always steps up to challenge her, correct her, give her good advice and help her grow as a person. He is the only person she’d allow to do that, because she values his opinion above all others. It’s why he’s her perfect match.
Plus, we just know he’s gorgeous… I mean, Jane Austen never really described her men in much detail, but all of Mr. Knightley’s characteristics are that of a thoroughly handsome and self-confident man.
Is it hard to let go of your characters when you finish writing a book?
Sally Thorne: It’s hard to let go of the book itself because I could spend an eternity editing it and still feel like it wasn’t quite right. But I don’t find it hard to say goodbye to the characters, because if I’ve given them a fitting ending then I am happy to let them go off to their happily ever after.
I am asked constantly for a sequel to The Hating Game, but I have no plans for that- mainly because for there to be any material for a sequel, I’d surely have to ruin their happiness. I love the characters too much to do that to them.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Sally Thorne: I don’t read as much as I used to. Now that I’m spending so much time writing my own books, sometimes the last thing I feel like is looking at more words. I thought I was a freak, but I’ve been hearing other authors say the same lately. I’m also drafting my third book and I’m always worried that if I also read, I’ll mimic someone else’s style. It’s hard to read someone’s perfect polished words and then go back to your own quagmire of a draft.
But I have set a goal this year to read more fiction, so my to-read pile is: Car Crash by T. Gephart, The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory, The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren and One Day in December by Josie Silver.
Do you ever re-read books? Are there any you’ve gone back to again and again?
Sally Thorne: I often reread books. I love the Fever series by Karen M. Moning and it’s such a luxury to know that I will have that series to return to whenever I want, for life. I reread Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. I love Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones and I find it deeply romantic.
I also comfort read classic books from my childhood like Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and National Velvet by Enid Bagnold.
Did you grow up using libraries? If so, what memory stands out?
Sally Thorne: I was obsessed with our fortnightly trip to the library and I always borrowed the maximum number of books allowed. I still have my red library bag with my name embroidered on it. I borrowed books about horses (fiction and non). I was, and still am, a horse nerd.
We usually went after my parents finished work, on the night when the library was open late. I have a distinct memory of being in the library beside one of the revolving racks and seeing the dark world outside, hearing nothing but the quiet shuffling of the library patrons and the smell of old books. It was heaven.
Instead of going to a regular school, you could have gone to a fictional school. Which school would you choose?
Sally Thorne: I know you’re expecting me to say Hogwarts. But my favourite fictional teacher is Miss Honey in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, so I think I’d like to be in her classroom. I could deal with Miss Trunchbull to have a lovely teacher like Miss Honey.
What do you like to do in your free time when you aren’t writing?
Sally Thorne: Aside from publishing a book, I fulfilled another dream that would have thrilled the horsey kid I was all those years ago: I bought a horse. It was astonishing to realize that as an adult I could do that. He takes up a lot of my time. I also watch a lot of Korean tv on Netflix- Boys Over Flowers is my favourite. I have a haunted dollhouse and collect vintage toys, plus I travel to Japan a lot.
Why is reading important?
Sally Thorne: It requires your input. You must imagine things and create houses, streets and landscapes in your mind. You must keep your wits about you to fill in blanks and understand what was left unsaid. We’re now in this glorious age of Netflix where we can just lie back and consume but reading requires concentration and commitment. The payoff is that you can experience emotions that are much stronger than from simply watching a movie- because what you experienced is something you created yourself. I never forget that the moment my book goes to the reader, it’s no longer my story anymore; it’s something we share.
There’s been some online debate around Marie Kondo’s advice in her new Netflix show about decluttering books. What do you think about that – should people send the books that don’t give them joy on to a new home?
Sally Thorne: Yes, I think so. If you’re sure you’re not going to read a book again, it should go on to a friend that you know will enjoy it. In Canberra we have several Lifeline book fairs a year and I donate regularly, happy in the knowledge that it supports charity and lets the book live again.
Is there a piece of writing advice that has been particularly helpful for you?
Sally Thorne: Readers respond to authenticity. Be utterly and completely yourself. Don’t try to anticipate what might be the next big selling trend. If your book is authentic, the readers will find it. Oh, and I don’t read reviews, good or bad- they just get in my head.