author of High Infidelity
Shelley is a full time academic in education. She has written High Infidelity, a cracking romance as an offset to the intense concentration of teaching.
We spent five minutes with Shelley to ask about her writing life, and High Infidelity.
This is your forty-fifth publication Shelley. That’s an achievement. How does it feel?
I’ve been writing and publishing for a very long time now, so it feels normal, but good, in the sense that the momentum is unceasing. I was hoping to keep up with my age – a book for every year I’ve lived – but I’m starting to lose ground.
This book, high-end romantic fiction, is different to your previous two, both of which were memoir, Shelley. Where did the idea for High Infidelity come from?
High Infidelity is the book I wrote for my own enjoyment (and, yes, escape) after 7 years of turning my life and my family’s lives into art. Writing memoir is intense in an ethical, literary and emotional way – and demands fidelity to an emotional truth. High Infidelity is actually full of true stories. After being stopped at the airport one winter on my way to England with my family, and told I couldn’t fly because visa regulations for South Africans had changed, and having rented out both our house and car, I had to call a friend and ask for a home!
I spent a summer in this friend’s expansive mansion with a group of lost souls – three betrayed middle-aged women and a gorgeous twenty-something year old, raw-food eating, glowing young man who thought he was the answer to everyone’s prayers, and who also thought he had the world figured out. In that month the characters Ruby, Mario and Lara were born, so I guess I turned that disaster into art – and that tragedy of a lost holiday with my family (who did go off to England, being British Citizens) into a comedy.
And Lara, your heroine? Readers are loving her. She’s engaging, smart and quirky, even while she’s hurt and trying to heal. Where did she come from? Did Lara the character come first, or the story line for High Infidelity?
They arrived at the same time. Character is what drives plot, in romantic comedy. A recently heart-broken Lara had to go somewhere and do something. I was staying in Byron Bay, so Lara had to be there with me. She needed to find out who she was and while perusing ‘The Echo’ a local magazine, I saw some intriguing ads by tantric sex-workers, and I thought, that’s something Lara would never have imagined doing – calling one of those numbers, so of course, that’s exactly what she does because she’s on a new adventure of her own, and she’s making the rules.
High Infidelity has a happy and satisfying ending, but Lara has to work for it. Is there a message in that, for today’s woman?
I don’t write books with didactic ‘messages’. Readers will make of the themes whatever has meaning for them. The theme, I suppose, is one of self-discovery. Many of my books – the memoirs at least, have ambiguous, perhaps even sad endings. I do though, think that the trauma of betrayal lives beneath the skins of so many people, and I wanted to explore that – using humour and pathos and allowing the characters to be real and honest. It is normal to experience envy, rage, self-hatred, world-hatred, but these can be transformed and Lara does that. Also, because this is a romantic comedy – a happy ending was always what I wanted for Lara.
Your storytelling and finessed writing lifts High Infidelity out of chick lit and puts it at the high end of the spectrum, towards literary fiction. The book has a powerful sub-text, was that your intention?
I don’t think that ‘chick lit’ or romances are at odds with literary fiction-writing. The themes, characters and plot of High Infidelity fit recognisable romantic tropes – and the observations, ideas and insights are drawn from my own observations, ideas and insights. I’m exploring deep issues of love and sex and death and relationships, and what really matters, regardless of our genders and sexual orientations – and I’ve enjoyed allowing my characters to rant about love and sex and death because that’s pretty much what we’re all dealing with much of the time anyway. So while this novel might be escapism, it’s also realistic and I’d like to think, affirming of our flawed and often tragi-comic journeys through the world.