Q&A :: Petronella McGovern :: The Good Teacher

A week or so ago I reviewed Petronella McGovern’s new novel, The Good Teacher, a contemporary thriller about love and relationships and trust and community. The book absolutely grabbed me – there were so many threads and twists that just came together so cleverly, and I am absolutely fascinated by how suspense writers craft such mind blowing stories. Luckily for me (and you!), Petronella very kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing, and I’m sharing her answers here today. Read on to find out more.
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Hi Petronella! First I just wanted to say a big thanks for joining me on Bookish Bron today, and congrats on the release of your second book The Good Teacher!
Thanks for having me on the blog, Bron!

Ok, obviously we want to stay spoiler-free, but I have to ask – when you started writing The Good Teacher did you know how it was going to end, and did this change as you wrote it?
When I first started writing The Good Teacher, I was still getting to know the characters and their motivations, and understanding how they would behave. I knew the ending in a general sense but not how it would all play out. In fact, I wrote a different ending in the first draft. I also got rid of two characters and changed one of the subplots. In terms of planning, I knew where the story was going but until I wrote it, I didn’t know how to get there.

I love when books start with a few different threads, and I am always fascinated to see how those threads come together as the story unfolds. I’m curious to know whether you start with characters/situations and weave them together, or did you start with the events/twists that you wanted and fit characters to them?
I had the spark for this story about a decade ago, although I didn’t start writing it until three years ago. The inspiration really led to me thinking about both the characters and the events in a combined way. I started with the three main characters, Allison, Luke and Maz, and I knew a few twists. But then I had to weave in the characters’ back stories and situations to ensure their actions and storylines were plausible. The setting also helped me position the characters and events in a very real way. Community is a theme of the book and I needed to make sure my characters were situated in a particular type of community. The physical setting of the book, the Northern Beaches in Sydney, plays into some of the themes about fitness and health. The beauty of the sand and sea is contrasted against the darker sides of human nature.

The Good Teacher is your second novel, following Six Minutes which was released in 2019. Was the experience of writing it very different to working on your debut novel?
Yes, it was a very different experience. When I wrote Six Minutes, I was working full-time and squeezing my novel-writing into moments of time between work and family. It took about six years because I had to keep putting it aside for other priorities. I wondered if I’d ever finish it and if it would ever get published. With The Good Teacher, I was able to focus more on novel writing than other work. I had a deadline and a publisher waiting to receive the manuscript! After Six Minutes was released, I received wonderful feedback from readers which really boosted my confidence in writing the new novel. Having been through the editing process with Six Minutes, I could also incorporate what I’d learnt from my excellent editors at Allen and Unwin. 

What is your ideal writing set up, and do you have any particular writing routines/rituals that help you when you’re working?
Even though I’m not a morning person, I find morning my most creative time. I write for an hour before everyone else in the family is awake and before I look at news and social media. It helps keep the story alive in my head every day and it’s easier to come back later when I start work again after the kids have gone to school. It’s also important to get away from the desk occasionally – some great ideas and twists come to me when I’m going for a walk or swim. When I’m editing, I drink lots of tea and eat home-cooked popcorn with fennel seeds.  

I know authors don’t always love this question – especially just weeks after your book has been released – but I wondered whether you are working on something new at the moment, and if there is anything you can tell us about what is next for you?
My next book will also be a domestic thriller, set on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. I can’t say too much about it yet but I realise it has some of my recurring themes about community and trust. My difficulty at the moment is in working out how to write about the pandemic. The book will come out in 2022 and who knows what will have happened by then!? I like my books to be contemporary and deal with current issues so I can’t avoid mentioning the pandemic.

Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or whether there is something you have read recently and loved that you would like to recommend to us?
September has brought some great new releases. I was fascinated by The Mother Fault (Kate Mildenhall) which looks at motherhood in a dystopian future. Due to the pandemic, I’ve bought and read more books than ever. It’s one way of ‘escaping’ lockdown, through the imagination.

Thank you so much!

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I’m so grateful to Petronella for giving us some insight into her writing process! I have to say her next book sounds fantastic already (as does popcorn with fennel!). You can find The Good Teacher, and her first novel Six Minutes, on Goodreads here, and keep up to date with the latest from Petronella on her website here. Massive thanks again to Allen & Unwin for sending the book my way!

xo Bron
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Petronella McGovern: Author Bio
Petronella McGovern grew up in a large family on a farm in New South Wales, Australia. Farmland and the bush feature strongly in her debut psychological thriller, Six Minutes. Her second novel, The Good Teacher, is set on the sparkling beaches of Sydney, with a dark undercurrent.
She has also co-written two non-fiction books – a travelogue of the 1960s, For Love and a Beetle with Ivan Hodge; and an Olympic memoir, Trailblazers: Australia’s First Olympic Equestrians with Wyatt Thompson.
Petronella is fascinated by people – what makes us tick, how we view the world, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. She’s interested in the complexities of relationships and the dynamics in families.

The Good Teacher
A good teacher can change lives…
Every evening, Allison watches her husband’s new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She’s a good teacher, everyone says so – this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.
A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie. Allison takes the sick girl under her wing, smothering Gracie with the love she can’t give her own son. When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison whips up the community into a frenzied fundraising drive.
But as others start to question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison wonders if she can trust herself. Has she crossed a line?
How far will the good teacher go to save a life? And whose life will that be?

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