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Q&A  •  14 March 2024


Fun Fact: Sarah-Jane Collins wrote much of her debut novel in a bar

Sarah-Jane Collins shares how her background as a reporter inspired her to write her debut novel, Radiant Heat.

What was your writing process like? Did you have a writing routine or any regular rituals?

I did! I have a lot of trouble writing in quiet places. I think that’s a byproduct of my years of writing to deadlines in a newspaper office every day. I had a desk in my room, but I would sit there and stare at the computer, blankly. 

So I started writing in dingy bars where there was no Wi-Fi and plenty of regulars telling stories to each other and ignoring the weird woman in the corner with her laptop. So yeah, a lot of Radiant Heat was written at the bar!

How did you first come up with the idea for the book? 

As a reporter for The Age, I covered the Victorian County Court and State Politics from 2008–2010. I was covering the courts when Black Saturday happened but was then sent out to the devastated areas numerous times in the months and years after to cover state government projects and announcements, as well as anniversaries and to help support coverage of the Royal Commission. The people I met, the places I saw, and the goings on in the County Court all inspired the idea. I wanted to write about what we do when the worst things happen to us, and how those things never happen at a convenient time or exist in isolation. 

If you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Just one . . . It’s got to be Jack Irish. That man has stories, and he knows where to eat. 

If you were a character in a novel, what would be your signature quirk or catchphrase?

Oh god, there would not be a catchphrase, but the quirk would probably be that she knows too much about musical theatre. 

What fictional world would you want to live in, and how would you survive or thrive there?

For me, the point of a fictional world is to go somewhere you’re not, and probably could never be, so I don’t know that I would want to live in any of them. 

The instinct is to say I'd like to be Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice, but I have absolutely no time for the patriarchy, monarchy, or the concept of landed gentry, so I can’t imagine I’d enjoy it much long term. 

The best fiction, in my opinion, isn’t easy or happy – there are hard times, obstacles, stakes, problems . . . not necessarily places you want to carve out a life if you don’t have to. 

But you know what, maybe Cabot Cove, from Murder, She Wrote wouldn’t be so bad. As long as you don’t end up one of the victims. 

What's the weirdest talent or skill you have that not many people know about?

My party trick (which isn’t really a secret but is definitely weird) is guessing a person’s bra size by looking at them. I worked as a bra fitter in the year between high school and uni, and I got really good at knowing just by looking. I’m a little rusty these days, but I haven’t been wrong yet. 

What's your go-to karaoke song, and how well do you perform it?

‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna. I’ve been told it’s a decent rendition. 

Where is your happy place and why?

Any body of water, but particularly the McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee, Kings Beach, Caloundra, Cylinder Beach, Stradbroke, and Lake Champlain, Vermont. I’m a big swimmer. It’s the one thing that never fails to cheer me up. And I’m good at it, which is nice. In the water, I feel like I could swim forever, and it’s a wonderful place to think. 

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