Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2018

Author event: Sally Hepworth at Beaumaris Books

Last night I went to another author event organised by Beaumaris Books…

Sally Hepworth, author of The Things We Keep (see my review) was guest of honour, and once again the event was held not at the bookshop on the South Concourse but at a nearby café/function venue called Ginger Fox.  The admission price included a copy of Hepworth’s new novel The Family Next Door but also a two-course meal. In what has become an in-joke with the audience (most of whom are regulars) the menu complemented the food references in the novel as identified by Cheryl Martin (who runs Beaumaris Books with her husband Andrew).  We had meatballs with linguini and salad followed by raspberry and white chocolate muffins, and Cheryl had the page references marked with sticky notes to prove the menu’s provenance!

Sally is a warm, funny, engaging speaker and as a local who lives in nearby Black Rock, she had the audience in the palm of her hand.  It was interesting to learn that her journey to publication began with an American agent who saw what Australian publishers had failed to see, and that this latest novel – set in Bayside – is the first of her four published novels that her publishers had agreed could be set in Australia.  (Maybe that’s a tip for aspiring authors: set your debut novel in the US, build a fan base, and then set your stories where they belong, in Australia?)

Sally explained that she writes the kind of novels that she herself likes to read.  She likes a bit of a mystery, she likes a bit of suspense, and she likes a familiar setting.  Her writing is also guided by the topics she likes to think about, which in this novel are

  • Neighbours: we all have them, and whether we like them or not, we tend to have strong feelings about them. As a research device, Sally used her Facebook author page to get people to tell her stories about their neighbours, and she discovered that often these stories were complaints, and that the most common complaint is about fences.  In fact disputes about fences, she says, can often lead to antisocial and sometimes criminal behaviour between neighbours, such as the sad story of Mr Robertson and Mr Wilson in Seaford. Who knew?  I thought dogs and noise would be the most common complaint…
  • Women’s Health: this is a long-standing preoccupation which in one form or another has featured in all Sally’s novels.  In The Family Next Door the topic is post-partum mood disorders, which are apparently more common than we think, though they rarely take the tragic form of events like the infanticide of Sanaya Sahib.  In Sally’s novel a woman called Essie is a struggling new mother who one day abandons her baby in a park, and one of the reasons it happens is because Essie is isolated and alone and has no one to turn to for help.
  • The image we present to the 21st century world and how this is changing us and causing problems: this topic really resonated with the audience.  Sally says that we all try to control the image that’s ever-present on social media, and that there are aspects of our lives that we never share because they don’t conform to the Instagram-worthy ideal. “Selfies are forever” she says, because once they are out there on the internet we can’t get them back and tear them up the way we could with photos in photo albums.  That becomes harmful if we are more interested in the perfect image than in living the perfect life.  So the question asked by The Family Next Door (and the question the book groups will engage with!) is: what is the cost of the image you present on social media?  The characters in The Family Next Door are all Instagram-worthy and it is not until they start to be open with each other that they can help each other.

From talking about the book, Sally answered questions from the audience.  She told us that her first ‘book’ was a collection of short stories called Mustard and Ink. She was seven, and her aunt ‘bound’ this book with a ribbon and young Sally thought for a long time that she was a published author.   We learned that writing is her job, and she writes four days a week in the library while her three children are looked after by someone else.  Her writing is a mixture of plotting and ‘writing by the seat of her pants’, that is, that after she has sent a synopsis to her publisher she then starts writing, and doesn’t write separate bits and then stitch them together as some writers do.  As I saw in The Things We Keep, she writes from multiple points-of-view, but she writes linearly, not always knowing what’s going to happen next.  This technique helps her to keep the rhythm of the novel.

Sally Hepworth’s novels have been translated into multiple languages, including Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Farsi, Italian, French, German and Spanish.  I suspect that this attests to the universality of her themes as much as to the energetic efforts of her agent!

You can buy The Family Next Door from Fishpond: The Family Next Door and of course from Beaumaris Books.

PS It was nice to meet up with Lucy Inglis, Sally’s publicist from Pan Macmillan.  Lucy and I have often corresponded by email but never met face-to-face before!

Update 1/3/18 You can read Theresa Smith’s review at this link.






  1. I enjoyed this novel. I have my review set to pop up tomorrow. It sounds like it was a lovely night.


  2. Wow! A dinner matched to the book is brilliant. It’s those kind of events that cultivate a unique sense of community. Clearly I need to have a word to my local Readings…


    • Absolutely. It is such a nice way to socialise: food, books, wine and authors:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have been lucky enough to be selected as an Audience Advocate for MWF this year. We had our first brain-storming meeting last night – think I will add literary dinners to the mix at our next meeting.


  3. Sounds like a fabulous event, love the idea of a matching menu and interesting to have a local author so successful elsewhere and only just being recognized at home. I like her writing philosophy, writing books she like to read herself!


    • Hi Claire, thanks for your comment:)
      I am sure that the reason most people like book groups is as much to do with the sociability of sharing food as it is about the books…


  4. […] Ginger Fox restaurant.  So far I have heard Michelle de Kretser talk about The Life to Come; Sally Hepworth talk about The Family Next Door; and Enza Gandolfo talk about The Bridge.  Next month, in the lead up to World Day against the […]


  5. […] I’ve been reading some sober books recently, the latest being Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist (my review is coming).  Its exploration of bushfire arson so unsettled me that I wanted to read something less harrowing, and opted for Sally Hepworth’s The Family Next Door, which has been on my TBR since I went to Hepworth’s author event at Beaumaris Books earlier this year. […]


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