Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Once Lost by Ber Carroll (Author Interview / Book Review)

In association with Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for Once Lost by author Ber Carroll!

Author Interview

Welcome to Jersey Girl Book Reviews, Ber!

Before we get to the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

I come from a small village (famous for the Blarney Stone) and a big family (I am one of six). I spent the first twenty four years of my life in Ireland, and the last twenty in Australia (now that tells you how old I am L). I have two children (who are very distracting and no help at all when it comes to my writing) and I am under severe pressure to add to the family (our ten-year-old is begging for a puppy).

Describe your journey as a writer.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel eighteen years ago. I was inspired by two things: the sense of wonder and sheer excitement that comes with moving from a small Irish village to a large diverse city such as Sydney, and my job at the time (finance manager in a dynamic and very diverse US multi-national). I loved Sydney from the moment I arrived here, and I loved my job just as much. It seemed to me that the workplace draws people from all walks of life together, and people often adopt a different personality at work, and I thought it would be interesting to write a work of fiction set in a workplace like my own. To be honest, I was also a little tired of reading about ditzy unambitious female characters in other novels: these characters didn’t reflect the strong, kick-ass women I worked with and respected so much. The result of my early writing endeavors (after many drafts) was Executive Affair, my first novel. I think half the people who bought it were my ex colleagues (to see if they were in it!). I gave up my finance career when I realized that I couldn’t hold down a demanding job, be Mum to two small children, and write books to contractual deadline.

Please give a brief description/storyline of Once Lost.

Once Lost is a story about two best friends, Emma and Louise, who grew up next door to each other in a rough suburb of Dublin. Louise has managed to rise above her tough beginnings. She has a successful career as an art conservator, she has travelled the world, and now she has Dan in her life. Dan comes with a warm and boisterous family who welcome her as one of their own, but Louise will always feel lost until she finds her mother who walked out when she was just eight years old.

Back in Dublin, Emma feels as though she is never going to get anywhere in life. Stuck in a job where she is under-appreciated and underpaid, she also has the extra worry of Jamie, her ex-partner, who’s demanding equal custody of their daughter, Isla. Emma has lost so much because of Jamie: her innocence, her reputation, almost her life. Now she is at risk of losing Isla, too.

So where is Louise’s mother? And what lengths will Emma be driven to in order to protect Isla? Once Lost is an emotional story about loss in all its different forms: a missing mother, a fractured childhood, misplaced love. The question is if any of these things can, or even should, be recovered.

What was the inspiration for this story?

A few years ago I came across a magazine article about missing mothers. These women, these ordinary every-day mothers, had vanished, leaving behind a plethora of unanswered questions, a tangle of suspicions and mistrust, and the shattered lives of those who had loved them. I felt quite overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy, for the mothers themselves and everything they had missed out on – birthdays, graduations, weddings, grandchildren – and for their family and friends and the debilitating uncertainty that they were still living with, years later. I imagined myself as one of the missing mothers – the sheer agony of not being there for your children – and then imagined myself as a daughter left behind – the torment of not knowing what had actually happened, or how to feel about it. Louise’s character and story arc started to form as result of that magazine article.

Emma’s story started from a conversation I had with another mum at a kids’ birthday party. The lady had come to collect her daughter from the party, but her little girl was noticeably fractious and teary and clearly not enjoying herself. The lady explained that her daughter had spent the night at her dad’s house, and that she often came back ‘in this state.’ Apparently, her father didn’t enforce bedtime, or mealtimes, and blatantly neglected his daughter when she was in his care. The lady looked at me and said, ‘I know this is really bad, but at night I pray that he would just go away. I wish he got posted overseas, or married someone else and forgot about us. I just want him out of our lives.’ The anguish of that mother, handing over her daughter to the care of a man she didn’t trust, deeply affected me and sparked Emma’s story.

How did it feel to have your first book published?

I remember feeling disbelief more than anything else. I kept thinking the publisher would change her mind, and I didn’t believe it was actually happening until I was holding the finished copy in my hands. Then I pranced around the office showing it off (I was still working in finance at the time). Everyone was stunned. I had told nobody (not even my mother. She was very cross with me for keeping such a big secret from her).

Do you write books for a specific genre?

I write commercial fiction, and sometimes my books are labeled as women’s fiction because the main characters are female. Commercial fiction is wonderfully broad. I basically write about what topics/moral dilemmas/ issues I find interesting at the time.

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why? What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer?

I read a lot of fiction from a lot of genres by a wide variety of authors. Maeve Binchy was one of my earliest influences, and I was deeply impacted by Echoes and Light a Penny Candle. Marian Keyes, Maggie O’Farrell, Jojo Moyes are some of my favorite contemporary authors, and I am loving the psychological thrillers that are popular right now: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, and Disclaimer, by Renee Knight. I have a long list of authors who I adore and admire (and constantly wish that I could write as well as they do).

Do you have a special spot/area where you like to do your writing?

There’s a red velour couch in our study area, and over the years I’ve migrated from the desk to the couch. In winter, you’ll find me under a blanket (I’ve discovered that I can’t write if I feel even slightly cold). Sometimes I get too cozy and fall asleep. The couch is very, very comfortable …

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences or are they purely all from your imagination?

There is always a level of truth in what I write, and I think that’s important because ultimately the story needs to be believable. Most of my ideas come from real life, real things that happen to real people. Snippets I pick up from friends and family (no confidence is safe), or newspaper and magazine articles that catch my attention. I love documentary type reality TV shows (like Intervention and Long Lost Family). Being able to see directly into people’s homes and lives and bearing witness to their struggles is wonderful writing material.

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes?

I try to keep to school hours, but I often lose track of time and end up being late for school pick up.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

I love writing dialogue. I can write pages and pages of it, but then comes the hard part: setting the scene around it. That’s when I reach for the chocolate (to kick start my brain).

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

I am a hopeless bookworm, and stay up far too late reading. I also like walking (I get lots of ideas when I walk), a nice glass of white wine (funnily enough, I seem to get lots of great ideas when I drink, too) and eating!

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received?

To continue to read as much as you can (which I do) because reading makes you a better writer. And don’t worry if the first draft is flat. Some of your best work will be in the rewriting.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer? How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans?

Writing is such a lonely, solitary profession, and there is nothing more gratifying (or uplifting) than opening my inbox (or Facebook) and finding a message from someone who has read my books and connected enough to write to me.

What is your definition of success as a writer?

Oh gosh. My definition of success is pretty modest. Reaching readers in some way or form. Making those readers feel something, or making them think. Having a body of work, and being committed making each book better than the last one.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit of it with us?

Yes, I am just reaching the end of the first draft of a new novel. It’s called Solving Sophie. It’s more suspenseful than my other novels, but I’m not ready to reveal much more than that at this point (by the third draft, I’ll be ready to talk!).

Ber, thank you for visiting Jersey Girl Book Reviews and sharing with us a bit about yourself and your writing career!

About The Author

Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, County Cork, and moved to Australia in 1995. Her first novel, Executive Affair, was inspired by her initial impressions of Sydney, and her exciting, dynamic work environment at the time. Ber now lives in Sydney’s northern beaches with her husband and two children. Incidentally, Ber is short for Bernadette, but please don’t call her Bernadette: this is what her mother calls her when she is in trouble for something.

Ber’s novels have been published in five countries, including Ireland. If you would like to know more about Ber and her novels, you can visit her website at, or you can subscribe to her newsletter (Book Chat) with fellow authors Dianne Blacklock and Liane Moriarty (see Ber’s website for a link to the newsletter and to find Ber on Facebook).

Author Website

Book Review

Once Lost by Ber Carroll
Publisher: Killard Publishing 
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Format: Paperback - 388 pages
               Kindle - 861 KB
               Nook - 1 MB
ISBN: 978-0992472122
BNID: 978-0992472139
Genre: Women's Fiction

Buy The Book:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Book Description:

Are some things better left unfound?

Best friends Louise and Emma grew up next door to each other in a grim inner-city suburb of Dublin.
Now Louise, an art conservator, is thousands of miles away in Sydney, restoring a beautiful old painting. She meets Dan, whose family welcome her as one of their own, but she will always feel lost until she finds her mother who walked out when she was just eight years old.

Back in Dublin, Emma is stuck in a job where she is under-appreciated and underpaid, but her biggest worry is her ex-partner, Jamie. Emma has lost so much because of Jamie: her innocence, her reputation, almost her life. Now she is at risk of losing Isla, her young daughter.

So where is Louise's mother? Will Emma ever be free of her ex? Both women frantically search for answers, but when the truth finally emerges it is more shattering than they had ever expected.

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 1 


It’s unexpectedly beautiful, this room I will be working in for the next twelve months: white walls, polished floor, spacious, serene, and full of natural light. Skylights overhead showcase the deep blue sky – startling against all the white – and the view from the window includes a rippling corner of Sydney Harbour I am not yet familiar with.

‘She’s over here.’ Tom Clifford, the curator, leads the way to one of the large work benches. There, stripped from its frame, lies my project, my raison d’ĂȘtre, and I can’t quite contain my gasp of dismay.

‘Oh …’

For a while we both gaze at the portrait, a young woman whose pale hair and skin jump out from the comparatively dark background. Her hair, a frizz of tiny curls, and her mouth, with its slight smirk, inject a playful note into the otherwise formal setting. She’s wearing a magenta gown with frilled cuffs made of the same white lace as the ruffled neckline. Her figure seems voluptuous under the stiff bodice of the gown, but her hands and fingers are slender. She has one flaw. Correction, it is the canvas that has the flaw, not the girl. It’s quite badly damaged. In the worst possible place: the face. It looks as though it’s been poorly repaired around the right eye and a good part of the cheek area below. The effect is rather like a large tea stain. Unfortunately, it draws the eye and detracts from the beautiful colours and detail in the rest of the work.

Tom sighs softly beside me. My first impressions of him are that he’s mild-mannered and a little bit vague, but has the potential to be pernickety when it comes to things he cares about. His hair is grey, his face youthful. I estimate his age as late forties, which is relatively young for the profession: the curators I worked with in London were dinosaurs, museum relics in themselves.

‘Analiese has completed a full examination of the work.’ He gestures to the lever arch folder lying on the tabletop next to the painting.

‘Everything is documented both in hard copy and on the collection database … You’ll find that her notes are meticulous.’

Analiese is my predecessor and now the mother of a two-week-old baby girl. Apparently the baby arrived early, before Analiese had begun her maternity leave, and almost before she got to the hospital. Gabriella, the flamboyant frame conservator who works in the room next door, filled me in on all the details a few minutes ago, as soon as Tom had made introductions.

‘The pains came from nowhere. Bang. One minute Analiese was quietly working on the painting, the next she was howling in pain. The ambulance got stuck in the lunchtime traffic on the way here, and we all thought the gallery was about to give birth to its first bambina.’

Gabriella went on to assure me that the ambulance had eventually arrived, and that Analiese’s baby, Stella, was in fact born in transit to the hospital.

‘She is our bambina, little Stella. She belong to all of us. She love the gallery so much she want to be born here.’

The warmth in Gabriella’s voice, the unbridled affection for both Analiese and her baby, was so genuine and heartfelt that for a moment I felt quite inadequate as her replacement.

Gabriella is working on the frame of what is now my painting. From what I’ve heard (when Tom steered Gabriella away from the subject of baby Stella to request a brief update on her part of the project) and from what I could observe for myself (only one corner of the ornate frame remained fully intact: the others were either broken or extensively damaged), the frame is in even worse condition than the painting. Gabriella has weeks, if not months, of intricate moulding and reconstruction to make it structurally sound.

Now, with Tom looking over my shoulder, I flick through Analiese’s folder, quickly scanning her photos and notes.

‘All the testing is complete,’ he informs me. ‘Analiese was about to begin surface cleaning the work. If everything had gone to plan, she would have had that stage completed and you could have started on the varnish removal. But the baby had other ideas!’

So, one to two weeks of surface cleaning, followed by a couple of months removing the varnish, onto which hundreds of years of dust, smoke and grime has attached itself. Then the real work: repairing the terrible damage as unobtrusively as I possibly can, before inpainting and revarnishing.

Tom clears his throat. ‘Do you mind if I leave you to it? I have an important meeting …’

His voice trails away. Clearly he feels guilty about abandoning me so soon on my first morning.

Making sure my smile is warm enough to dispel his doubts, I reply, ‘I’ll be fine. I’ll spend most of today reading these notes, I imagine.’

‘Excellent. Peter or Heidi should be able to help with any queries.’

I nod. Peter and Heidi seemed friendly and helpful – though not quite as forthcoming as Gabriella – when Tom introduced me earlier. I will work alongside them, if such thing is possible in this enormous room.

Tom departs, and I pull up a swivel chair, Analiese’s notes on my knees. For the rest of the morning I am absorbed. There’s lots of technical information to take in, but by far the most surprising and compelling fact is that the artist who created this painting is unknown. The work is believed to be from the late 1700s, and is being restored in preparation for an exhibition of portraits from that era. It came into the possession of the gallery three years ago, donated by the executor of a deceased estate, who recognised the considerable skill of the artist but could not sell the painting due to the extensive damage. Analiese’s notes suggest that the painting originates from Europe, most likely The Netherlands, as this is where the deceased’s ancestors lived before they migrated to Australia after World War II. It’s hoped that as the piece is restored, more information will come to light.

Reading takes its toll, and eventually the letters and words begin to blur and make no sense. I set down the folder and press my fingers into my temples, moving them in small slow circles until the tension has eased. When I stop, it feels as though the girl in the painting has been assessing me, her one and only eye overcompensating for the missing one, seeing deeper and wider, bearing witness. It’s such a shame that the worst of the damage is to her face. If only it was in a less conspicuous place: her dress, for instance, or, better still, somewhere in the background. Then again, the damage is so confronting that it absolutely must be dealt with. That’s a good thing, because I know only too well how damage, if not brutally evident, can be underestimated and brushed aside.

It’s ironic, really, this anonymous work being assigned to me. I can see how it will play out: months and months of painstaking research, hope creeping in despite my best efforts to keep it at bay, the crushing sense of defeat as every clue, every lead, ends in nothing, absolutely nothing. Maybe I should confess to Tom that I don’t have a very good track record when it comes to things like this.

I stand and walk towards the window, which runs the full length of the wall, bathing the room in light. Looking down, I see Sydney buzzing below me: cars, trucks, ferries, and lots and lots of people. I like this city, with its blue water and skies. Though I’ve lived here less than a week, I’ve already been wooed by its beauty and glamour, and the startling sky that makes me want to reach up and scrape away a colour sample to preserve for darker, gloomier days. The sun catches off the water and the glass windows of the skyscrapers, and everything glitters. I can see greenery, both in the foreground and background, and I know this city can breathe, that it’s open and airy and has somehow escaped that boxed-in, contained feeling that other cities have. Yes, this a good place to visit … to live … to stay.

Is this where you are? I whisper under my breath.

My Book Review:

Once Lost is an intriguing story about two best friends, the complexity and drama of life and family relationships, and the challenges that arise when their quest for the truth about issues in their lives are revealed, and unexpectedly change their lives.

Author Ber Carroll weaves a fascinating tale that transports the reader between Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia, as the reader follows the alternating life stories of the two best friends: Louise and Emma. This is an intriguing story that delves into the complexities and drama of the best friend's lives and family relationships that are wrought with trials and tribulations, drama, and the search for answers.

The reader easily gets drawn into Louise and Emma's story, as they both face challenges in their lives with tension, drama, and an unexpected touch of mystery thrown into the mix. The author does a great job of drawing the reader into the story by alternating between the lives of both women, while adding in surprising twists and turns, and intertwining the complex dynamic of the past and present that swirls with mystery and secrets.

The author takes the reader on a wonderful journey that is filled with an interesting cast of characters and enough drama, tension, and even a touch of romance, that easily keeps them turning the pages and wondering what will become of the best friend's lives, their friendship, and family relationships, when the answers that they have searched for come to the surface. You can't help but get drawn in as the women learn to deal with the challenges, choices, disappointments, and successes of everyday life, and how they overcome them in order to find a happy medium in their lives.

I loved the author's rich description of the alternating settings of Dublin and Sydney. It feels like you are transported to these cities where you get to vicariously experience the sights and sounds and landmarks, it makes you want to visit them.

If you love to read stories about complex and dramatic family and friendship relationships interwoven with everyday life experiences, then Once Lost is a must read.


Virtual Book Tour

Tour Schedule:

September 14 - Chick Lit Plus – Review
September 15 - Bookish Library - Review & Excerpt
September 16 - Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Review, Q&A & Excerpt
September 17 - Annabel and Alice – Review
September 18- The Write Review - Review
September 21 - Book Groupies – Review & Excerpt
September 21 - Granny Loves to Read – Review & Excerpt
September 21 - Love For Books and Java - Review

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