Befriended: Pip Harry on Rowing, Friendships, and Passion

befriended friendship feature reading blog

(Woo! We have an actual feature icon thanks to our buddy, Alex, who also is responsible for our site design.)

We’re back with another BEFRIENDED chit-chat with one of my favorite Australian authors, Pip Harry. She’s responsible for writing two books I’ve loved/devoured/wanted to kiss and hug, Head of the River and I’ll Tell You Mine.

When I finished HotR this summer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The scenes were so incredibly vivid and it was so apparent that Pip was writing from first-hand rowing experience. (Note: I think Pip is pretty bad ass for having gone through such rigorous training and lived to talk about it!) One thing I also loved seeing was Leni, a very introverted, focused girl, open up to new friendships and realizing the competition was about more than winning. I really wanted to talk to Pip about her experiences and how those transformed Head of the River.

Thank you so much to Pip for being so candid and open, and for writing such an impeccable story I can’t wait to share with my friends.



Head of the River by Pip Harry
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Summary (from Goodreads): It’s the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward … ROW. 

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River. 
With six months until the big race, the twins can’t lose. Or can they? 

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build. 

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who’ll plummet from grace?

Before you began training for the Head of the River competition, how would you describe your personality?

Before I started rowing and training for the Head of the River I was a heavily chlorinated swimmer. My attitude to training and competing was entirely selfish – how fast could I go? How much could I take off my time? I had friends in my squads, but nothing like the buddies I would make in the boat.

Pip-Harry-as-a-Teenage-RowerHow were you changed by the women you rowed with and what Big Life Lessons did you take away from your experience?

The girls and women I rowed with and coached were all so different (shapes, sizes, personalities!) but we all had to learn how to blend those differences into one cohesive, powerful machine. I learnt that a bad day on the water for them was a bad day for me. It sounds corny as hell, but rowing made me appreciate working as a team and the true bonding nature of team sports. I was inspired by the coaches who believed in me and led by example and were so wise and generous with their time. I was changed by my crewmates who showed strength, desire and determination. I was changed by the competition, which was cruel and unforgiving, but also joyous and exhilarating.

I learnt so many life lessons in the boat – how to work as a smaller cog in a bigger wheel, which has helped me enormously in life and work. I learnt to quietly endure pain and suffering in the boat (think rain, cold, blister, endless drills) which has given me more grit and determination (particularly in my writing career) I learnt that even the best team can lose on the day. You need good preparation but also a sprinkle of luck and fair winds. If you want to be a contender, you’ve got to roll with the losses, get up and have another crack.

Were you more like Leni, who had a lot to learn relationally, or were you more like Cris, who lacked passion for the sport and did it to please his parents?

As a rower I was equal parts Leni and Cris. Which is why the book was so fun to write! Like Leni I was a high achiever. I rowed in a state crew at nationals, getting there on hard work, obsession and all the A type personality traits that Leni has. At times this made me incredible hard to be around. I used to get frustrated at anyone who couldn’t keep up, I preferred to row like a bull at a gate all the time (no easy strokes) and I was very strict and tough on myself. I struggled to hold down romantic relationships in my late teens and early 20s because I put myself and my training first and I was completely inflexible. On the other hand, I also had a Cris streak (who doesn’t right?) I struggled to keep my weight down because I love, love sweets and junk foods. I’m also sometimes very seduced by sleep ins and can easily be talked into skipping training. I’m quite lazy at times and at high school, my teachers despaired at the lack of effort I made with subjects that didn’t interest me or I found difficult.

Pip-Harry-Teenage-RowerHow long has it been since you were a Head of the River competitor, and what are your relationships like today with the women you rowed with?

The last crew I coached through to the Head of the River was in 1998. They were a quad scull of funny and talented 14-15 year old schoolgirls who rowed the A final and came second by a fingernail. Heartbreaking! They dissolved after that race, and I did too. We had to pick ourselves up and realise we were 2nd fasted in the entire state, and that was pretty bloody fantastic! Also, who really cared in the end? We had just had four months of laughs, fun and learning. And they had gone from virtual strangers to close friends. That’s what it’s all about. The last time I was in the boat myself was around 2005 in a veteran’s crew (aged over 27 years) I had my biggest success and won five gold medals at the Australian Masters Games. I loved rowing with those older women, because they were more settled in themselves, understood it wasn’t life or death (it was just a race) and they had better wine, food and accommodation during away regattas!

I’m still in contact with some of the women I rowed with when I was a teenager and they are in the acknowledgments page of the book. Yesterday I got an email from Lucy, who I rowed with when I was 16-18 years old. She invited me to her 40th birthday celebrations and said her husband would pay for my interstate flight as part of his present to her – that might tell you how much we value each other’s friendship all these years later! Another rowing friend, Ingrid, sat with me in a café here in Sydney and gave me ideas for certain racing scenes in Head of the River. Another friend, Kate, was my running and training buddy and even though we are now busy mums, we still meet up every few years to talk about those crazy days on the river. Others I’ve lost touch with, but they hold a marker in my heart. I will never forget anyone I rowed with.


Thank you so very much to Pip for sharing her experiences with us and the awesome teenage photographs of herself!
Friends, please, please pick up a copy of Head of the River.

Need more convincing? Read my review of Head of the River!

Laura Nowlin's If He Had Been With Me Interview on Rather Be Reading

An Interview With Author Laura Nowlin

Happy Friday, friends! This morning I was so excited to share my review of If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin. I couldn’t stop myself from prattling on about the million and a half reasons I loved Laura’s story. It’s lovely and so beautifully written — I just wish I had a smidgeon of her talent.

Right now, however, I’m giddy because Laura stopped by to answer a few in depth questions for us about If He Had Been With Me (available for purchase on April 1, 2013, published by Sourcebooks Fire).

Please join me in welcoming the über talented Laura Nowlin!


Magan: If He Had Been With Me is such a beautiful story full of friendship, family, and love — some of my favorite characteristics of any book. Autumn struggles to find herself, to strike a balance between loving Finn and not being an active part of his life anymore, and grappling with her parent’s marriage. Everything felt so authentic and well-balanced. What was your favorite part of the story to write and what caused you the most difficulty?

Laura: I suppose that if I have to choose a section of the novel as my favorite, I will tentatively say it’s the summer after Autumn graduates from high school. I also really loved writing the scene with Autumn and Finny on the front porch the day after Thanksgiving. Really, any part of the novel that has Finny and Autumn in the same room was a joy to write. The parts of the novel that were the most difficult to write were the ones where I had to keep them apart. At the end of the book it was hard for me to follow through on the promised tragedy. I sat slumped over at my desk and cried out to my husband, “I don’t know if I can do it, I love him too much!”

Magan: As a reader, I knew from the very beginning chapter that there would be a tragic ending. (I was personally very thankful to know something big was going to happen, even if I didn’t know when. And I may have held my breath a lot anticipating it.) What inspired you to write a tragic love story and how do you think (or hope) your readers will respond to the ending?

Laura: I dreamed the premise for If He had Been with Me. One night, towards the end of a particularly dark depression, I woke up from a dream and went to my computer. I wrote the first chapter, and then went back to bed. In the morning I was stunned by how much I loved what I had written, and starting this story was instrumental in helping me recover from that period of my life. I hope readers enjoy going into the darkness with me, and I hope this story will help them to remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Magan: Autumn and Finn’s distance and separation as they went through high school was so heart-breaking, yet I still felt such a strong sense of hope that they would find their way back to one another. It’s natural for us grow apart from friends, but like Autumn, I never forget those people. What do you hope your readers gain or learn from their friendship?

Laura: I very much hope that readers will look at Autumn and Finny’s friendship and understand what real love looks like. Autumn loves Finny for who he is as a person, not just for what she can receive from him. Finny encourages Autumn, he doesn’t try to set limits for her. Real love isn’t about holding or controlling a person.

Magan: Autumn was a strong character that paved her own way and struggled when people told her a Creative Writing major wasn’t a very wise choice. She was an avid reader that loved to burrow away in her room with a book. Who are some of your favorite authors and inspirations (present day and when you were in high school)?

Laura: I cried when I heard of J.D. Salinger’s death, because it meant that I had to give up on the dream of ever telling him what his work meant to me. Hopefully I’ll someday get to tell Catherynne Valente that I think she is a living Literary Saint.

Catcher in the Rye and Deathless Books
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Magan: Reflecting on If He Had Been With Me, do you feel pieces of yourself are reflected in your characters? Who are you most like and why?

Laura: Full disclosure: Autumn and I share the same birthday and I totally rocked her blue-jeans-and-tiara look in high school. I also still rescue worms like Finny, and I give my husband odd love tokens like Jamie gave Autumn. In the end though, I am in all of the characters in the story. I can’t just create a new person from scratch, I have to take a piece of myself and let it grow in a new direction. That’s partially why I found your first question so challenging, there is just so much of me in this book.

I really enjoyed your questions. Thanks so much for letting me participate in Rather Be Reading.


Laura, thank you so much for stopping by!

I hope all of you will add If He Had Been With Me to your to read lists (really, go do it now!)
and purchase a copy on April 1st. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

Goodreads | Amazon | My Review

Have a lovely weekend!

Celebrating Release Day with Author Marisa Calin

Twitter has an amazing way of connecting people. Not only have I had the pleasure to make some wonderful friends through 140 characters but a few weeks ago as I was reading an August release, Between You & Me, I sent a tweet to the author to tell her I could not put it down. A few days and direct messages later, we were meeting for lunch at one of my favorite coffee shops in New York City. Despite my extreme nervousness, as soon as I met Marisa, who greeted me with a hug, I suddenly felt like I’ve know her forever and was relieved to finally have someone to talk to about this book that left me so touched, so knocked over by its creativity and tone. (Did I mention she has the cutest English accent in the world?) So today on the release day of Between You & Me, I’m so happy to share a short piece about Marisa. Many heartfelt thanks to the author who blabbered with me in a window seat of the coffee shop for an hour. It was such an extreme pleasure.

an exclusive interview with writer, marisa calin on

“I’m somewhat of an imposter,” author Marisa Calin admits with a smile over a cup of tea.

This statement would make any lunch companion nervous but I smile back because Marisa and I have just spent the last 10 minutes chatting like old friends about theater and the unfortunate incident that brought Mike Tyson to the Broadway stage. (True story.)

What she means is that she’s a trained actress-turned-writer; someone who has never had any formal training in writing. But if her young adult debut, Between You & Me (Bloomsbury Kids), set to release August 7, is any indication, she has taken her own passion for acting and injected it into this refreshing addition to the genre. Written in the style of a screenplay, Marisa tells the story of Phyre, an ambitious teenager who wants to be an actress, her best friend only known as You, and the theater teacher, Mia, who Phyre develops a crush on.

“I was inspired by the immediacy of a screenplay. I love to write because there’s a finished product. In theater that changes from night to night because you are bouncing off different people.” Marisa laughs. “I sound like a control freak. But there is something about writing. You can sit down and you imagine a scene, imagine a character. You get to do it all yourself and you get to lay out the way you want someone to experience [the story].”

Unlike a play or a film screenplay, Marisa took the basic format a step further by creating moods (with beautiful references to light) and also honing in on Phyre’s feelings from the first person. Both of these are big no-nos on stage and film; it’s the job of the director and the cast to bring both those avenues to life. But in Between You & Me, Marisa takes the reins and delivers an authentic look at three individuals who have tunnel vision when it comes to their respective lives. “I wanted to use things that I had the right to talk about emotionally. I used a style of something I know about and I love in a way that I would want to express myself.”

And despite her desire to sit in the driver’s seat and totally formulate the reader’s experience, Marisa doesn’t reveal all when it comes to Phyre’s story. Readers are never quite sure of the sex of the character’s best friend, You – a detail that manages to remain intriguing and not distracting. “I had to bank on the fact that whoever was reading it was going to make their own assertions. I took a risk and people might feel too taxed. I know my grandmother won’t like it,” she jokes.

While Phyre wears her (heart-shaped) rose-colored glasses and can be a bit self-centered (and who wasn’t at 16?), ignoring You’s quiet moments of kindness and soaking up any bit of Mia she can get, Marisa is happy to have the opportunity to explain that while she lent her character her own emotions, she was never that self-absorbed. (She promises!) “I balanced my imaginary meandering with real life much better but I wanted to be true to the fact that your teenage years are one of the only times we can be that self-obsessed.”

As coffee beans grind and people rustle in and out of the shop, Marisa and I break off into tangents about moving, Disney, her school in England, and spying out the window for a man wearing a yellow shirt. (Read the book, you’ll get it.) I also learn she hates litterbugs (me too), loves bright colors and water, and only finished 25% of the first Twilight book. (This makes me like her more.)

Our conversation drifts back to books and Marisa talks about her second novel already in progress (“I’m not going to tell a story I have no business telling.”), her writing process (“I don’t write with a plan.”), her best writing advice (“Less is more.”) and grand praise for her editor (“My editor is the most amazing person in the world… She knew what I wanted to do better than I did.”)

We both agree that the best books are the ones that hit us after we’ve closed them, the ones that take us over and leave us wanting to know more – the exact force that has brought us together today. As Marisa ventures into this new world of writing, it is her experience in acting and her ability to connect with her younger self that leaves readers with the best gift and one that sets her work apart from the rest of the genre – challenging her readers to fill in the blanks and dig a little deeper.

For more information on Marisa, please visit her website, Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

Between You & Me review | Goodreads | Amazon

 ♥ ♥ ♥

Marisa was also wonderful enough to supply RBR with a signed copy of her book to give away to one reader. This contest is open internationally! Good luck friends!

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Sweet Summertime Reads: Fall in Love With Melissa Walker

Happy Sunday, friends! Thanks for continuing to follow along with our Sweet Summertime Reads feature with Tara and Ginger!

Today I’m deviating from our usual Shelve It post to spotlight an author I’ve fallen in love with, Melissa Walker. Watch my short vlog to find out why I love her books so much and then check out Melissa’s interview below to get to know her a little better. I’m hoping you add Unbreak My Heart (and Melissa’s other books Lovestruck Summer and Small Town Sinners) to your to-read lists. She’s fantastic and you won’t be disappointed! (Here’s my review for Unbreak My Heart.)


An Interview with Melissa Walker

  1. Summer Favorites:

    Snack and Drink: Salt n Vinegar chips; Coke in a glass bottle.
    Place to vacation as a kid: We used to rent a cabin in Vermont on a pond. Loved it!
    Place to read: On a sun porch
    Store to find cute swimsuits: Anywhere that carries the Esther Williams Collection (retro beauty!)
    Place to vacation as an adult: Somewhere I’ve never been before
    Go-to writing hangout: Multiple coffee shops near me. Lately a tiny one called Dub Pies.
  2. If you could choose any place, without worrying about cost, logistics, and responsibilities, where would you go on vacation this summer? Who would you take with you and how long would you stay?

    I would rent a house in the country, maybe upstate New York, so I could get back home easily if I wanted to (I get homesick when I’m away from my place). I’d rent a huge place on a lake, and invite friends up every weekend. Then, during the week I’d just hang out with my husband and baby girl and we’d do family-of-three things and I’d write. We’d stay all summer long.
  3. We’re in the middle of our summer feature, Sweet Summertime Reads. Could you recommend five books that you LOVE that every reader should put on their summer lists?

    Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando (Coney Island magic!)
    The Summer Trilogy by Jenny Han (Triple the summer love!)
    Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen (a classic Colby beach novel!)
    Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (this one FEELS like a summer night, ripe with every possibility)
    How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (not summery but a perfectly told tale)
  4. Unbreak My Heart is one of my favorite books this year. I read it at the beginning of April and I’ve been pining for summer ever since. It is the epitome of a perfect summer read. You had personal family sailing trips to draw inspiration from, but what brought Clem’s story to fruition?

    Thank you! I knew I wanted to tell the story of a friend breakup–because I’ve been through that and it’s really tough. Then I thought about sailing, and how all of your emotions get magnified in a small space because you don’t have much distraction or distance from yourself or your family. So it seemed like merging that setting, which I’d always wanted to use, and that situation… might work. So I tried it!
  5. How did you approach the subject of cheating and what do you want readers to walk away with after they’ve read the last page?

    I just think there’s a knee-jerk reaction to cheating, and sometimes things live in a gray area. Actually, USUALLY things like cheating live in a gray area. I knew it was a risk, but I wanted Clem to be a character people connected with and understood in some way, even after what had happened. I wanted readers to walk away with a sense that Clem had grown. I didn’t necessarily want to tie things up with a bow or show what happened with each and every character. I just wanted to set Clem on a trajectory of hopefulness and self-acceptance.
  6. What did you do to stay entertained on your family trips? Did you have a little sister like Olive who always kept things interesting?

    I don’t have a little sister, but I AM the little sister. Ha! Not sure I was as kooky as Olive but I just loved her as a character. I played a lot of card games with my parents, listened to the radio on the deck of the boat and watched shooting stars at night. Mainly, there was talking and talking and talking. And I always wished I’d meet a boy my own age, but it never happened.
  7. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently working on?

    I have a letter in the DEAR TEEN ME anthology, out in October, and I’m working on a new book too, but I’m keeping it quiet for now… stay tuned!

Thank you so much, Melissa, for hanging out with us here at Rather Be Reading. It was so great to learn more about your inspiration for Unbreak My Heart. To all our readers, READ THIS ASAP!

Interview with K.M. Walton, Author of Cracked

We are so excited to bring you an author interview with K.M. Walton, mastermind behind Cracked.  Magan’s review, in which she gushed over the fine line K.M. balances between serious topics and humorous characters, went live yesterday. We contacted K.M. after perusing her website (which is fabulous, by the way). She has so, so many wonderful things to offer – information about herself, helpful resources for librarians and writers, etc. – and it’s all packaged quite beautifully in a website designed by her sister.

We’ve had a wonderful time getting to know a bit more about K.M, and Magan certainly loved her debut novel Cracked, which was released in January. Thank you, K.M., for the lovely interview!

: Victor and Bull are sworn enemies. Bull terrorizes Victor, and Victor roams the hallways of his high school seemingly invisible. His home life isn’t anybetter; his parents remind him each birthday that he was an accident and was never wanted. Bull’s grandpa and mom are always drunk, there’s very little food, and he hangs out in the cemetery to avoid the regular beatings he receives. Bull and Victor become roommates in the psych ward after an incident goes wrong with Bull and Victor swallows too many sleeping pills.


Cracked is your debut novel. Congratulations and thank you for sharing such an awesome story with us! How did you feel when you found out your book was being published? How did you celebrate?

I did a tremendous amount of hooting and hollering and hugging. My husband brought home champagne and we toasted to my years of hard work finally paying off. It was a very special time for me.

Elements of Cracked are extremely serious – there’s abuse, both verbal and physical, and a suicide attempt. How did you balance writing about these deep issues while interlacing laugh out loud, funny moments?

The characters’ personalities allowed for the moments of levity. Those boys became real to me, and I wanted their realness to come alive in the pages of the book.

Why have you chosen to write for young adults, and why was it important for you to tell this story?

I chose to write for young adults after being inspired by reading so many genius young adult books. I found particular inspiration in Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Each book featured teenaged boy protagonists and I wanted to try my hand at that. To answer your second question, it was important for me to tell Victor and Bull’s stories because combating bullying and injustice have fueled nearly every lesson I taught while in the classroom. I spent twelve years as a public school teacher, ten of those years in middle school. I made it my personal mission to stamp out bullying and other forms of hatred. CRACKED was born from that mission.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I just heard comedian and author Michael Ian Black speak and he said something that resonated with me, “The thing I’m most proud of is having written. Not the actual writing part, but being able to say that I wrote something, having written it, is cool.” That’s my favorite part of the process – having written.

Did you ever hit a point where you had to stop writing Cracked? How did you get past the writer’s block and back to writing?

No, when I’m in the middle of writing I can’t stop. The characters’ stories flow out of me like a rushing stream.

We’ve been oohing and ahhing over your incredible website. Not only do you provide awesome resources for readers, librarians, and writers, but there’s so much of you present. How did you and your son devise the concept for your site? 

My oldest son and I were discussing ideas for my site, brainstorming and stuff, and he said, “Mom, you do everything at your desk. What if your website was your desk?” I grabbed a piece of paper and sketched it out. You can actually see my original sketch on my website – in the FUN drawer under “Random Facts”. My youngest sister, who happens to be a creative genius and designer, took that sketch and designed I don’t think it’s possible to love a website any more than I love my website. I’d like to marry it. But I’m already happily married.

We noticed you’re a fan of Glee (we are, too!). When you’re not writing or watching Glee, what do you like to do?

I love to read, go to the movies, hang out with my family, dance, eat chocolate, sleep, play around on twitter and Facebook. Regular stuff. And I’m really into two new shows this season: Awake and Touch. I hope they fill the cavernous void LOST left when it ended. My fingers are crossed.

And now for our raid fire round, tell us your:

favorite place to write:
My desk. I have a killer office in my house with tons of windows. It’s like writer heaven.

favorite lipstick:

Oh my. I have a little “lipstick problem” in so much as, I’m addicted to lipsticks. For instance, I have twelve (yes, I counted) lipsticks in my makeup bag sitting in my purse. My favorite brands are Smashbox and Stilla. They last and have the perfect shine.

favorite city:

Hmmm. Favorite town of all time would have to be Galway, Ireland. It has the perfect mix of modern and old and it is filled with awesome shops, pubs and Irish people.

favorite snack:

I should say something, like, apples or air popped popcorn, but, that would be lying. And I’m not a liar. CHEESE CURLS. They are orangy, evil, tangy, crispy and probably poison. But holy hell are they tasty.


Can you tell us about what you’re currently working on? What can we look forward to reading from you in the future? 

My new book, titled EMPTY, releases from Simon Pulse January 2013. It’s about an overweight teenaged girl named Dell who gets bullied and abused and her life spirals out of control. I was thrilled to work with my brilliant editor again—Annette Pollert. The woman is so damn smart.

Thank you very much for hosting me here today!


A huge THANK YOU to K.M. Walton! Here’s where you can find more from her around the Internet.

Twitter | Website | Simon & Schuster’s Author Site | Cracked Facebook Page | Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon