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Author Q&A with Julie Bennett

Born in New Zealand, Julie Bennett migrated to Australia when her father was offered a full-time role in the Australian Opera Company. Her incredible debut novel, The Understudy, was inspired by her experience performing in the Australian Opera Company’s 1973 production of War & Peace.

It’s opening night. The stage is set, the houselights have dimmed, and the handsome male lead is waiting. This is your time. Your chance to prove you are so much more than the understudy. You have worked so hard and would have done almost anything to get here. But not what they are accusing you of – never that. It’s simply bad luck that Australia’s darling of opera has gone missing, throwing the spotlight on you just as the whole world is watching history in the making. Take a deep breath and get ready to perform the role of your life. This is “The Understudy.”

Exclusively for QBD Books, Julie has taken the time to speak about her writing inspiration, writing process, and more: 

Congratulations on your debut novel! If you could choose any actor/actress to play the handsome Italian tenor, the prima donna and the understudy, who would you pick and why?

I’ve thought about this. Definitely Kit Harington for the tenor and maybe Rose Leslie (both Game of Thrones and married in real life) for the understudy.

People who have read the book have said Kit looks a bit young, but he’s 35ish and he’d be older by the time the movie is made, so I think he’ll be perfect!

Rose is a great choice too, but how fab it would be to have an Aussie actress – maybe Emily Browning with reddened hair – or up and coming actress Olivia Nardini from WA who has red hair. I just found her on a Google search. She is only 22 but has also worked with West Australian Opera!

Kate Winslet for the prima donna as I’m confident she could play both the younger Margaret and the 40-plus Margaret and Margaret is English. It would be wonderful if Kate would consider dying her hair brunette for the role.


What is your favourite opera?

I can’t possibly choose just one! I was about four years old when I saw my first operetta. It was an amateur production of The Land of Smiles by Franz Lehar who also wrote The Merry Widow. My father was playing the lead. I was absolutely entranced with it and I still love it. I also love Madama Butterfly, of course and I have a new appreciation for it now. La Boheme, also by Puccini, is also gorgeous. Puccini is a genius, but they all are. As I said, I can’t pick just one.


How does a PR professional in the finance industry become a fiction writer? What drew you to writing?

I was always a scribbler. I’m a busy person but one of the [female] pioneers of the financial planning industry who has since passed away said the busier you are the more you can do and it’s true. You can always say you don’t have time to do things, but if you want to be a novelist you have to find time. I write everywhere I go and I always have.

You make time for the things you love.


What top tips would you give to aspiring writers?

I’ve thought about this a lot. Make sure you know how to write. This sounds obvious but isn’t.

Make sure you have a compelling story – for me this is primarily about the characters and the settings. Interesting characters and gorgeous settings will make your novel easier to write. They will also help people fall in love with your story. And that’s what you want.

If you can already write, put yourself in the way of people who can help you progress to publication – eg. Become a member of The Australian Society of Authors, The Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Romance Writers of Australia, if that’s your genre or similar.

Be sure that this is what you really want. If it is then be tenacious – really, really, really tenacious. No, I mean it. It’s hard work and you won’t succeed if you give up. 

To read an extract from this incredible story, you can visit the “Simon and Schuster” web page here:

To pre-order “The Understudy” by Julie Bennett, you can visit the QBD Books website or your local QBD Books store!

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the blog content. 

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