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KIRSTY MCMANUS: When Fiction is Inspired by Real Life

This month's guest blog is by author Kirsty McManus! I love her 90s series because its setting is based on the area we both live in: the beautiful Sunshine Coast. I wanted to hear all about how she drew inspiration from real-life places for the settings in her novels, so that's what this blog is discussing.

Kirsty McManus was born in Sydney, Australia and moved to Queensland when she was 14. When she was 25, she lived in Japan for a year with her partner Kesh and worked as an English teacher. This was the inspiration behind her debut novel, Zen Queen. She also spent a year in Canada and then settled back down on the Sunshine Coast in 2008. Her writing often features characters visiting different countries and / or finding themselves in unusual situations. She is a little bit obsessed with vampires (Damon and Stefan are her favourites) and hopes to one day write her own epic vampire series.


The concept for 1996 came about one day when I was reading my old high school diaries. My mother bought me my first diary when I was twelve, and to this day, I keep a daily journal.

It’s funny reading back on how you thought and behaved when you were younger, because you see things from a different perspective. I even had Anna experience a thought in the book about how she didn’t believe she was very popular in high school, yet looking back, she was always surrounded by people. That’s what I noticed when reading about my life.

1996 was a particularly fun year for me, which is why I chose it for the first book in the series. It was the year I learned to drive…I had some “official” boyfriends…and I worked at a T-shirt shop on Hastings Street in Noosa (I gave this job to Rachel in the series). Once the summer holidays ended and my hours were cut, I moved on to customer service at the local video store. I had thought about giving Anna a different job, but it was such a classic nineties experience that I couldn’t resist.

I drew a fair bit of the pop culture and events from my diaries, but I was worried I wouldn’t get the facts right for businesses that existed at the time, so I called Anna’s town Shell Beach and made up a bunch of names—even though everything is loosely based on Noosa.

The Beans café in Shell Beach was inspired by Aromas on Hastings Street. I spent a LOT of time there in my teens, drinking short blacks and hot chocolates while listening to Massive Attack’s “Protection” and George Michael’s “Older”. Allure and J’Adore were common women’s perfumes wafting around, while Cool Water, Joop!, and Issey Miyake were the aftershaves of the day. Plus, of course, Calvin Klein’s CK One was everywhere.

The nearest large shopping centre in my area is a half-hour drive away, and in the series, it’s called The Palace, but in reality, it’s Sunshine Plaza. I have some very distinct memories of visiting with my friends in the nineties, where we’d go to the HMV music store to browse all the new pop releases (Shaggy’s “Boombastic” will forever be linked to my experience of 1996), and then we’d eat at the Chinese buffet in the food court. After that, we’d go across the street to a grungy record store called Mosh Pit Music. This was the inspiration for Kurt’s workplace. I even had a classmate called Kurt who worked there, but he was nothing like the Kurt in the book. Again, it was too good a name to pass up for a nineties’ themed series.

I started writing 1996 as a self-indulgent trip down memory lane, and I thought it would be my worst-selling work because it was so specific to the Sunshine Coast—but weirdly, it has turned out to be my most popular. I wrote 1997 soon after, and it went on to become a bestseller in the Aussie category on Amazon. I finally got around to writing 1998 in the past year and released it a few months ago. There has been a lovely response to it—and the box set is now selling quite well, too.

I have written a few chapters for a spin-off featuring a different character, but it will be at least a few months away. It’s difficult writing a series with two timelines! I have to keep so much information in my brain during the writing process, but overall, I’ve really enjoyed working on these books. Some of my favourite characters and scenes are in those pages, and I’m really glad readers have enjoyed them, too.


Thank you Kirsty! You can buy her books, including the fantastic 90s series, here.


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