Bush Heritage Australia

Bush Heritage 2Since I dedicated my last book Billabong Bend to Bush Heritage, I thought I should write a post about it. Bush Heritage is a non-profit conservation organisation dedicated to protecting Australia’s unique animals, plants and their habitats for future generations. They have a simple and practical formula for protecting the bush – buy land of outstanding conservation value, then care for it

Liffey Valley Reserves in Tasmania – the first Bush Heritage Reserve. Photo: Wayne Lawler

Liffey Valley in Tasmania – the first Bush Heritage Reserve. Photo: Wayne Lawler

The organisation began in 1991, when Dr Bob Brown bought several hundred hectares of old-growth forest in Tasmania to save it from logging. Using prize money from an environmental award as the deposit, he sought donations to gather the remaining funds, and Bush Heritage was born.

My fictional property of Billabong Bend is based in part on the beautiful Naree Station, acquired by Bush Heritage in 2012. Located on the inland floodplains of northern NSW, Naree sits at the head of the nationally significant wetlands of the Cuttaburra Channels and Yantabulla Swamp. During flood events it becomes home to an incredible fifty thousand breeding water birds and is rated as one of the twenty most important water bird sites in Australia.

Bush Heritage 4Bush Heritage currently owns and manages thirty-five reserves throughout Australia, covering nearly one million hectares. Reserves are managed like national parks – the land is legally protected, with the intention of safeguarding it forever. Bush Heritage also builds partnerships with farmers. These partnerships account for a further 3.5 million hectares of land under conservation management. Their long term goal is to protect more than seven million hectares by 2025. This will only be possible with our help.

Bush Heritage 2If you need a gift for someone who cares about the environment, how about sending a Bush Heritage WILDgift? Not only does your friend or family member receive a beautiful card featuring stunning photography from the Australian bush, but together, you also make a real and lasting contribution to nature conservation in Australia. For ten dollars you can provide a warm, safe nesting box for the endangered red-tailed phascogale. For twenty-five dollars you can save a slice of the outback, helping to buy one hectare of native habitat. Every hectare makes a difference!

BB14

 

 

Pot-Holed Paths To Publication

cross blogWelcome to our monthly blog chat with writing guru Sydney Smith and fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson. This month we tell our how-we-got-published stories and welcome your questions and comments

SYDNEY
Some years ago, Griffith REVIEW accepted a short story of mine called “Flame Red” for its first fiction edition. After reading it, Text Publishing emailed me, asking if I had any book-length manuscripts they might be interested in. I pitched them a few ideas and went away to write a novel for them. Then it stalled at 45,000 words. My novels always stall at either that length or 30,000 words.

For several years, I had been trying to write about my fraught and turbulent relationship with my mother. I had been wrestling in particular with a strong internal prohibition against exposing her and myself. I had published two short memoirs with Griffith REVIEW that explored aspects of my relationship with my mother. I knew I wanted to write a long work about her but I couldn’t find the right way in. To me, writing a piece, whether short or long, is like trying to get into a house where all the doors are locked. You have to hunt around, rattling handles, testing windows, before you find the one that will open and let you in.

At the end of 2010, I applied for a weeklong workshop with Robin Hemley on writing nonfiction, hoping it would loosen one of those barred and padlocked doors. We were asked to submit fifteen pages and an outline. I had no pages and no outline. Also, I had applied the day after submissions had closed, getting down on my knees and begging the program officer who was administering the course. She let me in and I had only a day or two in which to send in my fifteen pages.

The Lost WomanFor some years, I had been trying off and on to write about Boxing Day when I was nine years old, a day when my difficult relationship with my mother reached a crisis and I decided the only way out was to kill myself. I knew some of the things the piece would contain, but I couldn’t find the door that would let me in. Now, on a tight deadline, I sat down at my computer and wrote those pages. They came to exactly fifteen. The workshop was okay. Robin Hemley is a brilliant teacher. But somehow, it turned out to be irrelevant. Those fifteen pages was my way into the book.

Over the next few weeks, I wrote another chapter and thought about how committed I was to this project. Finally, ready to give myself wholly to it, I emailed Text, saying I had 10,000 words of a memoir and asking if they would be interested in having a look at them. Publishing houses sometimes offer contracts for nonfiction books before they have been written. They asked me to send the pages to them, along with a book proposal. I wrote another 8,000 words, to show them I could do it and to prove to myself that I really was committed. They read them and called me in for a meeting.

This meeting was crucial. I knew they wanted me to prove I could produce the whole book, not just words but readable words. At the end of the meeting, they asked me to send them a chapter breakdown. I did that, and in mid-April, I got the contract. This included two things: a word limit of 75,000-80,000 words and a deadline. I had to send them the completed manuscript by 15 December. I also had another problem. My chapter breakdown outlined a book that was longer than the word limit. I decided I would deal with that once I had finished the draft.

I had never before written a book to a contract. Every morning I woke in a panic. I had to write this book AND I had to do my paid work as a mentor AND run two classes on plotting and structure. So I divvied up my week. I gave three days to mentoring, three days to writing, and had a floating day which could be used to take up any extra paid work or be used for writing. I cancelled all social engagements, telling my friends why. I knuckled down in a way I never thought I was capable of, writing a chapter a week. Along the way, I pared back my chapter breakdown so that the finished manuscript would come in on length. Don’t ask me how I could do that when I hadn’t written the whole draft yet. I just did.

On the last Thursday of August, four months ahead of the deadline, I sent in a 76,000-word manuscript titled The Lost Woman. It was an amazing experience.

Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She is currently writing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her blog.

KATHRYN
I wish I’d known at the time how intriguing and very unique each getting-published story is. If I’d known, I would have made careful notes so that when I shared my story, I’d remember the way it happened. Looking back, I realise I was very naïve, entering the grown-up world of publishing without a clue as to what might happen.

Rough Diamond Front Cover FinalAnd so, the exhausting saga is, in brief, this. I finished a professional writing and editing course end-2008 and started writing Rough Diamond. Two years later, (I thought) it was ready to submit and I sent the manuscript to various competitions and publishers’ weekly submit-your-manuscript-and-we’ll-tell-you-if-we-like-it offerings. I made it to first base with Hachette’s program*, but heard nothing from the others.

When I eventually emailed Penguin my query letter, they replied almost immediately. “Yes please!” Exactly the sort of response you would hope for! They requested the full manuscript, and the waiting started. Meantime, I’d contacted a literary agent who also asked for the full manuscript. At the three-month marker, I sent them both an email asking if they were interested. The agent said that yes, she was. Nothing more than that. Penguin wanted more time. Two more weeks they promised, respectfully.

So, Penguin called. But not with the news I’d hoped for. They didn’t feel Rough Diamond quite made the cut (I found out why later – something about the plot and the fact that there wasn’t one), but they loved the voice of my lead character, Erica Jewell, and wanted to know if I had any other manuscripts that I’d thrown in disgust into some proverbial bottom drawer. I didn’t, but I had an idea for another series. They wanted to meet. On that basis, the agent offered me a contract.

In my meeting with Penguin, we chatted about my series idea. However when I mentioned that I’d since signed with an agent, the conversation came back to Rough Diamond. They’d give it another look, they said.

More waiting. What I hadn’t realised is that the commissioning editor does not have final say in whether or not a contract is offered. She can only champion the manuscript, “selling” it to the rest of the team at the weekly acquisitions meeting, which is attended by the head-honchos of all departments. And they ALL have to agree. This process can take forever. Finally, I was offered a contract. When I got the call, I was standing in my tiny, grotty, yet-to-be-renovated old lounge-room with my niece and her two children, baby Richie and five-year-old Molly. With Richie thrown over my shoulder, I danced in circles with Molly. Richie threw up. Molly fell over. I stubbed my toe. It was a moment to remember.

But there was more waiting to come. It was around July 2011, and Penguin wanted to publish in January 2013. OMG! Surely I’d drop dead of impatience before then? I didn’t, and Rough Diamond launched eventually, and suddenly Monkey Business is out there as well, with Grand Slam on the drawing board and a novella to be squeezed into the mix somewhere.

Monkey BusinessAfter all that, do I have any advice? Indeed I do:

  • For a start, I was lucky. Lucky because I’d written what today’s market would consider a saleable product. Commercial women’s fiction, with a romance at its heart. The reason a publisher will offer you a contract is because they think they can sell it.
  • Network. Join a writing group, surround yourself with supportive people (other writers). When you think you’ve written rubbish, you’ll need these people to tell you it’s not as awful as the rubbish they’ve written, and that lots of rubbish has been published. And let me say this, even with a publishing contract and a couple of books out there on the shelves, you will still think you’ve written rubbish.
  • Regarding above, you need to get over it. Put that rubbish-talking devil in a box and nail the lid shut.
  • More networking. It was through networking that I had an email address for the commissioning editor for women’s fiction at Penguin. And a personal introduction to a literary agent. And the reason half my Facebook friends are authors, all of whom share my successes, commiserate with my failures, offer brilliant advice and more encouragement than I deserve.
  • Take how-to-write courses. Read how-to-write books. I always learn something new. Always.
  • Read.
  • Before submitting your manuscript, research how a particular publisher wants to receive it. Read A Decent Proposal by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth. It will give you a thorough insight into effective pitching. Learn what the agent/publisher wants to know. For example: what your book is about, where it will sit on the shelves, why you think it will sell, why you’re the right person for the job of writing it. In other words, make it easy for a publisher to say “yes please!”
  • Show nice manners. When you submit your manuscript to an agent/publisher, let them know who else you’ve sent it to. If someone shows further interest in it, let the others know this.
  • Good writing and good luck!

Kathryn Ledson is the author of Rough Diamond and Monkey Business (Penguin), part of the Erica Jewell series of romantic adventures. You can visit her website and find her blog at www.kathrynledson.com

JENNIFER
I received my first contract with Penguin books via a conference pitch. It shows that, despite all the doom and gloom about the industry, it is still possible to be picked up unagented by a mainstream publisher, if good fortune and good writing coincide.

My first bit of good fortune was being in the same writing group as fellow rural writer, Margareta Osborn. She asked me to go with her to the national Romance Writers’ Conference, held in Melbourne in 2011. At first I wasn’t keen and told her I didn’t write category romance. ‘You don’t have to,’ said Margareta. ‘All sorts of writers go. It’ll be fun―and you get to pitch face-to-face to publishers. Not just any publishers, but key industry professionals like Beverley Cousins of Random House, Annette Barlow of Allen & Unwin and Belinda Byrne of Penguin.’

‘Really?’ I said, my ears pricking right up. ’Publishers?’ Now all I needed was a novel to knock their socks off. I already had two completed manuscripts, but maybe I needed something fresh, something that fused my passion for the land with an equally passionate love story. It was January, and the conference was in August―eight months. It was worth a try.  I threw myself into it. When I wasn’t asleep or working I was writing, seven days a week. I wrote and wrote, revising as I went. After a great deal of hair-tearing, wine, chocolate and dreadful doubts, I had a polished first draft of Brumby’s Run just in time for the conference.

I scored two pitch sessions, one with Bernadette Foley of Hachette and another with Belinda Byrne, a commissioning editor of commercial women’s fiction with Penguin. For some unknown reason the five-minute pitches were reduced to three-minute pitches. Not much time to impress anybody. I agonised over my lines, practised ad nauseam and was sick with nerves. The moment finally arrived for that long walk into the room. A smiling publisher sat at a table. ‘What have you got for me?’ I drew a deep breath and launched into my memorised pitch.

2nd BR Cover‘Brumby’s Run is a 90,000-word rural fiction manuscript, with an environmental theme. A comparable title is The Cattleman’s Daughter by Rachael Treasure. It’s a novel about romance, identity and the fabled wild horses of Victoria’s high country.

Identical twin girls, separated at birth, Samantha and Charlie. Charlie remains with her teenage mother, Mary, in the small, upper Murray town of Currajong. Samantha grows up in all the wealth and privilege of Melbourne’s Toorak, with a smothering adoptive mother and a distant, emotionally unavailable father.

When the girls are eighteen, Charlie falls ill with leukaemia. Samantha is approached to donate stem cells, and discovers that not only is she adopted, but she has a sister. She also discovers they both share a love of horses; Charlie is a champion camp drafter, and Samantha is a contender for the national dressage squad.

The transplant is a success. However, Charlie faces months of recovery in Melbourne, and requires Mary to stay and care for her.  Samantha offers to go up-country to their property and look after things. Townie Sam finds a rundown parcel of land, mongrel country on the edge of Balleroo National Park. She also finds herself in the middle of a conflict between the traditional alpine cattlemen and a new breed who want to exclude hard-hooved animals from Balleroo, including the brumbies.

Sam falls in love with Brumby’s Run, and with the town of Currajong. This new life, Charlie’s life, intrigues her. Bit by bit she takes on her sister’s horses, her friends, her work―and she finds romance with Drew Chandler, her sister’s ex-lover. Sam begins to wish that Charlie might never come home.’

Then came my second piece of good fortune―a manuscript that suited their wish lists. I like writing outback stories, and both publishers were interested in new rural fiction. Brumby’s Run just happened to fit the bill. They took my three chapters and synopsis.

After several encouraging emails from Belinda she asked to meet me and in October, eight weeks after the conference, I received an email headed Penguin Letter of Offer for Brumby’s Run. At last! I printed that letter out and carried it with me for weeks, looking at it occasionally to check it was real. I now have my fourth contract with Penguin, all because I went to that conference. There’s more than one way to skin a publisher!

BB14

 

 

The Mighty Murray Cod

Murray Cod StampThere is a Murray cod character in my latest novel, Billabong Bend. So I’m dedicating this post to Guddhu, guardian of the river, charismatic fish of legend!

Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii) are the largest freshwater native fish in Australia. They were originally very common throughout the Murray-Darling basin. Mounted specimens and photos of long-ago giants are on display at almost every riverland pub in south-eastern Australia. After a few beers, old-timers come out with tall stories of fish bigger than a man, territorial lions of the river, big enough to drag unwary swimmers under by a paddling arm or kicking heel.

mc 5Murray cod are handsome fish, scales mottled with green and black roses and bellies silvery white. Their grouper-like bodies are deep and elongated, with broad, scooped heads and powerful blunt tails. They can weigh more than a hundred kilograms and measure over 1.6 metres. A long-lived fish, they’re known to reach at least seventy years of age. It’s likely they can live for much longer, a century or more. Murray cod are an ancient species and an animal central to Aboriginal mythology. Fossils have been found dating back twenty-six million years. They may well be as old as the Murray-Darling basin itself – sixty-five million years. That’s when the age of the dinosaurs was coming to an end.

mc 2Contrary to some fishery department literature, the first serious decline in Murray cod populations was caused by extreme overfishing by Europeans. In the latter half of the 1800s and in the1900s, they were caught in unimaginable numbers. In 1883, 150,000 kilograms of Murray cod were sent to Melbourne from Moama alone. This was a devastating blow to such a long-lived and slow-breeding species.

Cod mature at about four or five years old and breed in spring when water temperatures rise above fifteen degrees. They favour sheltered snags in the main channel of rivers. Males guard the eggs, and continue to watch over the newly hatched larvae for a week or more. The young fish then drift downstream.

mc 7Modern threats include exotic diseases, overfishing, pollution, dams and weirs blocking migration routes, and flood regulation for irrigation. Fifty percent of Murray cod larvae are killed when they pass through weirs, and cold water released from the base of dams stops adults spawning. Competition with introduced fish is also a problem, even though adult cod do a good job of eating carp.

It’s a great tragedy that these fabled fish are now  extinct in many of their upland habitats, particularly in the southern Murray-Darling. They’re listed as critically endangered by the ICUN, a United Nations organization that maintains the Red List of Threatened Species. We can’t protect Murray cod without protecting the rivers that they live in. Let’s make it a priority!

BB14

Rocking Horse Hill

Cathryn Hein Author PhotoIt is with great pleasure that I welcome to Pilyara fellow Penguin author and horse nut, Cathryn Hein. She is here today answering a few questions about her new novel Rocking Horse Hill (love that title!) Congratulations on the terrific reviews Cathryn!

Thanks, and thanks for hosting me on your blog, Jennifer. A lovely place to be!

What is your story about?
Rocking Horse Hill is a rural romance with a strong family drama and an emotional lovers reunited story.
As a teenager, Emily Wallace-Jones made a mistake that has haunted her since. So when Josh Sinclair saunters sexily back into town and her life, she has a chance to finally put things right.
But there are dramas affecting both families. Digby, heir to the Wallace-Jones fortune, has arrived home with a fiancée no one has ever heard of. Em’s best friends both have troubles and her naughty donkeys are causing havoc. Meanwhile, Josh’s family are coping with heart-breaking news. Then there’s Rocking Horse Hill…

With their families’ struggles and so much baggage from the past, can Em and Josh really resurrect a relationship? Or will holding onto trust be impossible? Not just for them, but for everyone touched by Rocking Horse Hill.

What or who inspired it?
The original inspiration was a bit obscure. I’d read an article in a Sunday paper about women who fall in love with men serving long-term jail sentences and found it fascinating. The next day I was zoning out on the exercise bike, thinking about the article, when I had this idea for a thriller-type story. I was so excited I jumped straight off and scribbled it down. Being a totally different genre to my rural romances, I set it aside but my brain wouldn’t let it go, and there were things about the premise that I really liked – the family drama mostly but also the heroine. Over time, I kept reworking the idea until Rocking Horse Hill was born.

RHH cover - resizedAre there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
There are quite a few parts of Rocking Horse Hill that are special. Number one is the setting. The book is set in the south east of South Australia and much of the action takes place on a property right at the foot of an extinct volcano. Though fictional, the volcano is based on an amalgam of Mt Schank, a crater to the south of my home town of Mount Gambier, and Mt Elephant, near Derinallum in western Victoria. As kids, a brilliant day out was climbing to the top of Mt Schank and sliding all the way to the bottom on your bum, like a great big dirty slippery-dip.

I also gave the heroine Emily my beloved dog Cooch as her darling collie Miss Muffet. There’s also an Indian runner duck that was based on one my brother owned. Plus, being set around where I grew up, there are all sorts of little things that I love from the area that have made their way into the book.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?
One of the things that Rocking Horse Hill explores is how we judge others, and how our experiences influence that. Perhaps even blind us. Em comes from a very privileged background and there was a time in her past when that made her think herself special. As a result she caused immeasurable hurt and it’s not a mistake she’s going to make again, which is why she’s determined to welcome her sister-in-law to-be into the family.

I also wanted to look at how hard it can be for a stranger to find their place inside a tight-knit family. The tensions that arise when one of more family members don’t like the newcomer can cause major rifts. It doesn’t take much to find real-life examples: the boyfriend everyone thinks is a bad influence; the second wife everyone hates; the father-in-law no one trusts…

I think we’ve all had experience with families judging and sometimes misjudging people. And I love the sound of those animals! Looking forward to reading it Cathryn. Thanks very much for visiting today.

RHH cover - resizedROCKING HORSE HILL
by Cathryn Hein
Who do you trust when a stranger threatens to tear your family apart?

Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em’s life has happened there. And even though Em’s brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.
When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em’s life and given her a chance for redemption.
But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em’s closest friends question where Felicity’s motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy sets in motion a chain of events that will change the family forever.

Rocking Horse Hill is a moving family drama and passionate love story from the author of Heartland. Follow these links to find out more about Cathryn and her terrific rural novels.  Website, Twitter via @CathrynHein, Facebook, Google+

And now, to announce the winner of the Billabong Bend draw. I received so many wonderful comments about people’s favourite rivers and why they love them, thank you. The winner of a signed copy of Billabong Bend is Sophie Grant. Congratulations Sophie. I’ll send you an email shortly.

BB14

 

Dialogue

PrintTime for our monthly chat about writing, with fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson, and mentor extraordinaire Sydney Smith. This month we discuss dialogue. But first I’d like to share the news that my 2013 release Currawong Creek has been nominated by the RWA for a RUBY, their Romantic Book Of The Year Award. Thank you RWA, and good luck to the other finalists! Now, on to some craft talk!

SYDNEY
Dialogue is the most dramatic expression of conflict in narrative. It isn’t simply an exchange of information. Each speaker must have an agenda, and that should emerge in the course of the dialogue sequence. Preferably, it emerges at once, or nearly so.
A good example is a man and his new bride disputing over where to place the hideous vase her grandmother gave them for a wedding present.

Amy:     Let’s put it on the hall table. Then the old battleaxe can see it whenever she visits.
James:    But, honey, it looks like a mutant spaceship. What about if we put it in the toolshed?
Amy:     What’ll I tell her when she comes to dinner next week? She’ll ask me about it.
James:    Why do you care? You don’t even like her.
Amy:     I do like her.
James:    You always call her the old battle-axe. You only call her Granny to her face.
Amy:     All right, I hate her. I hate the way she inspects the window ledges, like she thinks I wipe them down with my dirty socks.
James:    So let’s cancel dinner next week. Then we can bury the vase in the backyard.
Amy:     No way! She’s going to die in the next ten years, and I’m the one she’s going to leave her rare coin collection to. The vase is going on the hall table.
James:    Sod’s law. When people are hanging out for some old bird to die, she’ll live to a hundred and fifty and leave the coins to a cat home.

And that’s the other thing dialogue should do: it should characterise the speakers.

cross blogKATH
Dialogue – my favourite! When I turn the page of a novel and see dialogue, I get excited. I lean closer to the book, tuning out all external sounds and distractions. I’m in the story. But why? What’s so good about dialogue? Plenty! Such as:

  • The white space caused by snappy dialogue gives the reader a break.
  • Dialogue brings you into real time. It plonks you firmly in the scene and the middle of a conversation. You might even feel like you’re intruding on an intimate moment between two lovers. How exciting!
  • Through dialogue, we learn about characters. We hear their all-important voice. The way they speak to each other, the way they react verbally, can tell us so much about who they are. Especially characters who don’t have a point-of-view in the story. It is through their actions and especially dialogue that we discover important things about them.
  • And very importantly, dialogue is a great way to show not tell.

Here’s an example:

John’s boss Helen stared through the window at the parklands across the way, but John knew she wasn’t really seeing anything. He spoke to her. She took a moment to respond, quietly telling John he needed to call the office and give them the bad news – that the suspect had been apprehended, but that he had a water-tight alibi. John knew this was bad news. Very bad. Helen punched the wall suddenly, shouting a curse.

By using dialogue we can lift that scene right out of the doldrums and give it zing. As I said, if it’s done well, it’ll draw us closer, bring us right into the scene, in real time, and show us plenty about what’s on those characters’ minds.

‘You need to call the office,’ Helen said quietly, staring through the window.
‘Okay. What’s up?’
She didn’t respond.
‘Helen?’ said John, touching his boss’s arm. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘It’s the suspect. He was in Sydney last night.’
‘Jesus Christ.’
Helen slammed her fist into the wall. ‘Goddamit!’

When characters speak, we get a sense that something’s happening. And there’s nothing I love more in a story than when stuff happens.

dialogue 2SYDNEY
Yes, the version with dialogue is a lot better. It’s concise. It does everything the scene needed. I agree with all your points about dialogue. Dialogue varies the texture of a story. It takes it from the internal world of the characters’ thoughts and feelings to the external world of dramatic interaction. Both have a role to play in narrative. The trick is to know when to use dialogue and when to use narrative (all those bits except the dialogue).

You know, I’ve assessed hundreds of manuscripts over the years and discovered that a lot of writers think dialogue is lively just because it’s dialogue. But it’s as dead as a nail if it isn’t used properly. It isn’t a substitute for narrative, for example.

My mother went to the window and said, ‘Oh look, a car’s just appeared at the end of our street. It’s grey and looks expensive. A man in a black suit is driving and another man is sitting in the backseat. I think it’s coming our way. The driver is saying something to the man in the backseat.’

That bit of narrative is best shown from the daughter’s POV, as long as it also includes something about how this car’s arrival advances the story.

And simple exchanges of info are out.

‘Hi, I’m Amy.’
‘Hi, Amy, I’m James. What can I do you for?’
‘I’m here to meet Amaranth. Is she available?’
‘I’ll just check. If you’ll sit over there, I’ll call her PA.’ James calls. ‘Yes, she’ll be down in five minutes. Can I get you tea or coffee?’
‘I’d love a foot massage.’
‘I’ll just call our foot masseuse. She’s in hot demand…’

Oops. I added in a bit of something unexpected to relieve the tedium of that kind of dialogue. This is how people talk in real life (bar the foot massage) but in narrative, dialogue is heightened and compressed.

JENNY
There are different kinds of dialogue. I quite like the efficiency of indirect dialogue, and it has its place in small doses.

Poppy said she didn’t trust me, that she’d never trusted me, that I was always looking for a way to undermine her position on the board.’

Then there’s direct dialogue, the most dramatic form. The reader listens in on a conversation.

Poppy said, ‘I know your game. Right from the start I pegged you for a snake and a back-stabber. This just proves how right I was. You never miss a chance, do you? Always working out ways to sink the boot in.’

I sometimes mix the two.

Poppy went on to list my faults as she saw them – I was arrogant, selfish and insensitive. ‘And you’re lazy too.’ Poppy’s face grew redder and redder. ‘You’re lazier than a cold lava flow.’

It’s a quick way to give the gist of a longer conversation.

One of the things I love about writing dialogue is that it’s not like normal speech. There’s no regret about the undelivered, clever line that’s remembered seconds too late. My characters are on the ball and there’s no insufferable small talk. And on dialogue tags? I use as few as possible, and am firmly in the said camp. Readers take in said almost subliminally, so it doesn’t intrude into the world of the story. Alternatives to said (muttered, laughed, crowed, whispered, repeated, etc) sound corny to me. I sometimes can’t resist a character snarling his lines, but baulk at adding an adverb. He snarled fiercely? Overkill. One way to avoid a speech tag is to follow the dialogue line with a beat, an action by the speaker that reinforces what he/she is saying.

Oh, and a pet hate of mine – trying to show accent or dialect by torturing the language! Much as I adored Wuthering Heights, I do so wish that Joseph’s broad accent had been conveyed with a carefully chosen Yorkshire word or two, instead of this. (and hallooing responsively is also out of fashion, thank God!)

- ‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’
- ‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively.
- ‘There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’ll not oppen ‘t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins till neeght.’
- ‘Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh, Joseph?’
- ‘Nor-ne me! I’ll hae no hend wi’t,’ muttered the head, vanishing.

And my Golden Rule for dialogue is the same for any other part of my writing. If it doesn’t move the plot forward, don’t do it!

SYDNEY
I so agree with you about Joseph in Wuthering Heights. I always laugh when he opens his gob. I think Emily Bronte was so infatuated with Yorkshire dialect that she couldn’t stop herself. I always think the best way to convey dialect or a foreign accent is through grammar and syntax. I have to say, though, some writers are good at dialogue and some are not. Those who aren’t tend to keep it to a minimum – which is right, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re ill-at-ease with it.

Kathryn Ledson is the author of Rough Diamond and Monkey Business (Penguin), part of the Erica Jewell series of romantic adventures. You can visit her website and find her blog at www.kathrynledson.com
Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She is currently writing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her at The Story Whisperer.

 

There’s still time to enter the Billabong Bend giveaway draw. Just leave a comment telling me about your favourite river. (Aust & NZ entries only)

BB14

Launch Of Billabong Bend + Giveaway!

Launch of BB 2Last Thursday evening at Readings Carlton (Melbourne) I was thrilled to launch my latest novel, Billabong Bend. Penguin publisher Sarah Fairhall did the introductions, and friend and fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson did a Q&A with me about the book. Here are Kath’s questions and a rough transcript of my answers.

First, please give us a quick run-down on what Billabong Bend is about.

Billabong Bend is a star-crossed love story between a floodplains farmer and a cotton grower, set in the heart of the NSW northern riverlands.
- For riverine farmer Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on Earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one wanting the land. When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the river, old feelings are rekindled and she thinks she has an ally. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a  nightmare.
- On one level, Billabong Bend is a novel about first love. That original, blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something bigger than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict it inevitably causes. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, you’re in for a real treat!

Your character Nina has some intriguing relationships and friendships with the ageing Eva, the child Sophie, a couple of blokes vying for her attention. But those she seems to treasure the most are with non-humans. In particular, there’s a passionate affair with a river. Can you tell us about that?

Launch of BB- I call Billabong Bend a star-crossed love story. But some people have called it more of a love triangle, between Nina, Ric and the river. I think there’s some truth in that. Nina is in love with the river that flows through the landscape of the novel. And no wonder. For a floodplains farmer like Nina, the river means life itself. She depends on it to flood, to overflow into the little dry creeks and billabongs, to revive and nourish her land.
- Without water lying on the floodplains once in a while, they die. That’s how they’ve evolved. As a fifth generation flood plains farmer, Nina has learned to live in harmony with the river’s ebbs and flows. It’s second nature to her.Thirsty cotton farms and their vast water allocations threaten more than the river. They threaten Nina’s whole way of life.

I was intrigued by the detail. The river really is a character in its own right. How do you know so much about the environment surrounding Billabong Bend?

- The idea for the book arose many years ago, during long, lazy days spent in the riverlands. I’ve always been an amateur naturalist, and there are also some wonderful books out there about the Murray-Darling Basin. The River by Chris Hammer comes to mind. But no amount of research beats time spent in a landscape. Reference books can’t buy you drinks at the bar and tell you stories. Statistics can’t show you the beauty of the river at sunrise.
- Last year I took some trips back up the Murray and saw for myself the changes wrought on habitats and wildlife by drought and low flows. I wanted to write about what I saw.

I love that Nina is her own woman. There’s a romance in this book – actually, more than one – but we get the sense that Nina doesn’t need any man. Do the men measure up?

- It’s true that she doesn’t need a man, and yes, the men don’t measure up, at least not in the beginning. Nina is fiercely self-sufficient, and inclined to try to do everything herself. Part of her character arc is learning to accept help, when it’s freely given for the right reasons. And part of Ric’s journey is to rediscover his roots, remember who he is, and what the river once meant to him. Only then might he become the man Nina wants. But he can never become the man she needs. Nina’s far too independent to let that happen!

Nina has a particular interest in a 9yo child called Sophie. How does Nina help bring Sophie out of herself and the house?

- Little Sophie is one of my favourite characters. She’s had a difficult life, growing up without her father or grandparents, being raised by a mother who suffers from depression and mental illness. When Sophie first comes to the farm she’s defiant and unhappy, spending all her time in front of the TV.
- Nina takes an interest in Sophie. After all, she’s a lonely little girl who loves animals, very much like Nina was at the same age.They connect through their mutual love of horses and the local wildlife, and of course Nina is eager to pass on her knowledge of Billabong Bend. In a way, Nina needs Sophie more than she needs anybody else in the book.

Launch of BB 3I suspect there’s a lot of Jennifer Scoullar in Nina. Is this true?

- Nina is far more practically competent than I am. She can service a tractor or use a rifle, just as easily as she can fix a pump or fly a plane. One thing we do both share however is a passion for rivers. Hardly surprising, since Billabong Bend was inspired by my own love for the northern riverlands, and for the Murray Darling basin in general.
- River stories are central to bush culture, and have been ever since the Murray-Darling was carved from a mythical landscape by the Rainbow Serpent. I’ve always been fascinated by the river’s place in literature, and I’ m in fine company. Rivers are revered by some of our finest writers.
- Mark Twain for example,  had a lifelong love affair with the Mississippi. And the great poet TS Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets

‘I do not know much about Gods: but I think the River
Is a strong brown God – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier,
Useful, untrustworthy as a conveyer of commerce;
T
hen seen only as a problem for the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown God is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever implacable,
Keeping her seasons and her rages, destroyer, reminder,
Of what men choose to forget.’

- Nancy Cato in her classic trilogy All The Rivers Run compared the Murray to ‘ a … dark stream of time which bears all living things from birth to death.’ Rivers are romantic, mysterious, dangerous, life-giving and achingly beautiful. I’ve tried to touch on some of these themes in my latest novel Billabong Bend.
(Thanks to Troy Hunter for the photos)

Leave a comment telling me about your favourite river, and go in the draw to win a copy of Billabong Bend! (Aust & NZ only) Competition closes June 23rd.

BB14

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Discussion Of ‘Place’ In Australian Rural Fiction

Willy Fest

Authors Margareta Osborn (top L), (bottom row L-R) Kathryn Ledson, me and Kate Belle (and star reader Ann Lee middle top!)

I was on a panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival yesterday. The theme was a sense of place. Here are a few thoughts on how place relates to rural fiction.

- In many novels, and particularly in rural novels, place (literal, geographical place) is one of the most powerful tools that a writer has. For me, setting stories in wild places allows me to strip away the civilised façade from my characters. In Currawong Creek for example, my main character is a young professional woman caught up in the career rat race. She has time to examine what she fundamentally wants from life when she goes bush.  In my new release Billabong Bend, a young man who’s been a drifter, comes home to the riverlands to confront his past and discover his roots. And by doing so he finds his future.
- Australian rural romantic literature written by women is not new. Quite the contrary, it’s steeped in tradition. From Henry Handel Richardson’s Fortunes Of Richard Mahoney, Nancy Cato’s All The Rivers Run through to Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds, the drama, difficulties and romance of the Australian bush has long been the stuff of great narrative tales. From the earliest days of white settlement, the bush was central to how we became Australian, how we identified ourselves as Australian.
BB High Res cover- During the second half of the twentieth century, the bush fell out of literary favour. We didn’t see ourselves as a bush people any more. We lived around the urban coastal fringe, and were urbane, cosmopolitan and civilised. Many popular books for women (chick lit) featured self-absorbed shopaholic characters in the Sex And The City mould. They lived in cities that were indistinguishable from each other.

But in the past decade the bush has once more loomed large in the literary landscape, and rural lit taps into this vein. Readers are craving a relationship to country, a connection to the land. They’re asking the age-old question – what is that makes us Australian? And the simple answer is, that we come from this place. That’s our identity – the continent itself. And especially that aspect of Australia that is different to other places. That doesn’t mean our cities. That means regional Australia. That means the bush.

And here are a few thoughts about my new book Billabong Bend. At one level it’s a novel about first love. That original, blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something more than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict that inevitably brings. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, then you’re in for a real treat! Billabong Bend is chock full of them!

BB14