Release of Brumby’s Run

With the release of Brumby’s Run just a few hours away, I’ve decided to give this blog over to some shameless self-promotion. For those of you in south-east Victoria, the regional launch of Brumby’s Run will be at the Stockyard Gallery in Foster on Friday 6th July, courtesy of Foster’s Little Bookshop. The launch will be held as part of the Twilight Author Talks series, and I’m in fine company! The other three authors in July are Helene Young (popular romantic suspense author), Margareta Osborn (fellow rural author) and Sydney Smith (well-known writing mentor and debut author of a fine memoir)

TWILIGHT AUTHOR TALKS

July 6th - Jennifer Scoullar’s first novel ‘Wasp Season’ had its regional launch at one of the first Twilight Author talks we ran.  It is with very great pleasure that we also launch Jennifer’s second book ‘Brumby’s Run’.  Jennifer is an author of rural and environmental fiction.  She lives on a property overlooking the Bunyip State Forest in West Gippsland and has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Her first novel ‘Wasp Season’, an environmental thriller was officially launched at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival in 2008.  In May of this year she was writer-in-residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.  ‘Brumby’s Run’, her second novel will be released by Penguin July 2nd.

Bookings can be made at Foster’s Little Bookshop by phone 5682 2089 or by email flb@virtual.net.au .  Cost is $22 per head which includes a glass of wine and finger food.  The Twilight Talk sessions are held at the Stockyard Gallery from 5.30pm to 7.00pm each Friday evening in July.  Numbers will be limited so book early

Brumby’s Run will also receive a grand metropolitan christening.

Acclaimed novelist Andrea Goldsmith will launch Brumby’s Run at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. The venue is The Cube at 2.30 pm Saturday 25th August. All welcome!

 

I have received some lovely early reviews. Here are the links!

http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/brumbys-run

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/343262394

Back in Oz!

I’m back in Australia after a fantastic six week overseas trip spanning Ireland, Scotland and England – a month writing at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a trip to the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh, Stonehenge, Bath and London. But I must admit that I’m so happy to be back. It  is true what they say … home is where the heart is.  I missed the family a lot. My son T turned seventeen while I was away, and I had a serious attack of the guilts over that. Everybody rallied around however, and gave him a terrific birthday, with a home made Nigella Lawson, double-chocolate birthday cake.

But if anything, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more homesick for my animals than my family. I almost kidnapped a dog from outside a shop! It is wonderful to go around Pilyara, reintroducing myself to the dogs, the cats, the cows, the sheep, the horses and the ponies. Even the chooks seemed pleased to see me! My special dog, Teddy (yes, I do have a favourite) can’t stop smiling and is back on his blanket beside my bed as I write this. Of all the beautiful places I’ve seen overseas, nothing surpassed the beauty found in my own backyard.

The advance copies of Brumby’s Run arrived while I was overseas, so I was the last in the family to hold one. It was funny and frustrating having people send me photos of my own book! The official release date of July 2nd is fast approaching, and Penguin have sent me a daunting list of pre-publicity events, starting tomorrow with an interview for Stock and Land. I’m pretty nervous, but all my writer friends assure me this sort of thing is fun. I hope they’re right!

Farewell to Annaghmakerrig

My month-long writing retreat at the beautiful Tyrone Guthrie Centre has come to an end. This morning I boarded a bus, along with fellow Australian, Ross Donlon,(an amazing poet by the way!) and took a bus to Dublin. I’m writing this post in the shadow of Christchurch Cathedral, one of Dublin’s greatest landmarks, built after the arrival of Christianity in the 13th century

It’s hard to put into words the effect of my stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. On the writing front, I added 25,000 words to my manuscript. Not a huge jump in word count, but the dedicated time available to just mull, has set the novel on firm foundations. I know where I’m heading. The rest will be easy. What was more remarkable, and heartwarming, was the way the people of Annaghmakerrig embraced me, and I them. There was a kind of unbridled joy and enthusiasm about the place – a daily celebration of the creative human spirit. It was paradise, and I’ve made friendships that I hope might last a lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with listening to Irish accents all day either!

First dayBut it was time to leave my Shangri-la. Time to leave Tyrone Guthrie, that mystical, harmonious artist retreat isolated from the outside world. I hope one day I’ll be back. Here are two photos of the same magnificent oak tree that stood outside my window.

 

 

Last dayOne photo was taken on my arrival, and the other today. The tree is a metaphor for my time there, my imagination unfurling along with the leaves.

The Magical Friesian

The true value and beauty of a retreat like Tyrone Guthrie is in the friendships formed. There is nothing more inspiring than living and working among a group of creative, like-minded people. You get to know a bit about everybody else’s projects. We’ve had readings after dinner. Some of the talented visual artists have invited the rest of us on tours of their studios. I’m like the cat that ate the cream here.

Remarkably for a horse-mad soul like myself, there’s also been a bit of an equine theme rippling through the big house. Lots of people have horses, and the breed of choice seems to be Friesians – those stunning jet-black fairy-tale horses so beloved of film makers. Now I must confess I’ve only ever seen one of these horses in the flesh. He lives in a paddock near my house, back home in Australia. Every time I drive by, I check to see whether he’s there or not. If I’m in luck, and have the time, I pull over and stalker-like, admire the stallion from afar. They really are that charismatic.

Friesians have an ancient and proud history. Their strength and size made them excellent war horses.The Friesian horse is well known for its beauty, shining black coat, luxuriant mane, tail and feathering, and powerful, high-stepping gait. It is also beloved for its easy-going temperament and companionable nature. I had read that whether competing in upper level dressage tests, performing on the carriage driving circuit or just going for a trail ride, these horses quickly become members of the family. The besotted Friesian owners I’ve met here, swear all this is true. One woman described her horse as being ‘like a big Labrador dog’ . Although apparently that magnificent mane and tail can take two hours to shampoo and condition, and the mane must remain almost permanently braided to prevent tangles.

Friesians are natural show horses and have been featured in many movies including “Ladyhawke,” “Mask of Zorro,” “Interview with a Vampire,” “Sense and Sensibility,” Emma,” and “Disney’s-Tall Tales.” Many have credited the 1985 movie Ladyhawke where Michelle Pfeiffer rides the gorgeous Friesian stallion Goliath, as being a major influence on the breed’s popularity. In the 2004 movie Alexander (starring Colin Farrell) an amazing Friesian stallion was selected to play Alexander the Great’s legendary horse Bucephalus.

In my dreams I imagine myself riding one of these magical animals. The image is certainly in keeping with the mythic surroundings of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Despite his size and strength, my dream stallion can dance with the grace of a ballerina. Maybe when I make my fortune I’ll buy one? Or maybe I should just stick to Australian stock horses. Their manes require just one quick comb through, and you’re done. And anyway, I wouldn’t want Sheba getting jealous …

Irish Wildlife – Past and Present

European RobinThe Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig is set on a five hundred acre estate, consisting mainly of coniferous plantation forest (Sitka Spruce) but with some pasture and remnant native woodland as well. There are white swans on the lake (I’m used to black ones!) and swathes of bluebells as far as the eye can see. The wood is very dark, like something out of Macbeth. I’ve seen Red Deer on its edge, but unfortunately have yet to see a badger or pine marten.

I’ve been intrigued to see what wildlife lives here. Birds abound. Species spotted so far include: Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Jackdaw, Rook, Magpie, Common Swift, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Song Thrush, European Robin (Robin Redbreast) and what I think was a Eurasian Kestrel. A little thrush is singing in a tree outside my window as I write this post, and it rivals Australia’s Butcher Bird for the beauty of its song. I haven’t mentioned birds which I commonly see back home as introduced species, such as blackbirds and sparrows. The very first bird I saw at Dublin Airport was disturbingly an Indian Myna, a destructive invasive species worldwide, but thankfully they don’t seem to have reached this far into the Irish countryside.

As I wander about this beautiful estate, watching for wildlife, I am aware of what is missing, almost as much as what is present. Once upon a time this was a vast oak woodland. Grey wolves and brown bears roamed, along with elk, beavers and lynx. Six bird of prey species have gone extinct here, although attempts are being made to reintroduce the Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite into nearby national parks. Only twenty-six land mammal species were ever native to Ireland, because it was isolated from the European mainland by rising sea levels after the last ice age. Many of those that have survived are now under threat from invasive species, habitat loss and illegal hunting. Wherever I go in the world, the presence of our lost creatures seems very real to me. Maybe ghosts haunt more than houses.

Annaghmakerrig

Here I am in Ireland, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a renowned, creative residential retreat on the shores of beautiful Lake Annaghmakerrig. The magical Victorian Big House, as it’s affectionately known, sleeps eleven people. Over the years, outbuildings and barnyards have been converted into further workspaces and studios, so that there is plenty of space for artists of all kinds. Composers and playwrights, painters and poets, novelists and film makers - they all come together at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. The only rule is that you attend dinner each night in the grand dining room, along with your fellow artists.

I’m on the first floor in a spacious room named after John Jordan. Jordan (1930-88) was a writer, poet, lecturer, broadcaster and man-of-letters in the Dublin of his day. The room is elegance personified, and overlooks the lake. It’s easy to write here, surrounded by so much beauty and history. Unfortunately the first few days of my stay were marred by a very modern problem. Flanagan, my HP Folio Ultrabook bought especially for the trip, packed up on the second day. HP support diagnosed a faulty motherboard over the phone. It was still under warrantty, being only four weeks old and I supposed If I could get it to Dublin, their technicians could repair it. No dice. That apparently would void the warranty, so I have to lug this useless thing back to Australia with me and get it fixed there. Two days writing lost and some frayed nerves, but thanks to Dropbox,  I could retrieve most of my manuscript. I made the six hour round trip into Dublin yesterday to buy a new laptop (Paddy) that I could ill afford. When Flanagan gets fixed I’m selling him. Some false friend he turned out to be. Anybody in the market for a cheap HP Ultrabook still under warranty? They’re great for travelling apparently!

A very talented young painter and photographer, Nina Panagopoulou, joined me on my trip into Dublin yesterday. She wanted to buy paints and canvases. The photo of the lake at the top of this post, and this one of the house, are both hers. Don’t you love the lamp post? Very Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. You certainly meet some gifted people here …

Nina was born in 1984 in Athens. She took drawing and music lessons from an early age, and attended the musical high school of Pallini in Greece, with the piano as her instrument. Then she decided that painting was what she really wanted to do. She studied Fine Arts at the University of Ioannina, and completed successfully her Masters in Fine Arts at the University for the Creative Arts in Kent. Nina has travelled in England, Ireland, France, Italy and Spain and she speaks fluent Greek, French and English. She has participated in exhibitions in Greece and UK. At the moment she is attending a residency in Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland in order to create a series of paintings.

www.art-nina.blogspot.com

nina.panagopoulou@gmail.com

(3) Plan B – The Conference Pitch

Last week I told the story of how I found my dream agent. Problem was, I still didn’t have my dream contract with a major publisher. Maybe my agent could use a little help? A writer friend of mine, fellow rural author Margareta Osborn, had asked me to go with her to the Romance Writer’s Conference in Melbourne.

‘I don’t write category romance,’ I said.

‘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 editors. Not just any editors, but key industry professionals like Beverley Cousins of Random House, Annette Barlow of Allen & Unwin and Belinda Byrne, a commissioning editor at Penguin’.

‘Really?’ I said, my ears pricking right up.  ‘Editors?’ Now, all I needed was a novel to knock their socks off. I already had two manuscripts with Curtis Brown. 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. I could only try. Thus Brumby’s Run was born. I wrote and wrote, revising as I went, and had a polished first draft just in time for the conference.

Belinda ByrneI scored pitch sessions with Bernadette Foley of Hachette and Belinda Byrne. I agonised over my pitch, practised ad nauseum and was sick with nerves. The five minute pitches were reduced to three minute pitches. Not much time to impress anybody. Then the moment arrived for that long walk into the room, and I was the one who wound up being  impressed. Both editors were so friendly and natural, and did everything they could to put me at ease. And best of all, both of them took my three chapters and synopsis.

Ten days passed without word, so I sent out polite reminders. Far from being annoyed, they both asked for the full manuscript. Then, after several encouraging emails from Belinda, she asked to meet me, and in October 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. My agent was happy too, cheerfully returning emails once again and launching into contract negotiations with great gusto. And the rocky road to publication was suddenly an easy, downhill run.

 

Heading for Ireland on Monday, to take up a month-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Soooo … my next post will be from the Emerald Isle. Pretty amazing, huh? (I’m almost jealous of myself!)