Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Well, Christmas is over for another year. I’m always surprised by how enthusiastic I get about the day. We are fortunate here at Pilyara that we don’t have to go anywhere. The family comes to us. It means I prepare most of the food, but the trade-off is that we don’t have to pack up the car and drive for miles.

Xmas 2012 008My daughter H made a stunning assortment of Christmas cookies – real works of art. Here’s the very simple recipe for Christmas Truffles. They really are to die for!


  • 500g      light fruitcake, coarsely chopped
  • 100g      dark chocolate melts, melted
  • 60ml      (1/4 cup) brandy
  • 2 tbs      apricot jam
  • 250g      dark chocolate melts, extra
  • 60g      copha, chopped
  • 150g      white chocolate melts, melted
  • Red and      green glace cherries, finely chopped, to decorate (I used sprinkles in      holly leaf & berry shapes)
  1. Step 1

Place the cake in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the dark chocolate, brandy and jam. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or until slightly firm.

  1. Step 2

Line 2 large baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Stir the cake mixture. Roll 2-teaspoonful quantities of cake mixture into balls and place on the lined trays. Place in the fridge for 1 hour or until firm.

  1. Step 3

Place the extra dark chocolate and copha in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cook on High/800watts/100% for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.

  1. Step 4

Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Use a truffle dipper or fork to dip 1 truffle in the chocolate mixture to coat. Remove truffle, tapping the dipper or fork on the side of the bowl to shake off excess chocolate. Place on 1 lined tray. Repeat with remaining truffles and chocolate mixture. Set aside to set.

  1. Step 5

Spoon the white chocolate into a small sealable plastic bag. Cut 1 corner from the bag to make a small hole. Drizzle a little white chocolate over each truffle. Top with glace cherry (or, in my case, sprinkles) to decorate. Set aside until set.

Xmas 2012 007My son M on the other hand, was in charge of the cheese platter. Not to be outdone, he made a fortress of cheese cubes with turrets of crackers, mortared together with hummous. An interesting creation!

The day was one of fun and family; a fantastic conclusion to an exciting year. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my writing in 2012. I couldn’t have done it without you, and look forward to the continuing journey. Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and productive New Year!

Rough Diamond

Kathryn LedsonNow for a real treat – a guest blog by author Kathryn Ledson, talking about Rough Diamond, her debut release with Penguin Books. Kath and I have been mates for years, so I’ve been privy to the development of this marvellous new series, starring reluctant heroine, Erica Jewell. Now it’s over to Kath.

“Thanks Jen. Rough Diamond came to me in a flood of romantic scenes starring Erica Jewell and Jack Jones. By the seat of my pants and on the edge of my seat I poured love onto the page. And that, I thought, was all I had to do. I finished my manuscript – almost 120,000 words – and submitted it. Only then did I discover that something called a PLOT wouldn’t go astray.

Rough Diamond Front Cover FinalI’d already done a writing course; a pretty good one, in fact. But when I enrolled it hadn’t occurred to me that I might one day write a novel. I was a corporate gal. Surely I’d return to that world and carry on in a different career, one that involved writing?

At the end of 2008, when Erica Jewell announced herself and demanded my full attention, I felt I had no choice but to give her space to exist. That seems crazy – I understand that – but it’s true. Her desire to be was so powerful, so all-consuming, I rejected other writing opportunities in favour of getting this novel out of my head. The problem was that I hadn’t taken “How to Write a Novel” as part of that writing course. In other words, I had no idea what I was doing!

Rough Diamond was already a seed that had been planted back in the early ‘80s by a television show called Scarecrow and Mrs King starring Kate Jackson, fresh from Charlie’s Angels. Is anyone out there old enough to remember it? I recently bought Series One and started watching it again. It was really very corny as so many shows were in the ‘70s and ‘80s and I only watched one episode. But back then I’d loved it! It was my weekly escape. I’d imagine being (the widowed or divorced – can’t remember) Mrs King and having a dreamy looking (well, I thought so) tough guy whisk me into an exotic, sexy world of spies and espionage. Poor Mrs King was so daggy, turning up at black tie events in her cardy and sensible shoes, but the spy fell in love anyway and rescued Mrs King from the shelf by marrying her (which is what all women wanted). Of course, the wedding – the happily-ever-after – meant the death of the series, as it usually does.

Erica Jewell is a bit more fashionable than Mrs King, but no more competent in her efforts to assist Jack Jones and his team of vigilantes save Melbourne from terrorists. She does quite fancy Jack – he’s gorgeous of course – but she was put off men when her lying-cheating-bastard husband took off with some bimbo in a sports car (that’s Erica saying that, not me). And Jack himself is commitment phobic since he lost his wife and parents in New York on that fateful day in 2001. He is drawn to Erica – probably confused as to why – and there’s an ongoing dance of attraction between the two that I plan on drawing out for many books to come!

So far, so good. Emerald Island (no. 2) is well under way with Erica finding herself on dangerous turf in a war-ravaged land trying to find the missing-in-action Jones. He doesn’t want to be rescued by a woman, but she reckons she’s not leaving there without him. I’m not sure how it’ll all end up – surely there’ll be tears, spiders, some romance and … book 3?

NB: I’ve since had so many teachers – official and unofficial including great talents like Jen Scoullar – I finally kind of worked it out and managed to score a two-book deal with Penguin. I’m still learning today, though. I don’t think we should ever stop.”


Rough Diamond Front Cover Final“What I want in life makes a very short list: no debt, no surprises and definitely NO men. Except the ones at work and the mechanic and the ones who get the spiders out of your car.” Erica Jewell, Rough Diamond.

The shock ending to Erica Jewell’s marriage has left a huge hole in her bank balance and a bigger one in her heart. So now her life goals include no more men! That is, until she finds one bleeding to death in her Melbourne garden one stormy Friday night.

Jack Jones is a man whose emotional wounds are more life-threatening than the bullet in his shoulder. Under orders, he recruits Erica to his secret team of vigilantes, and Erica suspects her safe, predictable world is about to be turned upside down.  And she’s absolutely right.

Funny, romantic, and action-packed, Rough Diamond introduces Australia’s own Stephanie Plum – the unforgettable Erica Jewell.

Well thank you Kath, for telling us about the process that led you to write Rough Diamond. I’m always fascinated to hear these stories. Thanks also for the shout-out, but you didn’t need help from me. You’re a natural at this romantic comedy stuff! Looking forward to the rest of the series. If you’re after an entertaining summer read, I highly recommend Kathryn’s books. e-Rough Diamond was released by Penguin on 20 December. The physical book will be in store on 30 January 2013. Feel free to contact Kathryn via her new website:

Finally, I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and thanks so much for the support you’ve shown me. See you in the New Year!

The Next Big Thing

next-big-thingI’ve been tagged in “The Next Big Thing” by author Loretta Hill. She writes fabulous novels about strong, capable women and the men who love them, in rich Australian settings. I’m instructed to tell you all about my next book by answering these questions and then to tag another author to tell you about their Next Big Thing. So here I go!

What is the working title of your next book?

My next book is called Currawong Creek, and it will be released by Penguin in June 2013.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve been a foster parent for fifteen years, and am fascinated by the complicated relationship between carers, children and birth parents. I’m also a sucker for a handsome country vet! These interests come together in Currawong Creek.

What genre does your book fall under?

Rural romance/Commercial women’s fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

David WenhamNaomi Watts for Clare Mitchell, Isabel Lucas for Shannon Brown, a young David Wenham for Tom Lord and maybe Jack Thompson for Harry.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Brisbane lawyer Clare Mitchell becomes the unlikely carer of a little autistic boy, her life is turned upside down.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Currawong Creek will be published by Penguin, and is represented by Fran Moore of the Curtis Brown literary agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took me about a year to write Currawong Creek.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of direct comparisons with particular titles. The novel is chock full of dogs and horses though, so I’m sure that readers of Cathryn Hein and Rachael Treasure would thoroughly enjoy it.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The beauty of Queensland’s Bunya Mountains was my initial inspiration. I wanted to set a story there.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If you love kids, dogs, horses and the bush, you won’t go far wrong reading Currawong Creek.

Karly Lane 2I’ve tagged the lovely Karly Lane to tell you about her Next Big Thing on her blog next Wednesday 26th December. Karly is the best-selling author of North Star, Morgan’s Law and her new one, Bridie’s Choice. Can’t wait to hear what she has to say!


Bush Heritage Australia

Bush Heritage 1With Christmas fast approaching, I have a present suggestion. Why not a WILD gift from Bush Heritage Australia, an organisation committed to protecting Australia’s plants and animals and their habitats? One of the best ways to conserve land is to own it. Bush Heritage acquires land and water of outstanding ecological importance for Australia’s biodiversity and ecology. They also build partnerships with farmers to support conservation on privately owned land. Starting out with just two reserves in 1991, Bush Heritage now owns and manages more than a million hectares, in over 30 reserves around Australia.

Bush Heritage 2The WILD Gift concept is very cool, and makes a real difference to conservation in Australia. Each gift represents an area of Bush Heritage’s work on reserves right across the country. For ten dollars you can provide a warm, safe nesting box for endangered red-tailed phascogales. Forty dollars can help monitor the health of a threatened species, like the small but feisty Mulgara. My personal favourite is their Slice of the Outback gift. Twenty-five dollars can buy one hectare of native habitat, providing a safe haven for countless plants and animals. Every hectare makes a difference!

Brolga on Naree Station

Brolga on Naree Station

For each gift purchased, you’ll receive a beautiful gift card which you can send to a friend or relative, letting them know about the thoughtful contribution you’ve made on their behalf, and about the conservation successes they’re helping to achieve – plus you can add your own personal message. If you choose an electronic card, you have the further choice of opting that it be sent direct to the recipient on your behalf. As a giver, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re part of Bush Heritage’s big plans to rescue Australian wildlife and landscapes. All WILD gifts are tax deductible.



Penguin School of Popular Writing

90px-Penguin_logo_svgAnother wonderful learning opportunity for aspiring authors!

‘Have you ever wanted to write a work of popular fiction? Or wondered what goes on in the mysterious world of book publishing?

Penguin Books Australia is launching the Penguin School of Popular Writing, an exclusive one-day seminar for aspiring writers of commercial fiction. Learn from industry-leading insiders Ali Watts (Associate Publisher at Penguin), Carol George (from Penguin’s new digital imprint, Destiny Romance) and award-winning Australian authors Fiona McIntosh and Anne Gracie just what it takes to make a bestseller – and how you can write one yourself.

With a particular focus on Commercial Women’s Fiction, this will be an inspiring and informative day-long seminar for anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the book world.’

This exclusive one-day seminar is on Saturday 19 January 2013 at Penguin Books Australia, 707 Collins Street, Melbourne. For registration, booking information and fees visit Penguin School of Popular Writing.

A Sydney Smith Masterclass

sydney-smith_regularToday, Sydney Smith, author of The Lost Woman, visits Pilyara to talk about her love for plotting and structure. I attended one of Sydney’s masterclasses last year and cannot speak highly enough about her talents as a writing teacher. And now, it’s over to Sydney …

“Plotting and structure are two of my favourite aspects of narrative. I play plotting games with several of my writing friends, where we think up new and amusingly outlandish – or movingly dramatic – things for their characters to get up to. At the moment, I am writing a romantic comedy thriller called GUNS AND ANGELS, which arose out of one of these plotting games.

I have found over the years, both as a writer and as a reader, that certain things must be present if a plot is to involve the audience and create the forward momentum and dramatic highs that readers love. When a writer uses them, their story leaps off the page in a way it hadn’t before. It has a new energy, a new drive, a new depth. Writers feel it as we discuss these principles and how they relate to their particular story. I can see them feeling it – they write copious notes as we talk.

While I teach certain principles of plotting and structure, and give examples from the texts I set, my aim is always to show people how they relate to their own particular writing project. My approach is always hands-on. Theory is important, but theory only makes sense to me, and is most useful to the writer, when I show it in action in the writer’s own work.

Some writers come to me because they are stuck with their novel or memoir and don’t know how to unstick themselves. It is one of my most exhilarating tasks as a teacher to help them find ways to unstick themselves. This nearly always happens – either in class or in the one-on-one interview that is part of the package when people apply for one of my classes. The reason it nearly always happens is because the block the writer experiences has something to do with their plot and how character shapes plot. On the rare occasion that a writer can’t work through the block, it’s because the block lies somewhere outside the imagination. As long as the block lies within the imagination, it is related to plot or to character in their relationship to plot, and yields to the kind of attention the writer and I bring to it.

I am interested in good story. I accept writers of commercial and literary narrative in my classes because my focus is on good story – how to create it, how to maintain it. I can help people who have written a draft or two of their novel or memoir, and I can help people who have a few ideas about the story they want to write but haven’t put much on the page yet. The only requirement is The Lost Womanthat they have a fair amount of experience as a writer already. My classes are full-on.  Participants will benefit most when they have some writing experience under that belt. But since the criteria for this can vary from writer to writer, I put in place a selection process so that I can judge who will be able to make the most of my class.”

Thank you, Sydney. You are indeed a master plotter. I can’t wait for your next book! For those interested, Sydney’s next masterclass will be held in Melbourne 25th – 27th January. For more information you can contact her at


A Bush Christmas

MargaretaToday I have friend and fellow rural author Margareta Osborn as a guest here at Pilyara. She has just released A Bush Christmas, a festive novella and fantastic holiday read. I’m thrilled to announce that, following in the footsteps of her debut, Bella’s Run, A Bush Christmas has just hit number 1 on the ITunes charts!!! Congratulations Margareta! I’m hugely excited for you, and proud to be able to host you on this very special Sunday. And now, it’s over to Margareta …

‘And a lovely Sunday to you too, Jen. Thanks for inviting me to visit Pilyara. I’m delighted to be here to chat about Christmas. Specifically ‘A Bush Christmas’. When my publisher Beverly Cousins at Random House, Australia, rang to ask me could I write a novella about Christmas, I was absolutely chuffed because I LOVE Christmas. Well, I love anything to do with celebrations that involve presents. Christmas, Easter, birthdays … I adore them all. I’m a presentaholic. Seriously! And I don’t mind if I’m giving the gift or receiving it, I still get that same fission of pleasure.

A Bush Christmas Front CoverChristmas in the bush for the Osborn family always involves mountains of food, many presents (of course), everyone (who can be convinced) doing the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey and Here Comes The Bluebird followed by someone (nowadays my brother) having to dash off to milk the cows in a half inebriated state from the ‘cocktail of the day’. My sister, who lives in the Northern Territory, instigated this tradition. She arrives every second year having spent the entire previous two years deciding which cocktail will do the honours. We’ve had Fruit Tingles (lethal no. 1), Midouri Splice (it was a hot day), Blue Lagoon (shouldn’t have worn white), Jelly shots (lethal no. 2) and, my favourite, cowboy shots (refer to my novel, BELLA’S RUN!)

And that’s just the adults.

The children on the other hand, wake up to Santa’s white ‘snowy’ footsteps tromped through the house, upturned furniture, sleigh marks out on the gravel driveway and presents in all sorts of places including – one year – the oven. (I mean where else does Santa hide motorbike boots?!) The day continues with visits from a bicycle riding, lolly distributing Ms Santa Claus (wearing black gumboots and a red fluffy dressing gown). Great uncles and Grandfathers duly checking out the billy-lids bounty, followed by the scramble to get everyone (and their favourite haul for the morning) jammed in the Land Cruiser while mum (me) stresses over potato bakes, pavlovas and salads surviving the trip across the river to my father’s farm so we can continue the party. (My husband is usually to be found still in the paddock playing with the remote controlled car No. 2 son got as part of his loot.)

I should mention we do attend church the night before, sing carols and actually remember why we are celebrating Christmas. (ie. It’s actually not all about presents?!) After Mass we drive around the district taking in the spectacular Christmas lights adorning houses, gum trees, gateways, windmills, massive TV and radio antenna’s, dairies, and even the odd stack of hay bales. The occasional nativity scene appears in the headlights as well which all helps to remind us of the wonder and beauty Christmas (and indeed God) brings to our lives and reminds us of the true meaning of it all.

The week before we also have partaken in our local Christmas Tree, a custom that has been running here in our part of the bush for a century or so. My grandmother, mother and now my sister-in-law and I, have all taken our turn at welcoming Santa to the local hall to sing carols, hand out lollies and icy-poles to the districts kids. It’s a great yearly get-together for our community.

No 1 ITunesBut back to my novella, A BUSH CHRISTMAS

I had so much fun writing this little book, available to download from your e-book distributor for a couple of dollars. And you just might recognise the odd Christmas tradition from your own community, bush or otherwise. Give it a try and I hope you feel the spirit of the coming festive season brighten your life.’

From the author of Bella’s Run, a gloriously rural and hopelessly romantic Christmas novella.

Jaime Hanrahan does not want anything to do with Christmas this year.

 She’s just been retrenched, and if that wasn’t bad enough, this is her first Christmas without her beloved father Jack, who died last Boxing Day. 

Determined not to spend it with her mother, who has already remarried, and her friends, who still have six-figure jobs, she jumps at the chance to house-sit a mansion in rural Burdekin’s Gap.

 Two problems. 

Number one, the property comes with a handsome station manager, Stirling McEvoy, who doesn’t take kindly to a city chick destroying his peace. Especially when she needs rescuing from stampeding cattle, falling Christmas trees and town ladies wielding catering lists and tablecloths.

 And two, in Burdekin’s Gap there’s no chance of escaping the festive season. For the town has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas – big time, BUSH style!

Includes an extract from Margareta’s upcoming novel, Hope’s Road.

Link to download A BUSH CHRISTMAS (in a variety of formats)

Many thanks for sharing your family Christmas traditions with us, Margareta. Thanks also for telling us about A Bush Christmas. Wishing a very merry Christmas to you and yours. xx