In Praise of Paddock Trees

Paddock trees 2Picturesque paddock trees, providing shade and shelter for stock and wildlife alike, are an iconic image of rural Australia. We’ve all seen sheep and cattle seeking protection from the baking summer sun, under the spreading boughs of a lone gum tree. Such old-growth giants can be centuries old, the last survivors of long-vanished  forests. They will not last forever though. Thousands have been lost recently in Victoria’s Wimmera, for example. It’s important to properly appreciate their value, so we can protect those we have, and replace those we’ve lost.

Paddock Trees 3Paddock trees are much more than a shady spot for stock to camp under. They provide vital information about what existed prior to massive landscape change – genes, local provenance, microbial communities, soil fungi etc. They act as wildlife corridors, and help to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems. They form a leaf-litter layer for insects to live in. They provide forage, roosts and hollows for bats, birds, possums and koalas.

Buloke Red Tailed Black Cockatoostrees, for example, are the preferred food tree for endangered south-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, but less than two percent of this important food species remains. It takes a hundred years for a Buloke (a type of casuarina) to provide a decent feed, and they are not being replaced at a high enough rate to support Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos into the future. Click here to find out more about a wonderful recovery project aimed at protecting these magnificent birds.

Paddock trees 4Paddock trees also reduce erosion and salinity, enrich soils and provide a seed source for regeneration – the benefit list goes on and on. If these trees continue to disappear, future generations will inherit a vastly different landscape. Landholders, governments … all of us who own or care for paddocks, must rise to the challenge of reversing tree loss in grazing and cropping landscapes, whether the result of active clearing or simple neglect. Old growth paddock trees have taken hundreds of years to grow. They cannot be replaced in a person’s lifetime – we need to protect what remains while we can.

BB2013_Nominee

The Importance Of Author Identity

cross blogWelcome to my first joint cross-blog, which offers tips on writing, with particular emphasis on the romance genre. Every month, authors Kathryn Ledson, Sydney Smith and I will get together to discuss some aspect of the writing craft. These posts will be concise, to allow room for discussion with our readers. We welcome your questions and comments; feel free to respond on this page.

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.

This month’s topic for discussion is:

Romance is a huge genre. What do you advise writers to do to get their novel noticed by editors and readers?

VoiceKathryn: VOICE gives an author’s work a unique flavour. Like a fingerprint, the writer’s voice, however similar it may sound to others, and however much others might mimic it, is pure and unique. But without the writer’s PASSION, voice alone may be weak and bland. Passion breaks through the monotony of stories built on formula and shines a spotlight on that author’s work. In novel writing, my passion for humour and action in stories emerges almost without my permission. As a young child I adored adventure stories, reading everything Enid Blyton and Elyne Mitchell could produce. Through television and film I discovered my sense of humour. Even as a child I understood that irony (for me) is the funniest form of humour. So it’s not really a surprise that adventure and irony feature in my romance stories. My character and her actions give them form, which in turn gives my voice its strength and individuality. And this ultimately gives me, the author, a distinctive identity.

Jennifer: I agree with Kathryn that a distinctive identity is important to any author, especially a genre author. There are two aspects to this – one is voice, and the other is branding. Developing a unique voice is an organic process. It’s more than style, or vocabulary choice, or the decision to write in first or third person. It’s the authentic expression of you on the page – your feelings, dreams, passions and fears showing through in the words that you write. It takes courage to write so honestly, and not hide behind a derivative mask. But it’s worth it, because a truly original voice will always attract attention.

brandBranding is more strategic, but it still evolves from who you are on the inside. An important aspect of my novels, for instance, is a passion for nature. This became my brand, my point of difference, as my editor calls it. We all have a personal brand; it’s just a matter of recognising it. Romance is a crowded marketplace. Your brand will make you stand out from the pack, help you market your writing and attract a readymade readership of people who identify with your particular sub-genre.

Sydney: It’s interesting that both of you identify passion as an essential ingredient. Passion for the story you are writing, passion for your characters, your themes, passion for the things you want to communicate to readers about your concerns as writers – Jennifer for nature, and Kathryn who loves humour and adventure, which is as legitimate a concern as anything. The writer’s passion speaks clearly to the reader and helps to get them involved in the story. Other things have to be there to hold the reader’s attention, but passion is as essential as technical skill.

What do readers think? Do you like reading about certain themes? Or a certain kind of romance (adventure, comic, mystery? They come in so many hybrids.) What attracts you to a particular novel in a genre?

BB2013_Nominee

Phillip Island’s Penguins – A Conservation Success Story

Penguin Parade 1Recently I spent some time with my brother Rod, who lives on Phillip Island in Victoria. We went to see the Penguin Parade at Summerlands Beach, something I haven’t done for years. (Considering who my publisher is, it’s no wonder I love penguins!) This parade has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1920’s. Each night at sunset Little Penguins (commonly known as Fairy Penguins) return to shore after a day’s fishing. They surf in, then waddle up the beach to the safety of their homes in the sand dunes. At this time of year they also have chicks to feed. Visitors can watch the world’s smallest penguins from viewing stands and boardwalks without disturbing them. It is a fascinating glimpse into the secret life of a penguin colony. The conservation history of this colony is equally as fascinating.

Penguin Parade 4The first inhabitants of Phillip Island were the aboriginal Bunurong tribe based around Western Port. They lived in harmony with the island’s penguins for many thousands of years. Over the last century of European settlement however, nine of the ten penguin breeding sites on Phillip Island disappeared. The last remaining rookery was on Summerlands Peninsula, on the edge of a residential subdivision. In 1985 the Victorian government made a far-sighted decision – in order to protect the penguins, further development of the subdivision would be prohibited and all the existing properties would be progressively purchased by the state.

Removal of house from Summerland Estate

Removal of house from Summerland Estate

So began a twenty-five year effort to protect the Little Penguins of Summerland Peninsula. In June 2010 the government announced that the buy-back programme was complete. All houses on the estate had been removed or demolished. The land was revegetated and added to the Phillip Island Nature Park. As well as being a loveable icon for Victoria, the Penguin Parade generates $100 million dollars per year through tourism. What a perfect example of balancing the economy with the need to protect our environment!

BB2013_Nominee

The Writing Process Blog Hop: Writers Reveal Their Process

Writing process 1It’s great to be taking part in this blog hop on The Writing Process. Thanks to the lovely Pamela Cook for tagging me. If you missed Pamela’s post last week you can find it here. Pamela is the author of Blackwattle Lake and Essie’s Way, published by Hachette. Apart from writing, Pamela is a teacher and mother of three gorgeous daughters. She also manages a menagerie of dogs, rabbits, birds, fish and horses and her favourite pastime (after writing) is riding her handsome quarter horse, Morocco.

Essie's Way coverPamela lives in the southern suburbs of Sydney and spends as much time as possible at her “other” home in Milton on the south coast of NSW. Being a country girl at heart and spending so much of her time around horses enticed Pamela to “write what you know” and she’s more than happy to now be a writer of Rural Fiction. Connect with Pamela via her Website, Twitter or Facebook.

And now for my own responses to The Writing Process questions:
1)   What am I working on?
I’m finishing copyedits for Billabong Bend, a star-crossed love story set in the riverlands. It will be released by Penguin in May of this year. My current work-in-progress is a novel set in cane country, near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. See my early attempt at a blurb below.

cane fieldsUnlucky-in-love zoologist Zoe King has given up on men. Moving from Sydney to the small sugar town of Kiawa means a fresh start and she is charmed by the region’s beauty – by its rivers and rainforests. By its vast cane fields, sweeping from the foothills down to the rocky coral coast.  And by its people – its farmers and fishermen, unhurried and down to earth, proud of their traditions.

Her work at the Sea-Life Centre provides all the passion she needs and Zoe finds a friend in Bridget, the centre’s director. So the last thing she expects is to fall for her boss’s boyfriend, sugar cane king Quinn Cooper. When animals on the reef begin to sicken and die, Zoe’s personal and professional worlds collide. She faces a terrible choice. To protect the reef must she betray the man she loves?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Like Pamela Cook I write rural fiction, currently a very popular genre. The main point of difference with my novels is a passion for the plants, animals and birds of the bush. This shines through in authentic stories set in Australia’s magnificent wild places, with various environmental themes at their heart.

3)   Why do I write what I do?
I’ve always enjoyed a deep affinity with nature, and I channel my passion for the environment into my books. The natural world is full of drama, risk and exquisite beauty – perfect fodder for a novelist! I also enjoy an old-fashioned love story. For me, a good romance is not just about two people falling for each other. The original, medieval concept of a romance always involved a quest, and I think a modern one should too – it is the heroine’s search for herself. For until a character discovers her authentic core, she can’t genuinely connect with another person. So I like to show a woman coming into her strength and fullness as a human being.

4Save the Cat 2)   How does my writing process work?
I’ve written six novels now, and am beginning my seventh. My first manuscript took more than two years to write. Of course you don’t know quite what you’re doing with a first novel, but you learn a lot about the craft along the way. Once I was published I had to be more practical about my process in order to meet deadlines. Although I’m a pantster at heart, I now plan a lot more, using a loose, three act structure. This plan is flexible however, and doesn’t prevent the story from evolving organically. With my new novel I plan to write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. Let’s see how I go!

Next week three wonderful writers share their thoughts on the writing process:

Kate Belle is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter and a menagerie of neurotic pets. Her first book, The Yearning, was released in 2013 to rave reviews. Her second, Being Jade is due for release in June 2014 (Simon & Schuster Australia). She blogs regularly at The Ecstasy Files and as a guest to whoever will have her.
Blog/website: http://www.ecstasyfiles.com
Facebook:      http://www.facebook.com/katebelle.x
Twitter:  @ecstasyfiles https://twitter.com/ecstasyfiles
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6572571.Kate_Belle
The Reading Room: http://www.thereadingroom.com/kate-belle/ap/2394119

Kathryn Ledson has worked as a PA in the corporate world, for Hayman Island’s PR team, and as Peter Ustinov’s PA during his Australian tour. She has also been on the road with rock bands Dire Straits and AC/DC. She now works as a freelance editor, but her passion is writing popular fiction for Penguin. She is the author of Rough Diamond and the newly released Monkey Business. Connect with Kathryn via her Website , Facebook or Twitter

A.C. Flory is an Australian indie science fiction writer who is a master of world building. The questions she asks most are why and why not? I love that her writing is not human-centric. In her first published novel Vokhtah, the characters are entirely alien, deeply observed and intriguing. It is the first book of a trilogy and I look forward to the rest of the series. She has also published a fabulous collection of short stories set at the end of the 21st century called The Vintage Egg (Postcards From Tomorrow). Connect with A.C. Flory via her website, Facebook or Twitter.

Congratulations to Karen Stalker for winning a signed copy of Currawong Creek in the Australia Day prize draw, and thanks to everybody else for entering! Karen, I’ll send you an email shortly.

BB2013_Nominee