Meet Leisl Leighton

Today I’d like to introduce you to Aussie author Leisl Leighton, a fellow horse lover! Leisl is a tall red head with an overly large imagination.

A voracious reader and born performer, she has had a career as an actor, singer and dancer, as well as script writer, stage manager and musical director for cabaret and theatre restaurants. She writes rural romatic suspense and paranormal romance. President of Romance Writers of Australia from 2014-2017.


ROMANTIC SUSPENSE, VICTORIAN ALPS & HORSE RIDING

All my published novels so far have rural settings, mostly in mountainous or farmland regions, and the only explanation I can give is that I feel so at home where there are hills and mountains and, if I’m very lucky, snow.

When I was younger, my family holidays were mostly to the snow or going down to Merricks, near Red Hill, or up to Marysville, but some of my most memorable holidays have been ones where there have been trips into mountainous regions, and even better, if there is horse riding involved.

When I was nine, I started having horse riding lessons. I was by no means a natural, but I loved horses and I desperately wanted to be able to ride proficiently, with the hope I might have a horse one day. That particular dream never eventuated, but the horse-riding lessons led into some of my most memorable holidays.

It started when a family friend who also loved horses, the bush and horse riding, took me on a 5-day horse riding trek from Omeo through the Victorian Alpine region when I was thirteen. We rode along the high plains and down into the valleys, across rivers and back up again, staying in stockman’s huts and old woolsheds. I skinned rabbits, avoided snakes, survived sleeping in a shed with spiders as big as my face, and it was amazing and exhilarating and tiring and so much fun I still remember it vividly to this day. My sister was always a little jealous she didn’t get to come with me and our family friend, so mum and dad decided to enrol us in a horse riding camp down near Anglesea where we got to ride through the state forest and learn to look after the horses. We rode through heat and torrential rain, cold so profound that it snowed and we loved every moment. We did this every year through high school, and it had such a profound effect on me, that my husband thought it the perfect place to propose to me. He sneakily organised a special ride with just us and a stop in a lovely scenic place so he could pop the question. So romantic!

But I digress. Years after we finished high school and stopped going to the camps, my sister and I wanted to experience horse riding through the bush again. She particularly wanted to do a ride through the Victorian Alps and the family friend who had taken me all those years ago was keen to come with us too.

We found a place near Merrijig up near Mt Buller that took people on different length horse treks. Riding up Mt Stirling to Craig’s Hut and then down into the Howqua Valley and around Mt Buller. Staying in some of the famous old sheep yard flats and camping every night. It was a four day trek and we had the time of our lives. Out of touch with civilization – no phone signal for most of the time, which was really very relaxing. Riding hard all day through gorgeous mountain country. Setting up a tent every night with every muscle aching. Falling asleep in the cold autumn nights to wake to the kind of fresh you don’t get anywhere else. We are keen to go again.

Walhalla

It was on this trek that I started having an idea about a suspense novel set in an alpine region on a horse-riding stud. The idea bloomed and grew and before I knew it, I was writing a coming home novel with growing suspense and a hot and feisty romance. That book turned into Climbing Fear. It’s set near the small ex-goldmining town of Walhalla at the southern end of the Victorian Alps – a charming place I visited years ago when tour managing a theatre restaurant show around the La Trobe Valley.  I poured all my love of the alpine region and the knowledge gained from my horse riding treks into the story. I hope the reader gets an amazing sense of the beauty of the Victorian Alps and the joy I feel when I leave civilisation behind on the back of a horse, seeing our gorgeous bush in a way that our early settlers did (although obviously not as hard as they had it!) I also hope they find Nat and Reid’s journeys home to discover themselves and each other, as fascinating and visceral as the setting.

Climbing Fear

A Coalcliff Stud novel—His beloved home is under threat, and with it the beautiful, haunted woman he’s never been able to forget …

X-Treme TV sports star Reid Stratton has everything—until his best friend falls to his death on a climb while shooting their show. In the fierce media fallout, Reid begins to question everything about himself. Crippled by a new fear of climbing, Reid returns to CoalCliff Stud, his family’s horse farm, to recover.

Single mother Natalia Robinson is determined to start afresh, away from the shadow of her past. A job at CoalCliff Stud where she lived as a child is the perfect opportunity to live the quiet life she always wanted. But she is unprepared to see Reid, and is even more unprepared for the passion that still burns between them.

But after a series of menacing events threaten the new home she is trying to build, Nat realises that Reid is the only person she can rely on to keep her and her daughter safe. Together, Reid and Nat must face the pasts that haunt them if they are to survive the present and forge a future of hope.

Climbing Fear is available at iTunes, AmazonKobo and Google Play

Dangerous Echoes: Book 1 of the Echo Springs Series
iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, Amazon

Or you can buy the four book series, Echo Springs in paperback at Big W, Kmart and online at Angus&Robertson, Booktopia, The Nile, Boomerang Books, Dymocks

If you’d like to know more about Leisl, her books, or connect with her online, you can visit her webpage, follow her on twitter @LeislLeighton or like her Facebook page.


 

Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

Meet Jenn J McLeod

Today I’d like you to meet Jenn J McLeod, a dear friend of mine and a marvellous rural Aussie author. She is a real-life nomad, living on the road, and spinning fabulous stories about our vast and unique country. Now, over to Jenn! 🙂


Thanks Jen. We have so much in common (besides a great moniker and a hotel named after us in Mt Gambier!): We are both wildlife warriors (and animal advocates in general) and we both love the land.

As Australia’s nomadic novelist (on the road fulltime since 2014 in a purple and white caravan named Myrtle the Turtle) I am constantly discovering new things and being inspired by the remarkable contrast and the vastness of this country.

Landscape has always been a big part of my small-town fiction and I like to put as much love into my settings as I do my characters. But it was my 5th novel – A Place to Remember — that became a turning point for me. In fact, if an author of women’s fiction is allowed an opus, A Place to Remember would be mine. (A sprawling multi-generational romantic saga about two women—a mother and a daughter—who discover love on the same central Queensland cattle station three decades apart.)

So many things guided me to write this story, starting with a lovely couple we met on the road in 2014 who said, “Come and stay on our property in Qld. We have lots of room”. So we did, and I now truly believe two things: we all have travel ‘guides’ (and I don’t mean Lonely Planet); and that people come into our lives for a reason.
The Barrett family from Henderson Park Farm Retreat (near Yeppoon) had expected we’d stay a month. We stayed three! Camped – literally – in a paddock, I got to listen to the family’s many stories by night. Then each day, amidst the sights, sounds and smells of the country, I wrote like a crazy person. When we finally drove away (with the clanking of a big chain and padlock behind us—only joking, I think!) I had a completed draft of A Place to Remember—an epic tale of love lost and found—and for the next 18 months I reworked the storyline with those Henderson Park ‘guides’ sitting on my shoulder, prompting me, and helping me imagine I was still on the land that inspired the story. I will always be grateful to the Barrett family who welcome my visits every year.
We have a huge country crying out for sprawling stories set on equally sprawling cattle stations. Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds, three decades ago) was my introduction to Aussie authors writing in this romantic saga genre, and beautifully woven throughout her storytelling is the harshness of the setting that is Drogheda. I wanted to do the same, so I created Iron Pot Hill Farm Retreat, using Henderson Park’s ancestors as my muse.
This land of ours is so big and beautiful and different every day if we choose to look at the detail—the big, the small, the beautiful, the special, the crazy! I love it all. And so the journey continues. I’m happy to stay nomadic for a while yet, to keep writing stories, and ticking places off the bucket list.

And if you’d like to see the inspirational landscape and characters (including Ava’s cottage, John’s horse, Paddy, and Coco the dog) follow the link to my Author Inspiration Photo Album: https://www.jennjmcleod.com/hpk/

In 2017, the rights for A Place to Remember were bought by a UK Publisher, Head of Zeus, and by the same person who acquired The Thorn Birds thirty years earlier. She saw something special in the landscape and the story, too, and for that reason Henderson Park Farm Retreat (www.hendersonpark.com.au) will always be a place to remember for me.


Jenn J McLeod moved to the Coffs Coast in 2004 and operated a Sawtell cafe and a B&B before selling everything in 2014 to live a nomadic life in a caravan she calls Myrtle the Turtle. Jenn is best known for her Seasons Collection of stories – four life-affirming tales of friendship, family, and contemporary country life, including the bestselling House for all Seasons. Her fifth novel, A Place to Remember, can be ordered in print through bookshops, as an e-book, and in audio. (Just ask your library to add it to their catalogue.)

You can connect with Jenn online where she wastes good writing time posting travel pics and having fun on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @jennjmcleod_nomadicnovelist
www.jennjmcleod.com 


Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

 

Meet Mary-Anne O’Connor

Today I’d like to introduce Aussie author Mary-Anne O’Connor. I was thrilled to discover that Mary-Anne is the daughter of my favourite Australian landscape painter, Kevin Best. I have his glorious prints all over my house! 🙂 So it’s an honour to welcome Mary-Anne, who displays the same passion for nature and the Australian bush as does her father.


Hi Jennifer, and thanks for having me on your blog.

As an artist’s daughter you do tend to see things a little differently, as evident last Saturday morning as I stared out the window of a bus heading to the Hunter Valley on a girls’ day out. Most of the women were chatting about their children and their jobs, but characteristically I was mesmerised by nature, in particular the eucalypt forest in the foggy morning light.

‘Look at the bracken. Isn’t it lovely?’ I muttered to the great amusement of my friend alongside.

‘And that, ladies, is Mary-Anne in a nutshell,’ she proclaimed, adding, ‘what the hell is bracken?’

‘It’s the pretty undergrowth, see? I love it in the morning in all those shades of green with the dew still clinging on…’

‘You mean all the weeds.’

I could only shrug and giggle and make my old claim. ‘It’s not my fault. I’m the daughter of an artist.’

Mary-Anne and her father, acclaimed artist Kevin Best

Kevin Best OAM was a well-loved Australian artist who was also my adored Dad, and he taught me to be an observer of life. I was raised to notice the bracken. I was also raised to notice the light that edges a blue gum tree, the overlapping of giant clouds as they drift on a cerulean blue sky, the lacey froth of fanning waves sinking on the sand. The glory of sunsets and sunrises that paint their own unique masterpieces every single day. What a wonderful privilege it was to be his child, and what insight he gave me, an aspiring writer, as I sought to capture what he saw and painted with words.

The trick, of course, is to get scenery scenes just right. You don’t want to wax lyrical about the bracken for too long in case your bored reader skims, flicks or gives up altogether and goes in search of greener literary pastures. Nor do you want to just lightly touch on the setting and leave them a bit ho-hum about the gorgeous natural surroundings affecting the mood of the character. E.g. a softly stirring breeze though the wild, nodding undergrowth surely won’t hurt in getting your leads in the natural state.  (Just don’t call them weeds. Bit of a romance-killer word right there.)

by Kevin Best

Artists do see things differently, beyond mere observation or even appreciation. They take time, for a start. And they take in detail in ways I doubt many would consider, but of course that’s all part of the artistic process. Dad and I were on the same creative wavelength like that. For example, we always rang each other if there was an especially good sunset on show, phone calls that consisted of few words. ‘Sunset.’ ‘Rightio.’ There was plenty of time to converse after it was over, and his summations would be about colour and composition and light, whereas mine would be about metaphors or mood or serenity. It’s something that never switches off, that detailed and idyllic perspective. I suppose to others it does seem a bit odd, this driving need to capture and hold on to such fleeting moments. But perhaps that’s why. Without it I suppose life would seem faster, less comforting. Emptier. And really, it’s just natural, all this nature loving. We are fundamentally part of the scenery, after all.

I have many things to thank my father for: his guidance, his enthusiasm, his generosity and wisdom, but most of all I am grateful that he also taught me to be still and to observe. Eventually some of that reflection finds it’s way into my stories, just as it did in his paintings. Then others may end up seeing it too and have their own little moments of serenity as they read about that glorious sunlight on a crowded city train, or envisage the waves sinking as they munch on their sandwich at their computer. It’s worth capturing, even the humble bracken, because it reminds us that living is really, quite simply, all about the moments. And the more precious the moments, the more precious the life.


A painting of Mary-Anne by her father

Mary-Anne O’Connor nee Best grew up in Wahroonga in the Bushland Shire of Hornsby-Kuringai, northern Sydney. The youngest of six children, her childhood was spent exploring the local bush and playing music with her siblings and close neighbours.

An avid reader, she devoured her mother Dorn’s extensive library and was often found trying to finish a chapter by torchlight late at night. She also began to fill every blank piece of paper in the house with stories and drawings of her own and dreamt of becoming a writer one day.

When she was twelve her father, Kevin Best, left his established career in the stock-market to become one of Australia’s best-loved artists. The perseverance and ultimate triumph she witnessed during those years left her inspired to follow in his footsteps and pursue her own creative aspirations. A colourful marketing career followed, along with the completion of an education/arts degree with specialities in literature, music and environment. During this time she also co-wrote two books with her father, A Brush with Light and Secrets of the Brush. Work then began on her first major novel, Gallipoli Street. This work gained critical acclaim and finished at #3 for debut novels in Australia in 2015. Her second novel Worth Fighting For was published in October 2016 and also became a bestseller as did her third, War Flower in 2017. Her new novel, In A Great Southern Land, was released in March 2019 and is receiving much acclaim.

Mary-Anne has drawn on her love of the Australian bush, her fascination with her own family history and her deep, abiding respect for the men and women who carried our nation through turbulent, formative times to produce these novels. They were written in her office at home, surrounded by her grandfather’s war memorabilia and beneath a long window that overlooks her beloved gum trees. Mary-Anne still lives in the Bushland Shire with her husband Anthony, their two sons, Jimmy and Jack, and their very spoilt dog, Saxon.


Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

Meet Darry Fraser

Today I’m chatting to Darry Fraser, author of Australian fast-paced adventure fiction, both historical and contemporary. The Australian landscape is her home and hearth – the rural, the coastal, the arid lands and the desert. Darry lives and works on beautiful Kangaroo Island, which lies off the mainland of South Australia. Over a third of the island is protected in nature reserves, home to native wildlife like sea lions, koalas and diverse bird species. In the west, Flinders Chase National Park is known for penguin colonies and striking coastal rock formations. What an inspiring place to write! Now, over to you Darry …


 

When quizzed by an old boyfriend who’d returned momentarily to the fold, my dad said that of his three kids, I was the only one who would live in the country; the only one who could live in the country.

Born and bred in Melbourne and managing to spend some early childhood years in regional Victoria, I’d managed to develop a love of wide open spaces, clean air, no traffic or crowds, and dogs. Living on the River Murray at one point had an enormous impact.

When I branched out into the wider world in what was effectively a gap year (long before its time), I found myself in Alice Springs in the early 80s. And then, for me and ‘country’ there was no going back.

The story-telling gene in me has always made itself known. My earliest memories are of telling stories. I can’t tell you what excites me about Story – I think perhaps my earliest memory is seeing that my audience was engaged in my rambling verbals. Well, I assume it was engagement

My stories are not voices so much as pictures in my head, moving pictures. Characters are formed on a twist of a brow or a turn of a hand. Sometimes the first thing to come along will be a character’s name. Always the two words that follow are ‘What if?’

I have more recently written stories exclusively in the late 19th century. The attraction for me I think is the fact that at that time in Australia the population was on the cusp of a new century. People still wrote letters, the ordinary man and woman’s suffrage was being fought for, and that technology had not begun its enormous leaps and bounds. That the things some of us take for granted these days were not readily available at the time. Vaccinations, potable water, hygiene, medicine—the simplest thing could be deadly. A splinter, for instance.

I find now that my stories are bringing history to light for readers who are not interested in reading history. Weaving tales in and around iconic events, places and figures allows me to ask my ‘what if’ question and have the answer take me on some quite magical journeys, bringing the reader with me.

I also find that people are not so different across the years, and that human nature has barely changed.

Daughter of the Murray – Harlequin Mira 2016 – explores a young woman’s fight for, and understanding the difference between, independence and survival in the 1890s.

Where The Murray River Runs – Harlequin Mira, HarperCollins 2017 – looks at the plight of single mothers, abandoned families, their places of refuge in a hostile society.

The Widow of BallaratHarlequin Mira, HarperCollins 2018 – explores the lives of women on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s at the time of the Eureka Stockade, and how close they came to securing suffrage at that time, only to have the chance snuffed by the stroke of a pen.

The Good Woman of Renmark – Harlequin Mira, HarperCollins (Nov) 2019 – looks at life on the river at the end of the great paddle-steamer era, and at how two long hard droughts and economic depressions affected the lives of those who lived on the mighty river. How women thought independently but were rarely allowed to live independently.

Story 2020 for Harlequin Mira, HarperCollins is finished and is set in Robe, South Australia, and in Casterton in Victoria, in 1896. A tale set at the time of the first election in which women could vote in South Australia, second in the world only to New Zealand women.

Story 2021 is well underway, set in 1898. With Federation for Australia only around the corner, and the wording of the Constitution hard fought and taken from lessons learned elsewhere, society teeters on the edge. But thirty–three years before, a sleek dark ship sailed into dock in Williamstown near Melbourne, and her sinister presence had long reaching consequences.

I love the novella, as well, and lots of my earlier stories were a shorter length.

All in all, I just plain love the journey, and I have been lucky – very fortunate – that I can do the thing I love most in the world and have so many others enjoy it. Thank goodness I still have lots more stories to write.


Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

Meet Cheryl Adnams

Today I’d like to introduce Aussie author Cheryl Adnams, and her series set in the McLaren Vale district of South Australia. Apart from producing some of Australia’s finest wines, it’s also an area rich in wildlife and natural beauty. With national parks, scenic vineyards and miles of pristine beaches, this part of Australia provides wonderful settings for readers to enjoy. Over to you Cheryl!


Hi Jennifer, and thanks for having me visit.
I’ve always had a love affair with McLaren Vale. The wineries are many and varied, conveniently located close together and only a forty minute drive from my house in the south of Adelaide. So it was a no-brainer that I would base my first novels in the wine region on the Fleurieu Peninsula that I love so much.

My three books in what I call the Mullers of McLaren Vale series follow each of the three sons, who are taking over the century old winery from their retiring father Harry, and the strong women who come into their lives and change them forever. Writing these stories was a good excuse to visit the region more often to do research. Like I needed an excuse! I had the opportunity to do some Grenache grape picking at Yangarra winery, getting up very early in the morning to enjoy a crisp start during the 2015 vintage. The picking was hard work as the Grenache bushes are low to the ground. But a good grape stomping followed by a delicious breakfast (including some of the lovely wine) made it all worthwhile.

The McLaren Vale wine region is unique in that its rolling hills and vineyards butt up against the coast and some of the most stunning, white sandy, turquoise blue water beaches in South Australia. In the last few years I have on occasion rented a lovely little blue house down at Port Willunga as a writing retreat alone and sometimes with friends.

The old Port Willunga Jetty has so much history and the famous Star of Greece restaurant perches on the cliff above, named for the ship that was wrecked only one hundred metres offshore in 1888, now a popular dive site. The rapidly crumbling jetty and the storage caves dug into the cliffs make it one of the most photographed places in South Australia. The area and the jetty get a mention in the McLaren Vale novels too.

Much of the coastline is a sanctuary, particularly the Aldinga Reef area. The birdlife is abundant and kites can often be seen soaring along the golden limestone cliffs looking for prey. Dolphin pods are a regular sight and the area is also a haven for shingleback lizards (otherwise known as Sleepy Lizards) as well as several species of protected flora.

Spot the deadly Blue Ringed Octopus, master of camouflage!

When the tide goes out on the Aldinga reef, there is some great marine life spotting to be had. Baby Port Jackson sharks and crabs of all sizes skim the reef pools, and I’ve even spotted a blue ringed octopus, thankfully before I made the mistake of stepping on it. 

I am very proud of this beautiful region and all it has to offer. It’s so close to the city of Adelaide, but it feels like a thousand miles away once you’re there. You can feel the stresses of the city just falling away when you turn the corner and see the turquoise waters of the Spencer Gulf stretching out before you. I would encourage everyone to come and see this stunning part of the world, but really I just want to keep it all to myself!

Author Bio

Cheryl Adnams lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has published four Australian rural romance novels and a Christmas novella. Cheryl has a Diploma in Freelance Travel Writing and Photography and has lived and worked in the United States, Canada and spent two years with a tour company in Switzerland and Austria. Her passion for Italy, volcanology and cycling have made their way into her stories and her favourite writing retreats include Positano on the Amalfi Coast and Port Willunga Beach just south of Adelaide. When she’s not writing, Cheryl is still creating in her busy full time job as a trainer and learning designer.

Find Cheryl’s books on Amazon,  Kobo and Itunes.
Don’t forget to check out Cheryl’s stunning new novel The Girl From Eureka


Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

Meet Annie Seaton

I’m on a mission to promote Australian & New Zealand rural fiction, and am turning my blog over each week to a different rural Aussie or Kiwi author. Some will be well-established writers and some will be new, but they will all have something unique to say. I’d love more readers to discover the richness and variety of our home-grown genre.

To kick things off, here’s multi award-winning author Annie Seaton. Annie and I both share a deep love of and commitment to Australia’s marvellous landscapes and wildlife. And like me, Annie’s writing seeks to raise awareness of the threats that wild Australia faces. Add in big dollops of mystery, romance and adventure, and you have a recipe for winning fiction! Anyone who knows my work will understand why I love Annie’s wonderful books. I hope you’ll love them too! 🙂


Hi, and thanks for having me visit, Jennifer.

I’m Annie Seaton, and I live at the beach on the east coast of Australia. I always dreamed of being an author, and after working as an academic research librarian, a high school principal and a university tutor, I took up a writing career, and discovered my true niche.

My Porter Sisters series, Kakadu Sunset, Daintree and Diamond Sky, is published by Pan Macmillan Australia. I’m also published with Harper Collins in the Harlequin Mira imprint. Whitsunday Dawn (2018) is the first of these books, to be followed by Undara (July) 2019, Osprey Reef (2020) and East of Alice (2021).

My recent books have created a new genre: eco-adventure romance, a genre that gives me a voice for raising awareness of the threats to our beautiful Australian landscapes and wildlife. Over the past few years, I have used fiction to variously examine and raise awareness of:

  • the threat to the environment by coal seam gas mining beneath Kakadu
  • wildlife smuggling in the Daintree
  • the need for the correct environmental rehabilitation of mine sites in the eastern Kimberleys of WA
  • the threat to the Great Barrier Reef by coal mining and export
  • endangered species in unexplored environments.

I am currently researching the effect of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and genetic engineering of coral for my 2020 book Osprey Reef.

Researching a book in the actual environment and living in that setting for a few weeks is essential to me as an author. I am fortunate to write full time, and each winter, I’m able to travel with my husband to camp and live in the settings that I will use in future books. This enables me to evoke the atmosphere so much more realistically: the unique smells, the feel of the wind on your skin, and the sound of the birds, the wildlife, the waves or the desert wind. The actual essence of a setting is how you experience and feel it through your five senses. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch written well and woven through my characters’ perceptions, help the reader believe they are there in the story themselves.

My books blend disparate elements – mystery, romance and environmental issues, and explore Australian landscapes and wildlife. I begin with a setting: each story is first inspired by landscape. The idea always comes to me from the natural beauty of landscape… a desert sunset, a wave breaking on a reef, the beauty of Australian wildlife, a dark forest or one of the many natural inspirations of our beautiful country. The need to preserve the pristine nature of these beautiful Australian settings drives my stories. I then explore the issues that threatens this landscape, and I begin my research—both in the landscape I am writing about, as well as online and in libraries, reading books and digitised newspapers. By the time I have researched the issues, my characters have begun to come to life in my thoughts.

My most recently published book Whitsunday Dawn examines the threat to the Great Barrier Reef by the proposed development of a coal loader. As well as greedy political decisions, the reef is endangered by many natural threats and human interventions, and I wanted to raise awareness of these dangers in a maybe not-so-fictional scenario.

My upcoming book, Undara, raises the issue of endangered species in the Undara Lava tubes in northern Queensland, and again explores the issue of human greed impacting on the natural environment.

Undara Caves

We visited there a few years ago and listened to the guide telling us about the tubes that had never been entered by a human, and the likelihood of hitherto undiscovered species existing in the lava tubes. It planted the seed for a story.

There are so many threatened environments and endangered species, there is a story to be told wherever we turn. I’d like to share a brief excerpt from Undara:

“To their right, a high ceiling of honeycombed grey rock rimmed the edge of the clearing. A pile of tumbled rocks rose in what looked to be a manmade cairn where the grey rock met the ground. High above them at least a dozen snakes hung from the intertwined branches. As she watched, the milky, bulbous eyes of a striped green snake looked back at Emlyn and she suppressed a shiver. A soft noise came from in front of them and the boys walked over to the rock cairn. All three of them looked up. A large gap in the green canopy revealed a triangle of midnight-blue clear sky. The noise became louder, and suddenly, with a huge whooshing sound, the space filled with dozens and then hundreds of small black bats as they flapped up to the open space and disappeared into the dusk.

Her eyes were wide as she took in the amazing spectacle, forgetting that she was with anyone else. Soon the space was full of bats and the snakes moved along the branches, their forked tongues flicking in and out as they stretched for the bats in mid-flight.

‘Bingo. Got him,’ Jase yelled with a fist pump.

A snake as thick as a man’s wrist slithered down the tree branch and disappeared into a fissure in the rocks behind. Emlyn shivered; a bat was secured firmly in its jaw.

‘Absolutely beautiful.’ Her hushed voice was almost reverent as she watched the spectacle of nature unfold in front of her.”

Undara will be released on July 22 but is now up for pre-order in print and digital format. (You can find all the links here: https://www.annieseaton.net/undara1.html )


Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!

 

 

 

Journey’s End

It’s been a worrying time, with bushfires threatening our farm beside the Bunyip State Forest.. We had to evacuate, horses included, but are now home, and trying to get back to normal. So I’m pleased to belatedly announce that Journey’s End is available internationally. Here’s a Q&A with editor Kathryn Ledson about the book.

(1) For a lawyer, you know a heck of a lot about wild places and wild creatures. Where did this passion come from? Was it childhood influence or something that coincided with your change of career?

I think I was born this way. Perhaps we all are, it’s just that I never outgrew my natural childhood wonder at nature. I didn’t grow up in the country. We lived in suburban Melbourne. Our house backed onto a railway line, and I could tell the time by the trains. Our back gate opened onto a broad, shady laneway and wild paddocks lay between us and the tracks. A canal, where I wasn’t supposed to play, flowed past the end of the lane.

That was decades ago now, and the overgrown paddocks and canal are long gone. Yet I still recall each detail of that special world. Waiting for the spotty, stone-coloured eggs of the purple swamp hens to hatch. Collecting handsome emperor gum caterpillars, resplendent in emerald coats and bright red standards. Raising them on leafy sprigs kept in jars of water until they spun cocoons and emerged as stunning moths as big as my hand. Stalking the handsome water skinks, which when startled, would spring into the water and swim away with snake-like grace. I knew some of them by name, telling them apart by a distinctive stripe here, or a missing toe there. That heartfelt connection I formed with the natural world has lasted me a lifetime. It caused me to seek out wild places, and for the last thirty years I’ve lived on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Bunyip State forest.

(2) You write in a genre that we’re calling eco-romance. Some people are quite misguided about novels with romantic elements. They are often dismissed as being light-weight, poorly written, and so on. Your novels are far from poorly written – in fact, they are beautifully written, and touch on issues that others might prefer left unsaid. Can you tell us about some of the issues you’ve brought into the light in your other novels?

A compelling story is always the most important thing for me, but I also explore rural conservation issues in all my novels. Brumby’s Run has cattle grazing in Victoria’s high country. Currawong Creek has coal seam gas mining on the Darling Downs. Billabong Bend has water use in the Murray Darling. Turtle Reef is about protecting the Great Barrier Reef. And my first novel, a little eco/thriller/horror story called Wasp Season, is about invasive species – namely European Wasps. The wasp queen has her own point of view!

Journey’s End

(3) Let’s talk about Journey’s End – tell us first about Kim Sullivan.

Kim Sullivan is the main character, and is a Sydney botanist. She and her husband inherit Journey’s End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment. They dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. However, when Kim is tragically widowed, selling up is the only practical option. She and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey’s End to cast its wild spell on them all.

The family decides to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants, and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals …

(4) You write emotion so well, Jen. I found myself hopping from laughter to tears to anger, even shame. All of your books have well defined themes. So what’s Journey’s End really about?

In some ways the novel is about a woman’s journey through grief and out the other side. It’s also about Kim finding the courage to step outside her comfort zone and rediscover what’s fundamental and authentic in her life. When she sets about rewilding Journey’s End she not only restores her land. She restores her mind and spirit as well.

(5) We’ll talk more about that in a minute… I remember you saying once that if your characters must inhabit the city, then you get them to the country, as fast as possible. I’m keen to know about Tarringtops – where the property Journey’s End resides, and where Kim Sullivan takes her children. Does Tarringtops exist? Did you go there?

Tapin Tops National Park

Tarringtops is a fictional blend of Barrington Tops and Tapin Tops – real national parks high on the Great Eastern Escarpment of the Great Dividing Range. And the character of Kim Sullivan is inspired by my old school friend, Kim Gollan, a real-life bush regenerator. Presently she’s on remote Lord Howe Island, restoring habitat for the Lord Howe Island Giant Phasmid, the world’s rarest insect.

Twenty years ago Kim and her husband Pete established the Dingo Creek Rainforest Nursery at Bobin on the edge of Tapin Tops National Park. I’ve had the great privilege of staying at their nursery, and having a guided tour of Tapin Tops’ subtropical rainforest by two passionate botanists who love and understand it.

(6) I was completely convinced that Kim Sullivan is an expert horticulturist, and it’s hard to believe you’re not. How do you know so much about, for example, wild orchids, dingoes and trophic cascades? What sort of research do you do?

Well as you can imagine, having real-life Kim as my friend helped a lot for this particular book. But I’ve been an amateur naturalist all my life. I’m fascinated by everything wild and have some kind of David Attenborough complex. I read a lot of non-fiction. At the moment I’m reading a book called Once and Future Giants – What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Mammals. Also a book about Australian wildflowers, a book on Tasmanian history, and the 40th anniversary edition of Born Free by Joy Adamson, A Lioness of Two Worlds

Novels with similar subject matters are also must reads. For example, one of my works in progress has a fair bit of falconry in it. Reading novels such as H is for Hawk and My Side of the Mountain adds to the knowledge bank. I also immerse myself in locations when I can by taking research trips. When you visit a place, maps turn into landscapes and you get a feel for the people. And of course there’s always Dr Google.

(7) Journey’s End takes us beyond Australia’s borders and touches on a very topical issue – racism. Tell us about Taj.

A Snow Leopard

Taj is an Afghani refugee who has been given asylum in Australia through the Interpreter Resettlement Program. He comes from Nuristan province in the north-east, an area which doesn’t conform to the stereotype of Afghanistan being a place of deserts and bombed out landscapes. Nuristan is instead a place of mountains, rushing rivers, and vast stands of oak, cedar and pine. These wild forests of the Hindu Kush reach all the way to the snow-capped summits of the Pamir range, known as the roof of the world. Next stop, China. Snow leopards and bears still live there. Wolves too.

Taj is Tingo’s town handyman, but like many refugees, he once had a very different career. I’ve met a Pakistani taxi driver who was an orthopaedic surgeon back home, and a cleaner who was a lawyer. It’s hard starting out in a new country and Taj has a haunted past. It takes him a while to find his feet.

(8) As well as animals and the environment, children always play an important role in your novels. Taj has a very special relationship with both Kim’s children. Can you tell us about this?

Kim has two children, 11yo Jake and 7yo Abbey. Both children have highly emotional responses to Taj, who is working around the house and yards, preparing the property for sale. Jake hates him. The children’s soldier father was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, and perhaps understandably, Jake can’t get past the fact of where Taj comes from. Abbey on the other hand loves him – she is drawn by the gift Taj has with animals, and by his gentleness.

(9) Journey’s End is a love story in more ways than one. There’s a gentle, budding romance, and a worrying one. This book explores the love between adults and children, humans and animals, female friends, animals and nature. For you, as its writer, which of these romances came most easily to the page?

As you might guess Kath, the romance with the animals and nature came most easily. Followed closely by the love between the animals and the two children. I completely understand that intense childhood connection with the natural world. Because, as I said before, I never outgrew it.

However, this time I didn’t have my usual struggle writing the human relationships. I think this is because of my respect for Kim and the fact that I’m secretly in love with Taj. He’s a wolf-whisperer. What’s not to love?

(10) What about your writing process. I was well into my third book before I discovered mine. Do you have one? What’s yours?

I write very consistently, daily if I can. I’m not a fast writer – a thousand words a day is about as much as I can manage, and I often write less, but it’s amazing how quickly the words add up. I edit as I go, producing very clean manuscripts that don’t require much redrafting.

I do chapter summaries as I write, noting characters, POV, location, and main plot points. This is an invaluable tool during the redrafting process. If I want to add scenes I can see straight away where they will fit in best. I roughly plan the book before I start, putting plot points on a whiteboard, following a three-act structure. It always changes a lot in the writing, but it helps to have some sort of guide.

(11) I think your books are more than just greatly entertaining. They’re important and I think should be widely read. For example, I love that you’ve shown in Journey’s End how we can SHARE our environment with its indigenous plants and creatures, instead of culling or destroying them. What else would you like your readers to take away from this story?

Journey’s End has several main themes. It’s about a woman’s journey through grief and out the other side. It’s about finding the courage to live an authentic life. It’s also about overcoming prejudice. Both Taj and the dingoes are unfairly judged throughout the story, Taj by Jake and the dingoes by the town. Prejudice is a very destructive force that is based in fear. It’s only when people confront their fears that positive change can happen.


 

 

My Writing Goals 2019

Journey’s End

2019 is already promising to be a busy and exciting year! I’m writing a sequel to Brumby’s Run, the novel inspired by my love for the wild horses of the Victorian high country. I can’t resist finding out what happens next to Sam, Charlie and the brumbies!

I’m also re-releasing two books to an international audience – Journey’s End, Book 5 in the Wild Australia Stories and Wasp Season, a quirky little eco-thriller that was my first book.

However right now I’m editing The Memory Tree, the third book in my Tasmanian Tales series. Here’s a sneak peek …

Sarah frowned. ‘The fools didn’t know what they had.’ She turned to face the sweeping panorama across the Derwent River. A cold wind whipped off the water. ‘And now Tasmanian tigers are gone forever.’

‘Is anything ever really gone?’ said Penny. ‘They were here just a blink ago. There are traces of them everywhere ‒ in the rivers, in the trees. We’re breathing the same air they did,’ she kicked at a rock, ‘… walking the same ground. Look back in time and they’re just behind us. Look too far ahead, and we’re gone too.’

The Memory Tree

The Memory Tree will be released in  September. This is the blurb:

Playing God is a dangerous  game …

When forest protests engulf a tiny Tasmanian timber town, one family’s century of secrets threatens to destroy a marriage – and bring down a government.

Matt Abbott, head ranger at beautiful Binburra National Park, is a man with something to hide.  He confides his secret to nobody, not even his wife Penny. The deception gnaws away at their marriage.

Matt’s father, timber and mining magnate Fraser Abbott, stands for everything Matt hates. Son disappoints father, father disappoints son – this is their well-worn template. But Fraser seems suddenly determined to repair the rift between them at any cost, and Matt will discover that secrets run in the family. When Sarah, a visiting Californian geneticist, tries to steal Matt’s heart, the scene is set for a deadly betrayal.

The Memory Tree is a haunting story of family relationships, the unbreakable ties we all have to the past and the redemptive power of love.


 

Launch Of ‘Turtle Reef’ plus a Q&A

 

Today is launch day for the international edition of TURTLE REEF! I’m very proud to share this book with the world, for it showcases one of my favourite places – Australia’s amazingly beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Here I talk about Turtle Reef with Kathryn Ledson, Senior Commissioning Editor at Pilyara Press

Kathryn – Lawyer turned author – what happened?

Jen – This is a great lesson in following your passion.  I never had a burning ambition to be a lawyer. I simply chose law because I had high enough marks to get into it – and it made my mother happy. The course was great. Studying law is excellent training in critical thinking, and it teaches intellectual discipline. But when it came to practising law, my heart wasn’t in it.

When I was a child, I did have a burning ambition though – to be a writer. Ten years ago I remembered that, and thank goodness I did. Finally I’m doing what I should be doing. In his wonderful essay ‘Why I write’, George Orwell says, ‘If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.’ Well, I didn’t escape from my early influences, and am very glad I went back to my roots.

Kathryn – Your fans must know how passionate you are about the environment. How did it come about? Has it always been a part of who you are or did a single incident get your attention to its plight?

Jen – A passion and love for the environment has always been a part of me. I think I never outgrew my childhood wonder with nature. Children are fascinated by caterpillars, and autumn leaves and ant nests. I still am. When people find out that I have animal characters in my stories, they often say ‘I didn’t know you wrote children’s books.’ This puzzles me. It’s as if for some reason we’re expected to outgrow our emotional connection with animals.

Kathryn – You write environmental or eco-romance. Do you think you’ve invented a sub-genre of the very popular “ru-ro”? Are you hoping more authors will join you in using fiction to highlight issues around the environment? (Or would you like them all to stay away 🙂 )

Jen – It’s true that very few people are writing Australian rural fiction with environmental themes. But internationally, other authors are doing it, and very successfully at that. Take Barbara Kingsolver and her New York Times best-seller Flight Behaviour for example. She brilliantly weaves rural fiction with a climate-change theme, when the annual migration of millions of Monarch butterflies goes horribly wrong. So I’m already in very good company.  I don’t know why more Australian authors aren’t writing adult fiction with animal characters and conservation themes. I think there should be more of it. Readers love these stories.

Kathryn – TURTLE REEF shines a light on some of the ever-present dangers to our Great Barrier Reef. Tell us about the story that shows this.

Jen – Well, simply put, Turtle Reef is the story of a love triangle between a farmer, a scientist and a coral reef. The main character, Zoe King is an unlucky-in-love zoologist who has sworn off men. She moves from Sydney to the Queensland sugar town of Kiawa, for a fresh start, and at first, it’s a dream come true, working at a marine centre, with the wildlife of beautiful Turtle Reef. But things quickly go wrong. First, she falls for Quinn, her boss’s boyfriend. Then, animals on the reef begin to sicken and die. Things aren’t exactly what they seem in picture-postcard perfect Kiawa. When her personal and professional worlds collide, she faces a terrible choice. Protecting the reef will mean betraying the man she loves.

Turtle Reef was inspired by my passion for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral ecosystem on our blue planet, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It holds a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of most Australians.  I wanted to share my love of the Reef, and pay tribute to its unique wildlife. I wanted to showcase the important part it plays in the human and animal life of Queensland’s coastal communities. And I wanted to entertain readers with a passionate and unusual love story. If Turtle Reef sparks debate about reef protection, that’s a bonus.

Kathryn – Your character Zoe is a force to be reckoned with, but I admit I was sceptical when I first started reading TURTLE REEF. Even though I know and trust your skills as a writer, I couldn’t see how you could pull off what clearly needed to be pulled off. Sydney girl arriving in a tight-knit rural environment, tackling age-old standards to save the reef. Taking on the very beautiful and talented local girl and falling in love with her childhood sweetheart! (What were you thinking!!) But you did pull it off – beautifully so – so, what is it, do you think, that makes Zoe’s journey such a riveting and believable one?

Jen – Zoe is simply a fabulous main character – She’s brave, intelligent, honest and passionate and was inspired by a real life ocean hero, Dr Eugenie Clark, known as the ‘Shark Lady’ who died last month and did her last dive at the age of 92. She was a pioneering marine biologist who dedicated her life to shark research, and defied social expectations about women’s roles in science. But Zoe is also a flawed heroine. She’s naïve – almost gullible at times. She wears her heart on her sleeve and is far too forthright for her own good. And although she’s a zoologist, her knowledge of animals is almost entirely theoretical. In fact she’s actually scared of horses and dolphins. Yet life in rural Queensland and her job at the Reef Centre brings her in daily contact with these very animals. Throw in a crush on the boss’s boyfriend and a mystery out on the reef, and Zoe faces some serious challenges. That’s always interesting. We can all relate to somebody being thrown in the deep end, so to speak. Fortunately, Zoe’s pretty resourceful.

Kathryn – TURTLE REEF doesn’t just address issues around the reef. You clearly have a very special place in your heart for children and horses and love to write about them. There’s a beautiful bond that forms between a damaged boy and equally damaged horse. Without giving away too much, can you tell us a bit about it?

Jen – Ah, you’re talking about Josh, and Aisha, the Arabian mare. And you’re quite right, I do have a special love for children and horses. The healing effect that horses have on children is a favourite theme in my fiction. However that positive impact can work both ways. In Turtle Reef, Zoe befriends Josh, a teenage boy with an acquired brain injury. Josh might not have good people skills, but he’s very wise when it comes to animals, especially horses.  He’s able to help the mare Aisha, as much as she helps him.

Kathryn – In TURTLE REEF I loved the character Einstein and learning about her very special attributes. Tell us about your eight-legged friend and the message she has for your readers.

Jen – I’m intrigued by Einstein as well. Einstein is an octopus. These misunderstood creatures are usually cast in such an evil light. Take the giant, murderous octopus from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, for example, or Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. I think the octopus gets such bad press because it is an alarmingly alien animal. Eight suckered arms. Three hearts pumping blue, copper-based blood around its boneless body. However, I’m a big fan — jet-powered, masters of camouflage, shape-shifters, and highly intelligent. If people want to know about Einstein’s capacity for maternal self-sacrifice, they’ll have to read the book …

Kath – I always learn so much from reading your books. How much did you already know about the reef, its inhabitants, stuffy old rural farmers and their outdated methods? Was much research required and how did you conduct it?

Jen – Oh, you know me Kath. I’m such a nerd when it comes to these things – an amateur naturalist from way back. I actually did know quite a bit about the reef already. But Zoe is a marine zoologist after all, and I’m not. So I took a research trip to Bargara, on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Zoe’s love interest, Quinn Cooper, is a fifth generation cane grower. I had a lot to learn about the joys and challenges of sugar farming. The cane trains were especially fascinating. Did you know that Queensland has 4,000 kilometres of narrow gauge track? And that these picturesque little locomotives still transport almost forty million tonnes of sugar cane to the mills each year? Breathing life into Zoe’s character was even more interesting. It involved some island hopping, some snorkelling on coral reefs, some whale-watching and sitting around on moonlit beaches with hatching turtles. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

Kathryn – Finally, you know so much about it all, but can you tell me this: if I punch a Tiger shark on the nose, will it go away?

Jen – It does sometime work. Sharks are reactive animals, big sooks really, and don’t like getting hurt any more than you or I do. Their noses are vulnerable because they bear organs called Ampulae of Loranzini which are used to detect slight water pressure changes like the movement of an injured fish flopping around. These organs are very sensitive and hopefully a good hit to the nose will work – or a jab in the eyes. Hope you never have to try it Kath!

 

Rewilding Our Homes and Hearts

When I was a child I lived in suburban Melbourne. Our house backed onto a railway line, and I could tell the time by the trains. Our back gate opened onto a broad, shady laneway and wild paddocks lay between it and the tracks. A canal, where I wasn’t supposed to play, flowed past the end of the lane.

emperor-gum-caterpillarThat was decades ago now, and the overgrown paddocks and canal are long gone. Yet I still recall each detail of that special world. Waiting for the spotty, stone-coloured eggs of the purple swamp hens to hatch. Collecting handsome emperor gum caterpillars, resplendent in emerald coats and bright red standards. Raising them on leafy sprigs kept in jars of water until they spun cocoons and emerged as moths as large as my hand. Stalking the handsome water skinks, which when startled, would spring into the water and swim away with sinuous grace. I knew some of them by name, telling them apart by a distinctive stripe here, or a missing toe there. The heartfelt connection I formed with the natural world has lasted me a lifetime. It caused me to seek out wild places, and for the last thirty years I’ve lived on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Bunyip State forest.

As a keen amateur naturalist, I’m fascinated by the notion of rewilding – restoring flora and fauna to their historical range. The theory has gained popularity after conservation success stories such as bringing wolves back to Yellowstone National Park and the large-scale return of Europe’s apex predators like lynx, bears and wolverines.

Zealandia Sanctuary

Zealandia Sanctuary

New Zealand provides a shining example. It is restoring Wellington’s former water catchment to forest. The sanctuary known as Zealandia, is an ecological island in the centre of the city, and home to some of the country’s rarest species. Now an important tourist attraction, it’s responsible for increased sightings of birds like tui and the endangered kaka in surrounding suburbs.

Australia is beginning to embrace rewilding. Quolls, bilbies, bandicoots and bettongs are being returned to parts of their natural range. Plans are afoot to bring Tasmanian devils back to the mainland after a four-hundred-year absence. Many ecologists advocate reintroducing dingoes to control introduced pests like rabbits, cats and foxes – a concept I explore in my new novel, Journey’s End.

Yet rewilding isn’t restricted to sexy, large-scale conservation efforts. We can all play our part. Rewilding Australia founder, Rob Brewster, says ‘It’s about filling those vacant rock crevices, and hollow logs with the marsupials that evolved over millions of years to fill these niches. It’s about acknowledging that the world should be a wilder place – and that humankind merely shares a spot in this wild world!’

wildscapes_008And it can start in our own backyard. Wildscaping is the new gardening buzzword for mingling layers of native trees, shrubs and ground cover. Throw in a pond, a rock wall and a nesting box or two. This provides shelter and foraging areas for species that prefer different heights and micro-habitats. Then sit back and watch the garden come to life. Even pots of natives on a balcony provide vital habitat. Nature wins by growing stronger and more diverse. We win by reconnecting in a small way with the earth. Imagine local communities wildscaping schools, railway corridors, vacant lots and parks. Before long our urban landscapes could be transformed into thriving webs of life.

I’m very fortunate, where I live. Yet many of us lead lives so far removed from nature, that we rarely even touch the earth. We delude ourselves that we are somehow immune to and separate from the natural world. But at what cost? The cost to our declining environment? The cost to our hearts? Rewilding isn’t just for our land. It’s a concept for our minds and spirits as well.