‘The Lost Valley’

1.1 The Lost Valley E-Book Cover NO LOGO

The Lost Valley 

Here is the beautiful cover for my new novel, The Lost Valley, which came out on August 27th. It follows the lives and loves of the Abbott family, introduced in my last book, Fortune’s Son. The Lost Valley is a sweeping saga of ambition, betrayal and dangerous love.

Tasmania, 1929: Ten-year-old-twins, Tom and Harry Abbott, are orphaned by a tragedy that shocks Hobart society. They find sanctuary with their reclusive grandmother, growing up in the remote and rugged Binburra ranges – a place where kind-hearted Tom discovers a love of the wild, Harry nurses a growing resentment towards his brother and where the mountains hold secrets that will transform both their lives.

The chaos of World War II divides the brothers, and their passion for two very different women fuels a deadly rivalry. Can Tom and Harry survive to heal their rift? And what will happen when Binburra finally reveals its astonishing secrets?

From Tasmania’s highlands to the Battle of Britain, and all the way to the golden age of Hollywood, The Lost Valley is a lush family saga about two brothers whose fates are entwined with the land and the women they love.

Available as an eBook from these online retailers: Amazon, iBooks Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Available as a paperback from all good book stores. Order online from Booktopia, the Book Depository and Amazon.

Fortune’s Son

I am thrilled to announce that a new edition of Fortune’s Son is now available for overseas readers. As a bonus, it sports a gorgeous new cover!

Can one man’s revenge become his redemption?

Young Luke Tyler has everything going for him: brains, looks and a larrikin charm that turns heads. The future looks bright, until he defends his sister from the powerful Sir Henry Abbot. His reward is fifteen years hard labour on a prison farm in Tasmania’s remote highlands.

Luke escapes, finding sanctuary with a local philanthropist and starting a forbidden relationship with his daughter, Belle. But when Luke is betrayed, he must flee or be hanged.

With all seeming lost, Luke sails to South Africa to start afresh. Yet he remains haunted by the past, and by Belle, the woman he can’t forget. When he returns to seek revenge and reclaim his life, his actions will have shattering consequences – for the innocent as well as the guilty.

Set against a backdrop of wild Tasmania, Australian gold and African diamonds, Fortune’s Son is an epic story of betrayal, love and one man’s struggle to triumph over adversity and find his way home.

PRAISE FOR JENNIFER SCOULLAR

‘Lovely lyrical prose. Scoullar, it turns out, is a writer of documentary calibre.’
The Australian

‘An excellent read!’ Newcastle Herald

‘Superb! … Scoullar’s writing has a rich complexity. Poetic and visual … the landscape vivid and alive.’ Reading, Writing and Riesling

ARRA Treasure Hunt

ARRA Treasure hunt

The Australian Romance Readers Association will be hosting a book-signing event in conjunction with the RWA Conference at Melbourne on Saturday 22 August. It will run from 5.00 to 6.30 pm at the Park Hyatt Hotel. In total there will be seventy-two authors signing, including me (see the list below). Come along and meet your favourite authors and maybe find some new authors to try. Tickets for the signing will go on sale on 15 July.

A very special online Treasure Hunt is now openIt gives the opportunity for readers to win free tickets to the signing. All you need to do is find the purple ARRA button on the websites or blogs of the authors marked with an asterisk below, click the symbol and then send the email through to the ARRA. Each participating author has a unique code number, so you can enter once for every code you find. (That’s 37 chances to win a ticket!) But don’t expect it to be easy to find them all—it is a treasure hunt after all.

The button is linked to an email command—when you click on it an email should open in your email program with an author code pre-filled in the subject line. If you don’t have your email program linked, you can hover over the button to see the code and then email arra.contests@gmail.com, including the words “Treasure Hunt” AND the code number in the subject line.

The Treasure Hunt will close at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 14 July. Terms and conditions are available here. Why not start by finding the button on my website? I hope to see some of you at the signing, which will be held in conjunction with the Romance Writers Conference. For the first time this conference will be held in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival and Writers Victoria, and promises to be the best ever. I can’t wait!

Signing authors

Here’s the full list of authors signing:

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Easter Sunday With Jenn J McLeod + Book Giveaway

Season Of Shadow And Light Please welcome author, friend and fellow animal nut, Jenn J McLeod, to Pilyara on this Easter Sunday. Her wonderful new novel, Season Of Shadow And Light, is coming out on May 1st. What a luminous cover! I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy and can tell you that readers are in for a real treat. Such a multi-layered, thought-provoking story about the best and worst of families, and it also features a horse! Over to you Jenn!

 

I was six the day a horse ate my buttons

‘We share so much more than a great name, Jen. For a start, we both love animals—all animals—and we hate seeing them neglected and mistreated.

If I had to pick a favourite animal it would definitely be dogs. And  I know you love dogs. But I REALLY, really, really love dogs. Every day when I wake up and my old (now blind) rescue baby is at the foot of the bed (staring and telling me to get up) I feel blessed and lucky to have her in my life, even though her vet bills are now slowly siphoning away my retirement savings!

Jenn J McLeod_54A1139 tI love dogs so much I wanted to feature one in a novel. So, the original Season of Shadow and Light plot featured a mangy mutt as the star of the story. That was until I started researching the world of animals as therapy and developed a fascination for the human/horse connection. Around the same time (coincidental or karma) I discovered a very personal horse-related project to test out a few theories—and it was almost next door to where I lived.

Looking at the final cover for Season of Shadow and Light, I hardly have to tell you that the horse theme, and not the mangy mutt, won in the end. My love of horses goes way back to when, as a young child, my Dad (a NSW Police Bandsman) would take me to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. He’d leave me in my special seat (ie in the horse float and hay stores area under the grandstand) to watch the NSW Police Band do a special performance called, The Musical Ride, in which the mounted police and the brass band would do a choreographed marching routine that weaved between the horses. When they finished several routines, the horses would return to the staging area while the band played on. It was all very thrilling—until the unthinkable happened.

One day a horse ate the buttons off my shirt! For some reason that incident traumatised me. I remember the moment as though it was yesterday—and as clearly as I remember the shirt that buttoned up at the back with little pearl buttons. After that incident, I still loved watching my Dad in The Musical Ride performance, and I still loved horses, but I couldn’t get up close to a horse any more. For years I was like a person who loves the beach but can’t be in the sun. In saying that, just as the might of the sea can still spellbind an observer, I remained awestruck by the magnificence of a horse.

I have since reconnected with horses and made a horse friend—all thanks to my research for Season of Jenn J McLeod Simmering seasonShadow and Light. Readers of Simmering Season might recall Maggie visiting an old horse that stood alone in a paddock in all weather—neglected, with no shelter, it’s blanket tatty and torn. There’s a bit of me in those scenes as it was a real horse that inspired that equine character. On my morning walk I would stop and chat to a lonely, neglected, nippy old horse being agisted on a nearby property. (Neighbourhood goss suggested the owner was not a local, nor a rider any more due to declining health.) Initially I called the horse, Ed (yes, the talking horse) and over a time (carrots helped) he let me get closer.

Jenn J Mcleod Horse 1I’d like to think that horse and I helped each other. He certainly helped me. When we sold up to hit the road in our caravan I was so sad to leave Ed behind I decided to write him into Simmering Season. As it turns out, Ed was no ordinary horse either. He was (more neighbourhood goss) once a prize-winning race horse and while his real name was Nevaeh, to me he will always be Ed. (Oh, and by the time I left the area, other locals had taken on the morning, noon and night visits and treats.)

Jenn J Mcleod Horse 2With trust and loyalty as the main theme throughout this novel I think it’s fitting that a horse be featured. Humans can learn a lot about both those qualities from horses (and from dogs). Animals put their trust in humans and I don’t think there’s anything sadder than a neglected animal. I do hope readers of Season of Shadow and Light will excuse my mini soapbox moment when I bang on about some animals being a life-long commitment, and with horses that life can be a very be long time. And look out for my tribute to Nevaeh.

With early reader reviews already in like this one “Jenn J McLeod is an author for all seasons  . . .  and all readers.” Shelleyrae, wwwbookdout.wordpress.com, I am super excited about this story of secrets and love, of family loyalty, and of trust—the kind that takes years to build but only seconds to wash away.

Cheers, Jen. I look forward to seeing you at my place soon for my #WriteRoundOz Author Series.’

Jenn J McLeod bannerI can’t wait Jenn, and thanks for dropping by today! Readers, for your chance to WIN all THREE Jenn J McLeod novels* simply leave a comment below. From now until the end of May, Jenn drops into some of her favourite author blogs to say hello to readers old and new. She’ll then collect the comment names from each author blog post, picking a lucky winner from one major draw and announcing the name at the end May of on her blog

If you’d like to find out more about Jenn and her contemporary women’s fiction about small towns keeping big secrets, head on over to her website or, like me, follow the Facebook and Twitter fun.

Website:   www.jennjmcleod.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JennJMcLeod.Author
Twitter:     @jennjmcleod
*Book Pack: House for all Seasons (#5 Top Selling Debut novel, 2013), Simmering Season, and Season of Shadow and Light. (Australian postal address only)

And now to announce the winners in my Turtle Reef prize draw! So many books to giveaway today :). Congratulations to Karla Oleinikoff and Kim Foster. I’ll email you soon for your postal address. Many thanks to all who left comments.

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The Author Unmasked

cross blogWelcome to our monthly blog chat with writing guru Sydney Smith and fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson. Today we’re talking about how authors must remain hidden.

KATH
Possibly the most important job an author has is to remain invisible. Expose yourself through weak writing and the reader will be dragged away from the world you’ve spent so much time creating, straight into your office. Even a typo or printing error can cause a reader to think about poor editing instead of that desperate, blood-deprived vampire. Here are a few other ways authors (and lazy editors) can expose themselves:
– Trying Too Hard. This is a common mistake of beginner writers (and, ahem, not so beginner). Trying to find sexy or poetic ways to express a thought or action, often with the idea that it’s “fresh”. The mouth seems to cop much of it with smiles teasing the corners of mouths, sighs and moans escaping trembling lips. It’s made worse when those lurking smiles/sighs/moans keep popping up in the same fashion throughout the story. If you can’t come up with something truly fresh, try instead: He sighed. He smiled. He moaned. I’ve learned this is the most effective way to convey to the reader a sense of what’s going on, without losing them to another author.
Author exposed - cliches– Not Trying Hard Enough. Clichés! I found one in my current work-in-progress: “She stared at him with a look of horror.” We do get it, but it’s so dull, uninspired, overused, that we glide right by without getting the full impact of what the author’s trying to show (because, of course, we always show, not tell, don’t we, authors?) How about instead: “She stared at him, hand at her throat like it was Dracula, not a tennis player, standing in her kitchen.” (Excuse me while I adjust my WIP.)
Inappropriate Scene Setting. A high-octane moment is not the right time to tell us about the flowering jacaranda in the front garden, unless that’s where the body’s buried. The moment might be tense just in the narrator’s mind―thoughts about a husband’s infidelity or a missing child. Having the smell of a freshly-baked cake lovingly assault her nostrils* right then, simply for the sake of placing the reader, is probably a mistake. It interrupts or brings the tense moment to an abrupt halt which is NOT what we want to do, right? (*see purple prose below.)
Purple Prose. Too many nouns with adjectives, verbs with adverbs, adjectives with adverbs―argh! When we think we’re adding to a scene, really we’re weakening it with overdone prose. “The gleaming white moon rose slowly over the glistening, mirror-like lake while nearby tiny lambs frolicked joyfully amongst sun-kissed daisies in grassy, green meadows…” Quite apart from the wrongness of lambs frolicking at night, we know the moon is white and rises slowly, and we know what lambs look like and what they do; we don’t need to be told in such flowery detail. This kind of narrative is tedious for the reader, who will think the author is showing off.
– Speaking of which … Showing Off The Results Of Your Research. Know what to use and when/how. In my novel, Monkey Business, I devoted a whole scene to a particularly interesting fact about jungle survival. It read like an instruction manual, thus exposing its silly author.

SYDNEY
Plot controlling character is one of the ways a writer can reveal themselves working the puppet strings behind the scenes of a story. It’s also one of the sneakiest ways to avoid conflict ever invented.

Most writers think about important plot events before they write them. They will know some before they start writing the story, and they will imagine some as they write it. That isn’t necessarily the problem. Issues arise when the writer thinks about how to get these plot events to come about. An experienced writer will create characters who are able to bring these events into being. They will understand whether these events are doable by these characters or not. They will jettison any that are impossible logically or psychologically. Or, more often, their characters will jettison them. When characters come to life, they decide what they will do in pursuit of their goal. This is what it means when writers say their characters come to life and tell them what to write.

In fiction by new writers, this kind of situation doesn’t happen. Characters stick to the plot’s agenda like grim death, changing their personality as required, acting illogically, behaving as if they’ve got no agenda of their own, or not one they’re prepared to stick to. The plot is the dominant agent in the story. The plot decides what characters will do, and is ruthless in getting them to do it. It brooks no argument. It’s a tyrant.

This is a very different situation to characters creating plot, which is how it’s meant to be. If you look at it this way, plot becomes character in action. Characters shape the plot. Characters decide what will happen by pursuing their own agendas come what may, going after what they want with dogged determination, and dealing with opposition as it comes along. So here’s a little example of plot controlling character:

Shay is investigating the death of Marcus. He was shot in the back of the head, behind his left ear. The cops have ruled suicide. But Shay doesn’t believe it.

This is the first instance of plot controlling character: the cops ignore the obvious so that they can close the case. That gives Shay the chance to investigate.

Shay receives a note in her mailbox that tells her to go to 14 Garrod Street, Brunswick, where she will find something of interest. She gets there and is yanked inside by a ruffian with bad breath who tells her she’s too dangerous to stay alive. She’s been investigating the death of Marcus. ‘You should’ve accepted the police findings,’ he says as he straps Author exposed - hands tiedher wrists together with gaffer tape. He binds them in front of her, not behind her, leaves her ankles free, splashes petrol around the place and lights a match. As flames leap up the curtains, he whisks himself out of the house, leaving the door unlocked.

Again, this is plot controlling character. He’s tied her hands in front of her so that it’s easier for her to free herself. He’s left the front door unlocked so that, when she’s free, she can get out of the burning house without further difficulty. It might seem shockingly untenable, this whole situation, but believe me, I come across instances as blatant as this, even more blatant, of plot controlling character, every day of my mentoring life.

Not only is the situation unbelievable, but it’s avoided conflict. Yes, a man lured her to the house. That’s a conflict, since he wants to get rid of her and she wants to go on investigating the murder of Marcus. But he’s made it easy for her to escape. Making it hard for her to escape would involve levels of conflict the writer feels uncomfortable with. Then there are the cops and their decision that Marcus killed himself. If the forensic evidence supported suicide, it would be harder for the writer to figure out how to knock off Marcus in a way that looks like suicide but isn’t. Writing a novel involves the author in conflict as they wrestle with their characters and their own powers of invention. Plot controlling character minimises conflict for everybody, but especially for the writer.

Now look at the ruffian’s agenda. What is it? It seems to be that he wants to get rid of Shay so that the truth about Marcus’ death will never come out. But if he was committed to his agenda, wouldn’t he do his utmost to make sure Shay dies in the fire? How does it help his agenda if he makes it easy for her to escape? It doesn’t, but it helps the plot’s agenda. The plot wants Shay to escape and makes the ruffian forfeit his agenda in order to make it happen. I call this kind of character the uncommitted antagonist: he’s not committed to his agenda. Characters have to act out of who they are and what they want, even if that makes life hard for them, even if it makes life hard for the writer. The outcome of character commitment is compelling fiction.

JENNY
That’s a brilliant explanation of why the best stories are character-driven, Sydney! (Love the word ruffian.) And there are plenty of other ways that the author’s hand can reveal itself, giving readers an unwelcome reminder that they’re being spun a story. Telling, not showing is an obvious one. Inexperienced writers can become dictators, ordering us how to feel about their fictional world. Readers don’t like that. They like to come to their own conclusions. Saying that a character is scared or shy or happy robs the reader of Author unmasked - adverbsthat pleasure. Too many adverbs will have the same effect. Saying that the day is uncomfortably hot, or that a character is dangerously close to the cliff, reveals the lazy author behind the scenes. Readers must be able to assess for themselves how hot it is, or how dangerous a situation might be. As Anton Chekhov so famously put it, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

Then there’s flat out author intrusion, when the writer speaks directly to the reader under the flimsy guise of narrative or characters. Writers can unintentionally project themselves into stories because they haven’t created multidimensional, fully-formed fictional characters. Instead, they fall back on their own beliefs, opinions and ideas. I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s easy to spot, once you know what you’re looking for. Are there certain words or phrases that seem out of place, that don’t fit the character? Does your character voice an opinion that has little to do with the actual story, but happens to coincide with your own beliefs?

Other examples of author intrusion relate to Sydney’s point about plot controlling character. Does your character have knowledge that she wouldn’t be expected to have? A humble salesgirl who just happens to be an expert in nuclear physics, or can miraculously disarm a bomb with a safety pin. Or have you done so much research on a particular subject that you want to squash it into the story, even though it doesn’t fit? Research should be like a floating iceberg, most of it invisible beneath the narrative surface. These kind of things stick out. The way to avoid the trap of author intrusion is simple. Always remember that your story belongs to your characters.

SYDNEY
Now I feel like I have to interrogate every word of my new WIP. But not at the moment. I’ve started the first draft of “Rosings”, a spin-off of Pride and Prejudice, which follows the adventures of Anne de Bourgh after her mother dies. (Am I allowed to say that?) First drafts should be allowed to be bad. It’s the next draft that has to be combed through for intrusions by the author. And here’s a final intrusion, one I never thought of before I started writing “Rosings”―if you sound a little bit like Jane Austen but not enough, or if you don’t sound like her at all. Whatever you decide in a spin-off of Jane Austen is going to come across as authorially intrusive.

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 will soon be releasing 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.

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Launch Of Billabong Bend + Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australia Day Blog Hop And Giveaway

AustraliaDaybloghop2014For this Australia Day Blog Hop post I’d like to celebrate the work of Elyne Mitchell – a quintessentially Australian author, and my earliest and best-loved writing inspiration. My second novel Brumby’s Run was influenced by her work, and being shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Rural Writing Award was one of my greatest thrills. The Silver Brumby series is ostensibly for children, but many adults like myself still adore them. These stories are filled with drama, magical prose and a deep, abiding love for the glorious upper Murray region where Elyne lived for most of her life.

‘These mountains … are symbols of high adventure, of an ineffable beauty. My feeling for them has grown and grown, until they possess me and have written themselves into my heart.’       Elyne Mitchell

silver brumby kingdomNobody who has read her books could doubt this for a second. There is something utterly compelling about her writing. It draws you into a vast, wild landscape and loses you there. Here is a short excerpt from Silver Brumby’s Daughter. There are shades of Dylan Thomas in its evocative, lilting prose.

‘Kunama could feel the darkness coming as though it were something alive, something she could touch, a voice she could hear. Up the darkness crept, whispering from the gullies, the clefts, the gorges. It seemed to slide up the Valentine hills, seep like a tide round the corner into their valley, lap at the horses’ legs, enfold them, whispering, and at last only the sky held light, and the mountains and ridges were dark against it.’

elyne mitchellElyne herself was the archetypal rural woman and a real hero of mine. Apart from being a gifted writer, Elyne was also a wife, mother, station owner, accomplished horsewoman, stockhorse breeder, naturalist and champion skier. She faced and survived many disasters – including the death of one of her children. Elyne wrote twenty-four novels and nine non-fiction books, many of which foreshadowed the rise of the environmental movement. She was a woman far ahead of her time. No wonder Australians everywhere have taken her tales of the high country straight to their hearts.

For a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, Currawong Creek, just leave a comment telling me an Australian book you enjoyed when you were young. Entries close midnight on January 28th. (Aust and NZ entries only) Winners will be announced on Feb 2nd. Click here to visit other Australia Day Blog Hop participants, and for the chance to win more great prizes.

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A New Year With Pamela Cook

Pamela Cook New Author PicPlease welcome successful author Pamela Cook back to Pilyara. What an auspicious way to begin the new year! In addition to being a novelist, Pamela teaches writing. She’s also a horse lover, which means we have a lot in common. (The name of her blog is Flying Pony) Pamela’s latest release, Essie’s Way, is a touching story about finding yourself and learning from past mistakes. Today she talks to us about the importance of setting and place in her books.

‘Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Jennifer. Setting and a sense of place are very important in my writing. When I began my first novel, Blackwattle Lake, I started with an image of a place, and a character in that place: a woman standing at the gate of a horse property. I had no story, no outline and no idea what was going to happen but the strength of that image and that setting pulled me through. Essie's Way 1The setting for that novel is a mixture of two places: the riding ranch where we agist our horses, at Darkes Forest just south of Sydney … and the area around Milton, about two hours further south. We have a holiday house there at Little Forest and it’s my favourite place in the world. Somehow I manage to while away hours and hours there doing very little.

I’ve been holidaying on the NSW south coast all my life and it’s wonderful to now be able to share it with my daughters. And with my readers. The south coast is more untamed and a little wilder than the north – there are so many places where you can escape and feel completely isolated. Although the water is colder, it’s clear and clean and the beaches are blissfully empty (apart from school holidays of course) which is a huge contrast to the crowds on Sydney beaches in summer.

Essie's Way 2Essie’s Way also began with an image, but this time of an older woman who was playing the violin on the verandah of a shack near the ocean. Although I didn’t have a specific place in mind the stretch of beach I imagined was deserted and surrounded by bush. As the story progressed and the fragments came together, the place in my mind became one with a beach bookended by headlands, a very small town that only comes to life in the tourist season and farmlands close to the ocean. Thanks to trusty Google earth, I found a place that roughly fitted the description, packed my dog Bridie in the car and (just like Miranda, the main character in the book) headed south. While I was familiar with the south coast I hadn’t been to this particular place before but when I arrived at Potato Point I wasn’t disappointed. The “town” if it could be called one, and the beach fitted the image in my head perfectly.

To anyone else the resemblance might not be the same but walking on the windswept beach, wandering across the rock platforms I could just picture Esther standing there, fishing rod in hand, gazing out at the stormy blue ocean. There was no shack on the cliff and there were no horses grazing in paddocks nearby but it didn’t take much to imagine. The sense of alone-ness and freedom I felt standing on the beach were the same feelings I wanted Miranda to have when she visits the beach in search of the grandmother she’d always thought to be dead. Miranda is a city girl, a lawyer with a busy job and lifestyle and not much time to connect with herself. It’s here in Pelican Point (the fictional place in Essie’s Way, that she’s able to find some sense of peace and start to really think about the direction she’s taking in life.

There are a few city locations in Essie’s Way too – Miranda lives in Erskineville and hangs out in Newtown and the book opens with her trying on a wedding gown at a store in the QVB.

But it’s the rural locations that really inspire me. I love writing about the way place impacts on character and I hope to do more of that in my next book. At the moment I’m not sure exactly where it will be set but there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be somewhere down south and there’s an even better chance I’ll be taking off on a road trip to do a little research!’

Essie's Way coverEssie’s Way – A captivating story of family, love and following your heart, from the author of Blackwattle Lake.

Miranda McIntyre thinks she has it all sorted. A successful lawyer, she s planning her wedding and ticking off all the right boxes. When searching for something old to go with her wedding dress she remembers an antique necklace from her childhood, but her mother denies any knowledge of it. Miranda is sure it exists. Trying to find the necklace, she discovers evidence that perhaps the grandmother she thought was dead is still alive.

Ignoring the creeping uncertainty about her impending marriage, and the worry that she is not living the life she really wants, Miranda takes off on a road trip in search of answers to the family mystery but also in search of herself. Ultimately, she will find that looking back can lead you home.

Connect with Pamela:
Webpage: www.pamelacook.com.au
Facebook
: www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor
Twitter: @PamelaCookAU

BB2013_Nominee

 

 

Sunday With Catherine Lee

Catherine Lee PhotoPlease welcome a terrific new indie crime writer to Pilyara – Catherine Lee. I first met Catherine in 2008 at a Varuna Residency with the legendary Peter Bishop. The question posed in her then fledgling manuscript has intrigued me ever since – does the heart have a memory? Her terrifying novel has since won a Varuna crime-writing award, and I’m thrilled to announce that Dark Heart is now available on Kindle and POD from Amazon. So without further ado, it’s over to Catherine!

Welcome Catherine. Can you tell us a little about your new release, Dark Heart?

Dark HeartDark Heart is the story of Eva, a young woman who gets a second chance at life when she receives a heart transplant. After the transplant Eva begins to have nightmares, and she soon discovers that the previous owner of her new heart was a serial killer. The killer’s final victim is still missing, and Eva realises that it could be the missing woman now haunting her dreams. She teams up with the victim’s husband and a fellow transplant patient, who has also experienced the phenomenon of cellular memory, in order to listen to her heart and help find the missing woman. Meanwhile Detective Charlie Cooper and his new partner Joey Quinn have two mysteries to solve – can they reach the final victim in time, and who murdered the serial killer?

What do you love most about writing thrillers, and do you think it’s important for books in this genre to have an element of romance in the story?

I love the twists and turns that thrillers take, I love coming up with outlandish ideas and figuring out how to make them work. I’m not sure that all books need to contain an element of romance, but quite often it’s a good fit for the story. Once you get to know your characters they tend to tell you what they need, and Eva just happened to need a hint of love in her new life.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write detailed character profiles, or do you find the characters come to life as you write?

Plotter, definitely. I had an elaborate spreadsheet for Dark Heart, which I developed after discovering that the first 30,000 words I’d written were going nowhere. I needed a plan, so I ditched the draft and spent the next three months plotting every chapter on my spreadsheet. It worked, and I’ve been refining my process ever since. I’ve moved onto Scrivener for my second novel, Dark Past. I love Scrivener, it’s a brilliant tool for writers. As for characters, I find character profiles quite boring to write. I prefer to let them speak for themselves, although I did find one exercise suggested by a friend quite valuable to use when a character is too wooden or boring. Rather than answering profile type questions, sit down and come up with twenty random things about them. It sounds too simple, but I find I get a much clearer picture of the character by doing this.

How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a novel?

I’m not sure I’ve worked out what’s usual for me yet, as I’ve only just finished the first draft of my second novel. I do know that the second was a lot faster than the first, and the faster I write the better the quality of the draft.

What is a typical day like for you?

Dark Heart 3I like to write in the mornings, I find that if it’s not my first job it doesn’t get done. It’s my most important job, so I’m slowly getting it cemented into my daily routine that mornings are for writing. I’m almost halfway through a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, so my afternoons are currently taken up by study. In the evenings I try and wrap my head around all this social media stuff. It’s a lot of work, but being able to connect with readers and other writers so easily is priceless. There are a lot of really lovely people out there.

Since everybody needs a break, even when doing something they love, how do you like to spend your time away from writing?

I try and go for a walk every afternoon, just to get away from the screen. But the thing that really takes me out of my writing head, which as a crime fiction writer can be quite a scary place, is looking after other people’s children. I have none of my own, which is a personal choice, but I just love being Aunty Cat to all my friends’ kids. I’m sure that in years to come I’ll be known as the crazy aunt who reads and writes books all day, and I’m just fine with that.

Describe your writing in three words.

Man, that’s a hard one. Let’s see, if I could be so bold I’d probably go with intriguing, fast-paced, and unpredictable. Dark Heart certainly meets those criteria, and I’d love to think I can do it again!

What are you working on next?

My next book, Dark Past, will again feature Detectives Cooper & Quinn. This time they are investigating a family with a secret in their past that someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. I can’t tell you too much about it just yet, but it will include some genealogy as well as delving into the cutting edge territory of gene therapy.

Thanks so much, Jenny, for hosting me on your fabulous blog.

Dark HeartCould you live with the heart of a killer? Fraser Grant was a kidnapper, a vile, murdering sociopath. Now he’s dead. Murdered in his own home, the women of Sydney can breathe easy again. All but one. His final victim is still missing — chained up, running out of time, and awaiting a captor who will never return. Detective Sergeant Charlie Cooper is desperate to find the missing woman alive. On the verge of quitting Homicide after a decade chasing the brutal killer, this is his last chance to atone for all the victims he failed.

After a life-saving heart transplant, Eva Matthews just wants things to get back to normal. But when she learns she has the heart of the serial killer, will nothing stop the nightmares that plague her? Dark Heart is a detective story, a race against time to save a life. But it’s also an exploration of cellular memory, the intriguing medical phenomenon of patients receiving more than just an organ from their donor. The terrifying serial killer may be dead, but that is just the beginning…

Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook or on her website.

BB2013_Nominee

Sunday With Mr Wigg

Inga Simpson PhotoIt is with great pleasure that I welcome Inga Simpson to Pilyara this Sunday. Inga is one of my absolute favourite authors! I’ve had the privilege of working with her as my mentor, and I consider her to be, along with Mark Tredinnick, one of Australia’s foremost nature writers. Just read her wonderful essay Triangulation (it won the 2012 Eric Rolls Nature Writing Prize) and I think you’ll agree with me. Inga’s recent release, Mr Wigg, has enchanted reviewers and readers alike with its unique and beautiful voice. ‘Sure to become an Australian classic,’ says one. ‘Reawakens our sense of what is right and good about the world,‘ says another. But enough of my raving! Time to hear from Inga herself  …

Welcome to Pilyara, Inga. Could you tell us please, about how Mr Wigg came to be published?

Mr WiggFrontCoverFinalI participated in the 2011 QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program, where I received a whole lot of great feedback from the publisher and went away and reworked the novel before resubmitting it. I felt reasonably confident the book would eventually get up but there was a bit of an extended conversation before I felt it was close. I had been expecting the call for a few weeks, forwarding my home phone to my mobile every time I went out … When the call finally came, I was at the train station saying good bye to my partner for a week or so. I saw the  number but the train was pulling in – I stressed out and didn’t take the call. Once I had put my partner on the train, the publisher called again. After twice dropping the phone on the floor of the car I managed to answer: CONTRACT!

What is your novel Mr Wigg about?

Mr Wigg appleMr Wigg is about the final year of one man’s life. He lives on what is left of the family farm in rural New South Wales, tending his magnificent orchard, cooking with his grandchildren, and telling them stories. Living alone is becoming more and more tenuous, but he takes on an ambitious project – forging a wrought iron peach tree – which all comes about because of a fairy tale about a Peach King.

In a way, it’s also a love story. Although Mrs Wigg has recently passed away, he reminisces about their life together. She was a bit of a character – with a particular fondness for the colour aqua.

What or who inspired the story?

To an extent, my paternal grandfather. He grew magnificent peaches! White ones
especially, which I’ve never tasted the likes of since. Wigg is the family name of one of his French ancestors, which really stuck in my head. When I travelled to rural France and saw the way people live – with their village plots and walled orchards, and so much emphasis on growing and cooking and sharing food – I wondered if my grandfather had been living out that part of his genetic  heritage without having ever been to France.  A character began to take shape, and I was calling the novel “Mr Wigg” long before I started writing. Mr Wigg took on his own character as the book evolved but some of the details, and Mr Wigg’s stories about the old days, are borrowed from my family.

Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?

Peach treesThe novel celebrates the spirit of the landscape where I grew up, and the time – the 1970s. A way of life, too, that has largely been lost. Blacksmithing and woodturning were crafts practised in my family and I value the richness of having been raised among those traditions.

There is something of my childhood memories of my own grandfather in Mr Wigg, too. An honouring of his orcharding skills and generous approach to life.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?

Change was a big theme for me while writing Mr Wigg. Not just ageing, but the decline of big farming families, the landscape, and rural way of life. Care for the environment, too, and respect for our fellow creatures – living in a connected way within the natural world.

Thank you Inga, for answering my questions about your gorgeous new novel. I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to read whatever comes next!

Mr Wigg

Mr WiggFrontCoverFinalA novel that celebrates the small, precious things in life by a fresh Australian voice.

It’s the summer of 1971, not far from the stone-fruit capital of New South Wales, where Mr Wigg lives on what is left of his family farm. Mrs Wigg has been gone a few years now and he thinks about her every day. He misses his daughter, too, and wonders when he’ll see her again.

He spends his time working in the orchard, cooking and preserving his produce and, when it s on, watching the cricket. It s a full life. Things are changing though, with Australia and England playing a one-day match, and his new neighbours planting grapes for wine. His son is on at him to move into town but Mr Wigg has his fruit trees and his chooks to look after. His grandchildren visit often: to cook, eat and hear his stories. And there s a special project he has to finish…

Trouble is, it’s a lot of work for an old man with shaking hands, but he’ll give it a go, as he always has …

Now, for the winners of the prize-pack draw announced a few weeks ago! Drum roll please! Brendat39 and Beverley Mayne. I’ll email you shortly for the address to post the prizes. Congratulations, and thank you to everybody who entered the draw.

BB2013_Nominee