Meet, well … me!

I’ve been on a mission to showcase the marvellous home-grown Australian and New Zealand fiction available to readers worldwide. My series on local authors will continue next month, however today I’m taking time out to announce my own new release – THE MEMORY TREE, out now!

THE MEMORY TREE  is the third book in my Tasmanian Tales series. To celebrate its release, the eBook of the first in the series, FORTUNE’S SON, is FREE for a limited time! Due to copyright reasons, the free edition of Fortune’s Son is unavailable in the local marketplace. But don’t worry, Australian and New Zealand readers may still get it for FREE by clicking on this link – Fortune’s Son for free!  

When I publish titles with Penguin Random House, book launches are grand affairs, followed by celebratory dinners. I do love meeting readers, but as an introvert I find talking in public stressful. I’m happiest at home in the mountains. Pilyara Press understands this, so my launch of THE MEMORY TREE today is wholly online.


Here is a short Q&A with Jennie Jones, a terrific Aussie author who I hope to feature in the future. I have also included an excerpt from THE MEMORY TREE. Thanks for visiting and I hope you buy my book 🙂 !

  1. How long did it take you to write the book?

The Memory Tree took a year to write, but had been brewing for much longer than that. Although it’s  a standalone novel, it’s also the third book in my Tasmanian Tales series, and the story had been swirling around my mind since 2016. These books are inspired by my fascination with Tasmanian flora and fauna ‒ in particular the Tasmanian devil and its extinct cousin, the thylacine.

  1. What was the most difficult or complex aspect of writing your book?

Researching the fascinating but complicated science underpinning the fight to save Tasmanian devils from Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) This cruel cancer is threatening devils with extinction, and the race is on to find a cure.

 

 

  1. What gave you the most pleasure when writing your book?

I loved my research trips to the magnificent Tasmanian wilderness. I also enjoyed crafting the relationship between Matt and Penny, my two main characters. I quite liked torturing them 😊

 

  1. Are you nervous when a new release comes out?

Always! I never know whether people will like a new book. Waiting for the first reviews to roll in is nerve-racking, as is the thought of disappointing my readers.

  1. What’s the best thing a reader could do if they enjoyed your book?

If readers enjoy my book I’d love them to tell somebody. Word of mouth is the best way for other readers to find out about new books. Also, leave a review somewhere online. Amazon, Booktopia, Goodreads, Facebook, iTunes ‒ it really doesn’t matter where. Authors only have a few months to make a splash before the next shiny thing comes along, and reviews are so important. Ask your library to get it in, as well. If the subject matter of The Memory Tree moves you, please consider making a donation to the Devils In Danger Foundation. You can even adopt a Tasmanian devil there!

Excerpt from The Memory Tree

Chapter 2 

Penny watched the black Audi sweep into the car park. That had to be her. Its driver, slim, dark-haired and stylish, walked over and introduced herself with a broad American accent. ‘Dr Sarah Deville, UCLA.’ She smiled and shook Penny’s hand a little too hard. ‘I’ve never seen a live devil. Really looking forward to this.’

Penny began the seminar, standing beneath a banner strung above the whiteboard ‒ Slow Down Between Dusk and Dawn. It was more than a little overwhelming to have the renowned geneticist in the audience. If she pretended Dr Deville wasn’t there it might help. She cast her eye over the crowd. About thirty. A good number. Dr Deville sat at the back. Penny tried to concentrate.

‘Welcome to Binburra Wildlife Park, thirty thousand hectares of World Heritage wilderness high on the rim of Tuggerah Valley. The property originally belonged to a founding member of Tasmania’s environmental movement, Daniel Campbell. His family later bequeathed it to the state, to be gazetted as a national park.’ Penny wet her lips. ‘Binburra pioneered the captive management and breeding of Tasmanian devils. They’re a lonely species ‒ their close relatives already gone ‒ and for the past two decades we’ve been fighting to save the devils themselves from extinction, because a bizarre and mysterious disease is set to wipe them out.’

Penny winced. How stupid she sounded, going through her little spiel when the world expert on the devil genome sat right there in front of her. She tried not to look at Dr Deville and ended up staring slightly to the side, as if there was some sort of fascinating patch on the wall. Two women in the front row were looking sideways now too. For goodness sake, get a grip.

‘A virulent contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease ‒ DFTD for short ‒ causes suppurating tumours in the animals. Those affected die agonising deaths within months, starving as disfiguring growths eat away their jaws and choke their throats.’ Penny cleared her own throat. ‘Binburra provides healthy animals to mainland and overseas zoos. These Project Ark founders are breeding safe from the threat of disease, but our wild devils could soon face extinction.’ She was talking too fast, rushing it. She took a deep, steadying breath. ‘And if we let that happen, nobody will understand, and nobody will forgive us.’

Penny reached into the box at her feet. She pulled out a squat black creature the size of a small bulldog, with round furry ears – cute like a teddy bear. It sniffed the air. She set the animal on the desk in front of her and it shuffled around to face the audience. With a collective gasp, people shrank back. The devil looked as if a hunk of raw, rotting meat had been slapped along the entire side of its head. Its jaw was disfigured by ulcerating growths that forced its lips apart and protruded through its mouth. A fleshy, bleeding tumour mushroomed from one eye.

‘Meet Angel,’ said Penny. ‘A motorist killed her mother three years ago and thankfully stopped to check for pouch young. She found two dead babies and Angel here, barely clinging to life. I nursed her round the clock, took her with me everywhere.’ Penny paused to fondle Angel’s misshapen head. ‘Angel stayed with me  at the sanctuary until she was eighteen months old. I never met a sweeter, cleverer little devil. In winter she dragged logs to the fireplace, hinting for us to light it. She loved curling up by that fire. And she mothered the younger orphans, carrying them in her mouth if she thought they were in danger, putting them back in their baskets. She really is special. Last year I released her into what we hoped was a safe area of the park. We trapped her in the course of our regular monitoring program two weeks ago … like this.’

A question came from the crowd. ‘How did you know it was her?’

‘All our animals are microchipped. But I’d know her anywhere, and she recognised me too, knew I was trying to help.’ Penny kissed Angel’s forehead and stretched out her hind legs, exposing an emaciated abdomen. More gasps from the audience. Three joeys clung to Angel’s belly. ‘Afflicted she-devils are extraordinarily devoted, never abandoning their young. Instead a mother steadfastly feeds and protects her joeys until the very last moments of her life. We’re just waiting for Angel’s babies to be a few weeks older, closer to weaning. Then we’ll euthanise her.’ Penny tucked Angel’s legs back in as comfortably as she could. ‘You won’t suffer anymore then, sweetheart.’ The devil laid her poor, mutilated head in the crook of Penny’s arm.

After the seminar, Penny sold a few souvenirs as people left. Sarah Deville stood by, watching a volunteer carry Angel out in a crate. ‘Can you show me a healthy one?’

‘Of course. Just let me lock up.’

****

Penny entered the shady enclosure where Bonny and her babies snored in a hollow log. She beckoned for Sarah to follow.

Sarah hesitated. ‘Won’t they bite?’

‘Our devils are used to handling,’ said Penny. ‘And Bonny here, in particular, is a complete pushover.’ As promised, sleepy Bonny let Penny pull her from the log to show off her four babies.

‘Is it true they eat anything?’ asked Sarah.

‘Pretty much,’ said Penny. ‘We’ve found all sorts of things in their scat. Boot leather, bottle tops, cigarette butts. Even echidna quills. Their stomach acids have a bone-dissolving enzyme.’ Sarah squealed as one little devil ran up Penny’s arm and sat on her shoulder. Penny tickled the baby’s tummy. ‘These joeys really should be independent by now, but little Zoe here is a persistent late suckler, so they’ll stay with mum a bit longer.’ Penny placed Zoe in Sarah’s arms. ‘Some people call baby devils imps,’ she said. ‘For very good reason.’

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 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!

Happy New Year!

A Happy New Year to all my friends and readers! It’s a beautiful sunny New Year’s Day here in the southern Victorian ranges – one of the loveliest places on earth. I’m looking forward to a wonderful year full of riding, writing and reading.

I’m also looking forward to publishing three more novels. Two will be international publications of books already released in Australia: Journey’s End and Wasp Season. I’m busy revising them at the moment to make them the best they can be. It’s a great privilege to be able to revisit a previously published work. Thank you Pilyara Press!

 

THE MEMORY TREE

The third book I’ll publish in 2019, The Memory Tree, will be a brand new release in Australia as well as in the rest of the world. It’s the third in the Tasmanian Tales trilogy, and will be out in the second half of this year.
Like the novels preceding it, The Memory Tree pays homage to my love of Tasmania’s unique flora and fauna, and particularly the Tassie Devil. Here’s a brief synopsis …

THE MEMORY TREE – coming soon

‘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.


Now to announce the December winners of this month’s prize draw!
They are 57glorygirl@gmail.com and c.carr@sheldoncollege.com.
Congratulations. I shall email you soon to ask which two of my eBooks you would like. Australian readers may choose one print book instead.
(I have contacted the winners of the Christmas Turtle Reef giveaway privately.)

HAPPY READING in 2019!

 

‘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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