Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tapin Tops National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Snow Leopard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thanks to Kathryn for her insightful questions. Now to announce the winners of this month’s prize draw. Congratulations to tinyballerina58@gmail.com and drevetmi@msn.com! I’ll be in touch by email very soon. 

 

 

Author Branding

Author Branding 3A distinctive brand gives an author a major advantage in marketing their books. It defines what they stand for. It helps them refine and cultivate a unique voice. Not every writer appreciates being ‘put in a box’ so to speak, as if they are a product on a shelf. But books are products on shelves, and readers are consumers. In this week’s blog, fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson and I share our thoughts on the concept of branding. I’ll start the ball rolling.

JENNIFER
Author branding is all about promising a certain kind of reading experience. ‘Brand’ means having a recognisable, consistent voice and approach from book to book, so your fans know what to expect. It doesn’t mean you have to write the same thing over and over. Take the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, for example. His movies range from courtroom dramas like The Paradine Case to historicals like Under Capricorn, set in nineteenth-century Australia. But no matter what the subject matter, you always know you’ll get a taut, psychological thriller. Woody Allen movies are funny, quirky and character-driven, while nobody portrays alienated men living on the edge like Martin Scorsese.

Author Branding 2I was lucky. My author brand just fell in my lap. I write Australian rural fiction with powerful environmental themes. Nobody else does that (I have no idea why!) and it became my immediate point of difference. The books I write celebrate a love affair with the wild, and it gives my publisher a clear idea of how to market my work. Kathryn also has a very distinctive style and voice. She writes fast-paced and funny romantic adventures. ‘Fans of Stephanie Plum rejoice. There’s a new undercover angel in town,’ said a review in Marie Clare. Bam, there’s her brand right there.

Identifying your particular brand isn’t always that easy. You have to figure out the goal of your writing, define your purpose and identify your audience. A consistent, core message should start to emerge. Everyone wants to appeal to a wide audience, but I think it helps to have a specific focus, especially in the beginning. On your blog, on social media, in the way you talk about your work. For me of course it’s the environment. Last week I blogged about Melbourne’s Environmental Film Festival, and tweeted about the repeal of the Wild Rivers legislation. Zeroing in on your own passions and interests helps define you in the mind of your audience.

KATH
Author Branding 1I recently met a writer whose goal was to have her novel published. ‘But I wouldn’t want to do all that public-speaking stuff like you do,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want people knowing my business.’

What many aspiring authors don’t understand is that the “public-speaking stuff” and your business go with the turf. It’s part of your brand. Who you, the author, are plays an intrinsic role in the branding game and, yes, if you want to really connect with your readers, it can be personal. Branding of course is all about marketing and promotion. It’s about finding that unique thing that sets you firmly apart from the crowd and puts you under a spotlight so that, ultimately, it’s your book a reader will pick up, thinking, ‘I’ve heard about this author. She’s the one who (insert unique thing).’ Your brand is like a fingerprint. If you nail it (pun intended), your brand will be so individual that you can honestly claim no-one does what you do.

There are two very important reasons to have a brand. First, to get publishers to notice you. And then to get readers to notice you. Getting readers to notice you can happen via publicity, and your brand is the thing that attracts the media. Every month in Australia, dozens of authors make their debut. In that case, why would any newspaper be interested in you? What’s so special about you? You’re a product. Yes, you are. So, market yourself. Find your brand. Your unique thing.

It’s not necessarily that easy to find your brand and, as Jen points out, she and I are lucky because, although we’re writing for popular genres, neither of us had to work very hard to find our points of difference. Jen writes environmental or eco-romance (isn’t that fabulous?). I write funny, romantic adventure novels. However, that’s not special or unique. Other people write books like that. I write “like Janet Evanovich”, but even that’s not unique because it’s like Janet Evanovich. I think my brand is (currently) my series character, Erica Jewell. Like Evanovich has Stephanie Plum, Helen Fielding has Bridget Jones, Lee Child has Jack Reacher, my Erica is the stand-out thing that sets my work apart. One day, when Erica and her man are finally tucked into boring happily-ever-after, and I write another book or series, then I’ll have to re-brand myself. I think it will always be “funny, romantic adventure novels”, but still that’s a bit dull. Perhaps I can find a new name for that genre: Laugh-Out-Loud Romantic Adventure? LOL Rom-ad?

I’m sure you’ll come up with something wonderful Kath! What do readers think? What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of author branding?

BB14

Billabong Bend Q&A

BB High Res coverTwo days to go until the release of my new novel Billabong Bend – an exciting time. It’s also the one time of year that I give my blog over to shameless self-promotion! Here is a Q&A I did with Penguin Books (Aust)

What is your new book about?
Billabong Bend is set in Northern NSW in the heart of our beautiful riverlands. It’s a star-crossed love story which sets Nina, a floodplains grazier, and Ric, a traditional cotton farmer, on a heart-rending collision course.

Nina’s dream is to buy Billabong Bend, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River and protect it forever. But she’s not the only one with designs on the land. When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns home, old feelings are rekindled, and Nina hopes they might have a future together on the river. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a nightmare. Will Nina win the battle for Billabong Bend? Or will the man she once loved destroy the wild wetlands she holds so close to her heart?

What or who inspired it?
This novel was inspired by my love for the northern riverlands, and for the Murray Darling basin. I’ve always been fascinated by rivers – by their unique habitats, and by their place in literature. Rivers are revered by some of my favourite writers. Mark Twain had a lifelong love affair with the Mississippi. 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,’
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 mysterious, dangerous, life-giving and achingly beautiful. They are also in trouble and need our protection.

Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
The idea for the book arose many years ago, during long, languid days spent in the riverlands. Last year I took several trips back up the Murray and saw for myself the changes wrought to habitats and wildlife by drought and low flows. I wanted to write about it.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?
T
he major themes in Billabong Bend are the power of first love, forgiveness and freedom. There is also a strong environmental theme, namely the importance of conserving habitats.

Who do you think will enjoy your book?
Anybody who can remember the fierceness of first love. Anybody who has marvelled at the grace of a waterbird in flight, or has enjoyed a lazy day on a river.

Do you have a special ‘spot’ for writing at home? (If so, describe it)
I have a small office space off the lounge room and I’m adept at revising through the noise of a busy family. There is no window directly in front of my desk, but instead, a full length picture window to the side. I often gaze out across the mountains for inspiration. My favourite writing spot is over at the stables. Horses are good listeners, and don’t mind you reading aloud. In winter I sometimes write in bed!

Tell us a bit about your childhood?
I was a horse-mad child. I also enjoyed a deep passion for the plants, animals and birds of the bush.. My family had a house in Melbourne as well as a property in the mountains. At every chance I escaped the city to be with my horses. When I married I moved to the farm permanently and am still there.

Do you feel more of a sense of “community” amongst like-minded people as yourself since the advent of blogging?
Absolutely! Blogging and social media provide a real sense of camaraderie for writers, and for regional writers in particular. I might be typing away on my remote mountaintop in the southern Victorian ranges, but I’m connected on-line to writers and readers from all around the world. I love it!

What do you like to read? And what are you currently reading?
I have pretty eclectic tastes. I read books within the Australian rural lit genre of course: authors like Cathryn Hein, Nicole Alexander, Fleur Mcdonald and Margareta Osborn. But I love all kinds of fiction. Debut breakout Aussie novels Burial Rites and The Rosie Project were both fantastic reads. So was the charming Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson. I also enjoy natural history writing, and always keep at least one novel and one non-fiction book on the go. Currently I’m reading  The Reef by Professor Iain McCalman (non-fiction) and The Blue Dolphin by Robert Barnes (fiction)

What is your advice to budding authors?
Learn as much about your craft as possible and write every day. Network with other writers. State writer’s centres and Varuna – The Writer’s House are great places to start. When you have a finished manuscript get some expert feedback and revise, revise, revise. Then it’s time to learn as much about the publishing industry as possible. There are some great opportunities to get your work before publishers without an agent in Australia. I’m proof of that, having won a Penguin contract through a conference pitch. Give it a go, grow a thick skin and remember that persistence pays.

BB14

 

 

 

 

 

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