Meet Wendy Lee Davies

Today I’d like you to meet Wendy Lee Davies, a relative newcomer to our Aussie rural fiction family. She began writing romances as a lark after leaving her communications and editing job of many years. 

Wendy won the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Award in 2017 with her small-town contemporary romance, The Drover’s Rest. The same story (renamed Good Enough For Love prior to publication), was also a finalist in the 2017 Mid-American Romance Writer’s Fiction from the Heartland competition. So, over to you Wendy …


Landscapes are strange things I reckon. They evoke such a wide range of emotions, from deep longing all the way to abject fear. I think that’s why painters and photographers endeavour to capture them in their art. And writers do too.

My Cousin’s Farm

I’ve been roaming around Australian landscapes my entire life. One of my first memories is of piling into the family car and going for long drives into the countryside. We also visited my cousins often. They lived on a wheat and sheep farm in the northern part of Victoria, so shearing sheep, harvesting wheat and cooking over a wood stove all formed a part my growing up. It’s why my story – Good Enough For Love – is set in a fictional town right in the middle of the sheep and wheat growing area of Victoria. A landscape I know well.

From the time I was a teenager, I’ve loved bushwalking. I “discovered” this activity basically because a girlfriend demanded I join her on a walk. But I soon fell in love with it, not the least because we were always outnumbered by the guys on these great adventures – like two females (my girlfriend and me) to at least six guys. I walked the mountains and along some incredible rivers and vast, deserted beaches carrying everything we needed on our backs. And bushwalking led to cross country skiing. And then I got into cycling, especially cycle touring. (I’m about to boast, so forgive me.) I’ve ridden my bicycle from Brisbane to Sydney, from Sydney to Melbourne and from Launceston to Hobart. It is a wonderful way of immersing yourself in the landscape you are riding through. The hills, the scents, and the environment are up close and personal, I can tell you.

I love our landscapes. I adore vast mountain ranges disappearing off into the clouds. The vast forests of gum trees, where the light and shade play peek-a-boo while the scent of eucalypt permeates the air. And the rolling hills around Gippsland. Then there’s the red sand and huge vast vistas of the outback. I’ve done my best to capture it all in photographs, but it’s never as good as being there.

Being out in the ’great outdoors’ feeds my soul. Always has. Probably always will.

Iceland

Just a few weeks ago I was sitting by a bubbling river, in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the world (Iceland). I was sitting in the sun, completely alone, with snow-capped mountains in the background and no trees in sight, just enjoying the peace and solitude. (see picture left)

Then I got to thinking about all the emotions I’d experienced while travelling around this far-off land. Exhausted. Worried. Laughter. Annoyed and disgusted at my inability to do what I used to find so easy – walk up steep hills without huffing and puffing – in my younger years. Awestruck and gobsmacked by the sheer beauty before me. The sheer joy of being there capturing all this fascinating and wonderful scenery. And here I was, sitting there feeling so at ease, so at peace, that I never wanted to leave.

All that emotion… It’s not the first time I’ve felt those things. But this time I finally understood.

Landscapes are why I write small-town, country romances. The environment, the scenery, the whole landscape becomes a character, a presence that goes mostly unnoticed, but significant. It isn’t the landscape itself that makes my heroes and heroines react, but it reflects their deepest fears and their greatest joys. If done well, our Australian landscape can make any character feel insignificant, immaterial … or able to step up and overcome their own issues.

You see what I mean? Landscapes are strange. But where would we be without them?


Good Enough For Love
Moving to the country challenges everything she
knows…

When Amber Hutchinson inherits a country hotel, she plans to do it up, sell it, and move on. After all, living in the country never featured in her plans. That is until she comes across a handsome local sheep farmer.

He always tries to do the right thing…
When Zach Wentworth comes cross a gorgeous, blond-haired woman stuck in his hometown’s hotel window, trying to break in, naturally he tries to find out what’s going on.

Without the hotel, Willow’s Bend is likely to die a slow death. So, Zach does whatever he can to secure his town’s future. But doing the right thing means risking his heart. Again. Amber’s determined to make the hotel into a thriving business once more. On her own. She has little time for her growing attraction to Zach. Something she’s desperately trying to ignore because she knows it won’t last.

While the town gossips eagerly discuss every interaction between them, Amber and Zach must choose between protecting their hearts and taking a chance on love.

Get in touch with Wendy via her website, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram and Bookbub.


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

Meet Sandie Docker

Today I’m introducing Aussie author Sandie Docker. Sandie writes about love, loss, family and small country towns. Her debut novel, The Kookaburra Creek Café, was released in April 2018. The Cottage At Rosella Cove was released in January, 2019 and her third novel The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is scheduled for release in March 2020.

Now it’s over to Sandie!


 

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Jennifer.

When I first started writing, I was living and working in London. Having grown up in Coffs Harbour, back when it was a town of only 20,000 people, London was a far cry from the small coastal upbringing of my youth. So far from home in a huge anonymous city and missing the familiarity and community that comes with small Aussie towns, it isn’t surprising, I guess, that my first manuscript – you know that one that all authors have that will never see the light day – was set in my home town of Coffs.

Setting that first manuscript in my home town though, I found it really difficult to separate myself from the story. And the manuscript was a disaster. But I’d fallen in love with writing and when I started my next manuscript, I decided to set it in a fictional small town, drawing on my experiences growing up in and around the country to colour my made-up place. The freedom I found in that approach worked for me and I now set all of my novels in small, fictional Aussie towns.

The beauty for me of writing about small Australian towns is the variety of landscapes you can draw on – the dry dusty forlorn streets of Lawson’s Ridge in The Kookaburra Creek Café, to the lush patchwork peninsular jutting into the sea in The Cottage At Rosella Cove, to the banksia covered hills rolling into the surf in The Banksia Bay Beach Shack. The landscape we have in Australia is vast and beautiful and lends itself so well to storytelling – so often in Australian novels the towns themselves becoming characters, integral elements without which the story will fall apart. When I signed my contract with Penguin, they changed the working titles of my novels to champion the names of the towns they are set in, as they saw how important the setting is in my writing.

Another reason why I love writing about small Aussie towns is the unique cast of characters you can create to populate these wonderful places. Growing up in a small town, it was annoying that everyone knew everybody’s business, especially as a teenager. But as a writer, it is a gift. Often on the surface people as a whole seem homogenous, but when you intimately get to know someone, the way you do by default in small towns, you can know the quirks that make them special, know the secrets that motivate their every action, know the history that informs who they are. The depth you can go to as a writer when creating characters in small towns, excites me every time I open my laptop. I have found on this writing journey, that these are the characters I most enjoy crafting – Hattie in Kookaburra Creek, with her ever-changing coloured hair stripe and penchant for the dramatic; Ivy in Rosella Cove, and her letters to Tom with acerbic observations of her tight-knit community; and still ‘under construction’ Yvonne in Banksia Bay, a woman in her seventies who wears board shorts and ferries people from place to place in her beat up kombi.

Inspiration for The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

There is a richness and depths to Australian small towns – the harsh and picturesque landscapes, the soulful and eccentric characters – that I love spending my time exploring, that I love sharing with my readers.

I live in the city now, by virtue of my husband’s job, but I ache to return to the physical beauty and sense of community of a quiet little town, full of quirky neighbours, somewhere on the coast that I can call home.

 

Bio

Sandie Docker grew up in Coffs Harbour, and first fell in love with reading when her father introduced her to fantasy books as a teenager. Her love of Women’s Fiction began when she first read Jane Austen for the HSC. Writing about love, loss, family and small country towns, her debut novel, The Kookaburra Creek Café, was released in April 2018, The Cottage At Rosella Cove was released January, 2019 and her third novel The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is scheduled for release in March 2020.

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

Meet Leanne Lovegrove

 

Firstly I’d like to wish a belated Happy Mother’s day to all the mums out there, including today’s featured writer Leanne (and to me 🙂 !)

Today on my rural author showcase I’m introducing Leanne Lovegrove – author, lawyer, wife, mother and lover of all things romance. Her job as a lawyer has caused her addiction to coffee and pinot noir, but it also provides her with endless story ideas. Leanne’s latest novel, Illegal Love was released on 10 May 2019. Her books are available in print through Amazon and as ebooks.


 

Thanks very much Jennifer for having me on your Blog.

There are so many elements that go into a fantastic story – one that readers will love and remember long after they’ve turned the last page. For me, these elements include romance, secrets, unforgettable and authentic characters that triumph over adversity and a compelling story. But there’s something else that is essential – setting.

Maleny

In my debut novel, Unexpected Delivery, it was the setting of my fictional country town loosely based on the Queensland hinterland town of Maleny that centred my story. I was drawn to that area for many reasons.

Being born and bred a city girl, I have spent a great deal of my time trying to get away from the urban environment and yearning for the vast, rolling green hills of the country. Living in Brisbane, I am drawn to the entire east coast of Queensland with the majestic Barrier Reef and coastal towns of the North, but closer to home, one of my favourite spots is the Sunshine Coast and its hinterland. It’s a diverse area where one moment you can be walking along the long stretches of sandy beach and the next, inhaling the fresh, clear air of the mountains.

Maleny was a perfect spot to set my story in Unexpected Delivery as a dairy farm was central to the plot. Plus it was a girl leaves the city type of story and Maleny, only 1.5 hours from Brisbane was perfect. But it’s always been a favourite spot of mine and if you ever get the chance, you must visit.

One of the pathways my character wanders around in New Farm

My newest release, Illegal Love out on 10 May 2019, is based in Brisbane but in the surrounds of a prestigious old girl’s school and the quaint alleyways and paths surrounding the iconic New Farm park area. I also send my couple to exotic and beautiful Hoi An in Vietnam. My current work in progress commences on isolated and remote but deeply atmospheric Bruny Island in the 1950’s and later, Hobart, Tasmania. Our Australian landscape can enrich and add so many layers to the story.

 

This is the view from the yard at the cattle farm

Unlike many writers, setting may not always come to me first. That’s usually the spark of an idea about the characters and how they will drive the story, but setting is almost certainly next. Another of my favourite spots is the Scenic Rim. My family often spends time on an operational cattle farm located at the base of the Lamington National Park ranges. There is no internet and only isolation and each other for company. It’s the perfect getaway.

 

The Noosa Headlands

Whilst I’m preparing to edit my next novel, a new story idea is brewing. I am picturing Noosa Heads and more particularly the Noosa National Park. There is a walk around the headland that takes your breath away with its secret coves, beaches and rocky cliffs. I might be biased, but it is among the most gorgeous Australian landscapes we have.

In order to clear my mind or work out messy plot holes, a walk on one of our beaches always does the trick. It’s one of my favourite places to walk and think. We are very lucky to have such diverse and amazing landscapes right here in Australia and for me, in Queensland.


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

 

Meet Renee Dahlia

Today I’d like to introduce a newcomer to our Aussie rural fiction family, author Renee Dahlia. Her Merindah Park series is set in country Victoria, in a fictional town near Waranga Lake Basin. ‘Waranga’ is thought to mean sing after the abundant birdlife found in the area. There are several Indigenous & European archaeological sites nearby, including scar trees and the remains of pioneer homesteads.This is a fertile part of Australia, with many horse studs, orchards, and farms. Merindah Park is the beginning of a brand new rural romance series about an emerging racehorse stud and the family desperately trying to make their racing dreams come true. Over to you Renée!


Hi Jennifer, and thanks for having me on your blog. Merindah Park is the story of a family farm, torn apart by a gambling addicted father. After his death, the four siblings—John, Shannon, and twins Rachel and Serena—spend five difficult years consolidating debts and working to get the farm out of trouble.

 

The first book in the series, Merindah Park, begins with John making a courageous decision to buy a racehorse from Japan. He meets Toshiko, a veterinarian, and romance ensues!

One of the beauties of horse racing, aside from the horses, is the global nature of it. By creating a story around a horse racing property, I had the pleasure of writing about a farm in Japan, and a farm in Australia. The differences in climate are fascinating, with Japan’s horse breeding region having high rain fall (more like New Zealand) and the Australian farm having issues with drought. Toshiko notices the difference, not just in the grass and land, but even in the way her hair and skin react to the lack of moisture in the Australian air. There are also differences in the way horses are grown in both nations with Australian horses living outside all year around, but Japanese horses requiring stabling during winter snow.

As for my own connection with the rural life, I grew up in a very small town in New Zealand as a ‘townie’. I begged and borrowed horses from farmers, so I could attend the local pony club, and eventually, my paper route earned me enough cash that I could afford to rent a paddock from a neighbour and have my own (leased) horse. Land of Oz was a retired racehorse, and we had a couple of years of fun together before I went to university and he went back to his owner. The pull of horses didn’t go away, and I worked as a strapper in racing stables all through my years at university, getting up early to do the morning shift (and even riding a couple of slow quiet ones in trackwork). It wasn’t until much later that I could bring together my love of racehorses and my career, and I started writing data analysis based articles for horse racing magazines. Eventually in 2016, I tried my hand at fiction, and Merindah Park is my fifth published novel.

The second book in the series, Making her Mark, features Rachel, who is a jockey, and will be out in August.

Renée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a side-note of dark humour. Renée has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse racing industry doing data analysis, and writing magazine articles. When she isn’t reading or writing, Renée wrangles a partner, four children, and volunteers on the local cricket club committee as well as for Romance Writers Australia.


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

Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tapin Tops National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Snow Leopard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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