Meet Leisl Leighton

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

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


ROMANTIC SUSPENSE, VICTORIAN ALPS & HORSE RIDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walhalla

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

Climbing Fear

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

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

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

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

Climbing Fear is available at iTunes, AmazonKobo and Google Play

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

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

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


 

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

Meet Jenn J McLeod

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

 

Meet Darry Fraser

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Research Trips

Research trips 1I’m off tomorrow on a research trip for my new novel, working title Turtle Reef. I know we live in a time where a vast amount of information is at our fingertips through the internet, without even leaving our desk. Books, histories, documentaries and academic journals are available online, and they are invaluable for authors constructing stories set outside their regular world.

research trips 2However it’s still important if possible to physically spend time with a setting to capture it authentically. No amount of reading could convey the true grandeur of the high country, or the enchanted forests of the Bunya Mountains, or the evening beauty of reflected stars in the Murray’s dark waters. It’s enormously helpful for writers to experience these things first hand. Smells are especially hard to grasp without being there. A vivid imagination can create a world, but the eye of a keen observer can truly bring it to life.

Research trips 3That’s why I’m off to Queensland tomorrow to spend time in cane country, and also on Lady Elliot Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. The blurb for my current work-in-progress goes something like this.

‘Unlucky-in-love zoologist Zoe King has given up on men. Moving from Sydney to the small sugar town of Kiawa means a fresh start and she is charmed by the region’s beauty – by its rivers and rainforests. By its vast cane fields, sweeping from the foothills down to the rocky coral coast.  And by its people – its farmers and fishermen, unhurried and down to earth, proud of their traditions.

Her work at the Reef Centre provides all the passion she needs and Zoe finds a friend in Bridget, the centre’s director. So the last thing she expects is to fall for her boss’s boyfriend, cane king Quinn Cooper. When animals on the reef begin to sicken and die, Zoe’s personal and professional worlds collide. She faces a terrible choice. To protect the reef must she betray the man she loves?’

How fantastic, to be able to spend some more time in this beautiful part of Australia. The manuscript and I are going to have a ball!

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Nearly There …

Gwydir Wetlands

Credit: Daryl Albertson – Gwydir Wetlands

My new book (working title Billabong) is due for submission to Penguin on Monday. I’m putting the final touches on the first draft … and it’s good, if I do say so myself! The story is set on an imaginary river in the Murray-Darling basin, somewhere in north-western NSW near the junction of the Namoi and the Barwon – land of the Kamilaroi nation.

Brolga 2It’s a star-crossed love story between a cotton grower and a floodplains grazier. 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 Rocco, her childhood sweetheart, returns to the river, old feelings rekindle 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. Will Nina win the battle for Billabong? Or will the man she once loved destroy the wild wetlands she holds so close to her heart?

Egret 3It’s a story about first love – that original blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something more 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!

Rural Romance AuthorsAnyway, I’d better stop talking and go back to polishing that first draft. I’ll finish with a bit of  Aussie rural author-watching, instead of bird-watching. This photo was taken at a recent conference, and is courtesy of Cathryn Hein. How many can you identify?

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