Meet Fiona McArthur

This week, international best-selling Aussie author Fiona McArthur joins me on the blog. In her non-writing life she has worked as a midwife – hence the medical themes that recur in her books. The power and strength in women of all ages is a constant theme in Fiona’s books. To find out more, read on!


Hello Jennifer and readers.

Thanks for this fab series of blogs. There’s so much joy to be had with all the different books from Australian authors. One of the standouts for me is imagining the vast variety of vibrant landscapes described in our rural and outback books and the way each author portrays their connection to the land they write about. I think the scenery is so important that I like to think of that landscape as another character in my books.

The other really exciting part is sharing the strengths, the challenges and the joys of the characters who live in the more remote areas of Australia. I love writing about small rural townspeople, adventures in great outback landscapes, inhabitants of remote islands, and the station owners on far reaches of our great country.

I’ve had the most wonderful time with my outback books and of course there is always a birth, a baby or a medical emergency to be had. Think Call The Midwife meets Country Practice. As a retired midwife I can’t help myself.

So babies or medical emergencies in outback Queensland, Western Queensland, remote New South Wales like Broken Hill, and all that land that stretches away down to Victoria across to Northern Territory and up towards Queensland.

At the moment, I’m writing about the far north, and loving it, but my first book for Penguin was set in a town very similar to Windora in Western Queensland. I called the town and the book Red Sand Sunrise and I can still see in my mind’s eye that huge red sand hill outside the town. I just love that feeling of solitude sitting on top of that rolling sea of beautiful big crystals of bright orange sand at sunrise. I really wanted to share that and other beautiful aspects of Australia in each new setting with my readers.

When I wrote The Homestead Girls and Heart Of The Sky they were set around Broken Hill, in New South Wales. We stayed at a station twenty miles out of town called Mount Gipps Station, which used to be a million acres, and was the original station where the ‘line of load’ that body or ore that was discovered at Broken Hill. Mount Gipps Station holds the most incredible variety of rocks, crystals and stones in rows like skeletal ridges and the paddocks roll away with small scrubby bushes and hidden hollows. There are sandy curves of the creek beds with huge white-trunked gums in the middle and gully’s that close in as you drive down them. It’s an arid but magical place.

The station couple I met there were the epitome of down-to-earth, brave, hard-working, laid-back heroes and were just all-out inspirational with their ability to take the tough times with the good times and turn their hands to anything that needed to be done.

I have this memory of Kym driving off with her dogs on this quad bike up to the sheep yards. She makes me smile just thinking about her. You might have seen her mailbox that I posted to my Homestead Girls Facebook page. I love it so much I actually added it to two books.

Which brings me to my new release, The Desert Midwife. The Mount Gipps mailbox is in there too. Such fun.

The Desert Midwife is set in central Australia. Uluru has a starring role and there’s a hospital in Alice Springs and a medical centre near Uluru to have emergencies in. My heroine, Ava, is part of a long-standing station family whittled down to three generations of women. Ava’s younger brother, Jock, is being destroyed by the drought and his feelings of failure to secure the futures of all the women he loves.

Our hero, fly in fly out Dr Zach, is a widower, who has come to Alice Springs to briefly escape the memories of the prolonged and tragic death of his wife in Sydney and his own guilt as the driver of the car she was so badly injured in.

Zac meets Ava, with instant attraction on both sides. But how can there be any future when he’s definitely a city guy and she is the Desert Midwife? Pop in another nasty car accident, and Zac’s amnesia really puts a hold on their relationship.

The Desert Midwife is about families pulling together in tough times, about the beauty and magic of Uluru which I hope inspires readers who haven’t seen its majesty to venture the distance out there, and about having faith and trust that things will work out if we have the belief. I hope you will pick up the book, lose yourself in the desert, and smile at the end when you put it down. With warmest wishes for happy reading
Xx Fi


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

Meet Juanita Kees

Today I’d like you to meet well-known Aussie author Juanita Kees. She creates emotionally engaging worlds steeped in romance, suspense, mystery and intrigue, set in dusty, rural outback Australia and also on the NASCAR racetracks of America.

Her small town and Australian rural romances have made the Amazon bestseller and top 100 lists. Juanita writes mostly contemporary and Australian rural romantic suspense but also likes to dabble in the ponds of fantasy and paranormal with Greek gods brought to life in the 21st century. When she’s not writing, Juanita is mother to three grown boys and has a passion for fast cars and country living. Now it’s over to Juanita!


Finding love and hope in small towns with dark secrets …

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, Jennifer.

Born and raised in Africa, I always thought the Serengeti was the coolest place in the world, and that wildlife didn’t exist outside of elephants, rhino, lions and giraffe. But from the early age of six, I developed a love affair with Australia, kangaroos, kookaburras and koalas, most likely thanks to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. In the late nineties, my dreams were realised when we emigrated to Western Australia and here, I discovered a whole new world. I remember leaving Perth airport and there were kangaroos in the fields on the way out. Sadly, they’re all gone now as the airport has grown and expanded.

Valley of the Giants

Western Australia has some of the wildest, prettiest coastline. Inland is filled with treasures too, like Karajini National Park to the north-west with its breathtaking gorges, land of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga people. Down to the south-east, Albany boasts blow-holes that shoot fountains of water up through the rocks, driven by the sheer force of nature and the sea. And in Walpole, you can walk through the treetops in the Valley of the Giants amid the amazing Karri trees. What I love most about the walk is the smell of the earth, the trees and the incredible peaceful silence when you’re deep in the forest.

Closer to home is my favourite place, hidden deep in the Perth hills, Araluen Botanical Park. This is where I set my very first series, Under the Law. Given the park’s history, it seemed like the perfect location for a group of troubled youths, and the woman set on helping them, to turn their lives around.

Kookaburra

In 1929, Australian businessman, politician and founder of the Young Australia League, J.J. Simons, built a holiday camp for his youth organisation on 59 hectares in a misty valley in Roleystone. The name he gave it was Araluen, an Eastern States Aboriginal word meaning “singing waters,” “running waters” or “place of lilies.” The buildings and structures throughout Araluen were built using local stone and timber, all constructed by league members and volunteers. An attractive centrepiece in the park is The Grove of the Unforgotten built in memory of eighty-eight Young Australia League members killed in World War I. Constructed in a series of terraces, water cascades into the pool of reflection. Every year, on Remembrance Day, the park is full of red poppies.

In the early 2000’s, a change in employment found me travelling inland to the (then) small gold mining town of Boddington, snuggled in the wheatbelt. My weekly drive was filled with rolling landscapes, canola fields, vineyards, cattle and sheep farms, and a long road into a world you’d never guess existed buried deep behind nature. In contrast, the mine was a huge, arid red scar on the landscape. I was very happy to learn that the land is steadily being rehabilitated in keeping with land-owner agreements. That got me thinking about the dwindling farms that gave way to those seeking more secure employment with the mine and wondering how farmers and miners got along. And so, the Wongan Creek series was born.

Alaska & my handsome son

In all my Australian Rural stories, I try to write in a special animal or two. Home to Bindarra Creek stars Muttley, the orphaned kangaroo, and a cheeky cockatoo named Curly. In Whispers at Wongan Creek, Travis owns a very sexy horse named Fantasia, old man Harry’s sheep love to wander and his trusty dog, Robbie, never leaves his side. Robbie becomes a life-saving hero in both Whispers and Shadows over Wongan Creek. In Secrets at Wongan Creek, hero Harley has a Catahoula Leopard Dog named Loki whose character was inspired by my crazy grandfurbaby, Alaska. And last but not least, is Lucky, Fen’s three-legged bearded dragon who also becomes a hero in Shadows Over Wongan Creek.

I love this wonderful, inspiring, vibrant land. There are stories to tell everywhere.

Secrets abound in the small Western Australian farming community of Wongan Creek. Old secrets resurface and new ones come to town, drawing the community together as gold fever threatens to tear their town apart.

Rural romance at its dusty best ~ Bree (Goodreads)

Shadows over Wongan Creek (Book 3 – Wongan Creek Stories)

When the shadows ride in Wongan Creek…Fenella Rose-Waterman is happy running The Cranky Lizard winery until a broken relationship lifts the lid on the Pandora’s Box of her past. After years of repressed memories haunting her dreams, she is forced to face the truth to find justice. But with truth comes a danger that puts everyone she loves at risk.

Kieran Murphy left Wongan Creek a newly-wed and returned a widower. He believes he and his young son will find healing in the town that healed him once before. Instead, he finds the woman he loved running scared, her life in turmoil and her business under threat.

As the shadows of the past gather on the horizon, will they lose their chance of happiness or will they find healing together?

Kobo ~ Amazon AU ~ Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ iTunes ~ Google Books ~ Harper Collins ~ Romance.com.au
Juanita loves to hear from fans and enjoys sharing her writing journey: Join her at her website, on Twitter, on Facebook or follow her on BookBub


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

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!

BB14

 

 

 

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?

BB2013_Nominee