Rocking Horse Hill

Cathryn Hein Author PhotoIt is with great pleasure that I welcome to Pilyara fellow Penguin author and horse nut, Cathryn Hein. She is here today answering a few questions about her new novel Rocking Horse Hill (love that title!) Congratulations on the terrific reviews Cathryn!

Thanks, and thanks for hosting me on your blog, Jennifer. A lovely place to be!

What is your story about?
Rocking Horse Hill is a rural romance with a strong family drama and an emotional lovers reunited story.
As a teenager, Emily Wallace-Jones made a mistake that has haunted her since. So when Josh Sinclair saunters sexily back into town and her life, she has a chance to finally put things right.
But there are dramas affecting both families. Digby, heir to the Wallace-Jones fortune, has arrived home with a fiancée no one has ever heard of. Em’s best friends both have troubles and her naughty donkeys are causing havoc. Meanwhile, Josh’s family are coping with heart-breaking news. Then there’s Rocking Horse Hill…

With their families’ struggles and so much baggage from the past, can Em and Josh really resurrect a relationship? Or will holding onto trust be impossible? Not just for them, but for everyone touched by Rocking Horse Hill.

What or who inspired it?
The original inspiration was a bit obscure. I’d read an article in a Sunday paper about women who fall in love with men serving long-term jail sentences and found it fascinating. The next day I was zoning out on the exercise bike, thinking about the article, when I had this idea for a thriller-type story. I was so excited I jumped straight off and scribbled it down. Being a totally different genre to my rural romances, I set it aside but my brain wouldn’t let it go, and there were things about the premise that I really liked – the family drama mostly but also the heroine. Over time, I kept reworking the idea until Rocking Horse Hill was born.

RHH cover - resizedAre there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
There are quite a few parts of Rocking Horse Hill that are special. Number one is the setting. The book is set in the south east of South Australia and much of the action takes place on a property right at the foot of an extinct volcano. Though fictional, the volcano is based on an amalgam of Mt Schank, a crater to the south of my home town of Mount Gambier, and Mt Elephant, near Derinallum in western Victoria. As kids, a brilliant day out was climbing to the top of Mt Schank and sliding all the way to the bottom on your bum, like a great big dirty slippery-dip.

I also gave the heroine Emily my beloved dog Cooch as her darling collie Miss Muffet. There’s also an Indian runner duck that was based on one my brother owned. Plus, being set around where I grew up, there are all sorts of little things that I love from the area that have made their way into the book.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?
One of the things that Rocking Horse Hill explores is how we judge others, and how our experiences influence that. Perhaps even blind us. Em comes from a very privileged background and there was a time in her past when that made her think herself special. As a result she caused immeasurable hurt and it’s not a mistake she’s going to make again, which is why she’s determined to welcome her sister-in-law to-be into the family.

I also wanted to look at how hard it can be for a stranger to find their place inside a tight-knit family. The tensions that arise when one of more family members don’t like the newcomer can cause major rifts. It doesn’t take much to find real-life examples: the boyfriend everyone thinks is a bad influence; the second wife everyone hates; the father-in-law no one trusts…

I think we’ve all had experience with families judging and sometimes misjudging people. And I love the sound of those animals! Looking forward to reading it Cathryn. Thanks very much for visiting today.

RHH cover - resizedROCKING HORSE HILL
by Cathryn Hein
Who do you trust when a stranger threatens to tear your family apart?

Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em’s life has happened there. And even though Em’s brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.
When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em’s life and given her a chance for redemption.
But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em’s closest friends question where Felicity’s motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy sets in motion a chain of events that will change the family forever.

Rocking Horse Hill is a moving family drama and passionate love story from the author of Heartland. Follow these links to find out more about Cathryn and her terrific rural novels.  Website, Twitter via @CathrynHein, Facebook, Google+

And now, to announce the winner of the Billabong Bend draw. I received so many wonderful comments about people’s favourite rivers and why they love them, thank you. The winner of a signed copy of Billabong Bend is Sophie Grant. Congratulations Sophie. I’ll send you an email shortly.

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Dialogue

PrintTime for our monthly chat about writing, with fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson, and mentor extraordinaire Sydney Smith. This month we discuss dialogue. But first I’d like to share the news that my 2013 release Currawong Creek has been nominated by the RWA for a RUBY, their Romantic Book Of The Year Award. Thank you RWA, and good luck to the other finalists! Now, on to some craft talk!

SYDNEY
Dialogue is the most dramatic expression of conflict in narrative. It isn’t simply an exchange of information. Each speaker must have an agenda, and that should emerge in the course of the dialogue sequence. Preferably, it emerges at once, or nearly so.
A good example is a man and his new bride disputing over where to place the hideous vase her grandmother gave them for a wedding present.

Amy:     Let’s put it on the hall table. Then the old battleaxe can see it whenever she visits.
James:    But, honey, it looks like a mutant spaceship. What about if we put it in the toolshed?
Amy:     What’ll I tell her when she comes to dinner next week? She’ll ask me about it.
James:    Why do you care? You don’t even like her.
Amy:     I do like her.
James:    You always call her the old battle-axe. You only call her Granny to her face.
Amy:     All right, I hate her. I hate the way she inspects the window ledges, like she thinks I wipe them down with my dirty socks.
James:    So let’s cancel dinner next week. Then we can bury the vase in the backyard.
Amy:     No way! She’s going to die in the next ten years, and I’m the one she’s going to leave her rare coin collection to. The vase is going on the hall table.
James:    Sod’s law. When people are hanging out for some old bird to die, she’ll live to a hundred and fifty and leave the coins to a cat home.

And that’s the other thing dialogue should do: it should characterise the speakers.

cross blogKATH
Dialogue – my favourite! When I turn the page of a novel and see dialogue, I get excited. I lean closer to the book, tuning out all external sounds and distractions. I’m in the story. But why? What’s so good about dialogue? Plenty! Such as:

  • The white space caused by snappy dialogue gives the reader a break.
  • Dialogue brings you into real time. It plonks you firmly in the scene and the middle of a conversation. You might even feel like you’re intruding on an intimate moment between two lovers. How exciting!
  • Through dialogue, we learn about characters. We hear their all-important voice. The way they speak to each other, the way they react verbally, can tell us so much about who they are. Especially characters who don’t have a point-of-view in the story. It is through their actions and especially dialogue that we discover important things about them.
  • And very importantly, dialogue is a great way to show not tell.

Here’s an example:

John’s boss Helen stared through the window at the parklands across the way, but John knew she wasn’t really seeing anything. He spoke to her. She took a moment to respond, quietly telling John he needed to call the office and give them the bad news – that the suspect had been apprehended, but that he had a water-tight alibi. John knew this was bad news. Very bad. Helen punched the wall suddenly, shouting a curse.

By using dialogue we can lift that scene right out of the doldrums and give it zing. As I said, if it’s done well, it’ll draw us closer, bring us right into the scene, in real time, and show us plenty about what’s on those characters’ minds.

‘You need to call the office,’ Helen said quietly, staring through the window.
‘Okay. What’s up?’
She didn’t respond.
‘Helen?’ said John, touching his boss’s arm. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘It’s the suspect. He was in Sydney last night.’
‘Jesus Christ.’
Helen slammed her fist into the wall. ‘Goddamit!’

When characters speak, we get a sense that something’s happening. And there’s nothing I love more in a story than when stuff happens.

dialogue 2SYDNEY
Yes, the version with dialogue is a lot better. It’s concise. It does everything the scene needed. I agree with all your points about dialogue. Dialogue varies the texture of a story. It takes it from the internal world of the characters’ thoughts and feelings to the external world of dramatic interaction. Both have a role to play in narrative. The trick is to know when to use dialogue and when to use narrative (all those bits except the dialogue).

You know, I’ve assessed hundreds of manuscripts over the years and discovered that a lot of writers think dialogue is lively just because it’s dialogue. But it’s as dead as a nail if it isn’t used properly. It isn’t a substitute for narrative, for example.

My mother went to the window and said, ‘Oh look, a car’s just appeared at the end of our street. It’s grey and looks expensive. A man in a black suit is driving and another man is sitting in the backseat. I think it’s coming our way. The driver is saying something to the man in the backseat.’

That bit of narrative is best shown from the daughter’s POV, as long as it also includes something about how this car’s arrival advances the story.

And simple exchanges of info are out.

‘Hi, I’m Amy.’
‘Hi, Amy, I’m James. What can I do you for?’
‘I’m here to meet Amaranth. Is she available?’
‘I’ll just check. If you’ll sit over there, I’ll call her PA.’ James calls. ‘Yes, she’ll be down in five minutes. Can I get you tea or coffee?’
‘I’d love a foot massage.’
‘I’ll just call our foot masseuse. She’s in hot demand…’

Oops. I added in a bit of something unexpected to relieve the tedium of that kind of dialogue. This is how people talk in real life (bar the foot massage) but in narrative, dialogue is heightened and compressed.

JENNY
There are different kinds of dialogue. I quite like the efficiency of indirect dialogue, and it has its place in small doses.

Poppy said she didn’t trust me, that she’d never trusted me, that I was always looking for a way to undermine her position on the board.’

Then there’s direct dialogue, the most dramatic form. The reader listens in on a conversation.

Poppy said, ‘I know your game. Right from the start I pegged you for a snake and a back-stabber. This just proves how right I was. You never miss a chance, do you? Always working out ways to sink the boot in.’

I sometimes mix the two.

Poppy went on to list my faults as she saw them – I was arrogant, selfish and insensitive. ‘And you’re lazy too.’ Poppy’s face grew redder and redder. ‘You’re lazier than a cold lava flow.’

It’s a quick way to give the gist of a longer conversation.

One of the things I love about writing dialogue is that it’s not like normal speech. There’s no regret about the undelivered, clever line that’s remembered seconds too late. My characters are on the ball and there’s no insufferable small talk. And on dialogue tags? I use as few as possible, and am firmly in the said camp. Readers take in said almost subliminally, so it doesn’t intrude into the world of the story. Alternatives to said (muttered, laughed, crowed, whispered, repeated, etc) sound corny to me. I sometimes can’t resist a character snarling his lines, but baulk at adding an adverb. He snarled fiercely? Overkill. One way to avoid a speech tag is to follow the dialogue line with a beat, an action by the speaker that reinforces what he/she is saying.

Oh, and a pet hate of mine – trying to show accent or dialect by torturing the language! Much as I adored Wuthering Heights, I do so wish that Joseph’s broad accent had been conveyed with a carefully chosen Yorkshire word or two, instead of this. (and hallooing responsively is also out of fashion, thank God!)

– ‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’
– ‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ I hallooed, responsively.
– ‘There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’ll not oppen ‘t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins till neeght.’
– ‘Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh, Joseph?’
– ‘Nor-ne me! I’ll hae no hend wi’t,’ muttered the head, vanishing.

And my Golden Rule for dialogue is the same for any other part of my writing. If it doesn’t move the plot forward, don’t do it!

SYDNEY
I so agree with you about Joseph in Wuthering Heights. I always laugh when he opens his gob. I think Emily Bronte was so infatuated with Yorkshire dialect that she couldn’t stop herself. I always think the best way to convey dialect or a foreign accent is through grammar and syntax. I have to say, though, some writers are good at dialogue and some are not. Those who aren’t tend to keep it to a minimum – which is right, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re ill-at-ease with it.

Kathryn Ledson is the author of Rough Diamond and Monkey Business (Penguin), part of the Erica Jewell series of romantic adventures. You can visit her website and find her blog at www.kathrynledson.com
Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She is currently writing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her at The Story Whisperer.

 

There’s still time to enter the Billabong Bend giveaway draw. Just leave a comment telling me about your favourite river. (Aust & NZ entries only)

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Launch Of Billabong Bend + Giveaway!

Launch of BB 2Last Thursday evening at Readings Carlton (Melbourne) I was thrilled to launch my latest novel, Billabong Bend. Penguin publisher Sarah Fairhall did the introductions, and friend and fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson did a Q&A with me about the book. Here are Kath’s questions and a rough transcript of my answers.

First, please give us a quick run-down on what Billabong Bend is about.

Billabong Bend is a star-crossed love story between a floodplains farmer and a cotton grower, set in the heart of the NSW northern riverlands.
For riverine farmer Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on Earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one wanting the land. When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the river, old feelings are rekindled and she thinks she has an ally. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a  nightmare.
On one level, Billabong Bend is a novel about first love. That original, blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something bigger than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict it inevitably causes. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, you’re in for a real treat!

Your character Nina has some intriguing relationships and friendships with the ageing Eva, the child Sophie, a couple of blokes vying for her attention. But those she seems to treasure the most are with non-humans. In particular, there’s a passionate affair with a river. Can you tell us about that?

Launch of BBI call Billabong Bend a star-crossed love story. But some people have called it more of a love triangle, between Nina, Ric and the river. I think there’s some truth in that. Nina is in love with the river that flows through the landscape of the novel. And no wonder. For a floodplains farmer like Nina, the river means life itself. She depends on it to flood, to overflow into the little dry creeks and billabongs, to revive and nourish her land.
Without water lying on the floodplains once in a while, they die. That’s how they’ve evolved. As a fifth generation flood plains farmer, Nina has learned to live in harmony with the river’s ebbs and flows. It’s second nature to her.Thirsty cotton farms and their vast water allocations threaten more than the river. They threaten Nina’s whole way of life.

I was intrigued by the detail. The river really is a character in its own right. How do you know so much about the environment surrounding Billabong Bend?

– The idea for the book arose many years ago, during long, lazy days spent in the riverlands. I’ve always been an amateur naturalist, and there are also some wonderful books out there about the Murray-Darling Basin. The River by Chris Hammer comes to mind. But no amount of research beats time spent in a landscape. Reference books can’t buy you drinks at the bar and tell you stories. Statistics can’t show you the beauty of the river at sunrise.
– Last year I took some trips back up the Murray and saw for myself the changes wrought on habitats and wildlife by drought and low flows. I wanted to write about what I saw.

I love that Nina is her own woman. There’s a romance in this book – actually, more than one – but we get the sense that Nina doesn’t need any man. Do the men measure up?

It’s true that she doesn’t need a man, and yes, the men don’t measure up, at least not in the beginning. Nina is fiercely self-sufficient, and inclined to try to do everything herself. Part of her character arc is learning to accept help, when it’s freely given for the right reasons. And part of Ric’s journey is to rediscover his roots, remember who he is, and what the river once meant to him. Only then might he become the man Nina wants. But he can never become the man she needs. Nina’s far too independent to let that happen!

Nina has a particular interest in a 9yo child called Sophie. How does Nina help bring Sophie out of herself and the house?

Little Sophie is one of my favourite characters. She’s had a difficult life, growing up without her father or grandparents, being raised by a mother who suffers from depression and mental illness. When Sophie first comes to the farm she’s defiant and unhappy, spending all her time in front of the TV.
– Nina takes an interest in Sophie. After all, she’s a lonely little girl who loves animals, very much like Nina was at the same age.They connect through their mutual love of horses and the local wildlife, and of course Nina is eager to pass on her knowledge of Billabong Bend. In a way, Nina needs Sophie more than she needs anybody else in the book.

Launch of BB 3I suspect there’s a lot of Jennifer Scoullar in Nina. Is this true?

– Nina is far more practically competent than I am. She can service a tractor or use a rifle, just as easily as she can fix a pump or fly a plane. One thing we do both share however is a passion for rivers. Hardly surprising, since Billabong Bend was inspired by my own love for the northern riverlands, and for the Murray Darling basin in general.
River stories are central to bush culture, and have been ever since the Murray-Darling was carved from a mythical landscape by the Rainbow Serpent. I’ve always been fascinated by the river’s place in literature, and I’ m in fine company. Rivers are revered by some of our finest writers.
Mark Twain for example,  had a lifelong love affair with the Mississippi. And the great poet TS Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets

‘I do not know much about Gods: but I think the River
Is a strong brown God – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier,
Useful, untrustworthy as a conveyer of commerce;
T
hen seen only as a problem for the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown God is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever implacable,
Keeping her seasons and her rages, destroyer, reminder,
Of what men choose to forget.’

– Nancy Cato in her classic trilogy All The Rivers Run compared the Murray to ‘ a … dark stream of time which bears all living things from birth to death.’ Rivers are romantic, mysterious, dangerous, life-giving and achingly beautiful. I’ve tried to touch on some of these themes in my latest novel Billabong Bend.
(Thanks to Troy Hunter for the photos)

Leave a comment telling me about your favourite river, and go in the draw to win a copy of Billabong Bend! (Aust & NZ only) Competition closes June 23rd.

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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.

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Australia Day Blog Hop And Giveaway

AustraliaDaybloghop2014For this Australia Day Blog Hop post I’d like to celebrate the work of Elyne Mitchell – a quintessentially Australian author, and my earliest and best-loved writing inspiration. My second novel Brumby’s Run was influenced by her work, and being shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Rural Writing Award was one of my greatest thrills. The Silver Brumby series is ostensibly for children, but many adults like myself still adore them. These stories are filled with drama, magical prose and a deep, abiding love for the glorious upper Murray region where Elyne lived for most of her life.

‘These mountains … are symbols of high adventure, of an ineffable beauty. My feeling for them has grown and grown, until they possess me and have written themselves into my heart.’       Elyne Mitchell

silver brumby kingdomNobody who has read her books could doubt this for a second. There is something utterly compelling about her writing. It draws you into a vast, wild landscape and loses you there. Here is a short excerpt from Silver Brumby’s Daughter. There are shades of Dylan Thomas in its evocative, lilting prose.

‘Kunama could feel the darkness coming as though it were something alive, something she could touch, a voice she could hear. Up the darkness crept, whispering from the gullies, the clefts, the gorges. It seemed to slide up the Valentine hills, seep like a tide round the corner into their valley, lap at the horses’ legs, enfold them, whispering, and at last only the sky held light, and the mountains and ridges were dark against it.’

elyne mitchellElyne herself was the archetypal rural woman and a real hero of mine. Apart from being a gifted writer, Elyne was also a wife, mother, station owner, accomplished horsewoman, stockhorse breeder, naturalist and champion skier. She faced and survived many disasters – including the death of one of her children. Elyne wrote twenty-four novels and nine non-fiction books, many of which foreshadowed the rise of the environmental movement. She was a woman far ahead of her time. No wonder Australians everywhere have taken her tales of the high country straight to their hearts.

For a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, Currawong Creek, just leave a comment telling me an Australian book you enjoyed when you were young. Entries close midnight on January 28th. (Aust and NZ entries only) Winners will be announced on Feb 2nd. Click here to visit other Australia Day Blog Hop participants, and for the chance to win more great prizes.

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A New Year With Pamela Cook

Pamela Cook New Author PicPlease welcome successful author Pamela Cook back to Pilyara. What an auspicious way to begin the new year! In addition to being a novelist, Pamela teaches writing. She’s also a horse lover, which means we have a lot in common. (The name of her blog is Flying Pony) Pamela’s latest release, Essie’s Way, is a touching story about finding yourself and learning from past mistakes. Today she talks to us about the importance of setting and place in her books.

‘Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Jennifer. Setting and a sense of place are very important in my writing. When I began my first novel, Blackwattle Lake, I started with an image of a place, and a character in that place: a woman standing at the gate of a horse property. I had no story, no outline and no idea what was going to happen but the strength of that image and that setting pulled me through. Essie's Way 1The setting for that novel is a mixture of two places: the riding ranch where we agist our horses, at Darkes Forest just south of Sydney … and the area around Milton, about two hours further south. We have a holiday house there at Little Forest and it’s my favourite place in the world. Somehow I manage to while away hours and hours there doing very little.

I’ve been holidaying on the NSW south coast all my life and it’s wonderful to now be able to share it with my daughters. And with my readers. The south coast is more untamed and a little wilder than the north – there are so many places where you can escape and feel completely isolated. Although the water is colder, it’s clear and clean and the beaches are blissfully empty (apart from school holidays of course) which is a huge contrast to the crowds on Sydney beaches in summer.

Essie's Way 2Essie’s Way also began with an image, but this time of an older woman who was playing the violin on the verandah of a shack near the ocean. Although I didn’t have a specific place in mind the stretch of beach I imagined was deserted and surrounded by bush. As the story progressed and the fragments came together, the place in my mind became one with a beach bookended by headlands, a very small town that only comes to life in the tourist season and farmlands close to the ocean. Thanks to trusty Google earth, I found a place that roughly fitted the description, packed my dog Bridie in the car and (just like Miranda, the main character in the book) headed south. While I was familiar with the south coast I hadn’t been to this particular place before but when I arrived at Potato Point I wasn’t disappointed. The “town” if it could be called one, and the beach fitted the image in my head perfectly.

To anyone else the resemblance might not be the same but walking on the windswept beach, wandering across the rock platforms I could just picture Esther standing there, fishing rod in hand, gazing out at the stormy blue ocean. There was no shack on the cliff and there were no horses grazing in paddocks nearby but it didn’t take much to imagine. The sense of alone-ness and freedom I felt standing on the beach were the same feelings I wanted Miranda to have when she visits the beach in search of the grandmother she’d always thought to be dead. Miranda is a city girl, a lawyer with a busy job and lifestyle and not much time to connect with herself. It’s here in Pelican Point (the fictional place in Essie’s Way, that she’s able to find some sense of peace and start to really think about the direction she’s taking in life.

There are a few city locations in Essie’s Way too – Miranda lives in Erskineville and hangs out in Newtown and the book opens with her trying on a wedding gown at a store in the QVB.

But it’s the rural locations that really inspire me. I love writing about the way place impacts on character and I hope to do more of that in my next book. At the moment I’m not sure exactly where it will be set but there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be somewhere down south and there’s an even better chance I’ll be taking off on a road trip to do a little research!’

Essie's Way coverEssie’s Way – A captivating story of family, love and following your heart, from the author of Blackwattle Lake.

Miranda McIntyre thinks she has it all sorted. A successful lawyer, she s planning her wedding and ticking off all the right boxes. When searching for something old to go with her wedding dress she remembers an antique necklace from her childhood, but her mother denies any knowledge of it. Miranda is sure it exists. Trying to find the necklace, she discovers evidence that perhaps the grandmother she thought was dead is still alive.

Ignoring the creeping uncertainty about her impending marriage, and the worry that she is not living the life she really wants, Miranda takes off on a road trip in search of answers to the family mystery but also in search of herself. Ultimately, she will find that looking back can lead you home.

Connect with Pamela:
Webpage: www.pamelacook.com.au
Facebook
: www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor
Twitter: @PamelaCookAU

BB2013_Nominee

 

 

Going Public With Your Writing Habit, by Phillipa Fioretti

I’m time poor right now, hurrying to meet an editing deadline for next year’s release, Billabong Bend. So instead of my usual post, here is a marvellous piece on writing by Australian author Phillipa Fioretti. In 2008 Phillipa was selected for participation in the Hachette Australia/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program. Her first book, The Book of Love, Hachette Australia, 2010, has also been published in Germany, Romania, Norway, Poland, Serbia and Montenegro and the sequel, The Fragment of Dreams was published in May 2011. Her third book, For One Night Only, will be published by Pan MacMillan’s digital press, Momentum, in January 2014

It’s Time To Start A New Book When …

I’m between books. The second round of Billabong Bend edits aren’t back yet, and I’m on a self-imposed writing break. It’s necessary for writers to take a holiday sometimes. To read, to play, to fill up the creative well – and to do all those chores that get neglected when a manuscript is in full swing. I’m not a naturally tidy person, not by a long shot, but right now the house and garden are neat. The feed and tack rooms are spick and span. I’m doing that nesting thing pregnant women do before giving birth – getting the environment in order so I can devote myself to my new baby/story. So I’ve made a listIt’s time to start writing a new story when:

Kitchen garden1. You go to water the pots and wind up weeding, repotting and fertilising every one.

2. You go to  the wardrobe to get a shirt and wind up organising all your clothes by colour.

3. Your usually messy office is spotless.
Home Office

 

 

 

 

 

Bonfire4. You start raking up sticks around the house and end up with a massive bonfire pile.

 
5. You have defragged your computer, scanned for errors, and backed up files.

 

Shoes6. Shoes that are usually piled higgledy-piggledy in a box are placed neatly on shelves.

 

7. You have oiled the saddles and bridles.

 
8. You have discovered the random article button on WikiHow

Coloured pencils9. You look for a coloured pencil and wind up sorting and sharpening them all.

10. You start checking out different social media networks like Pinterest,  Vimeo, Tumbler, StumbleUpon, FourSquare, Reddit, Wattpad, Flickr, DeviantArt, Delicious, and BookLikes. You begin to create any accounts you don’t yet have.

Teddy 111. The dogs are bathed and groomed.

12. The new story is calling out to be written.

Okay, I’ve ticked them all off my list. New book, here I come …

BB2013_Nominee

Sunday With Catherine Lee

Catherine Lee PhotoPlease welcome a terrific new indie crime writer to Pilyara – Catherine Lee. I first met Catherine in 2008 at a Varuna Residency with the legendary Peter Bishop. The question posed in her then fledgling manuscript has intrigued me ever since – does the heart have a memory? Her terrifying novel has since won a Varuna crime-writing award, and I’m thrilled to announce that Dark Heart is now available on Kindle and POD from Amazon. So without further ado, it’s over to Catherine!

Welcome Catherine. Can you tell us a little about your new release, Dark Heart?

Dark HeartDark Heart is the story of Eva, a young woman who gets a second chance at life when she receives a heart transplant. After the transplant Eva begins to have nightmares, and she soon discovers that the previous owner of her new heart was a serial killer. The killer’s final victim is still missing, and Eva realises that it could be the missing woman now haunting her dreams. She teams up with the victim’s husband and a fellow transplant patient, who has also experienced the phenomenon of cellular memory, in order to listen to her heart and help find the missing woman. Meanwhile Detective Charlie Cooper and his new partner Joey Quinn have two mysteries to solve – can they reach the final victim in time, and who murdered the serial killer?

What do you love most about writing thrillers, and do you think it’s important for books in this genre to have an element of romance in the story?

I love the twists and turns that thrillers take, I love coming up with outlandish ideas and figuring out how to make them work. I’m not sure that all books need to contain an element of romance, but quite often it’s a good fit for the story. Once you get to know your characters they tend to tell you what they need, and Eva just happened to need a hint of love in her new life.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write detailed character profiles, or do you find the characters come to life as you write?

Plotter, definitely. I had an elaborate spreadsheet for Dark Heart, which I developed after discovering that the first 30,000 words I’d written were going nowhere. I needed a plan, so I ditched the draft and spent the next three months plotting every chapter on my spreadsheet. It worked, and I’ve been refining my process ever since. I’ve moved onto Scrivener for my second novel, Dark Past. I love Scrivener, it’s a brilliant tool for writers. As for characters, I find character profiles quite boring to write. I prefer to let them speak for themselves, although I did find one exercise suggested by a friend quite valuable to use when a character is too wooden or boring. Rather than answering profile type questions, sit down and come up with twenty random things about them. It sounds too simple, but I find I get a much clearer picture of the character by doing this.

How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a novel?

I’m not sure I’ve worked out what’s usual for me yet, as I’ve only just finished the first draft of my second novel. I do know that the second was a lot faster than the first, and the faster I write the better the quality of the draft.

What is a typical day like for you?

Dark Heart 3I like to write in the mornings, I find that if it’s not my first job it doesn’t get done. It’s my most important job, so I’m slowly getting it cemented into my daily routine that mornings are for writing. I’m almost halfway through a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, so my afternoons are currently taken up by study. In the evenings I try and wrap my head around all this social media stuff. It’s a lot of work, but being able to connect with readers and other writers so easily is priceless. There are a lot of really lovely people out there.

Since everybody needs a break, even when doing something they love, how do you like to spend your time away from writing?

I try and go for a walk every afternoon, just to get away from the screen. But the thing that really takes me out of my writing head, which as a crime fiction writer can be quite a scary place, is looking after other people’s children. I have none of my own, which is a personal choice, but I just love being Aunty Cat to all my friends’ kids. I’m sure that in years to come I’ll be known as the crazy aunt who reads and writes books all day, and I’m just fine with that.

Describe your writing in three words.

Man, that’s a hard one. Let’s see, if I could be so bold I’d probably go with intriguing, fast-paced, and unpredictable. Dark Heart certainly meets those criteria, and I’d love to think I can do it again!

What are you working on next?

My next book, Dark Past, will again feature Detectives Cooper & Quinn. This time they are investigating a family with a secret in their past that someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. I can’t tell you too much about it just yet, but it will include some genealogy as well as delving into the cutting edge territory of gene therapy.

Thanks so much, Jenny, for hosting me on your fabulous blog.

Dark HeartCould you live with the heart of a killer? Fraser Grant was a kidnapper, a vile, murdering sociopath. Now he’s dead. Murdered in his own home, the women of Sydney can breathe easy again. All but one. His final victim is still missing — chained up, running out of time, and awaiting a captor who will never return. Detective Sergeant Charlie Cooper is desperate to find the missing woman alive. On the verge of quitting Homicide after a decade chasing the brutal killer, this is his last chance to atone for all the victims he failed.

After a life-saving heart transplant, Eva Matthews just wants things to get back to normal. But when she learns she has the heart of the serial killer, will nothing stop the nightmares that plague her? Dark Heart is a detective story, a race against time to save a life. But it’s also an exploration of cellular memory, the intriguing medical phenomenon of patients receiving more than just an organ from their donor. The terrifying serial killer may be dead, but that is just the beginning…

Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook or on her website.

BB2013_Nominee

Q&A with Pamela Cook

Pamela Cook PicPlease welcome fellow rural author, Pamela Cook to Pilyara. She’s also  a fellow horse lover, which makes her doubly welcome. Pamela is a writer, teacher and mother of three gorgeous daughters. She also manages a menagerie of dogs, rabbits, birds, fish and horses and her favourite pastime (after writing) is riding her handsome quarter horse, Morocco. And now it’s over to Pamela, to answer some questions about her wonderful debut novel, Blackwattle Lake.

Hi Jenny and thanks so much for having me on your blog.

1. Tell us about your call story Pamela. How did you receive your first offer of publication?

BLACKWATTLE_LAKE_CoverI’d been writing for just over ten years and had spent more than five of those years working on a literary style novel. In November 2009 I took part in Nano – National Novel writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I put that one away and went back to my original which I entered in the QWC/ Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2010 but had no luck. I entered again in 2011, submitting both novels and was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the program with my nano novel, Blackwattle Lake. This was an amazing opportunity – a one on one with a publisher, who had read my book. After taking Vanessa’s advice on board I revised the manuscript and sent it back at the end of April 2012 and was ecstatic to receive a phone call about 6 weeks later saying Hachette wanted to publish it. although I hadn’t heard of rural fiction in 2009 when I wrote it this genre had become hugely popular in that period of time, which no doubt helped me get my novel over the line.

2. What is your novel Blackwattle Lake about?

Blackwattle Lake is about Eve Nicholls, who inherits the property where she grew up. On her return to the farm she has to deal with the ghosts of her past – both the dead and those still living but is also drawn back to her love of the land and of horse riding. A series of unexpected events force Eve to confront her painful memories and find the courage to re-connect.

Pamela Cook pic 33. What or who inspired this story?

It began with the image of a woman standing at the gate of a rural property, unable to get in as the gate is locked. My daughters and I have 6 horses between us, so I decided to follow the old advice “write what you know”. Doing it as a nano forced me to keep writing and not stop to revise along the way so the story just flowed and came out pretty much as it is in the published book – with a few tweaks and revisions of course.

4. Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?

The property Eve inherits is based on Darkes Forest Ranch where we keep our horses, just south of Sydney. That’s the place I pictured in my head as I was writing. We also have a holiday house on the south coast of NSW which inspired parts of the setting and the town. The horse scenes are pretty special to me – I didn’t take up riding until later in life and it has been an amazing experience to share with my three daughters.

5. What do you see as the major themes in your book?

Eve’s story is about courage, forgiveness and belonging. It’s a huge step for her to return to the farm because of a past tragedy and the fractured family relationships that ensued. But once she’s back there Eve re-discovers her love of the land and of horses and also the sense of being part of a community, all of which she had completely forgotten about – or at least chosen not to remember. In facing the past Eve not only has to forgive others but must forgive herself.

Thank you for visiting Pamela, and telling us about your terrific debut novel. It’s funny, but I didn’t realise I was writing rural fiction at first either! I really relate to that part of your call story. Forgot to ask you what’s next, but I believe your second novel Essie’s Way, is due for release in December 2013 – just in time for Christmas. Congratulations!

BLACKWATTLE_LAKE_CoverFor Eve Nicholls, walking up the driveway of her childhood home brings up many emotions, and not all good. The horses that she loved still dot the paddocks but the house is empty, and the silence inside allows her memories to flood back. She’s glad to have her best friend Banjo the kelpie with her . . . and a bottle of bourbon. Her plan is simple: sell the farm, grab the cash and get the hell out.

Despite Eve’s desire to keep a low profile, within days of her return she runs into all the people she hoped to avoid. At the house she is surrounded by memories and worse. But with a lifetime of clutter to sort out, there’s plenty to take her mind off it all. Slowly, she begins to discover the girl she used to be: Angie Flanagan – adventurous, animal-loving, vulnerable. When tragedy strikes, Eve realises that changing her name all those years ago in an attempt to hide from her past has not changed the truth of what happened or who she really is.

Blackwattle Lake is an engaging debut for those who long to uncover who they used to be, and who they might still become.

Contact details:

Website: www.pamelacook.com.au

Blog: www.pamelacook.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor?ref=hl

Twitter: @PamelaCookAU

BB2013_Nominee