Bunya Mountains National Park

I’m on my way home from a research trip to the Bunya Mountains in southern Queensland, that state’s second oldest national park. My new novel, Firewater, is set in and around this marvellous place. The park boasts the largest stand of Bunya pines in the world, primeval trees whose fossils date back to the Mesozoic era. Bunya cones are large as footballs and can weigh ten kilograms. Few animals today are capable of spreading their gigantic seeds, making it hard for the trees to extend their range. Given the cones’ mammoth size, it is likely that extinct large animals were dispersers for the Bunya – perhaps dinosaurs and later, megafauna.

The park seems captured in a time warp. For thousands of years, indigenous people gathered here in summer to feast on Bunya nuts. For the traditional custodians of the park, these ancient pines are an age-old symbol of nourishment, of healing, and of coming together in harmony. I got goosebumps when wandering the rainforest trails. The pines’ domed heads reach forty metres to the sky, and massive, elephant-like buttresses hold fast to the earth. Each tree is a reminder of the mysterious past, and of how few truly wild places still exist.

The park abounds with wildlife, waterfalls and mountain-top grasslands known as ‘balds’. I had the great privilege of watching a Satin bowerbird decorate his twig entwined bower. Brush turkeys went about their jobs as rainforest gardeners. Red-necked pademelons (Thylogale thetis) were numerous and absurdly tame. I even spotted a mum with rare twin joeys. The park is a veritable garden of Eden … and Bunya nuts are great to cook with.

It has been a sensational trip. Coincidentally, I caught fellow rural author Nicole Alexander at the Dalby RSL on my way through. She was talking about her latest novel, Absolution Creek. I made great progress with my own writing. My new novel Firewater, is almost finished. Two chapters to go! I look forward to typing The End on the manuscript very soon. If I ever lack inspiration, I’ll just think back to my time in the Bunyas and the moment will surely pass.

RWA Conference 2012

I’ve spent the last few days at the RWA Conference, held this year on the Gold Coast. This conference offers some remarkable opportunities for new and emerging writers, not least of which are the pitch sessions with agents, editors and publishers. The place is bursting with key industry professionals!

I’ve rubbed shoulders with leading authors in my genre, and attended some of the best imaginable professional development sessions. The most useful of these by far was Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, presented by Alexandra Sokoloff. She began her career in the theatre, moved to screen-writing, and is now a bestselling author of seven supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers. She teaches novelists how to apply the tricks of film pacing and suspense, character arc and drive, visual storytelling, and building image systems. Her advice is simple and practical, such as just where in your novel the dramatic set pieces should fall, thus avoiding altogether that dreaded mid-book slump. This system works to structure and color your novel for maximum emotional impact, suspense and riveting pacing, no matter what genre you’re writing in. I can’t wait to analyse my work in the light of this new information

 

Last night’s Awards Dinner saw me sitting at a table with, among others, leading writers in my genre such as Fiona Palmer, Cathryn Hein and Rachael Johns. My lovely publisher, Belinda Byrne was there, along with the legendary Rachael Treasure, and Penguin publishing buddies Helene Young and Kathryn Ledson. It was a fabulous evening, topped off by Helene Young (my blog guest last week) winning Romantic Book of the Year for Shattered Sky. This is the second year in a row that she has won in this category. Congratulations Helene! … and congratulations to the organisers of this fabulous conference, all volunteers I might add. It has been a stunning success.

Now I need to prepare for the next exciting event in my writing life – the launch next Saturday of Brumby’s Run by Andrea Goldsmith at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival (2.30 pm 25th August.) Free event. All Welcome!

Sunday with Margareta Osborn

Today I have my friend Margareta Osborn visiting. I’ll let you in on a secret. If it wasn’t for Margareta dragging me along to the RWA Conference last year, I wouldn’t have pitched Brumby’s Run to Penguin. That pitch led directly to a book deal, so I have a lot to thank her for. Margareta is a passionate rural story-teller, and her debut novel, Bella’s Run has become a best-seller. Now, over to Margareta …

Thanks Jen, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.  For those that don’t know, Jennifer and I are members of the same writing group, the fabulously talented and totally awesome Little Lonsdale Group (the LLG’s). The group is aptly named for the street situated outside where we met at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne (a six hour round trip for me) a couple of years ago. We were all in Andrea Goldsmith’s Advanced Year of the Novel class. What a wonderful time we had and the group continues to meet (and excel) with four published authors and the rest hard on their heels.

Tell us about your call story – or how you received your first offer of publication. (That’s what I always love hearing!)

Oh dear, I’m way off the track. What was I supposed to be talking about, Jen? My call story? Right. Well, it went like this. After being knocked back by one mainstream publisher with a ‘very positive’ rejection (yes, I kid you not, they can be positive) I managed to obtain a literary agent using that self same positive rejection (see, I told you). My agent then submitted the manuscript of my debut novel BELLA’S RUN to three major publishing houses. The day she rang me to tell me she had done this I was driving a truck laden with cattle down the hill from a dry paddock to the family homestead property. I was going over the cattle underpass when she rang to tell me BELLA’S RUN was sitting on the commissioning editors desks of three of the ‘Big Six’, which made me nearly put that poor rattly truck into the underpass.

Within days we had a two book publishing contract on the table. The day she rang to tell me that, it was my birthday and I was in the supermarket shopping. I screamed into the nearest grocery stack, which just happened to be the toilet rolls. Needless to say, the shopping consisted of all things celebratory (and a few mushed up toilet rolls)

What inspired you to write Bella’s Run?

Inspiration for people to do things beyond what they would normally do comes from a variety of different sources. For me, the inspiration to write – to weave stories about the bush – comes from my surroundings. From the environment in which I live – the mountains and farming in particular – because that is what I truly love and am passionate about. As a child I rode my horse through the hills surrounding our farm every weekend. And now we, as a family, spend a lot of time in the high country above our home. A very rugged and beautiful place where we track and watch brumbies, ride motorbikes and horses in the bush. Nearly four years and what seems like a lifetime ago, this landscape proved to be my inspiration for BELLA’S RUN.

What things in life are most important to you?

The themes of BELLA’S RUN are friendship, the search for love and the place you can call home. These are all portrayed within the evocative setting of the Australian bush giving you (I hope), a vivid sense of place with authentic characters that you the reader ‘know’. I tell you this because personally, these themes are very important to me.

My family – an amazing husband, three beautiful children plus my wonderful father, brother, sister and their families, aunts, uncles and cousins – along with my fantastic and supportive friends, are my world. I would not survive without them all. They give me the love, strength and energy to live, love and write.

The Osborn family has also been on the same property here for 150 years, giving me a very strong sense of place.  Our roots sink deeply into the soil. This grounds a person, gives the feeling of belonging and community.

Country life is me. I see it, I hear it, I work it and breathe it everyday. I have lived and worked on properties all my life. Throw me into suburbia and I am like a floundering fish. All I long for is my work-boots, the scent of cow-shit, sunshine on the breeze, musky soil and tangy eucalyptus. Ridiculous I know, but to take me from the land – from the bush – would starve my soul.

Thank you Margareta, for sharing your story with us. Margareta’s new novel, Hope’s Road will be released in March 2013.

A Stellar Idea

In November 2011 The Stella Prize was announced, a new annual literary prize for Australian women’s writing. The Stella is our answer to Britain’s women only Orange Prize, and at $50,000 it is even more lucrative. The prize is named after Miles Franklin, or more precisely Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, for so she was christened.

In 2012 we shouldn’t need a prize especially for women. The disgraceful truth though, is that we do. The vast majority of writers shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in recent times have been men. The lady herself would turn in her grave to learn that in 2011, not one woman made the shortlist.

 

 

 

The majority of readers, writers and publishing professionals in Australia are female. How then, are women so under represented in literary awards? Stella knew the answer.That is why she published works under the gender ambiguous name of Miles Franklin. Her contemporary, Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, chose the pseudonym Henry Handel Richardson for the same reason. George Eliot, George Sand, Louisa May Alcott (aka A.M. Barnard), the Bronte sisters (aka the Bell brothers) … it’s a long list.

Maybe contemporary female authors would have more success if they followed the same strategy. It is a shocking possibility to contemplate on New Year’s Day 2012.