Women Writers and Aussie Rural Fiction

International womens dayNext Tuesday is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is gender parity. Worldwide, women contribute more than their fair share to social, economic, cultural and political life. Yet progress towards gender parity is slow, including in the literary world. Australia’s Stella Prize and Britain’s  Baileys Prize are attempts to redress this inbalance. In one literary field however, I can proudly say the achievements of women authors far outstrip men – the hugely popular genre of Australian Rural Fiction

All The Rivers RunThe books in this genre are overwhelmingly written by women, most of us living and working on the land. (Head over to the Australian Rural Fiction website and see for yourself. You’ll find many current and upcoming releases) Publishers point to this as a new phenomenon, but of course, Australian rural literature written by women is not new. Quite the contrary, it’s steeped in tradition. From Henry Handel Richardson’s Fortunes Of Richard Mahoney, Nancy Cato’s All The Rivers Run through to Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds, the drama, difficulties and romance of the Australian bush has long been the stuff of great narrative tales.

JourneysEnd_coverFrom the earliest days of white settlement and before, the bush was central to how we became Australian, how we identified ourselves as Australian. Yet during the second half of the twentieth century, it fell out of literary favour. We weren’t a bush people any more. We lived around the urban coastal fringe, and saw ourselves as urbane, cosmopolitan and civilised. But thanks to a talented cohort of women authors, the bush once more looms large in the literary landscape.

Why the massive popularity of this genre, that regularly outsells all others? I believe readers are craving a relationship to country. They’re asking the age-old question – what is it that makes us Australian? And the simple answer is, that we come from this place. Our identity comes from the continent itself. And especially that aspect of Australia that is different to other places. That doesn’t mean our cities. That means regional Australia. That means the bush. That means the climate, landscape and geology that has shaped our culture.

JE Proofs 1I’m so very proud to be part of this immensely supportive group of Australian women writers. I’ve just finished proofreading the pages for my new book, Journey’s End, out with Penguin at the end of May. It’s set on the Great Eastern Escarpment, and pays homage to the men and women who strive to conserve and restore our natural environment. Thanks to the hard work of so many talented women, the story has a ready audience. So let’s hear it for the Aussie rural writers – a shining example of achievement on International Women’s Day!

Australian Rural Romance

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.

BB14

 

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.

BB2013_Nominee

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

 

 

A Spicy Sunday With Kate Belle

Please welcome Kate Belle to Pilyara. Kate is the author of The Yearning, which is rocketing up the charts – and it’s not just because of its intriguing cover! Kate is a very fine writer, friend and member of my talented writing group, The Little Lonsdale Group. And now its over to Kate for an in depth Q&A …

KateBelle-trad lores zoom‘Thanks for having me over here Jen and hello to all your faithful readers.

I’ve taken over a month to get to this post, only because I’ve been writing my second novel and watching with envy as Jen overtakes my word count! Having traversed some of the writing journey with Jen, I’m very excited to see her second novel, Currawong Creek, released. I was planning to share a little post about my hounds because Jen is constantly amused by my hot-to-cold relationship with them, but I might leave that for another time.’

Kate, How did you receive your first offer of publication?

‘The Yearning was written over about 4 years while I worked part time and cared for my pre-school daughter. I attended two consecutive Year of the Novel courses at Writers’ Victoria where I met Jen and a number of other wonderful writers who are published (or soon to be.)

During these courses I ‘grew up’ as a writer and was able to develop The Yearning into a mature enough manuscript to try my luck in the publishing world. My first break came in August 2011 when I attended the Melbourne Romance Writers Australia conference. There I met Sheila Drummond, who agreed to look at The Yearning and rang me immediately after the conference with an offer to represent me.

Sheila started shopping The Yearning around late that year, but it would be another 12 months before she secured an offer for it. In the meantime she managed to get me a contract for two erotic novellas with newly launched Random Romance imprint. At the time I was working in a restructured job in the public service and was pretty miserable. When voluntary redundancies were announced I eagerly put my hand up. I had surgery on my knee in September 2012 and as I lay in bed recovering I received a redundancy offer and a contract for The Yearning on the same day. It seemed like divine coincidence. I crossed my fingers, signed them both, and prepared to start a new life as a full time writer in 2013.’

What is your story about Kate?

Yearning lo resThe Yearning is an exploration of love and desire, and the social and emotional boundaries we are willing to cross to get what we want. It’s an intimate account of the thrills and dangers of first love. My sixteen year old protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, lures her charismatic teacher, Solomon Andrews, into an illicit affair with erotic love notes. The pair are discovered and separated, but she can’t let her memories of Solomon go and is haunted by their affair until they meet again by accident twenty five years later. The ramifications of the affair have reverberated throughout both their lives and the two must come to a deeper understanding of their sensual relationship and what it really meant.’

What or who inspired The Yearning?

‘I find this question a difficult one to answer. The Yearning evolved over a long time. The letters my protagonist sends to Solomon come from unsent letters I wrote to lovers. In early drafts parts of the letters headed up each chapter.

Some of The Yearning was initially put together from a collection of short stories I saw had a common thread. In truth, I think I drew much of the emotional content from my own unfulfilled longings for a relationship in my past that was never quite fulfilled. I felt a spiritual connection to this person, but being at different points in our lives meant we chose to leave the relationship behind. This experience has provided great fodder for writing about unrequited longing.’

Are there any parts of The Yearning that have special personal significance to you?

‘The year The Yearning is set is a special year for me. 1978 was the last year we lived in the country town of Benalla, where I grew up. I was on the cusp of teenagehood and sensed an enormous change encroaching upon me. It was the year I learned about Countdown and boys and politics. Australia was in the aftermath of massive social, political and cultural change after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Civil rights, Aboriginal rights, Women’s rights movements were all shaking a sleepy Australia awake. It was a powerful time of change, a national coming of age if you like, and a perfect time in which to place a promiscuous teacher and his love struck student.’

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

‘It’s clear from reader responses there are many discussion worthy themes in The Yearning. I can’t tell you the number of people who have contacted me once they’ve finished it to tell me they can’t stop thinking about it, can’t sleep, need to talk to someone about it. It’s that kind of book.

Most chapters are introduced with quotes from the biblical Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) because that text reflects the passion of erotic love and the stanzas I chose capture the essence of the chapter theme. The sexual/emotional power play between Solomon and his student demonstrates the complexity of student/teacher attractions. The reader is prompted to ask, who holds the power? Who is seducing who?

I believe my anonymous protagonist’s experiences in love, sexuality and family are common to many women. I think lots of female readers will relate to her feelings of obsessive first love and loss, her expectations and disappointments in marriage, her joy in her children, her frustrations with her family, her attempts to live authentically in spite of the expectations of those around her.

The Yearning also talks to the cycle of damage done to men by their fathers (and mothers), the difference between sex and eros (or lust and love), the arbitrariness of the age of consent and how it isn’t really a protection from the ramifications of entering a mature sexual relationship too young.

It’s a complex book and I hope those of you who choose to read find much to enjoy in it.’

Thank you Kate for your thoughtful responses and congratulations again on your gorgeous book! And next time, I definitely want to talk about those dogs of yours …

Yearning lo resIt’s 1978 in a country town and a dreamy fifteen year old girl’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of the substitute English teacher. Solomon Andrews is beautiful, inspiring and she wants him like nothing else she’s wanted in her short life.

Charismatic and unconventional, Solomon easily wins the hearts and minds of his third form English class. He notices the attention of one girl, his new neighbour, who has taken to watching him from her upstairs window. He assumes it a harmless teenage crush, until the erotic love notes begin to arrive.

Solomon knows he must resist, but her sensual words stir him. He has longings of his own, although they have nothing to do with love, or so he believes. One afternoon, as he stands reading her latest offering in his driveway, she turns up unannounced. And what happens next will torment them forever – in ways neither can imagine.

Read an extract here: (http://issuu.com/simonschusteraustralia/docs/the_yearning_by_kate_belle)

Buy The Yearning:

Ebook: Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/The-Yearning-ebook/dp/B00BSVMRC4) or iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/the-yearning/id576561492?mt=11)

Print book: Target, Kmart, Myer, Collins, Dymocks, Big W, Eltham Bookshop and other independent bookshops (http://www.truelocal.com.au/find/book-shop/) and major airports.

Reading group questions here (http://books.simonandschuster.com.au/Yearning/Kate-Belle/9781922052643/reading_group_guide#rgg)

Kate is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter, and a menagerie of neurotic pets.

Kate holds a tertiary qualification in chemistry, half a diploma in naturopathy and a diploma in psychological astrology. Kate believes in living a passionate life and has ridden a camel through the Australian desert, fraternised with hippies in Nimbin, had a near birth experience and lived on nothing but porridge and a carrot for 3 days.

Blog/website: http://www.ecstasyfiles.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/katebelle.x

Twitter: @ecstasyfiles https://twitter.com/ecstasyfiles

BB2013_Nominee

Pace Yourself!

pacing 3I’ve reached the 70,000 word mark of my current work-in-progress. Only 20,000 words to go and the threads are thankfully coming together as I’d hoped. It’s at this stage that I think a lot about pacing. I’m approaching the finish line. Things are coming to a head. Tension and conflict are building inexorably, like a river about to burst its banks. But how to control the ebb and flow of the floodtide? If it rages too swiftly, it might peak early and end in melodrama or anti-climax. If I dam it too much, it may lose momentum. How do you get the pacing just so?

pacing 2Approaching the end, you want the reader to feel a real sense of urgency and desperation. If you’ve done your job well, the narrative and character arcs should be catapulting your story at a good speed towards the climax. But there are other ways to control pace that don’t involve the plot at all. Simple craft tips that are an essential part of a writer’s toolbox.

 

Write short sentences, scenes and chapters. Condense dialogue and description, thereby heightening the significance of each word. Cut scenes short at vital moments to raise anxiety and suspense levels in your reader. Remember to vary your pacing though, even in these final chapters. Longer sentences and more measured prose will slow down your story. This sort of contrast is still important to allow readers to catch their breath.

Pacing 1Another way to build tension is to write in slow motion. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a technique used all the time by film directors to increase dramatic impact. So at the crucial moment, say when a character drowns at sea, take your time. Describe the scene in close detail – the freezing bite of the waves, the taste of salt water, the horror of hopelessly holding onto that last breath. Or you might want to do the opposite. You might want to plunge your reader straight back into the action after the drowning. This is where I sometimes make an exception to the old show, don’t tell rule. Shock the reader with the brutal fact of the drowning by simply telling it in as blunt a way as possible.

My last tip is to let the setting work for you. A storm at sea instantly ramps up suspense. A calm cove does the opposite. Spend some time getting the location right and it will give your writing an automatic boost. My story is rushing towards its (hopefully) dramatic conclusion. So it’s nice to know that I don’t need to rely on structure alone to control the pace. I have a few craft tricks up my sleeve as well.

BB2013_Nominee

Brumby’s Run Q&A

CC 3The launch date of my new novel, Currawong Creek is fast approaching. Penguin Books (Aust) is offering a digital price promotion ahead of the new title’s release. The ebook of Brumby’s Run (usually $12.99) is available at $4.99 until the 28th June. For those who haven’t read it, today I’m posting a Penguin Q&A about Brumby’s Run for your information. Here’s the link for last week’s Currawong Creek Q&A

Penguin Q & A with Jennifer Scoullar, author of Brumby’s Run

What is your book about?

2nd BR CoverBrumby’s Run is a story about a young woman named Samantha. She discovers she has a twin sister, Charlie, who is critically ill. City girl Sam soon finds herself running her sister’s farm, high in the Victorian alps. This new life, Charlie’s life, intrigues her. Bit by bit she falls in love with the mountains, the brumbies and with handsome neighbour Drew Chandler, her sister’s erstwhile lover. Sam begins to wish that Charlie might never come home.

What or who inspired it?

Originally I was inspired by the classic Banjo Paterson poem of the same name. It is one of my absolute favourites. But I was also inspired by the magnificent wild horses of the high country, and the fine work done by Australia’s various Brumby welfare associations.

90px-Penguin_logo_svgWhat was the biggest challenge, writing it?

My biggest challenge was finishing the novel in time to pitch to Penguin at the 2011 RWA Conference. I only just made it!       

What did you want to achieve with your book?

I wanted to share my love of Victoria’s beautiful upper Murray region, and pay tribute to the fabled wild horses of the high country. I also wanted to entertain readers with a passionate and unusual love story.

What do you hope for your book?

I hope it may be widely read and enjoyed.

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

The horses are based on my own, favourite animals, past and present.

Do you have a favourite character or one you really enjoyed writing?

I have a soft spot for Charlie, and really admire her spirit.

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

One of the major themes in Brumby’s Run is our search for personal identity. The book also explores our relationship with animals and the environment.

high country horses

What made you set it in Victoria’s high country?I have a great love for this region, and it is where the Brumbies are.

Did the title come instantly to you or did you labour over it?I’d always wanted to base my novel on Banjo Paterson’s classic bush poem, Brumby’s Run, so the title was a given.

To whom have you dedicated the book and why?I’ve dedicated the book to Australia’s various Brumby welfare associations, in acknowledgement of the wonderful work they do protecting our wild horses.

Who do you think will enjoy your book?

Anybody who enjoys passionate love stories, set in Australia’s spectacular wild places.

Do you have a special ‘spot’ for writing at home? (If so, describe it)

Home Office I have a small office space off the lounge room (no door!), but with a noisy family, this isn’t always ideal. My favourite spot is over at the stables. Horses are good listeners, and don’t mind you reading aloud.

Do you like silence or music playing while you’re writing?

Silence. I’m easily distracted otherwise.

When did you start writing?

As a child I was an avid reader and loved writing stories and poems. I began my very first novel when I was eleven years old.

Did you always want to become an author?

I did, but then I grew up, and life kind of got in the way. There was long gap before I returned to my original passion for writing.

Tell us a bit about your childhood?

I was a horse-mad child. My family had a house in Melbourne as well as a property in the mountains. At every chance I escaped to the farm to be with my horses.

If you’ve had other jobs outside of writing, what were they?

I graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Law and Jurisprudence, and worked for a while as a solicitor. I have also raised four children, with the youngest one still at school. Now that’s a job!

Describe yourself in three words?Passionate, compassionate and curious.

capricornWhat star sign are you and are you typical of it?

I’m a Capricorn. That’s an earth sign, and I do feel a deep spiritual connection to the  earth. Typically Capricorns are ambitious and serious, with a strong work ethic. I suppose that describes me. They are also supposed to be neat and tidy. That definitely doesn’t describe me!

What three things do you dislike?

Cruelty, greed and indifference.

What three things do you like?

My family, my animals and having the opportunity to write, in that order.

Have you a family, partner or are you single?

As I said before, I have four wonderful children.  I am divorced and do not have a partner. Maybe no real-life man can measure up to my fictional outback heroes!

BB2013_Nominee

Sunday With Jenn J Mcleod

Today please welcome author Jenn J Mcleod to Pilyara. Jenn quit Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a little café in a small town. She now spends her days running a unique, dog-friendly B&B on her NSW property and writing life-affirming novels about friendship, family and small towns in which country roots run deep. Her debut novel A House For All Seasons, has impressed everybody with its moving story of friendship, family and forgiveness. And now, it’s over to Jenn …

Jenn J McLeod_54A1139 t‘Thanks for having me Jen. I just finished a fun interview for the Sweet Escape website.  It’s a confession really – about how authors fall in love with their fictional characters. As a writer of fiction, I get to play around with features, quirks and characteristics all the time – a bit like a Mr Potato Head (only more attractive!) or maybe a Police Identity-sketch kit (only not so creepy!) As a pantster (the industry term for writing by the seat of one’s pants rather than plotting) I sit at my desk and let the story take me on a journey. Then, along the way, I fall in love with my conflicted characters – the good, the bad and the flawed.

Just like a Mr Potato Head can never be George Clooney, made-up people don’t need to be perfect either. As one of my characters says in House for all Seasons, “I’m a flawed person trying to be good”, and I think it’s the ‘do good’ rather than the ‘be perfect’ that makes a person beautiful. So yes, flawed characters make for a more authentic story, and readers relate to authenticity. They expect it from their authors.

My approach to inventing fictional settings for my small town stories also involves a kind of morphing of favourite features. Four small NSW towns influenced the Calingarry Crossing township in House for all Seasons: Sawtell, Bellingen, Bowraville and Ulmarra – only I plonked it just west of the Great Divide.

I admit to loving a small town setting because small towns provide the perfect stage for conflict and drama – mostly because everything seems amplified and more personal in a small town. I also enjoy debunking small town generalisations. For a start, ‘small town’ in no way means small-minded. And there are other perceptions – namely that people in small towns are laid-back, open and friendly (almost cliched). But underneath they can be quite insular, cliquey, wary – especially of newcomers. I think balance is the key.

When it was time to type the words the end on my latest release, House for all Seasons, I struggled to let go. I’d fallen in love with my made-up town and wasn’t ready to leave. So, although I didn’t intend linking novels, next year’s release – The Simmering Season – picks up secondary threads, weaving them into a school reunion story with a difference; one that brings home more than memories for Calingarry Crossing’s publican, Maggie Lindeman.

With some terrific reviews  for House for all Seasons, there is a recurrent comment about both my characters and setting – they are authentic. Authenticity is what my publisher said made her fall in love with House for all Seasons. The secret for me is writing what I know. I moved to a small town, many years ago now, where knowing everyone in town is comforting – until there’s a secret you want to keep! I remember those early days of my tree-change when I moved from Sydney to buy a small cafe in a small country town. Such mixed emotions: excited, terrified—humbled by the wonderful welcome of a very friendly community. It was like coming home. ‘Coming home’ has provided me with an author platform from which to create and promote my small town stories like House for all Seasons: In a country house surrounded by the past, four friends will discover… small towns can keep big secrets.

House for all Seasons Jenn J McLeodHouse for all Seasons is a story about coming home and of country roots that run deep.

In order to claim an unexpected inheritance – the century-old Dandelion House on the outskirts of Calingarry Crossing – four estranged school friends return to their hometown after twenty years and stay a season each to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy.

  • Poppy, a tough, ambitions journo still craving her father’s approval;
  • Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
  • Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
  • Caitlin, a third generation doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.

House for all Seasons is a story of unravelling friendships and of ties that will forever bind four women to each other and to the century-old Dandelion house.

There are such fabulous town names in Australia. Not until I started coming up with names (checking them in Google to see if they already existed) did I discover some beauties, like the NSW town called Willow Tree. Isn’t that lovely?

Do you have favourite fiction town names – or perhaps know of some uniquely Australian town names to share?’

Aussie Auhor MonthThanks Jenn, for a fascinating post! I know a lot of people, including me, are looking forward to your next release. Don’t forget that in honour of Aussie Author month I’m giving away two of my books (Brumby’s Run and Wasp Season; see previous post). To go into the draw, just leave a comment saying why you love Aussie stories. Winners announced 30th April.

Aussie Author Month – Rural Fiction (Plus A Giveaway!)

Aussie Auhor Month. 2 pngApril is Aussie Author Month and celebrates the uniqueness and quality of Australian literature. It was started in 2011 by a group of reviewers and readers who wanted something special to celebrate Aussie authors. Genre and style doesn’t matter, it’s about a love of literature and a desire to promote home-grown reading to a wider community. Another important aspect of Aussie Author Month is recognising that literacy in this country isn’t as widespread as it should be, particularly among Indigenous and remote communities. It aims to raise awareness and fundraise for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Indigenous literacy FoundationI’m an Aussie rural author, and am proud to be part of a burgeoning publishing success story – one being led exclusively by women writers. In a challenging time for publishers, Aussie rural lit has defied the trends with sales more than tripling in the past four years. Authors such as Rachael Treasure, Nicole Alexander and Fiona Palmer routinely outsell other local fiction.

One reason for the popularity of this genre, is that the heroines are generally tough, independent and capable people. Unlike the characters in a lot of chick-lit, they are not obsessed with shopping and finding a man. But there is another, more important reason. At the heart of this sort of fiction is a passion for the Australian countryside. Speaking personally, while I love to explore the complexities of human relationships, my narratives are always informed by the bush, together with its flora and fauna.

Brumbies In The BushAustralia’s wild landscapes are powerful settings. In cities, many people live lives so far removed from nature, that they rarely even touch the earth. But at what cost? The cost to our declining environment? The cost to our hearts? I think the world is hungry to reconnect with nature, to ground itself. The rural lit genre taps into this vein. When we lose touch with wildness, we lose touch with who we really are.

To celebrate Aussie Author Month I’m giving away a copy each of Brumby’s Run and Wasp Season. Just leave a comment saying what you love about Aussie stories for your chance to win! Winners announced April 30th. Aust & NZ entrants only.

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One Little White Lie – Loretta Hill

Loretta HillPlease welcome Loretta Hill to Pilyara. Loretta is a number one best-selling author of contemporary fiction set in unique Australian settings. Her books sell like hot cakes. In fact her new novella One Little White Lie is currently sitting at the top of the ITunes charts! Today she gives us an insight into her writing and hints about what’s coming next.

Good Morning Loretta. Tell us about the sort of stories that you write?

Broadly, I write commercial women’s fiction which incorporates some romance.  Specifically, I have written two big outback stories set on the Pilbara. They are called, “The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots” and “The Girl in the Hard Hat.” These stories are about strong woman trying to work in a male dominated environment against the glorious backdrop of Australia’s red north. I have also written two romantic comedies set in urban Sydney, “Kiss and Tell” and now just released this month by Random Romance, “One Little White Lie.”

So tell me about your latest release?

One Little White Lie CoverOne Little White Lie” is a romantic comedy novella that will be released as an e-book only.

 It’s about a girl called Kate who is the current project of the match maker from hell. She knows that her best friend is not going to stop fixing her up with strange men unless she tells her that she is happily dating someone. Who knew that one little white lie could so blatantly backfire?

The imaginary boyfriend she described to her friend suddenly walks into her life and starts making himself comfortable in it.  Trapped by her lie, poor Kate is powerless to stop him. But the real question is, does she really want to?

Where did this idea come from?

HardHat cover finalWhen I was much younger, I’m talking high school, my single girlfriends and I always used to get a giggle out of talking about our dream guys.  When you’re young and going through all that teenage angst, you always think you’re never going to meet anyone. I always thought, wouldn’t it be great if one day my fantasy guy just appeared in my life as if he’d always been there.  This is sort of what I did to Kate. It was such a fun story to write. I think everyone’s been in an embarrassing situation brought about by their own foolishness.  You know the feeling where you just wish the ground would open up and swallow you. I loved giving Kate exactly what she wanted in exactly the wrong way.

What are you working on next?

Steel caps coverAt the moment I’m working on the third and final instalment to my Fly in, Fly out Girls Series. The title is The Girl in the Yellow Vest. It will include some characters from my previous two books but also a lot of new ones. The job is now in Queensland at the Dalrymple Bay Coal terminal. I think this one is going to be heaps of fun. If readers haven’t tried one of my books before, I know Random House is offering a free e-sampler. (http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/loretta-hill/loretta-hill-sampler-9780857980304.aspx)

Thanks Loretta, and I look forward to your next great read! For more information about Loretta and her books see www.lorettahill.com.au

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