Huge Australian Rural Fiction Book Giveaway – and winners of this month’s draw

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Hello and welcome to the huge Australian Rural Fiction Christmas Book Giveaway! We at Australian Rural Fiction  are proudly seventy wonderful Aussie authors bringing our big Australian country stories to you across many genres.

Why has this come about?

We wanted to see more of ‘us’ out there. We wanted to have more of us easily accessed in the one place, to discover our country’s big stories – and we have many bestselling and award winning authors bringing those stories to you via our website.​
We’ve given readers one place to find out the news every day, and you can also join our Facebook group.

ENTER OUR HUGE CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY!

We have the most fantabulous, awesome and generous Christmas contest that will sort out the summer…and probably winter…reading for six lucky winners.
Four Australian winners and two international winners.

There are FOUR prizes of fourteen signed print books for the Australian readers, and TWO prizes of eight e-books each to two international readers.

Complete the first entry options and the others will magically appear! The more options you take up, the more entries you get! And the best part… invite a new friend to the Facebook group every day for an additional FIVE entries per day! Enter HERE!

And now for the winners of my monthly prize draw.
Congratulations to glynismc@icloud.com and toni.long@outlook.co.nz. I’ll be emailing you shortly to ask what books you’d like. Happy Reading!

 

For The Love Of Historical Fiction

I’m an eclectic reader who enjoys a wide variety of genres: romance, suspense, literary fiction, crime – although I do draw the line at horror. The first Stephen King novel I attempted scared me witless! But among the genres, historical fiction is one of my absolute favourites.

From Jean M. Auel’s The Clan Of The Cave Bear to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall — I love them all. It’s intriguing to contemplate life without modern conventions and conveniences. Without advanced science and medicine. Without the women’s movement, workers unions and children’s welfare laws. Without the general understanding that poverty can drive good people to do bad things. Living in the past involved hardships and injustice that we can barely imagine.

But what about the advantages of living in the past? Village life offered a powerful sense of community, with strong family ties. Children played outside instead of watching screens all day. People lived closer to nature, and died in their own beds surrounded by loved ones, instead of in hospitals surrounded by tubes and machines.

History books tell us what happened, but novels give us a sense of the how and why. They draw us into the inner lives of people across time and place — inviting us to imagine their untold stories. The best historical fiction also reminds us of the mistakes of our past, so we can avoid repeating them.

They say history is written by the winners. In my historical novels Fortune’s Son and its sequel The Lost Valley, I wanted to write a fresh version of history, giving a voice to the outsiders, including the animals teetering on the extinction precipice.

The books follow the trials and tribulations of the Abbott family from the 1880’s to post World War 2 Tasmania. But they also tell the story of the last Tasmanian tigers (thylacines) soon to disappear from the Earth after a twenty-five-million-year reign. Apart from a little gem, Coorinna, written in 1953, there is no historical fiction concerning the thylacine. It’s time to fill the gap

To celebrate the upcoming release of The Lost Valley I’m giving away five Advance Reader Copies (Aust addresses only) and five eBooks (overseas readers). To enter, just comment below naming one of your favourite historical novels. Good luck! (drawn 02/09/2018)  

 

2016 Australia Day Book Giveaway

 

I’m delighted to be part of the Book’d Out Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop celebrating Australian writers and stories. I’m giving away a copy of my latest novel Turtle Reef, and a copy of Jilted by the fabulous Rachael Johns. The giveaway is only open to Australian residents. Stop by the other blogs on the tour to win more great prizes.

My Australia Day blog post is about a little Australian native orchid, that connects my memories of a lost brother with my upcoming novel, Journey’s End.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThere is little more poignant in life, than helping to pack up the house of a loved one who has died too young. This has been my sad task recently, since the untimely death of my brother, Rod Scoullar. He was a learned man, a man who loved Australia’s fauna and flora – a naturalist of the first order. His study was a gold-mine of nature books, stored on impressive floor-to-ceiling shelves that covered an entire wall. It was here that I found the holy grail for Aussie orchid lovers – Australian Indigenous Orchids Vol 1 & 2 by A W Dockrill. These are hard to find volumes, and sell on-line Ravine orchid 4.ashxfor up to $200 a set. But aside from being the definitive treatises on native orchids, they also provided me with a wonderful link to my new book, Journey’s End, which will be out in late May.

Journey’s End is concerned in part with a woman’s journey through grief. I’m deep in the edits at the moment. Little did I know when I was writing this book that it would take such a personal turn. It’s set in the wild, mountainous, subtropical rainforests of the Great Eastern Escarpment, and the rare Ravine Orchid (Sarchochilus fitzgeraldii) plays a significant role in the story. So I looked it up in my brother’s books, and found a glorious, full-colour plate of this beautiful and delicate flower.

Ravine orchid 4The Ravine Orchid is found in wet, humid rainforests of the Great Dividing Range, where waterfalls cascade from the tablelands. It is lithophytic, which means its roots cling to rocks or creep into humus-filled crevices. Old colonies form mats many meters wide, and relish the constant play of cool air through the deep, damp ravines. Plants also occasionally grow on the moss-covered buttresses of ancient trees. The fragile flowers appear in October and November, and are up to forty millimeters wide. Colours vary from pure white, white with a red heart, to a rare all-crimson form. They are borne on graceful, pendulous stems which may measure more than a meter long. Quite a sight, when draped in full bloom on the rocks above a mountain stream.

Ravine orchid 3I was fortunate enough to buy a tiny specimen from the Tinonee Orchid Nursery when on a research trip for the book last year, pictured right. According to the wonderful Ray Clement, it should do well in the climate of the southern Victorian ranges where I live. So far so good. One day it may flower, and I’ll think of my brother, and his passion for Australia’s marvellous native plants.

To go into the prize draw leave a comment on this blog post. Don’t forget to check out the other blogs at Book’d Out to be in the running for more great prizes!! (Entries will close at midnight on Wednesday January 27th)

Almost There + Book Giveaway

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout!

I’m putting the finishing touches on my new manuscript, which is due at Penguin on Thursday. This has been the hardest, but also the most satisfying book that I’ve written so far, with a broader focus than my previous novels. From Afghanistan’s last wilderness, to Australia’s great eastern escarpment, an epic tale of love, loss and redemption.Writing it has been an emotional roller coaster, and more than once I’ve found myself in tears.

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Waratahs

So, you can imagine how pleased I’ll be to send it off, and turn my attention to things closer to home – like the beauty unfolding all around me. Spring is my favourite time of year, and I’ll finally have a chance to enjoy it! This post is dedicated to Pilyara, the beautiful property where I live, and the animals and plants that I share it with.

DSCF0626Pilyara has many forested areas, with spectacular grey gums, mountain ash, and messmate stringy bark trees towering overhead. Below grows a dense layer of smaller plants including correa, heath, dusty miller, and golden bush pea. Delicate ground orchids abound, and ferns fringe the creek, including tall tree ferns. An astounding range of birds are found here: honey-eaters, bower-birds, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, currawongs, whip-birds, willy-wagtails, magpies, herons, swallows, swifts, ducks, eagles and owls, just to name a few. We’ve even spotted a lyrebird once or twice.Native animals include wombats, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, kangaroos, possums, gliders,bush rats, antechinus,bats and platypus in the creek. We also have the odd goanna and snake.

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Native Mint Bush

We received a grant from Victoria’s Healthy Waterways program, to finish fencing off the gullies and creek, and the work is almost complete. This will further enhance Pilyara as a habitat for native flora and fauna. Just talking about it makes me want to head off down to the creek! But no, first things first. Only a few more days work on the manuscript, and then the farrier comes to shoe the horses. (My present to myself for finishing!) Pilyara is only a few minutes ride from the Bunyip state forest, with its stunning scenery and heritage horse trails. Here are some photos taken today. Roll on Thursday!

I’m giving away a two-pack of my books. Leave a comment telling me your favourite native bird, or your favourite first line of a novel, to go in the draw. Let me know which two books you’d like. Closing date next Sunday 4th October. (Aust & NZ only) 

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Crabapple

Rex

Rex

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

Grevillia

Grevillia

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Sheba and Star

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Hook The Reader With Your First Sentence + Giveaway!

cross blogIt’s that time of the month for general writerly chit-chat with Sydney Smith. This week there’s also a giveaway, to celebrate the completion of my new manuscript.

JENNY-
Hurray, I’ve finished my latest novel! One hundred thousand words of carefully crafted narrative. From Afghanistan’s last wilderness, to the rugged ranges of Australia’s great eastern escarpment – an epic tale of love, loss and redemption. Writing it was like running an emotional marathon.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But when I began my rewrites – horror of horrors! A boring first paragraph stared me in the face. I needed to fix it, and fast. The manuscript is due at my publisher in two weeks. How do I hook my reader with that first line? Sydney Smith and I were down at Phillip Island on a writing retreat. We began a game – take a random novel off the shelf, read the first line, and rate it out of ten.

SYDNEY-
And what an eye-opener it was! So many of them started with a reference to the weather. About sixty percent, don’t you think, Jenny? Descriptions of weather aren’t in themselves bad. If they strike a note of tension, they can be very good. A storm can be great if it opens, say, a haunted house story or a tale of pursuit and capture. But if the weather is there simply because the writer can’t think of a better way to open their novel, it’s Dullsville. Here are two examples:

-‘The day is hot, the air thick with the smells of the rain-forest.’ The Inevitability Of Stars, Kathryn R Lyster
– ‘He could hear nothing while the storm lasted, everything blotted out by the steady drumming of the rain on the iron roof.’ Papio, Victor Kelleher

First lines 1Then there were the openings that drop you right into the action through a piece of dialogue or movement.

– ‘They threw me off the hay truck about noon.’ The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
– ‘We should head to a bar and celebrate.’ Bared To You, Sylvia Day
– ‘The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries.‘ A Deepness In The Sky Vernor Vinge.

I know many readers like this. I never have. But, as my friends are at pains to tell me, I’m weird. You can’t go by what I like.

Then there are the opening sentences that were just plain dull for no particular reason. I opened Sylvester, one of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels, and there before me lay a sentence utterly devoid of thrill:

‘Sylvester stood in the window of his breakfast-parlour, leaning his hands on the ledge, and gazing out upon a fair prospect.’

I forgive her because her novels were amongst my early teachers. If I have any skill at all as a writer, it’s thanks to her. I learned wit from her. I learned the long and vivid character introduction from her. I learned the thrust and parry of dialogue between hero and heroine from her. And let us praise the heroine who can take care of herself. That’s not Ms Heyer’s invention, but she ran with it as no one had First lines 2before. So I tried another Georgette Heyer, this one The Corinthian.

‘The company, ushered by a disapproving butler into the yellow saloon of Sir Richard Wyndham’s house in St James’ Square, comprised two ladies and one reluctant gentleman.’

Better. The disapproving butler, and especially the one reluctant gentleman, strike notes of tension. The reader is invited to wonder why they’re there, and why the gentleman is reluctant. But it’s too long thanks to the nonsense about Richard’s posh address. Still, it’s a well-balanced sentence. Ms Heyer was a prose stylist of the first order.

But when I look at first sentences, I want something more. I want a sentence that snags me on a strong yet delicate hook with a barb on the end that hurts if I try to wriggle free.

JENNY-
I’ve listed my favourites below. Some encapsulate the conflict, compacting the First line 3entire story into a single sentence. Others state a truth or surprise me in some way.

  • “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

  • The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The Dark Tower, Stephen King

  • “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

  • He shouldn’t have come back.” Dark Country, Bronwyn Parry

  • “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable child ever seen.” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • “It is said that in death, all things become clear; Ensei Tankado now knew it was true.” Digital Fortress, Dan Brown

  • “The idea that love is not enough, is a particularly painful one.” The Unknown Terrorist, Richard Flanagan.

  • “Every summer, Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife.”  Waiting: A novel, Ha Jin

  • “Bett-Bett must have been a Princess, for she was a King’s niece, and if that does not make a princess of anyone, it ought to do so!” The Little Black PrincessAeneus Gunn

  • “So I’m standing at my front gate and I’m soaked and it’d been the worst day in history.” Rough Diamond, Kathryn Ledson

  • I see my father with that shovel.” The Woods, Harlan Coben

  • This was the way a world died.” Ice Guard Steve Lyons

  • And my personal favourite: “All stories are about wolves.” The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood

Stephen King proudly boasts that he spends months crafting a first line. What do you think, Sydney? What is it about these lines that made them stand out?

SYDNEY-
Firts line 5I go with most of your choices, Jenny. I have to say, though, that Richard Flanagan’s contribution strikes me as weak, thanks to its construction and verb choice. “The idea that love is not enough, is a particularly painful one.” It might read better if it went something like this: “It hurts to know that love is not enough.” The construction here is stronger first because of the verb: in his version, he uses “is”, which is a nothing verb, while mine is “hurts”, which throbs with vitality. The position of the verb matters, too: mine is the second word in the sentence, which is a strong place to put it, right after the subject pronoun. His verb is buried in the middle of the sentence. Verbs are engines: they drive sentences. The stronger the verb, the stronger the drive. The fact that his version uses “is” twice merely compounds the problem.

Stephen King’s contribution is good: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” First, it’s about pursuit. Predators pursue their prey. At the same time, the moral ambiguity threatens to tumble it on its head: the prey wears black, the colour of villainy. Does the gunslinger pursue him because he’s done something evil? A two-hook sentence, the moral and the visceral, is an embarrassment of riches. Maybe I should read this novel!

First line 4As for Margaret Atwood’s selection, “All stories are about wolves”, the initial hook is the sheer mind-blowing breadth of the statement. That very fact caused me to pause and ponder. “Wolves” is a metaphor; she means all stories are about predators, and therefore, about their prey, since a predator is nothing without the creatures it kills and devours (wolfs down). In which case, contrary to first impressions, Ms Atwood is absolutely right. And yet I can’t overlook the whiff of facetiousness in the sentence either. It begins to look as though I personally like a sentence whose layers can be unpacked and spread on the table.

JENNY-
Interestingly, Margaret Atwood’s line holds very true for my latest novel! I don’t expect a first line to do as much as you do, Sydney. It must hook the reader, true, but it can do this in a variety of ways.
Summarising the conflict, like the first line of Lolita.
Stating a general truth, like Leo Tolstoy and Richard Flanagan do. (I do like Flanagan’s first line, despite its double use of ‘is‘).
Stating a simple yet interesting fact. “I had a farm in Africa,” Out of Africa Isak Dinesen. I also love the ‘They threw me off the hay-truck about noon.’ line 🙂
Establishing an intriguing voice, Lolita again.
Or a line that surprises, like Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

These work for me. And thanks to this fun research and analysis, I now have my new opening line – one of the encapsulating-the-conflict variety. Now you’ll all have to buy my new book next year to find out what it is!

For your chance to win a two-pack of my books (your choice!) just leave a comment telling us your favourite first line from a novel, and which two books you’d like to win. The first line can be one that we’ve already mentioned, or a new one altogether. The prize will be drawn on the 4th of October. (Aust & NZ residents only)BB14

Easter Sunday With Jenn J McLeod + Book Giveaway

Season Of Shadow And Light Please welcome author, friend and fellow animal nut, Jenn J McLeod, to Pilyara on this Easter Sunday. Her wonderful new novel, Season Of Shadow And Light, is coming out on May 1st. What a luminous cover! I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy and can tell you that readers are in for a real treat. Such a multi-layered, thought-provoking story about the best and worst of families, and it also features a horse! Over to you Jenn!

 

I was six the day a horse ate my buttons

‘We share so much more than a great name, Jen. For a start, we both love animals—all animals—and we hate seeing them neglected and mistreated.

If I had to pick a favourite animal it would definitely be dogs. And  I know you love dogs. But I REALLY, really, really love dogs. Every day when I wake up and my old (now blind) rescue baby is at the foot of the bed (staring and telling me to get up) I feel blessed and lucky to have her in my life, even though her vet bills are now slowly siphoning away my retirement savings!

Jenn J McLeod_54A1139 tI love dogs so much I wanted to feature one in a novel. So, the original Season of Shadow and Light plot featured a mangy mutt as the star of the story. That was until I started researching the world of animals as therapy and developed a fascination for the human/horse connection. Around the same time (coincidental or karma) I discovered a very personal horse-related project to test out a few theories—and it was almost next door to where I lived.

Looking at the final cover for Season of Shadow and Light, I hardly have to tell you that the horse theme, and not the mangy mutt, won in the end. My love of horses goes way back to when, as a young child, my Dad (a NSW Police Bandsman) would take me to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. He’d leave me in my special seat (ie in the horse float and hay stores area under the grandstand) to watch the NSW Police Band do a special performance called, The Musical Ride, in which the mounted police and the brass band would do a choreographed marching routine that weaved between the horses. When they finished several routines, the horses would return to the staging area while the band played on. It was all very thrilling—until the unthinkable happened.

One day a horse ate the buttons off my shirt! For some reason that incident traumatised me. I remember the moment as though it was yesterday—and as clearly as I remember the shirt that buttoned up at the back with little pearl buttons. After that incident, I still loved watching my Dad in The Musical Ride performance, and I still loved horses, but I couldn’t get up close to a horse any more. For years I was like a person who loves the beach but can’t be in the sun. In saying that, just as the might of the sea can still spellbind an observer, I remained awestruck by the magnificence of a horse.

I have since reconnected with horses and made a horse friend—all thanks to my research for Season of Jenn J McLeod Simmering seasonShadow and Light. Readers of Simmering Season might recall Maggie visiting an old horse that stood alone in a paddock in all weather—neglected, with no shelter, it’s blanket tatty and torn. There’s a bit of me in those scenes as it was a real horse that inspired that equine character. On my morning walk I would stop and chat to a lonely, neglected, nippy old horse being agisted on a nearby property. (Neighbourhood goss suggested the owner was not a local, nor a rider any more due to declining health.) Initially I called the horse, Ed (yes, the talking horse) and over a time (carrots helped) he let me get closer.

Jenn J Mcleod Horse 1I’d like to think that horse and I helped each other. He certainly helped me. When we sold up to hit the road in our caravan I was so sad to leave Ed behind I decided to write him into Simmering Season. As it turns out, Ed was no ordinary horse either. He was (more neighbourhood goss) once a prize-winning race horse and while his real name was Nevaeh, to me he will always be Ed. (Oh, and by the time I left the area, other locals had taken on the morning, noon and night visits and treats.)

Jenn J Mcleod Horse 2With trust and loyalty as the main theme throughout this novel I think it’s fitting that a horse be featured. Humans can learn a lot about both those qualities from horses (and from dogs). Animals put their trust in humans and I don’t think there’s anything sadder than a neglected animal. I do hope readers of Season of Shadow and Light will excuse my mini soapbox moment when I bang on about some animals being a life-long commitment, and with horses that life can be a very be long time. And look out for my tribute to Nevaeh.

With early reader reviews already in like this one “Jenn J McLeod is an author for all seasons  . . .  and all readers.” Shelleyrae, wwwbookdout.wordpress.com, I am super excited about this story of secrets and love, of family loyalty, and of trust—the kind that takes years to build but only seconds to wash away.

Cheers, Jen. I look forward to seeing you at my place soon for my #WriteRoundOz Author Series.’

Jenn J McLeod bannerI can’t wait Jenn, and thanks for dropping by today! Readers, for your chance to WIN all THREE Jenn J McLeod novels* simply leave a comment below. From now until the end of May, Jenn drops into some of her favourite author blogs to say hello to readers old and new. She’ll then collect the comment names from each author blog post, picking a lucky winner from one major draw and announcing the name at the end May of on her blog

If you’d like to find out more about Jenn and her contemporary women’s fiction about small towns keeping big secrets, head on over to her website or, like me, follow the Facebook and Twitter fun.

Website:   www.jennjmcleod.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JennJMcLeod.Author
Twitter:     @jennjmcleod
*Book Pack: House for all Seasons (#5 Top Selling Debut novel, 2013), Simmering Season, and Season of Shadow and Light. (Australian postal address only)

And now to announce the winners in my Turtle Reef prize draw! So many books to giveaway today :). Congratulations to Karla Oleinikoff and Kim Foster. I’ll email you soon for your postal address. Many thanks to all who left comments.

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‘Turtle Reef’ Release and Giveaway!

TurtleReef_coverWell, it’s that time of year again, when I give my blog over to shameless self-promotion! My latest novel, Turtle Reef, will be released by Penguin on the 25th March. The official Melbourne launch will be at Readings Bookstore, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn on Wednesday 8th April at 6.00pm. Free event. All welcome!

To celebrate, I’m giving away two copies of Turtle Reef. (Aust & NZ residents only) To go in the draw, just leave a comment on this post. Winners announced on Sunday 5th April.

This week I’m posting a Q&A I did for Penguin Australia.

  1. Turtle Reef Austhor copies 001

    Box of Turtle Reef author copies. Exciting!

    What is your new book about?

Turtle Reef is the story of Zoe King, an unlucky-in-love zoologist who has given up on men. Moving from Sydney to take up an exciting new role in marine science in the small sugar town of Kiawa is a welcome fresh start.

Zoe  is immediately charmed by the region’s beauty – by its rivers and rainforests, and by its vast cane fields, sweeping from the foothills down to the rocky coral coast.  And also by its people – its farmers and fishermen, unhurried and down to earth, proud of their traditions.

Her work at the Reef Centre provides all the passion she needs and Zoe finds a friend in Bridget, the centre’s director. The last thing she wants is to fall for her boss’s boyfriend, cane king Quinn Cooper, and so she refuses to acknowledge the attraction between them – even to herself.

But things aren’t quite adding up at the Reef Centre and when animals on the reef begin to sicken and die, Zoe’s personal and professional worlds collide. She faces a terrible choice. Will protecting the reef mean betraying the man she loves?

  1. Great Barrier ReefWhat or who inspired it?
    – Turtle Reef was inspired by my passion for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral ecosystem on our blue planet, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It holds a special place in the hearts of Australians. I wanted my story to show the important part the reef plays in the human and animal life of coastal communities. It was also an excuse to write about dugongs and dolphins!
  2. What was the biggest challenge, writing it?
    – The biggest challenge was not letting the animals hijack the story. They wanted to hog the plot!
  3. What did you want to achieve with your book?
    – I wanted to share my love of the Great Barrier Reef, and pay tribute to its unique wildlife. I also wanted to entertain readers with a passionate and unusual love story. If Turtle Reef sparks debate about reef protection, that’s a bonus.
  4. Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
    – The story of the black Arabian mare, Aisha, is loosely based on the life of my own mare, Starfire. And like Zoe King, I’ve always been fascinated by marine mammals.
  5. What do you see as the major themes in your book?
    – The main themes in Turtle Reef are: change versus tradition, the risks and rewards of freedom and learning to challenge your fears. The book also explores our relationship with animals and nature.
  6. Aust Marine Conservation SocietyTo whom have you dedicated the book and why?
    – Turtle Reef is dedicated to the Australian Marine Conservation Society. They provide Australia’s ocean wildlife with a vital voice.
  7. Who do you think will enjoy your book?
    – Anybody who likes horses, dolphins, or ripping yarns in magnificent settings.
  8. Describe yourself in three words?
    – Passionate, compassionate and nerdy
  9. What three things do you dislike?
     – Cruelty, indifference and greed
  10. What three things do you like?
    – Horses, the wilderness and champagne.
  11. What would you like to think people can get from reading your book?
    – I hope Turtle Reef can transport readers to the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and immerse them in the lives of its unique people and wildlife.
  12. What do you think your life will be like 20 years from now?
    – Not very different from today I hope – riding horses and writing books.
  13. Crystal Dolphin 1What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
    – I always have a special good-luck symbol for each book I write. For Billabong Bend it was an unused bird-shot cartridge. For Turtle Reef it was a crystal dolphin on a piece of amethyst that my brother gave me.
  14. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books
    – Mainly from my own imagination, although I always undertake research trips to ensure settings are authentic. Google and the State Library also get a good workout.
  15. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
    – Write books and ride horses.
  16. turtlereef_inviteIf you were for sale the ad would say…
    – ‘Well-bred aged mare. Nice nature. No vices (well, hardly any!)  Quick on feet and loves bush riding. Can be stubborn. Needs experienced rider.’
  17. What is your life motto?
    – ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.’
  18. What is your most memorable moment?
    – Apart from when my children were born, you mean? Getting published for the first time of course.

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An Original Idea + Book Giveaway

story ideas 3I’m envious of other writers who have umpteen story ideas swirling around in their head at once. I was talking to an author friend the other day about getting inspiration. She has twenty different story outlines in her bottom drawer. ‘I can look at the headlines in a newspaper,’ she said, ‘and get three or four ideas for a novel then and there. My problem is that once I’m 150 pages into a novel, my mind is already ranging ahead to the next project.’ I looked at her askance and made some unfavourable comparisons. When I’m 150 pages into a novel I still have no idea what my next project will be about!

Story ideas 1But being a novelist means writing new books, so an idea is kind of essential. It’s the foundation for your new story, and I’m always overjoyed when it finally comes to me. I don’t mean a fully realised plot –  It could just be a theme, or a main incident. It could be a character, or scene. A line of dialogue or setting. It’s simply that first kernel of an idea, and for me it’s my guiding light. Everything else might change, but not this.Then I think about my characters, who emerge pretty quickly at this point. Who are they at the beginning and who will they be at the end? A little thought at this early stage ensures well-developed character arcs, and saves a lot of hit-or-miss writing. By this time a theme will be emerging, and I like to have it in mind before I start. It will keep the book heading in a consistent direction, and add emotional depth.

Story Ideas 2Then I play the ‘what if?‘ game. Your initial idea might be a selfish man decides to turn his life around. Then play what if. What if the man is a cat burglar? Better. What if he wants to put stolen stuff back? What if his plans are frustrated by a detective that is getting too close? What if he needs to put stuff back in that detective’s own house? The original idea is getting fleshed out.

Now, whenever I read a book or watch a film, I try to work out what was the original idea that the creator had. Babe – what if a pig was raised by sheep-dogs? The Verdict – what if an alcoholic lawyer took on a hopeless case against the best attorneys in the land? Gone With The Wind – what if it fell to a spoilt southern belle to defend her family’s plantation during the Civil War? The Wizard Of Oz – what if a little girl is stuck in a strange land and can’t get home? This game is fun, try it. It can also give you the tagline for your book, distilling the narrative down to its essentials. What if a repentant cat burglar decided to put everything back? Good idea. It’s probably been done before, but each telling of a story will be different.

Anyway, I’ve got an idea for my next story, and Penguin have given it the nod. Now all I have to do is write it!

To celebrate my new contract, and reaching 40,000 views on this blog, I’m giving away 2 copies of Billabong Bend. (If you’d rather another one of my books just say.)Thank you to all my readers. To go in the draw, just comment on this post. (Aust and NZ only) Winners announced 22nd December.

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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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