Beauty & Lace – Review of Journey’s End

Australian Women Writer's Challenge

Releasing a new book and getting ready to launch it is a busy time in any writer’s life. LaunchSo instead of my usual blog, I’m posting a review from the online magazine Beauty and Lace. Thank you Michelle for reading Journey’s End as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and for the five stars! (Winners of the prize draw can be found at the end of the post)

I hereby extend an open invitation for my readers to attend the launch at Readings Hawthorn at 6.30 PM on Thursday July 7th. I will be in conversation with friend and fellow Penguin author Kathryn Ledson. I will be terribly serious and Kath will make jokes. Free wine and nibbles.

 

Jennifer Scoullar goes from strength to strength and I finished Journey’s End the way I started it, on the brink of tears, though very different types of tears.

JourneysEnd_coverKim Sullivan and her husband Connor have big dreams of their life together and many of them centre on the rundown property Connor inherited, Journey’s End, and finally the time has come to start working on all of their plans. In a few short days Connor will be back from war-torn Afghanistan and they can start making their dreams for Journey’s End realities.

Until the knock on the door that changes everything, the knock on the door every wife and mother fears; the knock that says Connor isn’t coming home.

Two years later Kim decides it is time to put Journey’s End on the market, all of the dreams she had for the property were dreams she shared with Connor and without him it just seems way too hard.

Life has moved on but the family is struggling and the passing of their dog Scout is what broke me in the opening pages; I think because I can relate as I have an old dog of my own who is starting to slow down and I can’t bear to think of life without him. They decide to take a trip to Journey’s End to scatter Scouts ashes and look at what needs to be done to ready the place for sale. My biggest issue here was that I couldn’t understand scattering ashes in a place you’re about to sell, but that’s just me and I am already torn with how to make the decisions when the time comes.

The first trip to Journey’s End is heartbreaking for Kim, the family have moved out of the family home so they don’t have the constant reminders at every turn; once they get to Journey’s End that’s exactly what they find. It’s like having to let go all over again. But there is something comforting about the place and before long Kim decides to take 12 months off work and go to Journey’s End to get the place well and truly ready for sale and give the children a change of scenery.

As is always the case in Scoullar novels the surroundings, and the animals, play as large a role in the story as the people.

Kim Sullivan and her children need to heal, they need to learn to live again and they need to learn to live with their grief, rather than just keep on with the one foot in front of the other existence.

Journey’s End also needs to heal, it’s been left neglected for too long and there is much work to be done to bring it back to a thriving property. The property has a conservation covenant on it, meaning that it can’t be logged, and it will affect the type of buyer that’s attracted. The neglect of the property has attracted an endless stream of wild animals, the ones that are actually more looked upon as pests in farming areas. Lots of wild rabbits, foxes, kangaroos, wallabies, goats and they even see a couple of brumbies on their first visit.

Much of the story centres on the wildlife work done by Kim’s neighbour Mel, and in turn the Sullivans as they take on the overflow and always have a menagerie of orphaned animals around, and the regeneration of Journey’s End. The replanting, the controversial pest eradication program and the slow fixing up of the house.

Alongside the story of the property is the reawakening of Kim, the blossoming of Abbey and the calming of Jake. The change of scenery is good for the family; they meet new people and have a totally different set of experiences in the small town of Tingo than they would in Sydney.

The story isn’t all about the Sullivans, there is also the mysterious Taj; a relative newcomer to Tingo who generally keeps to himself but is a great handyman around town.

The story is narrated in the third person but alternates, not evenly or regularly, between Taj and Kim.

Taj has a haunted past and his grief and loss is evident in his eyes, though no-one in town really knows his story. Jake takes an immediate dislike to him and Abbey is the complete opposite being drawn to him. Taj is not only a talented handyman but also has a way with animals. He works on the house and yards for Kim to help ready it for sale, and they begin to also work together on Kim’s plans for the property and rewilding the bushland.

Ben is the real estate agent looking after the sale of Journey’s End and he forms a friendship with Kim. He is charming and charismatic, perhaps a little too much, and Jake takes an immediate shine to him, though Abbey never warms to him.  The reactions of the kids illustrate the sharp contrast between the two men in the story.

The characters are beautifully drawn, they are realistic and believable; their pain is palpable and their reawakening is a joy to watch. Scoullar has done another stellar job of creating fantastic characters that complement one another and make you feel… even if that feeling is one of anger.

The small town of Tingo and its characters are an interesting mix and help complete the picture when it comes to the more controversial plans Kim puts into place on her property.

Journey’s End has a little bit of everything, it’s a little bit suspense, a little bit romance, a lot of regeneration and a great deal of environmental awareness. Love, learning to laugh again, friendship, family and living with loss are all major players in this engaging new Scoullar novel.

Every Jennifer Scoullar novel I have read helps bring awareness to an environmental issue and I have loved every one of them, and now I need to go and track down the one or two that I have missed along the way.

Journey’s End is book #30 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016

Congratulations to jay hicks and Janine K for each winning a signed copy of Journey’s End. I shall email you soon for your postal address 🙂 Thank you to everyone who commented.

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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