Here I am in Ireland, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, a renowned, creative residential retreat on the shores of beautiful Lake Annaghmakerrig. The magical Victorian Big House, as it’s affectionately known, sleeps eleven people. Over the years, outbuildings and barnyards have been converted into further workspaces and studios, so that there is plenty of space for artists of all kinds. Composers and playwrights, painters and poets, novelists and film makers – they all come together at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. The only rule is that you attend dinner each night in the grand dining room, along with your fellow artists.

I’m on the first floor in a spacious room named after John Jordan. Jordan (1930-88) was a writer, poet, lecturer, broadcaster and man-of-letters in the Dublin of his day. The room is elegance personified, and overlooks the lake. It’s easy to write here, surrounded by so much beauty and history. Unfortunately the first few days of my stay were marred by a very modern problem. Flanagan, my HP Folio Ultrabook bought especially for the trip, packed up on the second day. HP support diagnosed a faulty motherboard over the phone. It was still under warrantty, being only four weeks old and I supposed If I could get it to Dublin, their technicians could repair it. No dice. That apparently would void the warranty, so I have to lug this useless thing back to Australia with me and get it fixed there. Two days writing lost and some frayed nerves, but thanks to Dropbox,  I could retrieve most of my manuscript. I made the six hour round trip into Dublin yesterday to buy a new laptop (Paddy) that I could ill afford. When Flanagan gets fixed I’m selling him. Some false friend he turned out to be. Anybody in the market for a cheap HP Ultrabook still under warranty? They’re great for travelling apparently!

A very talented young painter and photographer, Nina Panagopoulou, joined me on my trip into Dublin yesterday. She wanted to buy paints and canvases. The photo of the lake at the top of this post, and this one of the house, are both hers. Don’t you love the lamp post? Very Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. You certainly meet some gifted people here …

Nina was born in 1984 in Athens. She took drawing and music lessons from an early age, and attended the musical high school of Pallini in Greece, with the piano as her instrument. Then she decided that painting was what she really wanted to do. She studied Fine Arts at the University of Ioannina, and completed successfully her Masters in Fine Arts at the University for the Creative Arts in Kent. Nina has travelled in England, Ireland, France, Italy and Spain and she speaks fluent Greek, French and English. She has participated in exhibitions in Greece and UK. At the moment she is attending a residency in Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland in order to create a series of paintings.

(3) Plan B – The Conference Pitch

Last week I told the story of how I found my dream agent. Problem was, I still didn’t have my dream contract with a major publisher. Maybe my agent could use a little help? A writer friend of mine, fellow rural author Margareta Osborn, had asked me to go with her to the Romance Writer’s Conference in Melbourne.

‘I don’t write category romance,’ I said.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Margareta. ‘All sorts of writers go. It’ll be fun … and you get to pitch face to face to editors. Not just any editors, but key industry professionals like Beverley Cousins of Random House, Annette Barlow of Allen & Unwin and Belinda Byrne, a commissioning editor at Penguin’.

‘Really?’ I said, my ears pricking right up.  ‘Editors?’ Now, all I needed was a novel to knock their socks off. I already had two manuscripts with Curtis Brown. Maybe I needed something fresh, something that fused my passion for the land with an equally passionate love story. It was January, and the conference was in August – eight months. I could only try. Thus Brumby’s Run was born. I wrote and wrote, revising as I went, and had a polished first draft just in time for the conference.

Belinda ByrneI scored pitch sessions with Bernadette Foley of Hachette and Belinda Byrne. I agonised over my pitch, practised ad nauseum and was sick with nerves. The five minute pitches were reduced to three minute pitches. Not much time to impress anybody. Then the moment arrived for that long walk into the room, and I was the one who wound up being  impressed. Both editors were so friendly and natural, and did everything they could to put me at ease. And best of all, both of them took my three chapters and synopsis.

Ten days passed without word, so I sent out polite reminders. Far from being annoyed, they both asked for the full manuscript. Then, after several encouraging emails from Belinda, she asked to meet me, and in October I received an email headed Penguin Letter of Offer for Brumby’s Run. At last!. I printed that letter out and carried it with me for weeks, looking at it occasionally to check it was real. My agent was happy too, cheerfully returning emails once again and launching into contract negotiations with great gusto. And the rocky road to publication was suddenly an easy, downhill run.


Heading for Ireland on Monday, to take up a month-long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Soooo … my next post will be from the Emerald Isle. Pretty amazing, huh? (I’m almost jealous of myself!)

The Tyrone Guthrie Centre

In May I will take up a month-long residential exchange at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, along with poet, Ross Donlon. This extraordinary opportunity is sponsored by Varuna – the Writer’s House, Australia’s only national writer’s centre.

The Tyrone Guthrie Centre is a residential workplace open to professional artists of all kinds. It is set in five hundred tranquil, beautiful acres amid the lakes and drumlins of County Monaghan. Irish hunters graze in the paddocks and badgers roam the woods. Everything is provided for the artists in residence, including apparently, delicious food.

Sir Tyrone Guthrie was an acclaimed English theatrical director who bequeathed his family home to the Irish State, with the proviso that it be used for the benefit of artists. It was an inspired decision that reshaped the cultural landscape of Ireland. There are obvious comparisons with Varuna, the large Katoomba home built by the Australian writer Eleanor Dark and her husband, Dr Eric Dark, in the late 1930s. Their son, Michael Dark, gave the house to the Eleanor Dark Foundation in 1989 so it could be used as a retreat for writers. Mick Dark and Sir Tyrone Guthrie have, through their vision and generosity, contributed enormously to the creation of a national literary identity in their respective countries.

I cannot wait to visit this enchanting place and make some real progress on my current novel Firewater, set on Queensland’s beautiful Darling Downs.