Billabong Bend Q&A

BB High Res coverTwo days to go until the release of my new novel Billabong Bend – an exciting time. It’s also the one time of year that I give my blog over to shameless self-promotion! Here is a Q&A I did with Penguin Books (Aust)

What is your new book about?
Billabong Bend is set in Northern NSW in the heart of our beautiful riverlands. It’s a star-crossed love story which sets Nina, a floodplains grazier, and Ric, a traditional cotton farmer, on a heart-rending collision course.

Nina’s dream is to buy Billabong Bend, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River and protect it forever. But she’s not the only one with designs on the land. When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns home, old feelings are rekindled, and Nina hopes they might have a future together on the river. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a nightmare. Will Nina win the battle for Billabong Bend? Or will the man she once loved destroy the wild wetlands she holds so close to her heart?

What or who inspired it?
This novel was inspired by my love for the northern riverlands, and for the Murray Darling basin. I’ve always been fascinated by rivers – by their unique habitats, and by their place in literature. Rivers are revered by some of my favourite writers. Mark Twain had a lifelong love affair with the Mississippi. 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,’
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 mysterious, dangerous, life-giving and achingly beautiful. They are also in trouble and need our protection.

Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
The idea for the book arose many years ago, during long, languid days spent in the riverlands. Last year I took several trips back up the Murray and saw for myself the changes wrought to habitats and wildlife by drought and low flows. I wanted to write about it.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?
T
he major themes in Billabong Bend are the power of first love, forgiveness and freedom. There is also a strong environmental theme, namely the importance of conserving habitats.

Who do you think will enjoy your book?
Anybody who can remember the fierceness of first love. Anybody who has marvelled at the grace of a waterbird in flight, or has enjoyed a lazy day on a river.

Do you have a special ‘spot’ for writing at home? (If so, describe it)
I have a small office space off the lounge room and I’m adept at revising through the noise of a busy family. There is no window directly in front of my desk, but instead, a full length picture window to the side. I often gaze out across the mountains for inspiration. My favourite writing spot is over at the stables. Horses are good listeners, and don’t mind you reading aloud. In winter I sometimes write in bed!

Tell us a bit about your childhood?
I was a horse-mad child. I also enjoyed a deep passion for the plants, animals and birds of the bush.. My family had a house in Melbourne as well as a property in the mountains. At every chance I escaped the city to be with my horses. When I married I moved to the farm permanently and am still there.

Do you feel more of a sense of “community” amongst like-minded people as yourself since the advent of blogging?
Absolutely! Blogging and social media provide a real sense of camaraderie for writers, and for regional writers in particular. I might be typing away on my remote mountaintop in the southern Victorian ranges, but I’m connected on-line to writers and readers from all around the world. I love it!

What do you like to read? And what are you currently reading?
I have pretty eclectic tastes. I read books within the Australian rural lit genre of course: authors like Cathryn Hein, Nicole Alexander, Fleur Mcdonald and Margareta Osborn. But I love all kinds of fiction. Debut breakout Aussie novels Burial Rites and The Rosie Project were both fantastic reads. So was the charming Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson. I also enjoy natural history writing, and always keep at least one novel and one non-fiction book on the go. Currently I’m reading  The Reef by Professor Iain McCalman (non-fiction) and The Blue Dolphin by Robert Barnes (fiction)

What is your advice to budding authors?
Learn as much about your craft as possible and write every day. Network with other writers. State writer’s centres and Varuna – The Writer’s House are great places to start. When you have a finished manuscript get some expert feedback and revise, revise, revise. Then it’s time to learn as much about the publishing industry as possible. There are some great opportunities to get your work before publishers without an agent in Australia. I’m proof of that, having won a Penguin contract through a conference pitch. Give it a go, grow a thick skin and remember that persistence pays.

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The Birth of a Book

I’m a few thousand words into my new novel, bearing the working title of Kingfisher. For a novelist, the process of beginning a brand new story is many-faceted. Firstly, you have to leave the world of your last one behind. This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Particular characters and their problems become very real for authors, and forgetting about them can seem like emotional abandonment. But as with most relationship breakups, time tends to heal wounds. That’s why it’s important to have a hiatus between finishing your last book, and beginning the next one.

I gave myself a month-long break. During that time, the imaginary landscape of my last novel retreated into the distance, allowing a new one to emerge. I mulled a lot – in the garden, in the car, in the bath. I read poetry. I breathed life into shadowy characters, and tried different personalities on them for size, like a child with paper dolls and dresses. I played the ‘What if?’ game. Closing my eyes, I grew to know the Red Gum flanked river, so central to my narrative.

And gradually the story took form. Obstacles stand between novelists and their new narratives. Home made obstacles. What if I can’t find my voice? What if my protagonist is boring? What if the conflict just isn’t as interesting as I think it is? So, part of preparing is giving yourself pep-talks. Trust your imagination. Trust your characters. Doubts will stem the flow of ideas. Believe in yourself as a writer. Your story deserves it.

Here’s an excerpt from The Four Quartets by TS Eliot, the poem that helped inspire Kingfisher.

‘I do not know much about gods; but I think that 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 conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.’

Orchids at Pilyara

Eastern Bronze Caledenia

One of the joys of living surrounded by bushland is the never ending variety of life that passes by, season by season. In spring, the wildflowers and birds provide spectacular flashes of colour. Here at Pilyara the soil lacks some of the richness found elsewhere, and this is the situation favoured by many ground orchids, or rather they have adapted well to such soils.  Under the canopy of Messmate, small colonies of orchids can be found.  Several species have begun to flower, and more will follow in the weeks to come.

Tall Sun Orchid

Many Australian orchids depend on mimicry to attract pollinators, using pheromones similar to those given off by female wasps. These orchids generally have unspectacular flowers, although in an attempt to appear wasplike their forms can be remarkable.Those that attempt to attract pollinators using colour and perfume are more spectacular.  The most showy varieties at Pilyara are the sun-orchids, so called because their flowers only open on warm sunny days.

Large Bird Orchid

The profusion of orchids found at Pilyara is not rare, or even uncommon. I’m still waiting to find something really unusual hiding away.  But as more and more bushland disappears, the rare vanishes, the uncommon becomes rare, and the ordinary takes its place as vulnerable. What a responsibility we have as stewards of this earth!

(Photos courtesy of my brother, Rod Scoullar)

A Novel Idea

My recently finished manuscript is finally with my agent and publisher. Here is a brief blurb.

When Brisbane lawyer, Clare Mitchell, becomes the unlikely carer of Jack, a little autistic boy, her life is turned upside down. In desperation she turns her back on her job, and takes Jack to Bundara, her grandfather’s Clydesdale stud at Merriang, in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains. She arrives to find part of the property leased by local vet, Tom Lord, an advocate of equine therapy for traumatised children.  Jack falls in love with Bundara’s animals, and Clare falls in love with Tom and the life of a country vet. But trouble is coming, trouble that threatens to not only destroy Clare’s new-found happiness, but the tiny town of Merriang itself.

My new novel is due out with Penguin in July next year, and I’m pleased to report that it has been well received by Belinda Byrne, my publisher. So while I wait for the inevitable grind of edits to begin, it’s time to plan my next novel. Some people seem to have multiple narratives swirling around in their minds at any given time. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. It can take a long time for me to plot a new story. There are many ways to come up with fresh ideas.

The High-Concept Approach. This is a movie term, that works something like this. Pick a tried and true scenario and tweak it a little, or a lot, and/or combine two together. My friend and publishing buddy, Kathryn Ledson, used this concept to successfully write, and then sell her Erica Jewell series to Penguin (The first book, Rough Diamond, will be out with Penguin in January) It’s a cross between Bridget Jones and Indiana Jones.

Read  Read everything you can, in and out of your chosen genre, fiction and non-fiction. Allow another imagination to cross-fertilise your own. There’s much truth in the old adage, show me a writer that’s not reading, and I’ll show you a writer that’s not writing.

Look Around You  Keep a keen eye on what topics are in the news.  What are your friends talking about? What concerns keep you awake at night? Eavesdropping is also a useful skill for writers. Listen in when other people talk. Mobile phone conversations on trains are good for this. Don’t let them annoy you – let them inspire you.

Hang out in bookstores. This is critical. Pay close attention to those New Releases. Get to know what’s new and hot in your area. Find out what’s selling, and to which publishers. Remember that you need an idea that other people (not just you!) can get excited about.

As I said last week, I have a vague idea for the new novel. My task for October is to develop a rough plan, with themes and characters that will sustain me over the next twelve months of writing.

First Draft – what now?

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finished the first draft of my new novel.

Typing The End on a first draft is a truly marvellous moment. For me, it comes after much hair-tearing, wine, chocolate and the occasional sublime moment of inspiration. It is a time to celebrate and catch your breath. It’s a time to put the manuscript aside for a bit to get some distance. For the real work is about to begin. You have your painstakingly manufactured canvas. Now it’s time to paint.

It is often said that there is no great writing, only great rewriting. (Justice Brandeis) The legendary Peter Bishop, former creative director of Varuna, Australia’s national writer’s centre, once put it to me like this. The first draft is the writer’s draft. It’s essentially the writer telling himself the story. You need to revise it within an inch of  its life – cutting, adding, polishing and shaping, until you have a reader’s draft. Only then should you contemplate launching it into the world.

Let it be said though, adding layers of richness to this first draft is a gazillion times easier than bashing it out in the first place. This is the time to interrogate your narrative. Does it have emotional depth?  Do your protagonist and antagonist develop in a believable way? What about sensory description? Can your readers hear, smell, taste and feel what your characters do? Go through any notes you may have, for details that will enhance the credibility of your narrative.

There was a time before I was published that this was an open-ended process. I literally redrafted and redrafted until it was done. Deadlines have put paid to this luxury. I hone the story until the clock runs out, and then look forward to having another run through once editing comes around. Nevertheless, for me this is still the most enjoyable and satisfying part of the writing process. What do others think?

Bunya Mountains National Park

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

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

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

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

Bring Back Wattle Day

Today is Wattle Day, the first of September. Wattles have long had special meanings for Australians. I remember bringing wattle sprigs to school on this day, to celebrate the coming spring. In 1988 the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)  was officially gazetted as Australia’s national floral emblem, and in 1992, the first day of September was officially declared ‘National Wattle Day’, a day first celebrated way back in 1910.

 

Golden Wattle, Australia’s floral emblem, is in full bloom here at Pilyara, lending the bush a sun-kissed appearance on even the darkest day. Although winter still stands in firm command of the southern Victorian ranges, wattle blossom promises warmer days to come. The Golden Wattle grows as a shrub or small tree, and has foliage that is long, arched and bright green. It flowers from July to September, with fragrant golden orbs of blossom. Its gum is eaten by sugar gliders during winter. Its leaves are food for caterpillars of the Common Imperial Blue Butterfly, and its flowers attract native bees.

There are more than 900 species of Acacia in Australia, making it our largest floral genus. I know of nine other wattles indigenous to this area, besides the Golden: the Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), the Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii), the Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), the Myrtle Wattle (Acacia myrtifolia), the Spike Wattle (Acacia oxycedrus), the Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa), the Hop Wattle (Acacia stricta), the Sweet Wattle (Acacia suaveolens) and Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata), whose sharp foliage forms star-shaped rings around its stems, with spikes that can rip through clothing.

The common names of many of Australian Acacia’s are especially evocative: Brigalow, Coojong, Cootamundra, Dagger Wattle, Dead-finish Wattle, Kurara, Gundabluey, Myall, Mulga, Old Man Wodjil, Stinking Gidgee, Yarran and Wait-a-While. I love these names! And I love knowing that spring is just around the corner. I wish you all a happy Wattle Day for September 1st and will raise a glass of bubbly! Does anybody else celebrate Wattle Day?

Brumby’s Run – Melbourne Writer’s Festival Launch

Yesterday saw Brumby’s Run launched by Andrea Goldsmith at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. For me, the day was the culmination of a fraught and fascinating journey. What a marvellous moment – to achieve my dream of mainstream publication, and to celebrate it with my readers, friends and family. And not only that, to do so at such an important festival, deep in the heart of Melbourne, a Unesco City of Literature. Melbourne’s literary heritage and culture is internationally recognised, and I am proud to be part of it. I am also proud to be out with Penguin, so thanks to my lovely publisher, Belinda Byrne.

Andrea Goldsmith has published six novels. Her seventh book, The Memory Trap, will  be released by Harper Collins next year. Rich in ideas and characterisation, her novels tell of contemporary life in all its diversity. Narratives of ambition, love, family, art, music and relationships abound in her books. But for me, Andrea is more than an acclaimed and gifted author – she has been my friend and mentor for years. So it was doubly delicious to have her stand up for me yesterday.

Andrea Goldsmith and MC Troy Hunter

As always, Andrea was bright, erudite and charming. Her generous praise of Brumby’s Run impressed me so much, I wanted to buy it myself! Rather than go with the tired old speech-then-reading format, Andrea proposed a Q&A session instead. This lifted the launch, making it far more dynamic and entertaining. Thanks for that suggestion Andrea, and also of course, for your longstanding support and wisdom.

 

Andrea and the Little Lonsdale group

My friend Troy Hunter (from the Little Lonsdale Group, aka LLG), was MC for the event and what an inspired performance it was too! The Little Lonsdale Group is my talented writing group. We all completed an advanced Year of the Novel with Andrea a few years ago, and have since gone from strength to strength. Mine is the second launch from our group so far. First was Margareta Osborn (Bella’s Run) in March. Next will be Kate Rizzetti and Kathryn Ledson, and it won’t stop there. We can look forward to many marvellous writing achievements from this group in the months and years to come.

So thank you for to everybody who either came along yesterday, or who sent me their kind wishes. I appreciate each and every one of you! Now it’s time to concentrate on finishing my new novel, Firewater, due out with Penguin next year.

Foster’s Little Bookshop

Our independent bookstores are national, cultural treasures! I’m doing a series featuring some of these gems. What better way to start than with Foster’s Little Bookshop, the brainchild of Jan Bull and Bob Morris. They hosted the regional launch of Brumby’s Run last Friday as part of their Twilight Talks. There’s a stellar line up of authors still to come – Helene Young, Margareta Osborn and Sydney Smith. Foster’s Little Bookshop is widely considered to be South Gippsland’s premiere book store, and is a vibrant contributor to local community life.  And now, it’s over to Jan!

Jan and myself at the launch

We opened on Saturday 22nd July 2006 to much amusement and bewilderment from the locals.  Family and people who knew us well said, great idea, you’ll do well, go for it!!  Folk who didn’t know us said “what? a bookshop?”  Other traders said we’d need to rely on visitors during the holiday season.  We didn’t agree, believing the local community was our major market and that’s where we put our emphasis.  Becoming involved in the community meant spending more of our time than our money, and developing not just good customers, but good friends.  These are the people who’ve continued to support us over these six years.

Signing books!

We’ve developed a following from Melbourne requesting books for when next they visit. People from interstate and overseas, with families in this area, make purchases for birthdays and at Christmas via our website. We hold events each month for both children and adults. Our customers are encouraged to write reviews on any proof copy books we get from publishers, and these are submitted to the ‘book review’ page on our website.  We’re involved with book club members from the local College and are invited to primary schools to participate in events.

Our radio program on the local community station 3MFM has been going for over three years and we have a load of fun each Sunday morning. We write a regular piece (The Book Nook) in one of the lifestyle magazines that cover South Gippsland, and provide the local paper, The Mirror, with a monthly column and many articles.

The last six years have been hard work and fun work and we are both pleased that we took (what the locals saw as) the chance to build this business.  Our little bookshop is becoming well known in some unexpected places!

Do you have a favourite independent bookshop? Tell me what makes your store special and it might feature here in the future. And congratulations to Shirley Forrest and Carol Toogood who are the lucky winners of the Brumby’s Run giveaway! I’ll be in touch very soon. (JindivickWildlifeShelter – you’re the winner of the giveaway on Cathryn Hein’s blog)

Foster’s Little Bookshop, 4 Station Street Foster, Victoria  3960

Ph: (03) 5682 2089

Email    flb@virtual.net.au

Website http://www.fosterslittlebookshop.com.au/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/FostersLittleBookshop

Brumby’s Run Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of Brumby’s Run I’m giving away two signed copies!

Brumby’s Run, was inspired by an iconic Banjo Paterson poem of the same name, first published in The Bulletin, December 1895. I’ve always loved this poem, and the story behind it. The term Brumby was just entering the language. There are various explanations for where the word came from. I believe it was based on the Aboriginal word, baroomby which means wild.  At a trial in the N.S.W. Supreme Court around the time this poem was written, the Judge, hearing of Brumby horses, asked: “Who is this Brumby, and where is his Run?” Banjo Paterson was so amused by the misunderstanding, he wrote his poem. So add Banjo’s poem, to my childhood love of the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell, and Brumby’s Run was the result.

For your chance to win one of two signed copies, leave a comment. Competition closes 7.00 pm Sunday 8th July

(Aust and NZ residents only – Sorry!)