I am SO looking forward to the RWA Conference this year, to be held in my home state of Victoria. It’s thanks to an earlier such conference that I got my big publishing break. This year promises to be bigger, bolder and more inclusive than ever. The conference will be held in partnership with the famous Melbourne Writers Festival. My good mate and conference convener, Kate Belle, has a chat to Anita Heiss, one of the fabulous speakers on offer.
I was on a panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival yesterday. The theme was a sense of place. Here are a few thoughts on how place relates to rural fiction.
– In many novels, and particularly in rural novels, place (literal, geographical place) is one of the most powerful tools that a writer has. For me, setting stories in wild places allows me to strip away the civilised façade from my characters. In Currawong Creek for example, my main character is a young professional woman caught up in the career rat race. She has time to examine what she fundamentally wants from life when she goes bush. In my new release Billabong Bend, a young man who’s been a drifter, comes home to the riverlands to confront his past and discover his roots. And by doing so he finds his future.
– Australian rural romantic literature written by women is not new. Quite the contrary, it’s steeped in tradition. From Henry Handel Richardson’s Fortunes Of Richard Mahoney, Nancy Cato’s All The Rivers Run through to Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds, the drama, difficulties and romance of the Australian bush has long been the stuff of great narrative tales. From the earliest days of white settlement, the bush was central to how we became Australian, how we identified ourselves as Australian.
– During the second half of the twentieth century, the bush fell out of literary favour. We didn’t see ourselves as a bush people any more. We lived around the urban coastal fringe, and were urbane, cosmopolitan and civilised. Many popular books for women (chick lit) featured self-absorbed shopaholic characters in the Sex And The City mould. They lived in cities that were indistinguishable from each other.
But in the past decade the bush has once more loomed large in the literary landscape, and rural lit taps into this vein. Readers are craving a relationship to country, a connection to the land. They’re asking the age-old question – what is that makes us Australian? And the simple answer is, that we come from this place. That’s our identity – the continent itself. And especially that aspect of Australia that is different to other places. That doesn’t mean our cities. That means regional Australia. That means the bush.
And here are a few thoughts about my new book Billabong Bend. At one level it’s 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 more than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict that inevitably brings. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, then you’re in for a real treat! Billabong Bend is chock full of them!
If you live near Melbourne, why not visit the 2014 Williamstown Literary Festival 31st May – 1st June? I will be there, along with my brand new release Billabong Bend which I’m excited to say has gone into reprint before it’s even been released!
This year the festival looks at books, stories and ideas around a sense of place. The theme picks up ideas of local community, landscape and our attachment to home. It will explore our collective memory and myths around ANZAC and Eureka, the role and place of women writers in history and politics, the modern memoir and the fantastical realms of science fiction and gothic horror. Places in the heart will be played out through love poems, a new romantic movement (courtesy of me and my mates!) and creating family legacies via love-laden cook books. The festival boasts a stellar line-up including funny men Sean Micallef and Greg Fleet, comedian and writer Jean Kittson, demographer Bernard Salt and The New Romantics of course!
The New Romantics (a panel consisting of me and three of my author friends) will present a literary discussion of Places In The Heart. We’ll talk about the many facets of love and the important place romance holds in our hearts and in the literary landscape. We’ll talk about power and gender balance in romance, changing tropes of women in romantic fiction and the inspiration for our diverse work. My fellow panel members are:
• Kathryn Ledson – suspense/thriller romance; author of the Erica Jewell series; Rough Diamond and recently released Monkey Business (Penguin)
• Margareta Osborn – rural romance; author of Bella’s Run, Hope’s Road and recently released Mountain Ash (Random House)
• Kate Belle – contemporary women’s fiction/erotic love stories; author of The Yearning and Being Jade to be released in June (Simon & Schuster)
(Can you believe that we’ve all been members of the same writing group for years?)
The New Romantics – Places in the Heart is on Sunday 1 June, 12.00-1.00pm. Adults $15.00, Concession $12.00, Early Bird $10.00 (until midnight Sunday 11 May).
We’d love to see you there! While many of the events on the program are ticketed, there are also free events such as the People’s Choice Awards for prose and poetry, a festival tradition where local writers read their works and the audience votes for a favourite. The festival hub in the newly restored Williamstown Town Hall Ballroom includes a children’s reading area and there’ll also be author signings and book sales. The Willy Lit Fest runs from May 31 to June 1 at the Williamstown Town Hall and Williamstown Library. For program details go to willylitfest.org.au or phone 9932 4074.
Are you a shy person? I am. I don’t like small talk, or parties or crowds, or my mobile phone. I do like time alone in the bush, working with horses and dogs, writing, reading … it doesn’t really matter. When I’m alone I’m at peace. One simple way to diagnose yourself is to take a free Myer Briggs personality test. I’m an INFJ which is apparently common among writers.
Introversion generally suits a writer’s life except in one respect – public speaking. These days part of an author’s platform includes giving talks: at launches, libraries, book stores, etc. I’m even a member of a terrific group called The New Romantics, four authors (including Kathryn Ledson, Kate Belle and Margareta Osborn) who present panel discussions on different aspects of writing and reading at writer’s festivals. This sort of thing does not come naturally to a shy person, or so I thought until I read Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and other Introverts by Joanna Penn.
What a marvellous book! Joanna is an author, international speaker and entrepreneur based in London, England. She was voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She is also an introvert. The premise of her book is that public speaking is not an act of extroversion – shy people can excel at it too. When Joanna first started speaking, she developed a stage persona, a kind of ‘extroverted shell.’ But putting on an appearance cost her in energy, authenticity and even health. It was only when she embraced her introversion that she found her true voice as a speaker. Her handbook covers psychological aspects, as well as practical things like preparing and giving a speech, all from the perspective of an inherently shy person. She also gives a disarming personal account of how she increased her own confidence and learned to cope with nerves. I wish I’d had this book years ago! Her website The Creative Penn has lots of resources for writers as well.
It’s great to be taking part in this blog hop on The Writing Process. Thanks to the lovely Pamela Cook for tagging me. If you missed Pamela’s post last week you can find it here. Pamela is the author of Blackwattle Lake and Essie’s Way, published by Hachette. Apart from writing, Pamela is a teacher and mother of three gorgeous daughters. She also manages a menagerie of dogs, rabbits, birds, fish and horses and her favourite pastime (after writing) is riding her handsome quarter horse, Morocco.
Pamela lives in the southern suburbs of Sydney and spends as much time as possible at her “other” home in Milton on the south coast of NSW. Being a country girl at heart and spending so much of her time around horses enticed Pamela to “write what you know” and she’s more than happy to now be a writer of Rural Fiction. Connect with Pamela via her Website, Twitter or Facebook.
And now for my own responses to The Writing Process questions:
1) What am I working on?
I’m finishing copyedits for Billabong Bend, a star-crossed love story set in the riverlands. It will be released by Penguin in May of this year. My current work-in-progress is a novel set in cane country, near the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. See my early attempt at a blurb below.
Unlucky-in-love zoologist Zoe King has given up on men. Moving from Sydney to the small sugar town of Kiawa means a fresh start and she is charmed by the region’s beauty – by its rivers and rainforests. By its vast cane fields, sweeping from the foothills down to the rocky coral coast. And by its people – its farmers and fishermen, unhurried and down to earth, proud of their traditions.
Her work at the Sea-Life Centre provides all the passion she needs and Zoe finds a friend in Bridget, the centre’s director. So the last thing she expects is to fall for her boss’s boyfriend, sugar cane king Quinn Cooper. When animals on the reef begin to sicken and die, Zoe’s personal and professional worlds collide. She faces a terrible choice. To protect the reef must she betray the man she loves?
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Like Pamela Cook I write rural fiction, currently a very popular genre. The main point of difference with my novels is a passion for the plants, animals and birds of the bush. This shines through in authentic stories set in Australia’s magnificent wild places, with various environmental themes at their heart.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I’ve always enjoyed a deep affinity with nature, and I channel my passion for the environment into my books. The natural world is full of drama, risk and exquisite beauty – perfect fodder for a novelist! I also enjoy an old-fashioned love story. For me, a good romance is not just about two people falling for each other. The original, medieval concept of a romance always involved a quest, and I think a modern one should too – it is the heroine’s search for herself. For until a character discovers her authentic core, she can’t genuinely connect with another person. So I like to show a woman coming into her strength and fullness as a human being.
4) How does my writing process work?
I’ve written six novels now, and am beginning my seventh. My first manuscript took more than two years to write. Of course you don’t know quite what you’re doing with a first novel, but you learn a lot about the craft along the way. Once I was published I had to be more practical about my process in order to meet deadlines. Although I’m a pantster at heart, I now plan a lot more, using a loose, three act structure. This plan is flexible however, and doesn’t prevent the story from evolving organically. With my new novel I plan to write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. Let’s see how I go!
Next week three wonderful writers share their thoughts on the writing process:
Kate Belle is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter and a menagerie of neurotic pets. Her first book, The Yearning, was released in 2013 to rave reviews. Her second, Being Jade is due for release in June 2014 (Simon & Schuster Australia). She blogs regularly at The Ecstasy Files and as a guest to whoever will have her.
Twitter: @ecstasyfiles https://twitter.com/ecstasyfiles
The Reading Room: http://www.thereadingroom.com/kate-belle/ap/2394119
Kathryn Ledson has worked as a PA in the corporate world, for Hayman Island’s PR team, and as Peter Ustinov’s PA during his Australian tour. She has also been on the road with rock bands Dire Straits and AC/DC. She now works as a freelance editor, but her passion is writing popular fiction for Penguin. She is the author of Rough Diamond and the newly released Monkey Business. Connect with Kathryn via her Website , Facebook or Twitter
A.C. Flory is an Australian indie science fiction writer who is a master of world building. The questions she asks most are why and why not? I love that her writing is not human-centric. In her first published novel Vokhtah, the characters are entirely alien, deeply observed and intriguing. It is the first book of a trilogy and I look forward to the rest of the series. She has also published a fabulous collection of short stories set at the end of the 21st century called The Vintage Egg (Postcards From Tomorrow). Connect with A.C. Flory via her website, Facebook or Twitter.
Congratulations to Karen Stalker for winning a signed copy of Currawong Creek in the Australia Day prize draw, and thanks to everybody else for entering! Karen, I’ll send you an email shortly.
I’ve joined forces with authors Kate Belle, Kathryn Ledson and Margareta Osborn to form a panel called The New Romantics. Together we present a fresh and modern take on Aussie love stories. Though none of us write traditional ‘romance’, we all have strong romantic elements in our books.
Yesterday was our very first gig. It was in celebration of National Bookshop Day, and we were warmly welcomed and entertained by the gorgeous people of Foster and South Gippsland. Many thanks to Jan and Bob of Foster’s Little Bookshop, for organising and hosting the event!
I talked about how a modern romance may be all about passion, but it’s not just about the passion between two people falling in love. The medieval concept of romance always involved some sort of a quest, and so does a modern love story – it is a character’s search for herself. I also talked about how my passion for the environment is channelled into my stories.
Margareta (author of Bella’s Run and Hope’s Road) talked about her own, marvellous brand of rural fiction. As a fifth-generation farmer, her ties to the land are very strong and her books convey a sense of place, community and belonging. Kathryn (author of Rough Diamond) gave us her hilarious take on romantic comedy. Kate (author of The Yearning) discussed whether or not that happy-ever-after ending is an essential element of a modern romance novel, and much, much more.
All in all it was a fabulous day, and an encouraging beginning to our life together as an author panel. We are available for events and festivals! Contact the lovely Kate Belle (ecstasyfiles at gmail dot com), who has become our de facto organiser. I look forward to many more stimulating authorly discussions and would love for you all to join us sometime in the future!
Please welcome Kate Belle to Pilyara. Kate is the author of The Yearning, which is rocketing up the charts – and it’s not just because of its intriguing cover! Kate is a very fine writer, friend and member of my talented writing group, The Little Lonsdale Group. And now its over to Kate for an in depth Q&A …
I’ve taken over a month to get to this post, only because I’ve been writing my second novel and watching with envy as Jen overtakes my word count! Having traversed some of the writing journey with Jen, I’m very excited to see her second novel, Currawong Creek, released. I was planning to share a little post about my hounds because Jen is constantly amused by my hot-to-cold relationship with them, but I might leave that for another time.’
Kate, How did you receive your first offer of publication?
‘The Yearning was written over about 4 years while I worked part time and cared for my pre-school daughter. I attended two consecutive Year of the Novel courses at Writers’ Victoria where I met Jen and a number of other wonderful writers who are published (or soon to be.)
During these courses I ‘grew up’ as a writer and was able to develop The Yearning into a mature enough manuscript to try my luck in the publishing world. My first break came in August 2011 when I attended the Melbourne Romance Writers Australia conference. There I met Sheila Drummond, who agreed to look at The Yearning and rang me immediately after the conference with an offer to represent me.
Sheila started shopping The Yearning around late that year, but it would be another 12 months before she secured an offer for it. In the meantime she managed to get me a contract for two erotic novellas with newly launched Random Romance imprint. At the time I was working in a restructured job in the public service and was pretty miserable. When voluntary redundancies were announced I eagerly put my hand up. I had surgery on my knee in September 2012 and as I lay in bed recovering I received a redundancy offer and a contract for The Yearning on the same day. It seemed like divine coincidence. I crossed my fingers, signed them both, and prepared to start a new life as a full time writer in 2013.’
What is your story about Kate?
The Yearning is an exploration of love and desire, and the social and emotional boundaries we are willing to cross to get what we want. It’s an intimate account of the thrills and dangers of first love. My sixteen year old protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, lures her charismatic teacher, Solomon Andrews, into an illicit affair with erotic love notes. The pair are discovered and separated, but she can’t let her memories of Solomon go and is haunted by their affair until they meet again by accident twenty five years later. The ramifications of the affair have reverberated throughout both their lives and the two must come to a deeper understanding of their sensual relationship and what it really meant.’
What or who inspired The Yearning?
‘I find this question a difficult one to answer. The Yearning evolved over a long time. The letters my protagonist sends to Solomon come from unsent letters I wrote to lovers. In early drafts parts of the letters headed up each chapter.
Some of The Yearning was initially put together from a collection of short stories I saw had a common thread. In truth, I think I drew much of the emotional content from my own unfulfilled longings for a relationship in my past that was never quite fulfilled. I felt a spiritual connection to this person, but being at different points in our lives meant we chose to leave the relationship behind. This experience has provided great fodder for writing about unrequited longing.’
Are there any parts of The Yearning that have special personal significance to you?
‘The year The Yearning is set is a special year for me. 1978 was the last year we lived in the country town of Benalla, where I grew up. I was on the cusp of teenagehood and sensed an enormous change encroaching upon me. It was the year I learned about Countdown and boys and politics. Australia was in the aftermath of massive social, political and cultural change after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Civil rights, Aboriginal rights, Women’s rights movements were all shaking a sleepy Australia awake. It was a powerful time of change, a national coming of age if you like, and a perfect time in which to place a promiscuous teacher and his love struck student.’
What do you see as the major themes in your book?
‘It’s clear from reader responses there are many discussion worthy themes in The Yearning. I can’t tell you the number of people who have contacted me once they’ve finished it to tell me they can’t stop thinking about it, can’t sleep, need to talk to someone about it. It’s that kind of book.
Most chapters are introduced with quotes from the biblical Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) because that text reflects the passion of erotic love and the stanzas I chose capture the essence of the chapter theme. The sexual/emotional power play between Solomon and his student demonstrates the complexity of student/teacher attractions. The reader is prompted to ask, who holds the power? Who is seducing who?
I believe my anonymous protagonist’s experiences in love, sexuality and family are common to many women. I think lots of female readers will relate to her feelings of obsessive first love and loss, her expectations and disappointments in marriage, her joy in her children, her frustrations with her family, her attempts to live authentically in spite of the expectations of those around her.
The Yearning also talks to the cycle of damage done to men by their fathers (and mothers), the difference between sex and eros (or lust and love), the arbitrariness of the age of consent and how it isn’t really a protection from the ramifications of entering a mature sexual relationship too young.
It’s a complex book and I hope those of you who choose to read find much to enjoy in it.’
Thank you Kate for your thoughtful responses and congratulations again on your gorgeous book! And next time, I definitely want to talk about those dogs of yours …
It’s 1978 in a country town and a dreamy fifteen year old girl’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of the substitute English teacher. Solomon Andrews is beautiful, inspiring and she wants him like nothing else she’s wanted in her short life.
Charismatic and unconventional, Solomon easily wins the hearts and minds of his third form English class. He notices the attention of one girl, his new neighbour, who has taken to watching him from her upstairs window. He assumes it a harmless teenage crush, until the erotic love notes begin to arrive.
Solomon knows he must resist, but her sensual words stir him. He has longings of his own, although they have nothing to do with love, or so he believes. One afternoon, as he stands reading her latest offering in his driveway, she turns up unannounced. And what happens next will torment them forever – in ways neither can imagine.
Buy The Yearning:
Print book: Target, Kmart, Myer, Collins, Dymocks, Big W, Eltham Bookshop and other independent bookshops (http://www.truelocal.com.au/find/book-shop/) and major airports.
Reading group questions here (http://books.simonandschuster.com.au/Yearning/Kate-Belle/9781922052643/reading_group_guide#rgg)
Kate is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter, and a menagerie of neurotic pets.
Kate holds a tertiary qualification in chemistry, half a diploma in naturopathy and a diploma in psychological astrology. Kate believes in living a passionate life and has ridden a camel through the Australian desert, fraternised with hippies in Nimbin, had a near birth experience and lived on nothing but porridge and a carrot for 3 days.
Twitter: @ecstasyfiles https://twitter.com/ecstasyfiles