A Discussion Of ‘Place’ In Australian Rural Fiction

Willy Fest

Authors Margareta Osborn (top L), (bottom row L-R) Kathryn Ledson, me and Kate Belle (and star reader Ann Lee middle top!)

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.
BB High Res cover– 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!

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A New Year With Pamela Cook

Pamela Cook New Author PicPlease welcome successful author Pamela Cook back to Pilyara. What an auspicious way to begin the new year! In addition to being a novelist, Pamela teaches writing. She’s also a horse lover, which means we have a lot in common. (The name of her blog is Flying Pony) Pamela’s latest release, Essie’s Way, is a touching story about finding yourself and learning from past mistakes. Today she talks to us about the importance of setting and place in her books.

‘Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Jennifer. Setting and a sense of place are very important in my writing. When I began my first novel, Blackwattle Lake, I started with an image of a place, and a character in that place: a woman standing at the gate of a horse property. I had no story, no outline and no idea what was going to happen but the strength of that image and that setting pulled me through. Essie's Way 1The setting for that novel is a mixture of two places: the riding ranch where we agist our horses, at Darkes Forest just south of Sydney … and the area around Milton, about two hours further south. We have a holiday house there at Little Forest and it’s my favourite place in the world. Somehow I manage to while away hours and hours there doing very little.

I’ve been holidaying on the NSW south coast all my life and it’s wonderful to now be able to share it with my daughters. And with my readers. The south coast is more untamed and a little wilder than the north – there are so many places where you can escape and feel completely isolated. Although the water is colder, it’s clear and clean and the beaches are blissfully empty (apart from school holidays of course) which is a huge contrast to the crowds on Sydney beaches in summer.

Essie's Way 2Essie’s Way also began with an image, but this time of an older woman who was playing the violin on the verandah of a shack near the ocean. Although I didn’t have a specific place in mind the stretch of beach I imagined was deserted and surrounded by bush. As the story progressed and the fragments came together, the place in my mind became one with a beach bookended by headlands, a very small town that only comes to life in the tourist season and farmlands close to the ocean. Thanks to trusty Google earth, I found a place that roughly fitted the description, packed my dog Bridie in the car and (just like Miranda, the main character in the book) headed south. While I was familiar with the south coast I hadn’t been to this particular place before but when I arrived at Potato Point I wasn’t disappointed. The “town” if it could be called one, and the beach fitted the image in my head perfectly.

To anyone else the resemblance might not be the same but walking on the windswept beach, wandering across the rock platforms I could just picture Esther standing there, fishing rod in hand, gazing out at the stormy blue ocean. There was no shack on the cliff and there were no horses grazing in paddocks nearby but it didn’t take much to imagine. The sense of alone-ness and freedom I felt standing on the beach were the same feelings I wanted Miranda to have when she visits the beach in search of the grandmother she’d always thought to be dead. Miranda is a city girl, a lawyer with a busy job and lifestyle and not much time to connect with herself. It’s here in Pelican Point (the fictional place in Essie’s Way, that she’s able to find some sense of peace and start to really think about the direction she’s taking in life.

There are a few city locations in Essie’s Way too – Miranda lives in Erskineville and hangs out in Newtown and the book opens with her trying on a wedding gown at a store in the QVB.

But it’s the rural locations that really inspire me. I love writing about the way place impacts on character and I hope to do more of that in my next book. At the moment I’m not sure exactly where it will be set but there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be somewhere down south and there’s an even better chance I’ll be taking off on a road trip to do a little research!’

Essie's Way coverEssie’s Way – A captivating story of family, love and following your heart, from the author of Blackwattle Lake.

Miranda McIntyre thinks she has it all sorted. A successful lawyer, she s planning her wedding and ticking off all the right boxes. When searching for something old to go with her wedding dress she remembers an antique necklace from her childhood, but her mother denies any knowledge of it. Miranda is sure it exists. Trying to find the necklace, she discovers evidence that perhaps the grandmother she thought was dead is still alive.

Ignoring the creeping uncertainty about her impending marriage, and the worry that she is not living the life she really wants, Miranda takes off on a road trip in search of answers to the family mystery but also in search of herself. Ultimately, she will find that looking back can lead you home.

Connect with Pamela:
Webpage: www.pamelacook.com.au
Facebook
: www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor
Twitter: @PamelaCookAU

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