Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up and where you now live?
Location and life experiences: I grew up in suburban Melbourne, but school holidays on my great-aunt’s farm in the Riverina of NSW gave me a taste for country living, and I was ready to move to country WA when my new husband was promoted to a job there in 1962. I spent two decades in WA, most of them in the country, having three children and finally a divorce. I moved back to the eastern states in 1986, and after various ups and downs was appointed Director of the Tweed Art Gallery and moved to Murwillumbah, in the beautiful Tweed Valley in the far north of NSW. Now that I’ve retired from that job I still live here, on two hectares of rainforest, where I grow fruit and vegies and work on bush regeneration while I listen to the birds. And try to write a best-selling novel.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The ideas for my short stories and novels come initially from my remembered experiences. I’ve worked in a variety of jobs, from shearers’ cook to art gallery director, so I’m familiar with a range of people and their lifestyles. I’ve also lived in a variety of places and circumstances, ranging from childhood in suburban Melbourne to experimenting with the alternative lifestyle in country WA.
I’ve always been ready to listen to others and have an excellent memory, so making patchworks out of scraps of other people’s stories isn’t proving too difficult.
What is hardest -- getting published, writing or marketing?
Getting published! It’s a nightmare. Writing is a pleasure, but to cope with the endless stream of rejections from publishers and agents and keep on writing takes an unshakeable conviction that what one is producing is of publishable quality; even so, there are no guarantees! And it’s disheartening to come across published books that I think are badly written and/or boring!
Do you find it hard to share your work?
Sharing my work isn’t something I agonise over – surely the purpose of writing is to share one’s stories?
Do you plan to publish more books?
Yes! I’ve already written four novels: A Darker Music (Scribe, 2010), Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man (Kobo Books, 2013), The Herb Gardener (Odyssey Books, 2014) and The Sea Bird’s Egg (unpublished), as well as many short stories, some of them published. At present I’m working on Meadowcroft, which is set in a country town like the one where I lived in WA. All the novels except The Herb Gardener feature the character Mary Lanyon, who works as a temporary housekeeper. Mary’s work allows her to move about the country and experience different lifestyles, and often brings her into contact with crimes and mysteries.
What other jobs have you had in your life?
I’ve worked in a great variety of jobs, starting with shop work while I was a uni student, then the public service, then as an editor and PRO, then a teacher, before I married. After a spell out of the work force while I concentrated on motherhood I was appointed as Keeper of the Paintings at the WA Art Gallery, which started me on a steep learning curve and cost me my marriage. As a single mother I returned to teaching, losing that job when the school, a small CEGS, closed. I worked part-time doing any work I could get in the country town where I was living, teaching English as a Second Language, running art classes for adults, and cooking for shearers, shed-handing, house cleaning, and cooking in an old people’s home, while experimenting with self-sufficiency and the alternative lifestyle. I moved back to Perth, working again in arts administration, with side trips into journalism, before moving back East, and finally being appointed Director of the Tweed Art Gallery in 1989. I retired in 1999 and began to teach myself to write.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Right here! I live on two hectares of rainforest, among the birds and other wildlife, close to a village that’s not too far from a bigger town where the shopping is good. There’s an international airport less than an hour away, and the people who live here are a great mixture ranging from dread-locked alternatives to rural aristocracy.
Where do you get support from? Do you have friends in the industry?
I do have a few friends in the industry now, but initially I knew nobody. When I realised that writing would be my new work, I joined the local Northern Rivers Writers Centre and went along to listen to publishing professionals whenever I could, gaining insights into the realities of the industry—which was pretty discouraging! I’d listen hopefully to publishers talk about their search for ‘fresh, new voices’, but as they went on it became clear that what they really wanted was books that fall into a category that they’re confident they can promote and market.
Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?
I’ll believe that I’ve achieved a successful career as a writer when (if!) I manage to build a body of published works with an established readership.
Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?
My new book is The Herb Gardener. It is set in the Great Southern district of WA, a prosperous farming area. It’s a story of love, lust and murder that unfolds when Home Economics teacher Joanna goes to stay on Chris Youngman’s farm during the school holidays, taking her six-year-old daughter, Mia, with her. I wrote it partly to celebrate the farming lifestyle—I went to stay on a farm belonging to old friends to get the details right and absorb the ambience—and is an example of my ‘what if…?’ speculations, as I remembered scraps of events that had taken place years ago and put them together to form a new, scarier, scenario.
Still hurting after a painful divorce, Joanna leaves the city, moving with her six-year-old daughter Mia to a country town. She’s looking for a better, happier life, and when she meets farmer Chris Youngman, she discovers the possibility of a future as a farmer’s wife.
Joanna is at first dismayed by the unexpected isolation of the farm, but Chris’s affection helps her to adjust. Then the unexplained death of a young farm worker brings complications she could never have imagined, and Joanna has to fight for her happiness, her family, and even her own life.
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Genre - Contemporary Romance, Thriller
Rating – PG
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