INSPIRED BY THE OUTBACK - Rural Romance has it all.
During July and August, I had the good fortune to travel around the West Australian outback, taking photos, and hanging out with hubby in our tiny camper. (if you follow me on social media you may have seen my pics on Instagram and Facebook).
I can tell you, some places we found were so remote even the crocodiles were lonely!
I also had more time to kick back and read, and it got me thinking about Australian rural romance. It's a hugely popular genre that combines two things very close to my heart, the outback and love. So I decided on my blog this month to feature two of my absolute favourite rural romance authors and a hot new talent on the scene.
Best-selling rural fiction author, Maya Linnell, award-winning author Penelope Janu, and debut author Sara Hartland all chatted to me about why the outback inspires them.
Maya, can you tell us how the outback has inspired your writing?
I’m a proud country girl, and I find the words flow the best when I’m writing what I know. Even from my writing desk, which overlooks our paddocks, I’m surrounded by the sound of galahs flying past, frogs singing in the swamp and smell of rain on dry paddocks, so it’s a natural choice. I’m also inspired by the people from rural Australia who keep showing up, day in and day out, in all types of weather to put food on our tables.
We'd love you to share a personal anecdote from the outback
Ha! So many of those, but the most recent was just a few nights ago. I woke at 2am to the sound of baa-ing directly underneath my bedroom window. We’d had a howling south-easterly wind all night, which had somehow blown open the paddock gate. Little Allen, the youngest of our bottle-fed orphaned lambs, was doing laps of the house, calling out for an extra-early brekky. Out in my PJs I went, and found the chook house door had also blown open in the wind. So glad I dealt with it at 2am instead of discovering in the morning that my garden had been decimated by 20 chooks and our lambs.
Can you give us a teaser of what you are currently working on, and tell us where it is set?
I’m currently drafting my 2022 rural romance for Allen & Unwin (which I just signed contracts for this week – woohoo!). It’s the fourth story with the McIntyre sisters, and like Bottlebrush Creek and Wildflower Ridge, it will be a linked stand-alone, which means people can read them in any order, but they’ll be hanging out with the McIntyre family in all four books. The 2022 novel features the eldest sister, Diana and her quest to start a flower farm. It’s set in Victoria’s Western Districts, with the backdrop of the majestic Grampians Mountain Range. I’m also awaiting structural edit notes for Magpie’s Bend, which will be out winter 2021, so any day now I’ll be setting aside book four to work on book three about Lara McIntyre, a handsome newspaper reporter called Toby and a cheeky magpie called Vegemite.
About Maya: Bestselling author Maya Linnell was recently shortlisted as the ARRA 2019 Favourite Australian Romance Author for her rural romance debut Wildflower Ridge. Her new novel Bottlebrush Creek went straight into the bestseller lists on its June release, with both stories gathering inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved. A former country journalist, Maya now blogs for Romance Writers Australia, loves baking up a storm, tending to her rambling garden and raising three little bookworms. Maya lives on a small property in country Victoria with her family, her menagerie of farm animals and the odd snake or two. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook, or sign up to her monthly newsletter for behind-the-scenes news and regular book giveaways at her website HERE
Penelope, can you tell us how the outback has inspired your writing?
I rode horses from when I was very young, which meant I not only read books like Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, Alan Marshall’s I Can Jump Puddles and Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby, I imagined I was a character in them. My ponies and I would disappear for hours at a time, exploring local beaches and national parks. I lived two lives—a conventional one as a schoolgirl and another as an adventuress! When I was in high school, my family lived in a rural area on the outskirts of Melbourne. Many weekends were spent at horse shows and other equestrian events, but during the holidays I’d go adventuring again, trail riding and exploring in the Dandenong ranges.
This upbringing morphed into my writing in various ways. I’m inspired by our flora and fauna, which is always represented in my novels. It also sparked an interest in the preservation of our precious natural environment, and I’ve been lucky to teach and research in this area as a legal academic.
We’d love you to share a personal anecdote from the outback.
When my children were younger, we spent many holidays on sheep and cattle properties, where we developed an appreciation for farm life and became close to a farming family. We’d stay in a second house on their property, a timber cottage with an alarmingly sloped floor and a tiny kitchen with an aged Aga stove. It was the only source of heat, and in the winter months we kept the logs burning continuously. This resulted in cakes and puddings through the day, and a hearty roast dinner every evening.
In good times, there was plenty of rain and feed for the stock on the farm. In dry times, life on the land was far more challenging. One year, we planted hundreds of eucalyptus seedlings, delighting in watching them grow. A few years later, fire swept through the property and the saplings and other forested areas were badly burnt. We saw the choices many farmers are forced to make in drought—borrow from the bank, hope for rain and hand-feed stock that had been built up over generations, or sell the stock cheaply to minimise debt. One morning, I sat on the cottage’s verandah under a cerulean sky as clouds of dust on the road heralded the arrival of stock trucks. For the next two days, sheep were corralled into pens by cattle dogs and loaded into the trucks to be taken to the markets for sale. I’ll never forget the heartbreak associated with our farmer friend’s decision.
Can you give us a teaser of your upcoming release, and tell us where it is set?
Starting From Scratch, to be published by HarperCollins (Harlequin Mira) and released on 6 January, is set in the central west district of NSW. This book has an environmental focus, the fascinating and vulnerable Macquarie Marshes, an inland semi-permanent wetland that forms part of the Murray-Darling basin. This area is a nesting site, refuge and breeding ground to thousands of birds and other native species, and is an important site in terms of the ecosystem and biodiversity. The novel tells the story of Sapphie Brown, a schoolteacher and chair of the small-town Horseshoe Environment Committee, and Matts Laaksonen, an environmental engineer from Finland. Can a bright future overcome their troubled past?
About Penelope: Penelope Janu is a multi-awarded novelist of six books, including Up on Horseshoe Ridge and In at the Deep End. Her romances often feature outback Australian themes, and are page-turners full of adventure, intrigue and romance. As Penelope says, she loves to write about strong women and admirable men with plots that keep readers up until late. You can find out more about Penelope's books and sign up for her newsletter at her website HERE
Sara, can you tell us how outback Australia inspires your writing?
I love writing strong, complex characters who face and overcome personal challenges on the way to finding love. In the outback, living with challenge is built into the everyday.
We'd love you to share a personal anecdote from the outback.
The first time I went outback, it took me thirty hours on a Greyhound bus. The bus stopped for breaks in towns so small the driver didn’t park, he just stopped in the middle of the main street. At the only pub I got laughed at when I tried to order a salad. Instead I ate a sandwich made of slabs of corned beef in thick white bread with corn relish. I met an old fencer there. Years of straining wire between fence posts over vast distances had given him thick scarred hands the size of dinner plates. He’d come in after six weeks working alone – apologized for talking so much – then politely asked permission to stop so he could “poke this down the dinner hole” before emptying a stubbie in two swigs.
Later, camping rough near a tiny place called Kajabbi (literally one pub and a few houses), I saw my first wild brumby. I think I was its first human. It was beautiful with a long tail that trailed to the ground. We stared at each other for a few minutes until I moved and it took off like demons were in pursuit. I found the dry air, the flies, the dust and the heat (46 degrees Celsius) astonishing, and the triple-trailer road trains were like something from a Mad Max film. I’m overdue to go back there but there’s a magic in the outback’s wildness and vastness that you can never forget.
Can you give us a teaser of your new novella, Ryan's Return, and tell us where it is set?
Ryan’s Return is featured in Revealed: A Romance Anthology, six sexy romance novellas available for a limited time on Amazon. The story is set in a fictional town ten hours hard motorbike riding west of Sydney. In reality, Granite Ridge is an amalgam of small towns I’ve lived in and visited. Ryan’s Return is a second-chance romance about a woman care-taking her brother’s Outback bar, coping with the return of her teenage crush who’s keeping her secret and one of his own.
Here’s a taste:
Waiting outside later, Aurora didn’t know why she’d agreed to this. A sensible alternative would be to insist on driving her little Mazda, but some devil inside insisted she torment herself by wrapping her arms around Ryan’s muscled torso and sliding her legs snugly around his thighs while a powerful black motorcycle throbbed beneath her. She was unlikely to ever have the chance again, she reasoned.
Then he sauntered out the staff door, two black helmets in hand, all dark and dangerous, and the lies she’d told herself about being unaffected by Ryan fell away.
Her mouth dried. This was bad. Very bad.
Her eyes drank him in and she swallowed, her mouth suddenly moist. Drool would definitely give her away.
Midnight hair, dark stubbled jaw, worn black leather jacket, faded jeans that hugged his thighs indecently, and black boots coated in dust from the open road. Then he hit her with that laid-back grin. He was in his element. She was so far out of hers, she wanted to whimper, instead of standing mesmerized, forgetting how to breathe.
About Sara: Sara Hartland grew up in a small country town with a pet sheep, five brothers and a book in her hand. She always knew she wanted to write for a living and was lucky to do that as a newspaper journalist in rural, regional and city Australia. Those country roots meant she often covered the “rural rounds” where Sara loved helping people share their stories about the issues and events that impacted their lives.
Today, Sara channels her empathy for getting to the heart of things into her fiction, creating worlds where ordinary people find extraordinary love, whatever their circumstances.
Sara has published short stories and been a finalist in a number of Romance Writers of Australia awards. Her first book, Ryan’s Return: A Granite Ridge Outback Romance, will be released in September 2020. Stay tuned to her blog and follow her on social media for details. To find out more about Sara's books, upcoming releases and sign up for her newsletter go to her website HERE
If you haven't already discovered the joys of Australian rural romance fiction, these three authors are guaranteed to get you well and truly hooked on the outback.
I hope you will join me next month for another installment of Davina's Diary, where we talk all things romance.
In the meantime, stay safe and stay well.
The photos at the top of the page are 1) A dirt road near Marble Bar 2) Me on a deserted railway track at Shay's Gap in the Pilbara 3) A spectacular waterfall near Cockatoo Island, off the Kimberley Coast.