Q&A With Author Julian Leatherdale!

Today’s Q&A post features Julian Leatherdale, author of the newly released The Opal Dragonfly, published by Allen & Unwin Australia, RRP $29.99.

 

In your words can you tell us a bit about your new book.

It is the story of the rise and fall of an ambitious family living in the finest house in 1850s colonial Sydney told from the point of view of the youngest daughter Isobel. From her mother, Isobel inherits a beautiful opal dragonfly brooch which brings her frightening visions in dreams. Plunged into social disgrace, Isobel seeks freedom in her forbidden love for an artist and hopes to find her true self.

Which character was the most challenging to write about?

Young women in 19thC Australia, especially those from middle class families, were expected to be pious, modest, cultured and educated (but never clever or high-achieving), obedient and subordinate (to their father and future husband). So it was challenging to write a main character who was credible as a 19thC dutiful daughter and charitable doer of good works but also someone modern readers could identify (or at least sympathise) with. Isobel is, in fact, talented, clever and strong-willed and does risk breaking social conventions. It was also important that in the face of many trials and tragedies, Isobel’s spirit not be crushed; as readers, we must be convinced by her strength of character and her self-transformation as she is exiled from her childhood world of privilege and her hero-worship of her father.

What are you favourite stand out reads and why?

This is such a hard question to answer because I like to read widely and am always being surprised and delighted by new authors and books. Recently, I was deeply impressed by Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land for the boldness and breadth of its vision, the rigour of its research, the beauty of its writing and the inner lives of its characters. For dark, witty humour and clever dialogue-driven story-telling, I loved Madeleine St John’s The Essence of The Thing; if you liked her Women in Black, this is worth a look. Among current day historical fiction writers, I loved Tom Keneally’s Shame and the Captives (a compelling narrative of the Cowra breakout told from both sides) and have thoroughly enjoyed two Kim Kelly novels ‘The Blue Mile’ and her latest ‘Lady & the Fox’, both so well researched with such vivid characters and authentic voices. For the sheer mastery of words and story, it is of course hard to go past Thomas Hardy (Woodlanders is a personal favourite) and Jane Austen (Mansfield Park), both of whom I re-read to ‘warm up’ for writing my own two novels.

What inspired you to become an author?

I have written in some form or another ever since I was a teenager – plays, musicals, poetry, song lyrics, film and TV scripts and several novels in the bottom drawer – and enjoyed all those experiences, collaborating with others as well as working alone. My wife, Claire Corbett, is a novelist and – not that I needed convincing – reminded me of the great pleasure she took in creating worlds. I cannot imagine my life without books and reading: in that sense I have been inspired by writers all my life. But taking the big step to becoming a published author took the inspired support of my wonderful agent and my brilliant publisher at A&U.

What projects are you currently working on?

I have gone back to writing for theatre over the last year. My two-act black comedy The Man Who Became Santa was selected for a play competition by Weatherboard Theatre Inc and is being developed for a performed reading by professional actors in May. I have also started research for my third novel set in King’s Cross in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

 


 

About The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

Miss Isobel Clara Macleod, youngest of the seven children of Major Sir Angus Hutton Macleod, Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, had the singular misfortune to know that at seven o’clock that morning her father was going to die.

September, 1851. Sydney, city of secrets and gossip. Seventeen-year-old Isobel Macleod is determined to save her father because she loves him. But when she dares to trespass in a forbidden male world, she will be plunged into social disgrace. A wave of ill fortune threatens to swallow up her family and their stately home, Rosemount Hall, ‘the finest house in the colony’ on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour.

Is Isobel to blame for her family’s fate or does the cause lie further in the past? When Isobel was four, Major Macleod returned from an expedition with two ‘souvenirs’: an Aboriginal girl who became her friend and two opals fashioned into a dragonfly brooch for her mother.

When Isobel inherits this ‘unlucky’ heirloom, she wonders if the terrible dreams it summons are a curse or a gift. Now Isobel’s hopes for her future depend on a charming bohemian who encourages her hidden passion to become an artist. Will she now be permanently exiled from her family home? Or will she be transformed into a new self, like a magnificent dragonfly emerging into the sunlight?

A daughter sacrifices her reputation, two men bid for the love of a woman, freedom is found in the heart of a dust storm, a father’s legacy reveals past crimes.

Inspired by Elizabeth Bay House and the other grand villas of Sydney’s Woolloomooloo Hill, The Opal Dragonfly tells the bittersweet story of an ambitious family’s fall from grace and a brave young woman’s struggle to find her true self.

Purchase Links

Allen & Unwin  *  Amazon Australia  *  Google Play

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Q&A With Author Roxane Dhand

Today’s Q&A feature post is with Roxane Dhand, author of the newly released novel The Pearler’s Wife, published by Penguin Books Australia, RRP $32.99.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your new book?

Background

The Pearler’s Wife is based on a true story. I stumbled upon it (the story that is) on Western Australia’s far north-west coast in July 2013. To be honest, it was more of a bash of my foot on a great big rock because the year before, Broome had celebrated a 100 years’ anniversary.
Of what? I asked.
Broome, the pearling town turned tourist destination, I discovered, had a big past. It also had a secret. In its heyday, in the late 19th century, Broome had built a reputation not only as the centre of the mother of pearl industry, but also as a rough, remote trading outpost. The massively profitable pearl shell industry drew migrants from across Asia…Hard hat divers from Japan and Malaysia jumped on steam boats to Broome joined by other nationalities – the Chinese, and Filipinos – who signed on as tenders and deckhands. They were dirt cheap to employ and queuing up to come.

In 1911 though, the town’s prosperity came under serious threat.
Broome was a settlement made up of an almost exclusively Asiatic community. It was viewed with distaste by a Federal Government deeply entrenched in the “White Australia” policy. The idea of a coloured workforce on Australian soil was so offensive to the Australian Parliament that the Minister of External Affairs declared that from January 1913, only white divers would be permitted to collect pearl shell off the ocean floor.
The master pearlers (bosses) were horrified at what this would mean to the industry. They protested they could never afford a white man’s wage nor were they convinced that a white man would be able to stand the conditions on board a pearl lugger for any length of time.

Government would not listen and to prove that the pearl shell industry was, of course, suitable for whites, twelve ex-navy divers, experienced in hard hat deep-sea diving were brought out from England in 1912. The venture became known as the White Experiment.
The Pearler’s Wife grew out of their story.

The Pearler’s Wife is set in 1912 in the corrupt, claustrophobic new world of Australia. It tells the story of Maisie Porter, sent from England by her dismissive parents to marry a pearl-fishing captain (and distant cousin) she has never met. On the ship to Buccaneer Bay, she meets a charismatic Royal Navy Diver, William Cooper, who is being manipulated by the perilous pearl shell industry.

A wild, ungoverned frontier town is no place for a young lady just out from England. Her new husband proves aggressively disinterested in her. His main concern is sabotaging an Australian government initiative to force pearling captains to employ expensive Europeans. He is unscrupulous and Maisie soon finds herself embroiled in his world of murder, brutality and treachery. It will take all her courage, honesty and determination to protect the man she loves from the fierce and toxic secrets of her husband.

Which character was the most challenging to write about?

Probably Jane Wallace – Maisie’s new friend in Buccaneer Bay. She grew out of a woman I learned of called Daisy Bates who in real life spent years studying and caring for the Aborigines in the far outback of Western Australia. To make her plausible in the The Pearler’s Wife , I had to read all I could about her and gradually Daisy morphed into the character Jane I created for the book

What inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always had stories in my head since I was a little girl. Apparently I used to tell my sisters stories on long car journeys about a ladybird that lived in a toadstool – but if I did, I wish my mother had written them down! The desire to write was always there, I think, but sometimes you need a little push to get your started. The trip to Broome was more of a shove, really, and within three days I had the story down in outline.

What are some of your favourite reads?

The books I tend to favour (though not exclusively) are an interweaving of fact and fiction and have a root in history. So in no particular order, here oyare ten of my best:
1. Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier. One of the most perfectly crafted books, I think. Atmosphere, characterisation and brilliant story-telling – this book does it for me
2. The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy. On the syllabus for A level English, I learned the term pathetic fallacy through reading this book which is the fifth of Hardy’s Novels of Character and Environment. “Woods that murmur and trees that sigh…” Just yummy!
3. Eve Green – Susan Fletcher. I love this book on so many levels. Feisty heroine, romance and great story telling. It won the 2004 Whitbread First Novel Award.
4. The Narrow road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan. A powerful beautifully written novel set in a Japanese POW camp in Burma. This won the Man Booker in 2014.
5. A Town Like Alice – Neville Shute. Another Australian writer. This strikes a chord because, as with my book, Shute stumbled on a little known (true) incident and drew on it to create this outstanding novel.
6. The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford. This book is a delightful romp. Just one of the funniest and intensely observed portrayals of love and growing up in a dysfunctional family at about the time my own book is set.
7. Persuasion – Jane Austen. The bitter-sweet character of this novel earns its place on this list. Love lost and love recaptured, how we are sometimes “persuaded” along a course of action when deep in our hearts we know it is not the right one. Delicious!
8. Trail of Feathers – Tahir Shah. This book was inspired by a line from the chronicle of a sixteenth century monk which stated that the Incas ‘flew like birds over the jungle’. The author takes us on his personal journey to Peru and discovers that this ‘flying’ was inspired by a powerful hallucinogen and gives it a go! An A* read.
9. Katherine – Anya Seaton. One of the first historical (romantic) novels I ever read, thus a favourite which kick started a life-long affair.
10. Cross Stich – Diana Gabaldon. The book keeps reappearing on the shelves with different titles and is now televised as Outlander. I read it when it first came out in 1991 and devoured it in practically one sitting. Another historical romance, it is one of the best.

What projects are you currently working on?

The next book is down on paper and is set in 1190 at the time of Richard 1st and the Third Crusade. A couple of years back, I read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and because I found it such a difficult read, I decided I would try to bring the period to life and, hopefully, make it more accessible. When I’m done with that, there’s another story I’m dying to write…..

 


About The Pearler’s Wife

A distant land. A dangerous husband. A forbidden love.

It is 1912, and Maisie Porter stands on the deck of the SS Oceanic as England fades from view. Her destination is Buccaneer Bay in Australia’s far north-west. Her purpose: marriage to her cousin Maitland, a wealthy pearling magnate – and a man she has never met.

Also on board is William Cooper, the Royal Navy’s top man. Following a directive from the Australian government, he and eleven other ‘white’ divers have been hired to replace the predominantly Asian pearling crews. However, Maitland and his fellow merchants have no intention of employing the costly Englishmen for long . . .

Maisie arrives in her new country to a surprisingly cool reception. Already confused by her hastily arranged marriage, she is shocked at Maitland’s callous behaviour towards her – while finding herself increasingly drawn to the intriguing Cooper.

But Maisie’s new husband is harbouring secrets – deadly secrets. And when Cooper and the divers sail out to harvest the pearl shell, they are in great danger – and not just from the unpredictable and perilous ocean . . .

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House Books Australia  *  Amazon Australia  *  iBooks  *  Google Play

 

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Q&A With Author Barbara Hannay!

Today’s Q&A post features author Barbara Hannay! Ms Hannay’s latest novel The Country Wedding is available now and is published by Penguin Random House, RRP $32.99.

 

What was your hardest scene to write in The Country Wedding?

This would probably be the scene near the end of the novel where Flora makes an important decision that will impact the rest of her life. Until I reached that point, I still wasn’t sure what she was going to do. (grin)

Who was the most challenging character and why?

Writing about a classical musician brought challenges, because I don’t play a musical instrument. Luckily I have a daughter, Emma, who’s a violinist, so I was able to call on her for help.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I would teach writing and run writing retreats, no doubt here in our lovely hillside home, just has my husband and friends have often urged me to do.

What is the first book that made you cry?

I have the clearest memory of this. It was early on a Sunday morning and I was seven or eight years old, reading in bed before the rest of my family woke up, and I got to the scene in Seven Little Australians when Judy dies.
I was devastated. I ran to my parents’ room sobbing and they wondered what on earth had happened.
‘J-Judy’s d-dead,’ I sobbed.
They were quite worried until Mum, who had also read the book, twigged. They were so relieved to know I was just being soppy about a book.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

This is a very difficult question to answer as I know of many, many wonderful romance novels that aren’t recognised in the literary world in the way they deserve to be. I recently read Anne Gracie’s Marry in Haste, a fabulous regency-set romance that has done very well in America, but would not be widely known in Australia.

What research do you do when you are trying to brainstorm for a book?

For The Country Wedding, I travelled to Shanghai. Even though the Shanghai sections aren’t huge, I found it really helpful to be able to walk the streets of the French Concession where my characters lived. We had a wonderful helpful guide who was happy to answer my hundreds of questions and she took us to a coffee shop (an unusual find in China where they mostly drink tea). The shop also sold secondhand books and I found a book in English that I’d been searching for all over the internet, so that was a double bonus.
I do spend a lot of time searching for the right reference books, especially for my historical research.

What can reader’s expect next from your writing?

I’ve given my work in progress an interim title of New Girl in Town. It’s set around a small country newspaper and returning readers will recognise Finn Latimer, the editor of The Burralea Bugle. Finn has a dark past, and the young city journalist who comes to work with him is trying to escape her own troubles. And there’s another secondary character readers will recognise from The Country Wedding who has gone missing.

 

About The Country Wedding by Barbara Hannay

Two country weddings, fifty years apart … and the miracle of second chances In the tiny Tablelands township of Burralea, Flora Drummond is preparing to play in a string quartet for the wedding of a very close friend. The trouble is, she can’t quite forget the embarrassing teenage crush she once had on the handsome groom.

All is as it should be on the big day. The little church is filled with flowers, the expectant guests are arriving, and Mitch is nervously waiting – but his bride has had a sudden change of heart.

Decades earlier, another wedding in the same church led to a similar story of betrayal and devastation. Hattie missed out on marrying her childhood sweetheart the first time around, but now she has returned to the scene of her greatest heartache.

As Flora is drawn into both romantic dramas, she must also confront a relationship crisis of her own. But the past and the present offer promise for the future and there’s a chance for friends, old and new, to help each other to heal.

From the rolling green hills of Far North Queensland to the crowded streets of Shanghai on the eve of the Second World War, this is a beautiful romantic saga that tells of two loves lost and found and asks the questions – do we ever get over our first love, and is it ever too late to make amends?

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House  *  Amazon Australia  *  Google Play  *  Angus & Robertson

 

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Q&A With Author Bram Connolly!

Today’s Q&A post features Bram Connolly, author of the newly released novel Off Reservation, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99.

Firstly, congratulations on the release of Off Reservation. Is Matt Rix’s character going to be part of a continuing book series?

Yes, The Fighting Season was designed to introduce the character, his background and some of his back story. I wanted Off Reservation to show the reader that he could operate outside of the military context. My plan into the future is to slowly unravel his life and have him operating further outside of a legal framework. He might not always realise that he is breaking the law, as the premise is that he is fallible and therefore manipulated by different government agendas and people with money and power.

You mentioned previously that Steph’s character was a challenge when writing The Fighting Season. In your latest novel, Off Reservation, which character was the most challenging to write?

This time the hardest character to write was Glyn, the Welsh SBS Officer. The SBS have a different culture to that of Australian Special Forces, so the danger was that Glyn and Matt would seem like the same person to the reader if I didn’t capture and convey their culture correctly. I have worked with Royal Marines and the SBS before, and I wanted to make sure that they were still seen as the highly credible force that they are. Glyn’s personality is also a little foreign to me. My default is to be self effacing, where an Alpha male like Glyn is always on the attack, so that took a lot of observation of people like that.

How did you brainstorm for writing Off Reservation?

To start with, there were a few scenes I just wanted to write. The ship under way scene at the start, Matt being released from 2nd Commando Regiment and the fight scene in Istanbul. I already had an idea that I wanted to write these. However, I think what you are asking is how do I structure the plot? Well, I sit in a cafe and just start day dreaming about a movie I’d like to see. I come up with a plot, then some twists, a setting and then I write a start and finish point and then the chapter descriptions in between. In this way I can start to imagine different scenes and interactions. For Off Reservation I actually went and walked the ground too. London, Istanbul, Sydney – all the locations except Iran, where I had to rely on lonely planet – I’m not sure the Iranians would love to have me poking around there cities looking for inspiration. Not yet anyway.

What book has grabbed your attention lately and why?

I have just finished Tribes, by Seth Godin. I’m in the middle of designing an online mentor business for people looking to join the Australian Defence Force. It’s called WarriorU and I wanted to make sure that I understood the most contemporary way to reach the people that matter, my tribe, so to speak. I highly recommend it. I have also just finished Chris Allen’s Defender. I don’t read other authors fiction while I am writing, so that I can be sure there is no crossover of thought or ideas. I’ve been waiting to read this for so long and I wasn’t disappointed. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Chris writes a James Bond in the future, he’s that good.

What can readers expect next in your writing endeavours?

I am currently writing a non-fiction book. We haven’t gone firm on a title yet; however, the premise of the book is a lifestyle engineering manual based on the principles of Special Forces. Each chapter starts with a military story from my career and is then broken down to its component parts, so that the reader can gain some insight and perhaps adopt the techniques, skills or attitudes that are conveyed. The chapters range from time management, mental resilience, nutrition, physical training and life planning. I’m writing the parenting chapter at the moment, and while I‘m not a parenting expert it has been interesting researching the principles behind what I do naturally, based on special forces training.

 

About Off Reservation by Bram Connolly

Australian Special Forces commander Matt Rix in another action packed adventure.

Ultra-tough and ultra-lethal, Australian Commando Captain Matt Rix is one of Special Forces’ most lethal operators. But when a training exercise goes horribly wrong, he is given an ultimatum that brings his world crashing down. There is only one choice left to him and that’s to go ‘off reservation’.

What follows is the frantic pursuit of escaped Taliban commander Faisal Khan. Chasing Khan across Turkey would be easy; stopping a nuclear weapon he has received from falling into the hands of the world’s most feared terrorist organisation, that’s going to be the hard part.

Rix might be disgraced and discarded, but he should never be underestimated. Nothing is ever as it seems…

Purchase Links

Allen & Unwin  *  Google Play  *  Amazon Australia  *  Booktopia

 

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Q&A With Author Kerry McGinnis!

Today’s feature Q&A post is with author Kerry McGinnis! Secrets Of The Springs by Ms McGinnis releases in paperback format on July 17, and is also available on Ebook. Secrets Of The Springs is published by Penguin Random House, RRP $32.99.

What was the hardest scene to write?

I think the accident where Mark is trapped in the vehicle. I had trouble visualizing the inside of the cab and in the end got a box to represent the vehicle and tipped it on its side, then lay on the floor looking at it figuring out where everything was and what Orla would be able to see and reach. Sounds crazy but I’m not good with spatial stuff.

Can you tell us a scene that didn’t make the finished story for Secrets Of The Springs?

I can’t think of a particular scene that was cut. There were lots of adjustments and rewrites and unnecessary bits deleted but they weren’t scenes. It is hard to remember after so many rereads and rewrites, but basically the story is pretty much as it came to me when I sat down to work it out.

What is the first book you read that made you cry?

A novel called There Is No Armour. Howard Springs wrote it, the title comes from a line of poetry: There is no armour against Fate. It’s about the futility and cost of war, not to nations or economies but to ordinary people, the ones who are never asked before their lives are given over to it. It was poignant and beautiful and unbearably sad (and I was about sixteen!) He wrote a lot of books, old Howard but that was the one I liked most and read least because of its powerful effect on me.

How many hours a day do you write?

It varies. I go by output rather than time. If the writing is difficult I stay at my desk until I’ve produced two pages. Otherwise I just write until the rest of life – household or garden matters, or social stuff, overtakes me. I greatly enjoy the creative process and feel no pressure to finish anything quickly. The enjoyment is in the creation of my fictional world, and I feel quite lost when I finish a work.

What can readers expect next from you writing?

My next book which, like Wildhorse Creek and Tracking North is set in the Gulf Country and revolves around the lives of the family that own the pub in a tiny railhead ghost town, where twenty odd years before the drovers brought their mobs to truck to the coastal meat-works. I have just finished it and am now casting around for another story to keep me writing.

About Secrets Of The Springs by Kerry McGinnis

When Orla Macrae receives a letter asking her to return to the family cattle property where she grew up, she does so grudgingly. Her estranged uncle Palmer may be dying, but he is the last person she wants to see, not when she’s made a new life far away from where she lost so much. But on his deathbed he utters a few enigmatic words about a secret locked away and a clue as to its whereabouts.

Intrigued, Orla decides to stay, reconnecting with old friends and taking a chance on a long-time dream of opening the homestead to tourists. Continuing the search for her uncle’s elusive secret, she discovers far more than she bargained for – a shocking truth about her parents’ marriage, and the confession of a chilling murder.

Set in the stunning countryside north of the Barrier Ranges near Broken Hill, this is an authentic tale of life on the land and a gripping mystery about old family secrets and finding love in the harsh Australian bush.

Purchase Links

Penguin Random House  *  Amazon Australia  *  iBooks Australia  *  Booktopia

 

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