One of the things I love about writing rural fiction is the opportunity escape to idyllic settings – both physically during the research phase and in my imagination during the writing of the book. Taking readers along for the ride is an added bonus.
My first three novels were all set on or near the south coast of NSW. This is an area I know well, having spent lazy summer holidays there for almost twenty years as I grew up, and then being lucky enough to have my own holiday house there for the last seventeen years. There’s something a little wild and untamed about the south coast that appeals to my love of solitude. But there are also rolling green hills, cows, horses and long, stretches of sand strung along a coast line of cool, clear ocean.
When it came time to write novel number four, my publisher suggested I opt for a different location: the outback. The idea set my teeth on edge – not because I had an aversion to going west but because it was a landscape I’d never spent much time in. As a writer I need to familiarize myself with a setting before I can try and capture it on the page. That opportunity came when I headed off to do an author talk in Hughenden in central Queensland. While I was there I was lucky enough to visit a number of outlying properties. Seeing the dusty, red stretches of soil, the sparse, dry vegetation and the ragged looking cattle – suffering greatly from the effects of the drought – was a truly eye-opening experience. The land out there is completely different to anything I’ve experienced before but it definitely has its own kind of beauty. I could only imagine what the place must be like when the rain comes down and the riverbeds are full.
Spending time in the township, with its wide streets and neatly painted buildings, was just as enjoyable. The now defunct Grand Hotel was the perfect model for The Crossroads Hotel and Mutty, the town’s Muttaburrasaurus dinosaur statue inspired Itchy, the Ichthyosaurus that graces the streets of the book’s Birralong. One of the houses I walked past on my jaunts around town inspired the dilapidated house lived in by Letty, Rose’s snarly mother-in-law and the windmill standing guard by the Flinders river morphed into one flanking the fictional Wills river.
And then of course there were the amazing outback sunsets …
There are loads of similarities between Hughenden and the invented town of Birralong but using a fictional setting allows a writer to play around more with the details. That said, there’s no way I could have created the town in the novel without spending time in the ‘real’ place. It was an amazing experience, one I hope I get to repeat sometime soon.
The Crossroads will be on bookstore shelves on November 29 and is now available for pre-order:
Booktopia (print and ebook)
Kobo (read Chapter One here)