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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Australian Outback Part 2 - Why I love Rural Fiction -Fiona Palmer

The second installment in our 'Rural Outback' series is by the lovely Fiona Palmer. SHe is the author of 'The Family Farm' and 'Heart of Gold'. We asked her What makes you love writing Aussie 'rural' fiction and why should we love it? and this is her answer.
I was born and raised in the country. I grew up driving cars, riding motorbikes, catching yabbies, making cubbies in the bush and roasting marshmallows by many bonfires. We spent time on the tractors at seeding, picking rocks and mallee roots, and riding in headers at harvest and in the trucks for hours on end carting grain.  We had picnics in the bush and ran around with our bare feet getting cuts and broken bones from climbing trees.  
It’s an infectious place to live. The heat, dust and flies get under your skin and the changing of the seasons, to me, are worth experiencing.  Each season has its pro’s and con’s.  After a cold wet winter, you yearn for the heat and then when you get the heat you wish for the rain again. I love the way the heat simmers over the golden wheat heads, or the way the mist hangs above the bright green crops. And in spring when all the wildflowers are out and the wattle scent floats on the warm breeze. Each of these things brings a feeling of energy and emotion. 
But its not just the countryside. Its also the characters you find here.  How a small community lives together, and supports each other…even if you totally dislike someone!  He or she could be the cranky neighbour up the road who never says a nice word but if their house is on fire or their kids gone missing, everyone rallies to help, because that cranky neighbour is apart of the community. They are a pillar that makes our towns what it is, much like a large family, and the camaraderie among them is wonderful.  Folks band together when things get tough, help out people in need even when struggling themselves.  It’s these endearing acts that make great reading, and is what I try to bring to life in my writing.  And not forgetting the bad side to small towns, the grapevines, the gossip. Having everyone know everyone can cause all sorts of chaos.  (yet more writing fodder)
I love writing rural fiction for this reason, to share this sometimes weird and wonderful way of life.  There is always something going on, bushfires, floods, frosts, plagues, and even just having a family leave the community can be devastating.  
I love it all so much, I just have to write about it. And I can only hope that the readers take something away from my work. Whether it is an understanding of how things are done in the bush or just an appreciation of our wonderful rural areas. So maybe next time folks plan for a trip, I hope its to see what’s at their own back door first. 
I have city friends and I have lived in the city myself. I love the city (but only for short visits) and a lot of country people visit often. We are used to travelling.  But my city friends have never travelled out to the country. They couldn’t even imagine driving that far…and on gravel…no way!  (Note: not all city people are like this…maybe just my friends) So my writing is a way for them to experience some of the country life without getting into a car and without getting mud on their shoes.
As to ‘why should we love it?’ I guess it comes down to experiencing another way of life.  My books are fiction but underneath all the characters troubles and plot lies the realistic way of life out here.  Its how farms are run and how things are done. I don’t make that part up, it’s as true as I can make it, even from shearing a sheep to how crops are put in.  So if you want to try something from a little slice of outback Australia, please add a ‘rural’ fiction to your tbr pile.

Fiona has a new book coming out in April 2012 called The Road Home. If you want a good read then look out for it. Also if you would like to learn more about Fiona then head over to her website here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Australian Outback - Why I Write Rural Fiction - Karly Lane

Outback Australia, these words set off a variety of colours and themes inside your mind. Brilliant reds, browns and greens. Eucalypts, magpies, crows, bilbys, kangaroos, horses - all these things are vivid in your head when you think about Australia and it's wild countyside. What we don't hear about it the people, the towns that are the lifeblood of the Aussie outback. Fiction has changed in the last few years, more and more Australian authors are writing about what they know and have experienced as they have grown up in the Australian bush. I have coming up a variety of blog posts by three Aussie 'Rural' authors.
Karly Lane
Fiona Palmer
and Fleur McDonald.
To kick start this outback series is Karly Lane - Author of North Star.

After a bitter divorce, Kate and her battle-scarred kids escape to the vast but rundown property of North Star. It doesn't take long for her realise that she's going to need every ounce of determination to restore the homestead to its former glory and fulfil her dream of turning it into a bush retreat. Can Kate face her demons and put her past to rest and find happiness and her true destiny?  
I began writing rural fiction, way back when I was in primary school! I can remember watching the thorn birds (which I later read) and planning out my entire future- which involved buying a sheep station and marrying a good looking shearer! (who may or may not, strike a startling resemblance to Bryan Brown!) That bit kind of never really worked out!
When I started writing with the intention to get published, I decided to get back to my roots and write what I knew—so stories set in small rural towns which feature family, friends and rural communities became my genre of choice.
I think for a long time lovers of Australian fiction have been searching for something to showcase the real rural Australia. As much as I adore the sagas of Australian life on sheep and cattle stations of the ‘outback’ this isn’t the only depiction of rural Australia—but for a long time this seemed to be the most popular setting and the only one you could find in a best seller list at your local book store.
 I think the popularity of rural fiction today has been that authors are setting their stories in real settings. They aren’t always on vast properties and feature wealthy pasturing family dynasties. Many are focusing on the very real aspects of rural life that face any number of rural communities anywhere in Australia. They have characters that are real—they face issues like depression, divorce, raising children, facing their mistakes and struggling to keep their heads above water…things many rural (and not so rural) people can relate to.
The diversity of Australian rural fiction authors at the moment is amazing—with books focusing on a huge variety of regions in Australia. And just because they’re stories set in rural Australia doesn’t mean they all feature akubra hats and horses! I personally, don’t live on a working property—I live and have always lived in small country towns and this is where I focus my books, but there are other authors who do live and work on a family property and as such set their stories around the highs and lows of the life they lead. Rural fiction has something for everyone and now that there is so much choice—it’s even easier to find the type of storyline you enjoy the most.
This is why I write rural fiction—because it’s what I can relate to. It’s about life in a town that could easily be my own, with hero’s who are ordinary people doing extraordinary things—once again something that can, and does happen. In other words, these stories are based on real people and real issues that most people can identify with, which make it very easy to relate to. This is why I think the genre has become so popular.  
Thankfully at the moment there has been a resurgence of Australian grown romance and rural fiction with new authors and novels being released in record numbers over the last few years.
I keep hearing lately that rural fiction (or chook lit as it’s apparently been dubbed), has reached its peak—I hope that’s not true. If the emails my fellow rural fiction authors and I are receiving from readers, asking for more, is any indication, it certainly doesn’t appear that way. I really hope that since publishers took the gamble on backing rural fiction in the first place, that they listen to the readers and continue to publish it—Australia will be better for it, with Aussie writers able to continue to give rural Australia a strong voice.

If you would like to know more about Karly, then here is the link to her website.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dictionary of the Tree - Mary Victoria

Who among us likes to read the 'behind the scenes' parts of books. I for one love reading glossaries and footnotes on my favourite characters. It gives us a greater understanding of who is what and what is when. Mary Victoria, author of The Chronicles of the Tree trilogy has been compling notes and ideas and turning them into a dictionary - one she is calling The Dictionary of the Tree. It is fascinating and completely too big to merge with the actual series. Here is how she got the idea on how and why to create it.
The Dictionary of the Tree

The idea for the Dictionary properly belongs to my wonderful editor at Voyager books, Stephanie Smith. We had originally looked at publishing a simple glossary at the end of ‘Oracle’s Fire’, as we did with ‘Tymon’s Flight’. It would have been the same as the one appearing in the first book, however, as there was no room for further additions and entries. Both Stephanie and I felt this was rather a shame – why say the same thing all over again?
She suggested that instead of reducing ourselves to what could fit in three pages at the end of a paperback, I should put the glossary up on the website and add entries as I saw fit. That way it would always be available to whoever wished to consult it – and I wouldn’t be confined in terms of content. I was happy with that idea as I’d always felt the existing glossary to be lacking something in the way of verve. I didn’t just want a dry explanations of concepts. I wanted something more fun: fake scholarly entries, unreliable sources, tongue-in-cheek references. I wanted to include excerpts from the books themselves and notes as to my own sources of inspiration. Basically, I saw in Stephanie’s idea the opportunity to write something far more interesting than a simple glossary. It was an entire Dictionary, the ABC of the Tree.

The Dictionary as it stands has several types of entries. Some are indeed explanations, from the point of view of either the Argosians or the Nurians, about some key aspect of their culture or environment. The trick there is to watch out for unreliable narrators – is an Argosian priest really the source to trust for information about Nurians? Do either Nurians or Argosians actually understand anything about their physical environment, or are most of their notions based on legend and superstition?

The second type of entry is an excerpt from the books themselves. I’ve used these when I feel a particular scene describes or brings to life a concept far better than any explanation would do. So there are excerpts from scenes depicting a Grafter trance, for example, or metaphysical concepts like the Tree of Being, where a character’s direct experience can be illuminating.

Thirdly, and often concurrently to the first two methods, I’ve appended my personal notes to the entries. These sections are entitled ‘Under the hood’ and include my own thoughts and reactions, the inspiration for certain story elements and even a protest or two against what might be said elsewhere. I don’t always agree, as an author, with the opinions of my characters…
All this was immensely fun to put together, of course, and I don’t rule out further entries in the Dictionary of the Tree, should occasion arise. But the cherry on top for me was the freedom I had to illustrate the entries to my heart’s content. You see, it’s unconscionably expensive to actually publish a glossary illumined like a medieval manuscript, with decorative borders and miniature paintings in full colour. But that’s something that can quite easily be achieved on a website, with the help of a talented illustrator – in this case, Frank Victoria, the artist responsible for the gorgeous covers on all three books. If I had my way, of course, there would be a fabulous box set of the Chronicles available in bookshops, illumined throughout in a style I imagine used by the monks in Argos. But failing that, there is always the Dictionary of the Tree – and a taste of the peculiar processes going on in the author’s mind, behind the scenes.

Here is the link for the Dictionary of the Tree. You should go have a look at it and comment on what you think.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Creating Lupins from Scratch - Kim Falconer

Kim Falconer, author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption series tells us how she created one of her races - The Lupins! 
Creating Lupins from Scratch

In my science fantasy series there are familiar things like gum trees, white sand beaches, galloping steeds and oat cakes with raisins. There are characters who remind us of people we know, and people we wish we could know really well. Telling a story with recognizable terrain makes for strong immersion, guiding lights for the reader to steer by my stories don’t stop there. In the Quantum Enchantment Series and in Quantum Encryption, there are creatures unique to my worlds of Earth and Gaela. There are temple cats, Were-fey and, most specially, Lupins.
I am well aware of the adage write what you know, but in the case of the Lupins, (from the Latin wolf) such a notion doesn’t fly. After all, I don’t write how-to manuals or cookbooks. I write speculative fiction where the goal is to speculate! But no one on Earth can know what a were-beast, portal between the worlds or post apocalyptic witch is really like until they are created from the blank page. Sometimes that process can be a challenge so I’ve put together a recipe for those who’d like to know.
One idea

A grain of truth
Strong motivation
Meticulous research
Technical advice
Love (the head over heels kind)

1)     Start with the grain of truth. No matter how wild and farfetched the story, it begins with a grain of truth. This is what you build on and what will give your prose more weight. It’s all about the speculation, yes, but begin with something ‘real’.

2)     Take the idea and grow it. How? You muse on it and let it transform organically until it has a life and a soul of its own. In the case of the Lupins, the idea was for a creature made from the love, and guilt, of a scientist. In my 21 century Earth the last grey wolf died in captivity and her DNA was frozen, stored in the ‘cryo-zoo’ where many of Earth’s creatures were ‘stored’. Luka Paree comes along and requisitions the DNA, gets funding from ASSIST and goes to work on his idea: to bring back the Grey Wolf and create a template for restoring extinct species, including human kind.

3)     Add in a healthy dose of motivation. Why Grey Wolves? Because on our Earth we have exterminated this animal in Europe and until protected in North America, they were nearly wiped out. Part of the motivation to bring them back, to restore them as a member of Earth’s community, was guilt and shame for what had happened in the past, a way to make things right, in the story at least. Of course things backfire, as they tend to do in novels of the more adventurous kind.

4)     Fold in meticulous research and mix the idea, the grain of truth and the motivations. In the Quantum Encryption Series, this got very interesting!  As Luka Paree, the quantum geneticist who engineered the Lupins, hit an impasse (none of the spliced embryos were ‘taking’ and the surrogate Huskies remained barren) he got innovated with his own blood. Researching DNA, wolves, were-wolf mythology and those sites that propose the truth of their existence was fascinating. 

   5 )   Let the mixture set. This is the perfect time to seek technical advice. I contacted my friend in the States who knew someone working with endangered species. They put me onto the ‘wolf man’ and that was amazing. I also consulted colleagues writing urban fantasies involving shape-shifters and weres. Why was this important? Readers have preconceived beliefs about human-wolf hybrids, how they are created, what they look like, how they ‘shift.’ My Lupins are different and I had to know what people might be assuming so I could make sure they understood the rules for Lupins.

   6 )    The final ingredient is love, yes, the head over heels kind. It is actually as much a part of the process of creation as it is an ingredient. To make it ring true, love what you do!

What do you think of the Lupins? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, while supplies last, anyone who comments will receive 6 personally signed bookplates from me. 

Kim Falconer is a speculative fiction author writing epic science fantasy novels. Kim’s latest series is Quantum Encryption. You can find out more about her at

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apple Crumble Tea Cake from Julie Le Clerc's Favourite Cakes

The other day I was flipping through some cookbooks at work thinking I wanted to make a cake. I came across Julie Le Clerc's book, Favourite Cakes.

I was astounded by the amount of cakes in this book that I would actually eat, let alone can make. There are some wonderful ones but the one I chose to make was the Apple Crumble Tea Cake. It took me about 10-15 minutes to prepare and around 50 minutes to cook. The smell coming from the kitchen divine and my mouth watered while I waited.
Here is what my cake looked liked when it came out of the oven.

The recipe is not at all hard to do and I highly recommend that you give it a go!

Apple Crumble Tea Cake:                Serves 18

125g butter, cubed
1 cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cooking apples, grated (you can leave the skins on)
1 cup of raisins
1 cup milk
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of rolled oats
1 1/2 cups of plain flour
3 tsp baking powder

100 g butter, cubed
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Pre heat oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tin with non stick baking paper (or alfoil, like I did)
  2. Place butter, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, grated apples, raisins and milk into saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Allow to cool.
  3. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Add oats, sifted flour and baking powder and stir to combine. Spread mixture into prepared tin.
  4. To make crumble topping, use your fingertips to rub butter into the flour until crumbly. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly over the surface of the cake.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes (I found that it still not set, so I left it in for another 10 minutes)
  6. Stand in cake tin for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.
There are some many great cakes in this book, like I said earlier - definatley buy this book. It is awesome!!

Julie Le Clerc's Favourite Cakes
                                              Penguin Books 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review - Para Ops#1 Chosen By Blood - Virna DePaul

Chosen By Blood (Para-Ops, #1)Chosen By Blood by Virna DePaul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been a bit over paranormal series's for a bit as they were all starting to sound the same. Chosen By Blood was different enough to keep me interested, The plot was well thought out, there was no confusing twists and the characters were realistic. Basic premise is that the 'Otherborn' Vampire's, Were's and other paranormal creatures in America all 'came out' to the humans and not long after a war was started. Well the war has ended and we are introduced to Knox Deveraux, Leader of the largest Vampire Clan in America. His people are dying due to the humans making a vaccine to make their blood non nourishing for vampires.
The FBI then contact him as well as a few other humans and Otherborn and they form a Para Op's team to help unify the country. Their first assignment is to find a rumoured 'cure' for the vaccine.
Well written and if you like the paranormal genre, then I suggest you give this one a go. I want to read the second book in the series to find out what happens next.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review - Princess #4 Snow Queen's Shadow

The Snow Queen's Shadow (Princess, #4)The Snow Queen's Shadow by Jim C. Hines

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this series!!! The whole twisted fairy tales worked very well and the worlds Jim came up with were realistic and fun. Snow White's magic mirror gets broken and thus releases a Demon into the world who then causes chaos and mayhem. The first person to fall under the Demon's spell is Snow White who becomes an even more powerful sorcereress and she flees to her country from which she was banished under pain of death for killing her mother.

Very moving and the ending made me tear up. He introduces a new character that is a wonderful addition to the girls. Jim has done a wonderful job with these books and I am sad there will be no more after this one.

View all my reviews
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