Fleur McDonald – Voice of the Outback and bestselling author of Red Dust, Blue Skies and most recently Purple Roads has agreed to take some time out of her hectic farming and publicity schedule to answer some questions for us about her writing and her life so come, let’s get to know her a little better.
How did you get started as a writer?
I started writing children’s books, mostly for my son who is autistic. I was trying to help increase his attention span by writing about things he knew, like our working dog and pet lambs. At the time I was doing a comprehensive writing course and the module we were studying asked for a kid’s story. I sent one I’d already written in to my tutor. He came back with rave reviews and insisted I try and find a publisher.
I found an agent to act on my behalf for the kid’s books, but when she read my Rural Lit novel, Red Dust, she didn’t think it had wings.
My tutor disagreed and told me to find a publisher or agent who would read Red Dust, so I sent it in to Allen and Unwin’s Friday Pitch Day. The first email I had back was a ‘positive rejection’ telling me ‘your writing is strong and commercial’. I tweaked the first three chapters and about four months later resent it, saying I had already emailed it in once, but would they look at it again? I had a contract within a month.
Incidentally, my kids books never got picked up and I’m not with that agent any more!
Where does your inspiration come from?
I often get asked this question and it’s hard to answer. Obviously every time I look outside my door and am working in the sheep yards, gives me more fodder to work with for the setting, but it’s often just small snippets of conversations or things I hear on the radio that give me ideas for story lines. One of the best questions I can ask myself, as a writer, is ‘What if?”
In the case of Purple Roads:
“What if: the fertiliser was stolen for a farm who couldn’t afford it to be taken?”
“What if: it tipped the family over the edge and sent them to a mortgagee sale?”
‘What if?” Do you see where I’m going?
I’m writing my fourth book at the moment and I heard a story on ABC Radio about two golden wedding rings that had been found somewhere up north – I never really heard the rest of the story, because my brain went into overdrive with ‘what if?’ questions and now I’m following my imagination on the rest.
Can you tell us a little about your latest release, for those who haven’t read my review?
Purple Roads is the story of Matt and Anna Butler who have dreamed of owning their own land. After much grit, determination and hard work, it eventuates. But before long, the seasons conspire against them. Their savings dwindle to all but nothing and their last chance is to grow a bumper crop, but when their fertiliser is stolen, it forces them to sell the farm. From then on, it’s their journey of learning acceptance, fighting for things they believe in and how each of them have a different way of dealing with loss. Oh, and Matt gets caught up in something much bigger and more frightening than he could have ever imagined.
You have just returned from the Purple Roads tour, what can you tell us about that?
I had a ball! I loved meeting my readers and getting back to the heart of the Purple Roads setting. I don’t get to leave the farm that often so it was a big thing for me to be away from my family and the farm for a week, but I enjoyed every minute of the tour.
It was funny driving the roads Matt (the main character in Purple Roads) would have and noticing things for my next story.
Is there any significance in the 3 book covers being so similar? Do you have any input into the cover art?
From what I understand it’s a branding type of thing – people will recognize the books by the style of cover, even if they can’t remember my name or the title of the book.
I’m able to have a small amount of say – in fact between my wonderful agent, Gaby Naher and I, we managed to get the background of the Purple Roads cover changed. There was a monstrosity of a homestead on the first cover that really didn’t suit the book and two days before it went to print, my publisher agreed and it was changed to something just perfect.
Have you had a favourite character to write?
I loved writing Gemma in Red Dust – I think it was mostly because it was my first book and I loved creating her.
Is there something new you are working on that you can share a little about with us?
Like I said earlier, I’m working on Silver Gums, which is set out on the Nullarbor. I’ve got lots of ideas at the moment, but there will be a bit of history, family secrets and probably some rural crime, which is really what my books are known for.
How do you manage to juggle motherhood, the farm and your writing because farming doesn’t really seem like it ever stops? It’s not a 9-5er that you can really walk away from.
No, farming is the biggest pull on anyone’s time. You can never really leave it, especially if you have animals. Contrary to some beliefs, farmers actually love animals and therefore we care greatly for their well-being. And because of all of this, juggling is what I do best!
I don’t always find time for my writing – there are times during the year (like seeding and shearing) when I don’t put fingers to keyboard for months, but then there are other times I sit and write and write and write. I think if you love something, you’ll always find time for it.
Have you ever wished for a city life?
Um, short answer? No. Longer answer? I wish I could visit slightly more often than I do for the theatre and concerts.
What’s the best thing about living on property?
The freedom, space and air.
Is there any advice you have for writers starting out?
Just because one publisher doesn’t want your work today, doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow. Never give up.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Oh hell, what a question! Okay, just thinking quickly, it means being a mum, something I would never change, it means being a wife to a wonderful man and it means I can just be me and comfortable in my skin.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Fleur!