Jenn J McLeod is a talented Aussie author with a taste of wanderlust. The view from her caravan window is ever changing, and brings endless inspiration. We interviewed her when the first Seasons book was published and now we have her back to answer questions from the book club readers of Season of Shadow & Light.
Hi Jenn and welcome back to Beauty and Lace. Today we have a list of questions that have come from readers of Seasons of Shadow & Light.
Michelle V: Jenn, do you have a signature dish or recipe that you make, and if so, what is it? Alice has her scones, and I’m curious as to what you would consider your signature dish?
Oh, Michelle, I just realised. I must have such a thing for scones because in my current work I’ve written a recipe for them! I do love food (which is why my own sea/tree change involved buying a café) and why my stories all tend to have a food focus.
As for a signature dish? In the B&B we ran in Coffs Harbour, we offered an evening meal of Tassie salmon. I love salmon and can think of a dozen ways to present this very versatile seafood. In next year’s release (The Other Side of the Season) there is more food!! There is this bloke, called Jake, who LOVES his sister and his seafood, and I just know he will have readers laughing (and crying). I will say no more than that.
Anne Maree: Did you do a lot of research on the impact of same sex couples in country towns and the discrimination they did have in the past?
Real life, rather than research, inspired many aspects of this story, Anne Maree. For example: my sister was like Paige—both lost their sense of smell and taste. I tend to draw inspiration from people I know, from personal accounts and experiences.
Alice’s storyline has certainly garnered the most comment and I could not be happier, but it might interest readers to know that Alice’s character did not exist in the original draft. This novel started out a love story between Paige and Aiden. But I needed a babysitter for Matilda so Paige and Aiden could have a few, err, moments without readers deeming poor loveless Paige neglectful and have them ask: “Where’s the child? Who’s looking after the kid?” Once I created her, Alice kind of took over and wrote her own story and I think it’s an important one and the time was right to tell, as discrimination remains an issue everywhere—not just in country towns.
There are also very different types of discrimination—as different as hatred is to ignorance. What some call discrimination is really a lack of understanding or fear. In Alice’s case, the intolerance she experienced was decades earlier. Times have changed and putting characters like Alice in mainstream (books, on screen, etc) increases exposure and starts conversations and those things can lead to ‘normalizing’ something.
Karin: When thinking about your evil or dark characters, how do you come up with their heinous acts, is it researched or an overly active imagination?
Ooh, you had me going there, Karin! I was wondering who was evil and what the heinous act was. Then I remembered . . . rotten Tim, Nancy’s husband! See, I have wiped him from my memory already. I can do that when they are the result of my overactive imagination. (What a shame we can’t wipe out those real life evil domestic violence creeps—men and women—as easily.)
I have a confession when it comes to the not-so-nice character: I LOVE writing them—then forcing them to grow into better people (eg Fiona in Simmering Season and, in particular, the main character from next year’s story. Talk about character growth. Boy, do I throw some lessons her way. Bwah ha ha!)
Trish D: How much do the characters change and evolve from original concept to completion of the novel?
The character’s growth is fundamental to good fiction, Trish. (We call it a character arc and some writers will even plot the growth by assigning certain events/experiences for the character at set points in the story.) I don’t plot. My stories develop organically. I do generally know my main characters’ GMC (their goals, what is motivating them and what is conflicting with the achievement of that outcome). But then ‘we all’ (me and my characters) fly by the seat of our pants. So, to answer your question, the characters should and do change a lot.
Danielle P: Do your travels play a big role in inspiring a novel?
Danielle, not with my first four seasons novels (#4 is out next year). My sea/tree change experiences have been the inspiration for them. Next years novel, The Other Side of the Season, is set in a fictional part of Coffs Harbour/Nambucca Heads as a kind of thank you for ten great years and for making this city-born girl feel like I had ‘come home to the country’.
But I am super excited to say books #5, #6 and #7 (yes, they are all on the go) are very much based on my travel experiences. Right now I am camped in paddock on a property in North Rockhampton (Qld) and it is the setting for book #5.
Tracy G: Are any of the characters in the book based on people you know or they entirely fiction?
Tracy G, are you old enough to remember (or do they still have) those kid’s books that have cut out figures divided into three sections: head, torso and legs? You could flip and mix up the features to make, for example: a grey-haired lady, with a business shirt and tie, and in sports shoes and sock? Well, that is how I make my characters. I assign three main elements: how they behave, what they look like and what they feel and those three things might—might!!—come from people I know. But this tour of Australia, living in my caravan, is all about finding new people to inspire new characters and I am finding caravan parks have oodles of characters!!!
Steph R: Do you have a favourite place to go, food to eat, or ritual, etc to get you into the right mind set for writing?
Nope! My favourite place is wherever I can sit with my laptop, Steph. Living fulltime in a caravan means my view changes regularly and I do enjoy sitting outside and using my senses when I write. As for food, I can do with less of that as I sit on my tooshie all day, and the only ritual I am trying to put into practice right now is an exercise regime so I can keep my back strong, so I can keep sitting and writing (and eating).
Imogen: What prompted you to give up a high-flying big city career and make a break for the country life?
My answer, Imogen, is in your question: high-flying + big city + career. None of that made me happy. I wanted a simple country life. (But of course there is actually no such thing as a simple country life. The land is hard, small town life comes with challenges. But they are the sort of challenges I want.)
As my character in book #5 says: we are all born with an expiry date. We just don’t know what it is. My partner and I decided to take a risk (and it was a huge risk) and do the things we wanted to do rather than getting to that expiry date and saying “I wish we had.” It’s the same with life on the road. We are not sure how long we can live like this. As long as I keep selling a few books, we can keep moving.
Nicole W: What sort of books do YOU enjoy reading? Do you even have time to read other authors?
Nicole, I was once told to be a good writer you must be a great reader. So finding time to read other books is important. The worst part about reading a great novel written by another author is I start to doubt myself, and that is death for whatever book I am working on at the time. But, I have learned an awful lot about what NOT to write from reading bad books and they keep me writing.
Teresa J: At what point did you decide to go with the happy ending? The book lent itself to many different endings, just curious.
Ah, Teresa, the ending!! I actually wrote two endings. I was going to submit them both to Simon & Schuster and let them make the hard decision because I didn’t know which way to go. Once an author has established themselves in a particular genre and they develop a strong reader base, things like reader expectations have to be considered. I might want a story to go one way, or want a certain inclusion, but I have to ask “How will my readers feel about this?”
In the end I did a kind of mish-mash of both and the story, I believe, was all the better for it. (I think I have a deleted ending on file. I might dig it out and put it on the website.)
And Season of Shadow and Light’s ending was not the only thing I had to consider. I wondered if readers would accept Alice as a character. I expected the odd ‘nasty/intolerant’ email. Not one! Makes me very happy I have such fabulous readers.
Kylie, Mary, Sue & Candice: There were a few questions about location so I have combined them all into one. Have you lived in a town like Coolabah Tree Gully? Are the settings you use familiar and/or special to you or do you seek out new places?
Ladies, my towns are all fictional, but certain features are based on places I know and love. Calingarry Crossing, for example, is a mix of Sawtell (where I had my café), Bellingen and Bowraville. Simmering Season’s pub was based on the Ulmarra pub (north of Grafton NSW – and that required hours of drinking . . . err . . . research time), and the pub in Coolabah Tree Gully was based on a pub in Boonah (Qld). I stayed in this pub with its crooked floors, the ceramic wash basin and the closed in verandah. (See Dannielle P.’s question above for more on setting and my current work.)
Thank you all for your questions and you reviews. Thanks Michelle for your ongoing support. Until next time.
You can find Season of Shadow and Light in all good bookstores now, and at Simon & Schuster.