Jennifer Scoullar is the author of Brumby’s Run and more recently Currawong Creek, which I must say I am absolutely hanging out to read. In the lead up to to getting my hands on it and the books release we were able to question Jennifer about her life and her career, come join us in learning more about Jennifer Scoullar.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Jennifer and welcome to Beauty and Lace
How did you come to writing novels?
As a child I was an avid reader, and felt a very special connection with animals and plants. I began my first novel when I was eleven, wrote three chapters, before I lost the manuscript, and cried for at least a week. I knew I’d grow up to be a writer.
But things change. I went to University, studied law, got married, had kids …and all the while that little, annoying, nagging voice of me as a child, reminded me that I was supposed to be a writer. I’m very grateful for that voice. In his wonderful essay ‘Why I write’, George Orwell says, “If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write” Anyway, one day I saw a little wasp buzz past, and it struck me as amazing that for one moment, that insect and I shared the same time, the same place, the same space. I wondered about what else we might share. I sat down and wrote Wasp Season, my first novel, and haven’t stopped since.
Currawong Creek is your latest novel, due for release June 26, can you tell us a little about it?
Currawong Creek is the story of Clare Mitchell, a young Brisbane lawyer who is very caught up in her career. When she becomes the unlikely carer of a little boy, a problem foster child named Jack, her ordered life is turned upside down. In desperation she takes leave of her job and goes with Jack to Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s Clydesdale stud at Merriang in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains. Clare arrives there, to find part of the property leased by a local vet, Tom Lord. Tom is an advocate of equine therapy for traumatised children. Jack falls in love with Currawong’s animals, and Clare falls in love with Tom and the life of a country vet. But trouble is coming, in the form of the Pyramid mining company. A vast coal seam gas field lies beneath the picturesque town of Merriang. This discovery threatens to not only destroy Clare’s new-found happiness, but also the peace and beauty of the land she loves.
What inspired the storyline?
The novel was inspired by a few different things. I fostered children for fifteen years, and saw many young mothers, who needed help almost as much as their children did. There’s such a desperate shortage of foster carers in our community. Often, no suitable place can be found for a child after being taken into care. So I thought I’d explore that problem in my story.
There is also a great deal of evidence to show that animals, in particular horses, can help to heal traumatised children. I had to give little Jack that chance in my book. The setting was inspired by Queensland’s Darling Downs, and its beautiful Bunya Mountains.
I have a deep interest in the growing national debate about land and water use in Australia. We are beginning to realise that agricultural land and underground water are precious, finite resources that should be protected. This is another issue that inspired the story.
Clare Mitchell, the main character, is a lawyer who finds herself the guardian of a young troubled boy. On a surface level she seems to share some characteristics with you. Is she anything like you?
It’s true I have been both a lawyer and a foster carer at different times in my life. However Clare is an entirely fictional character. I loved the idea of throwing a young, single, professional woman in the deep end with a difficult child – and a German Shepherd puppy! How would it change her? What problems would it cause? And how would she cope?
Do you have a process for writing? Do you plot or wing it?
At the beginning of each novel I write a rough outline and pin plot points on to a corkboard. But 30,000 words in, my corkboard is always struggling to keep up with the unexpected directions the story keeps taking. I cheat by updating index cards as I go, pretending that character A was always going to be a pilot, and that character B was always going to have a ten year old daughter. It’s like forging a path into the unknown, and making the map afterwards. But that’s okay, because often it’s only in the writing of the story, that its direction becomes clear. All the possibilities might not show up until you’re well into the journey. Sometimes you need to throw away the plan, and just let the magic happen.
What comes first, a character, an event, or do you have a general idea of the whole story?
For me, the possibilities of place always come first. My stories are always inspired by nature, by some aspect of the Australian environment that particularly interests me. I try to write animals and landscapes not as mere background or setting, but as essential parts of the narrative. So once I’ve decided on where, the characters and plot evolve organically from there.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?
My new book is set on an imaginary river, somewhere in the Murray-Darling basin. It’s about a star-crossed love affair between a cotton grower and a flood plains grazier and will be released with Penguin in 2014.
Currawong Creek is your 3rd novel, does it get easier to send your manuscripts off to their beta readers or your agent?
Thankfully, yes it does. With each novel, my confidence as a writer is growing. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t still insecurities and doubts. Every writer, no matter how experienced, secretly worries sometimes that they might be writing rubbish!
What does being a woman mean to you?
My mother was a strong, wonderful person with a formidable intellect. One day I asked her whether she’d rather be a man or a woman. To my surprise she answered that she’d much rather be a man. She grew up in an earlier time, with fewer opportunities, when it was harder to be female. It’s thanks to previous generations of women, like my mum, that I can answer that question differently. For me, being a woman means living with emotional honesty, almost a sense of spirituality. I love the friendship, wisdom and compassion of women, and I love the inner strength and courage we seem to find when most needed.
Thank you so much for talking with us Jennifer. If I didn’t want to read Currawong Creek before I certainly do now.