Monday, March 19, 2018

My home on the hill...

It's been a season for anniversaries. March is my birthday month, but this year, March also marks twenty years since a publisher rang offering to buy my first book. And it's also thirteen years exactly since we bought our little place on a hillside in the country.

This is a glimpse of how our home looks these days. But it was quite different at the start.

At the time of purchase, the dwelling was little more than a shed on a bare hill with a lovely view and we only thought of it as a weekender. Perhaps we should have known we would fall in love with living in the mountains and we'd want to move here full time.

Back then, at the start, when we returned to our city apartment, we hurried straight to the library to take out books about gardening and landscaping. We knew the Tablelands' high rainfall and volcanic soil were ideal for gardening - but among the first books  we devoured was one about making dry stone steps and walls. We were immediately entranced by the idea, and my husband raced off and bought some of the necessary tools, almost before we got anything else - even a spade!!.

I have always admired the work of EdnaWallingwho was a famous Australian landscape designer.
was very fond of country style cottages with leafy natural gardens and her designs nearly always involved the use of stone in walls and steps and paths.

I can't show you a picture of Edna's work without invading copyright, but our aim was to create something simple and rustic, not unlike the pic above. At the same time, Elliot and I began transforming our shed into a cottage - with the help of a builder, of course. We had fun scouring through secondhand shops and demolition yards, finding old windows and doors to give our home that nostalgic country feel. 

And we also followed up on the urge to make some dry stone steps. We were raw amateurs, of course, but here are some pics to show you how "we" went about it. :)

The picture above is of Elliot digging out the site. I was very impressed by how professional he was, using stakes and string to mark the area! And then, laying the first, all important stone.
I was foreman and chief photographer - which meant I worked out which stones went where, I carried them to the site and shovelled the sand that was used to build them and generally bossed my poor hubby around. We erected a tarp to keep the site shady while we worked.

Here you see where the steps fit into the general scheme of things here - part of a bank that we hoped would one day be covered with interesting plants - and that gorgeous view in the background.

And this is the original, final product, which looks pretty higgedly piggedly but we were insanely proud of ourselves. We hoped would look so much better when the banks on either side were planted up with greenery to soften the stones. We christened the steps that evening by sitting on them and having a glass of wine while we watched the sunset. Unfortunately, while the jacaranda planted at the foot of the steps grew quickly, it fell victim to Cyclone Larry.

And as you can see from these photos, over the years, the garden has indeed taken over, so these days it's more about subtracting and cutting back than planting.

Since the step building project, we've discovered the wonderful Jana, an amazing young woman who laid the rest of our stone paving and built this retaining wall. 

I'm afraid Jana was a tad dismissive of our less than professional steps – but we still love them. And I think dear old Edna might have approved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What have I been reading?

I started this month by re-reading one of my favourite books from 2017. When we were planning our writing retreat, one of my author mates, Marion Lennox, proposed that we discuss this book, and I was more than happy to dive in again.

I found Eleanor Oliphant is CompletelyFine a refreshingly different story, with a wonderful character I could easily empathise with, even though her life experiences are miles from my own. Despite being severely handicapped by her past, Eleanor has a wryly humorous and perceptive take on the world, which I and my friends all enjoyed.

Mind you, some members of our group were not as enamoured with Eleanor as I am. One fellow romance author found the story too dark. And yes, there is a very dark undertone. Another felt that some of Eleanor's reactions were out of character. But one thing we all agreed on was the brilliance of the writing and the appeal of the character Raymond.

I'm sure Gail Honeyman deliberately broke every convention of the romance genre when she created a computer nerd hero with a soft tummy and cigarette breath, but we are all romance writers and every one of us loved him, despite these flaws. I know a huge number of readers have already enjoyed this book, and if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it.

The next book I read was also in preparation for our writing retreat. I was tasked with heading a discussion on author anxiety. Yes, alas, our dream job isn't completely stress free.

I found this book fascinating as it explains the science behind what's actually going on inside our heads. I learned about the instinctive reactions of the amygdala – which would explain my behaviour if anyone near me is foolish enough to put a plastic bag over their head – and how these impulses can be quite separate from the activity in the cortex where all our thinking and worrying happens. In fact, I found a better understanding of these “mechanics” could be quite calming.

For me, the very best thing about this book was that suddenly all the advice about meditation, regular exercise and a good diet (the advice we hear all the time and think yeah, yeah..) suddenly had a fresh impact. The book explained the scientific reasons why these virtuous activities work. It also gave helpful strategies for dealing with quite specific problems. One thing that really resonated was the suggestion that we should actively work to replace familiar worrying thoughts with “coping” thoughts. Worth a try, I reckon.

By coincidence, the next book I read was about a neurosurgeon. I read this for my book club and I've found that a great thing about being in a book club is that it pushes me to encounter books I might never normally pick up. And often (not always) I'm pleasantly surprised.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir and it's a sad book. There's no getting away from that. From the start we know that the author dies and that this is a story about his youth and hopes and then about his experience of dying. But what sets it apart is the power of his writing and his message. Paul Kalanithi didn't merely study medicine, he had degrees in Literature and Philosophy from Stanford and Cambridge. If he'd lived, he'd hoped to become a full time writer in the second half of his career. So he brought incredible word power and deeply profound thinking into play as he wrote about his situation.

For me, the simple but inspiring message from this book is that none of us knows how long we have to live and, by example (by extreme example in his case), Paul Kalinithi shows how to make the most of each day and to not waste our talents.

I don't usually read back to back non-fiction books, unless I'm researching for one of my novels, and I was about to slip back into fiction when Michelle Douglas distracted me on Facebook with a post about this book – The Year of Less.

I had heard the idea of a year without money on Radio National and was totally intrigued. It reminded me of the hippie movements of the sixties, but with a new, anti-materialist slant. Since moving to the country, I'd been conscious of spending much less on going out to restaurants or movies and the theatre, and although I sometimes miss these things, on the whole I've embraced the alternatives, which mostly involve having friends over to dinner, or singing in our local a capella group.

So, I couldn't resist taking a peek at Cait Flanders's book which outlines how she spent a whole year without spending her hard earned cash on anything more than basic necessities. Cait had already managed to clear her huge credit card debt and to lose 30 pounds in weight and during this particular year, she also massively de-cluttered her house. For a twenty-nine year old, these were impressive achievements and she's certainly got me thinking about my (sometimes impulsive) spending habits.

Now, I'm looking forward to returning to fiction and to Lucy Diamond's The House of New Beginnings. I discovered Lucy Diamond during the Christmas holidays and she quickly became a firm favourite. 

I think this is the fifth book of hers that I've read now and I know I'll love it. Simple chick lit, with lovable characters and cleverly written. 

So what about you?What are you reading? I'd love to hear.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Writing retreats...

I am lucky enough to belong to a group of authors who meet each year for a writing retreat. We've been doing this for eleven years now and we just feel so lucky to have found each other.

This started when a couple of authors in Victoria decided to invite fellow romance authors who were isolated and who might benefit from the chance to connect and share. Wasn't that big hearted of them? Here's a pic from last year when we celebrated ten years of friendship. Yes, a little wine is involved in our gatherings, although less and less as we get older. :)

Our group has members from all over Australia and even a New Zealander. I live in Far North Queensland, I have very little chance for regular face to face contact with other published authors in my genre, so I was thrilled to be invited.
Of course, the venue helps.

For the past five or six years, we've chosen Coolangatta, as we can have inspiring beach views and a range of shops and cafes in easy walking distance, as well as swims and/or beach walks for those all so necessary between writing  refresher breaks. Also, there's an airport with direct flights for all of us. Bonus!

So what do we do on these retreats? Just write? Well, no. There's plenty of writing that gets done, for those who need or want to, and lots of brainstorming too - either helping each other to flesh out new ideas, or to tussle with plot holes or other knotty issues. But we also have quite a businesslike agenda with other writing related issues to discuss and share.

Among this year's topics, for example, our topics include a book discussion (like a book club); publicity and promotion; getting rights back and self publishing; estate planning (tricky for writers with royalties trickling in); useful pointers for giving workshops; websites and associated tools; dealing with stress and anxiety (no job, no matter how idyllic it looks from the outside, can be free of this). So you can see, we're quite professional.

And then there's the friendship factor... over the years we've come to know each other very well, sharing the ups and downs of each other's real lives (as friends do) and that's invaluable, isn't it?

For me, the final bonus is that I have family in SE Queensland and I often get a little bonus time with them as well. Here, I'm cuddling the latest family member. Isn't she gorgeous?

Meanwhile, at home (back at the ranch, ha, ha), my husband continues to care for the little granddog we're babysitting, taking him for walks along our drive (on a lead because there are dingoes about) and generally spoiling him. How could he help it? Louis is so cute. :)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Just in time for Valentine's Day!

I had the best time writing this story about an ordinary girl from Sydney and a sexy prince from a snowy Alpine castle. And now it's available at all your favoruite ebook stores for just $1.99!! I hope you grab it and enjoy a little fantasy!
Amazon AU  iBooks  Kobo  Google Play 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Country Wedding release...

So The Country Wedding is now available at all etailers and next Monday it will hit the stores.This is a dual time line story that includes a contemporary romance for Flora Drummond, a mystery surrounding bones found from WW2, a glamorous glimpse into 1930s Shanghai and a surprise I absolutely loved writing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A slideshow of the setting for my books...

So here is a little slideshow of photos of Yungaburra, the quaint "real" country town on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland that inspired my fictional town of Burralea, which features in The Grazier's Wife and The Country Wedding.
While you're reading the book you might like to come back here to check out the churches where those weddings take place or the police station where Mitch Cavello works, or the guest house Hattie stayed in. You might pick out the lovely street where Joe Matthews lives, and a cottage similar to to Flora Drummond's.

Friday, June 30, 2017

In YOURS magazine


In the latest edition of YOURS magazine, there's a lovely article about my country garden. Huge thanks to journalist Heather Grant.