Saturday, April 21, 2018

Researching my settings...

Wherever possible, I try to set my books in places I've visited. I'm not a country girl born and bred, so, although for a long time, my stories have been mostly set on Queensland cattle properties, the inspiration has come from visiting these places, rather than living there. However, I suspect a love of the bush and the countryside is in my DNA. Most of my ancestors in the UK worked in farms, one way or another, as crofters or servants or ploughmen or general labourers. Yes, I come from good peasant stock. And my parents moved from an inner Brisbane suburb to rural acreage for their retirement years.
As well, a memorable experience occurred when I was sixteen and I visited my cousin's sheep station at Tooraweenah in NSW.

What an adventure that was, riding horses up into the hills with my sister, feeding baby lambs with formula in bottles... I guess it was my first true adventure away from our parents, which no doubt added to the impact.

Then later, with my husband and our kids, I had many happy holidays camping at Burdekin Downs (a cattle property near Charters Towers) and canoeing on the mighty Burdekin River. The homestead there was huge and sprawling with beautiful gardens rolling down to the river, and has inspired most of the homesteads in my books. My husband and I also attended a ball there, held in the grounds. The guests camped in tents and emerged in their finery at dusk. I remember I made a special red silk dress for the occasion.  A wooden platform was set up for dancing and the band rolled their car when they were driving the rough track in, so that one of the singers sang that night with his arm in a sling.

I recalled that ball for scenes in Outback Baby, one of my earliest M&Bs, and then later in Moonlight Plains. More recently, when I was writing Home Before Sundown, I visited the beautiful and fascinating Cobbold Gorge and the station owner was very happy to answer all my research questions.

Another valuable research experience was visiting my husband's cousin and her family at their property, Clissold, near Roma. While here, I also visited the Roma sales yards and watched, with fascination, as the cattle were sold at auction (yes, with all that noise and men in akubras leaning over pens of cattle). Later, at dusk, the new steers were shipped to the property and the next day, I "helped" in the stockyards (as in worked the gates) while the cattle were ear-tagged and vaccinated and branded. Variations of this experience have found their way into several of my books, including A Parisian Proposition, which, despite its title, is mostly set in the outback and has reappeared recently in The Cattleman's Journey.

When it comes to writing about Christmas, however, I find myself deserting Australia and turning to England every time. I confess that for me, who has still never seen snow, a romantic Christmas fantasy must always involve cold weather and snow and firesides and everything that's different from a hot Australian Christmas.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be in Londona few weeks before Christmas. No snow, but lots of pretty lights and shop windows.

These found their way into A Very Special Holiday Gift, which will be republished later this year, I believe, as One Winter Sunrise.

OK, that's probably enough for now. Another time, I'll write about some of the exotic settings I've researched for more recent books.


2paw said...

Thanks for sharing your inspirations. I think you are so brave to ride a horse, they are so big I am afraid of them. Living in Tasmania we have lots of close contact with farmers and food producers, so I count myself lucky. NB cows are also huge.
Your descriptions of the country balls rang very true, but like you and snowy Christmasses, I have never experienced one.

Barbara Hannay said...

I probably wouldn't get on a horse now, 2 paw, but at sixteen we're invincible, aren't we? I have a cousin on a farm (with her husband) very close to Launceston at Chudleigh. And let's hang on to those snowy Christmas dreams. :)