Red Dust — sheep rustlers and strong women

Have just read the first novel of my fellow writer and rural blogger, Fleur McDonald. Fleur and her husband run a cattle station in Western Australia, but this novel, Red Dust, is set on a sheep station in South Australia.

I’ve never been to a sheep station but I feel as if I could almost run one after reading Red Dust, as the settings and daily operations are so vividly and clearly described. Fleur knows what she’s writing about and it gives real credibility to the whole work.

But that’s only incidental to the rattling good yarn of sheep rustling and stock squad detective work. This story is interwoven with the difficulties and discoveries of the widowed Gemma as she keeps the sheep station running despite all predictions, following her husband’s death in a light plane crash — right before her eyes.

Yes, there’s romance, but it’s suitably subtle in its development in Gemma’s case — although for her best friend Jess, the riotous redhead, there’s no holds barred! Fleur’s ear for dialogue and idiom is spot on, and adds much to the characterisation.

It’s great to see a story of contemporary rural Australia by a female writer who can write equally well about the practical and the emotional sides of the business, of living well out of town and of running a farm. And who can use that grounding to spin a tale of intrigue where you don’t know who dunnit until she chooses to tell you!

I’m betting this will be a film or a TV special in the not-too-distant future. Bravo Fleur!

Red Dust is published by Allen & Unwin and will be in bookshops from 4th May.

More Newcastle book events

wallsendAs well as the Mothers’ Day ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ at the Hunter Wetlands, as previously posted, I am speaking about and reading from my new book, Mountain Tails, at two other events in Newcastle that week.

One of these may suit some of you better than arising so early that day!

Hope you can make it to one of them and please pass on if you like.

 2.30 pm, Thursday 7th May
Garden Table Café — Heritage Gardens Nursery, New England Highway, East Maitland.

 An afternoon tea book event in a charming garden setting, organised by Angus & Robertson, Greenhills, and The Garden Table Café.

$10 per person for the delicious afternoon tea  – being entertained by me is free! Wonderful lucky door prizes on the day.

To make a booking or for more info please contact Jenny Benning on 0419 420 775.
1.00 pm, Friday 8th May
Wallsend Library, Bunn Street, Wallsend.

 A lunchtime book event in the fabulously designed, environmentally friendly Wallsend Library.

Light lunch provided, free  — being entertained by me here is also free!

Call Wallsend Library on (02) 4985 6680 to book or for more info.

Mountain Tails has arrived

mt-200I have been told that my new book, Mountain Tails,  has arrived!  It is probably at my post office right now, for me to collect next week when the road dries out and the creek level drops!

I can hardly wait, even though I have of course read it – the real book is quite a different matter from an on-screen or A4 manuscript.

What will it feel and smell like? Will I cry as I did when I first held ‘The Woman on the Mountain’? Will my drawings look OK in actual print? Will I find any missing commas?

It is also heading for bookshops all round the country, but Exisle, my publishers, have made a special arrangement for my web site visitors — you can buy Mountain Tails at a special 20 per cent discount by ordering from the Exisle website here and quoting the coupon number MT2009; you can use that coupon any number of times.

This collection of short pieces about my wild animal neighbours here in my wildlife refuge is accompanied by my black and white drawings, and hopefully it will amuse, intrigue and educate readers as much as the critters themselves do for me.

In raising awareness of their uniqueness, it also aims to raise awareness of the plight of our threatened and endangered species, and at the end I have included lists of ways to get involved for those who want to help, and contacts for doing so.

I will be giving talks at various places and as Exisle arranges them I’ll put up posts to let you know. Always good to meet my readers, such as Kez at East Maitland last year.

Many events wlll be before Mother’s Day, as Exisle think it will make a great Mother’s Day gift.

PS: I have it! A dear little book, but the only time I felt like crying was at the dedication to my Dad, whom I still miss terribly. Exisle have again done a beautiful job of production – designer Nanette is so attuned to the tone of a work that I can’t imagine a different cover now.

Yes, I’d like to redo one or two drawings that don’t look so good at the reduced size; but mostly I just wanted to add all the other animal events that have happened since, dozens of postscripts needed – or a second collection in a year or so? I had forgotten that, for example, the whole python saga was after the manuscript had been sent off!

Mountain Tails are wagging

mt-coverAs the advance copies of my second book, Mountain Tails, are about to arrive, anticipation is mounting here on the mountain.  All our tails are wagging!

Just like an expected baby, joy and fear are intermingled for me until I hold the actual book. I cried when I first saw 
The Woman on the Mountain;  I expect I shall do the same with Mountain Tails.

I can’t wait to see it, and stroke it – and read it, as it will look so different from my A4 manuscript! 

It will be even more exciting because I have done a black and white (and  grey!) illustration for each of the 44 short tales — anecdotes and observations, mixed with what I have learnt about these wonderful native creatures with whom I share my place. 

They continue to amaze, amuse, infuriate and educate me. I hope my book will do the same for my readers, and help ensure that no more of our wildlife vanishes into the extinction with which so many are threatened.
I keep telling various of my wild animal neighbours that they are in the book, or apologising to those who’ve only moved in since I handed in the manuscript. I haven’t apologised to the python, but it would have made a great tale, and a great subject for drawing.

Perhaps there will need to be a sequel.

Here’s how Chapter One begins:

Welcome to my Mountain

Short or tall or really small,
Furred or feathered, smooth or scaly —           
I’m the poorest creature here, without a tail at all.

Being the only human resident of a wildlife refuge, on the edge of a national park that is far from any town, I see lots of creatures behaving ‘wildly’. They can be so natural because they ignore me, as they should.

After all, I’m obviously of an inferior and inadequate species: no tail, only two legs, pathetic hearing, poor vision that’s shockingly so at night, no built-in insulation of fur or feathers, and an apparent inability to survive on the local abundance of grass, leaves, roots and other creatures.

To that general picture of modern white Australians, my neighbours might add other deficiencies peculiar to me: knees that can’t be relied on to bend, as knees must, to climb up and down slopes, inappropriate Celtic skin that burns to cancerous spots under our sunshine, and a lack of any singing talent.

and it ends:

I offer my readers, old and new, this illustrated collection of ‘Mountain tails’. Mostly short, a few tall, mostly new, a few classics — to make you smile, chuckle or sniffle, say ‘Oo-oh!’, ‘Aha!’, or, better still, ‘A-a-ah!’.
Come take a walk in my gumboots and meet my neighbours.

Mountain Tails will be in bookshops in early April, or you can order from the publishers, Exisle, online. More information from Exisle here.