Jugiong Writers’ Festival last weekend.

I’ve been wanting to write something about the Jugiong Writers’ Festival all week, but I have no idea how to say it!

Jugiong Writers Festival 2017 Sonya Heaney Stan Grant Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Margareta Osborn.

Now, some of the images I’m going to use belong to other people, so if you’re not okay with that, tell me, and I’ll remove them.

Sonya Heaney margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey

This is Sulari Gentill’s photo, taken just before our panel began on Saturday afternoon.

Firstly, I’ll direct you to this article from The Guardian about the first ever Jugiong festival in 2015:

From little towns, big writers’ festivals grow.

Then, I’ll direct you to the authors on the panel I moderated – in alphabetical order:

Sulari Gentill

Di Morrissey

Margareta Osborn

Three very well-liked, well-known authors. And I’m supposed to link them all together for a fifty-minute panel, when the only two things that link their works are that they are WOMEN from AUSTRALIA??

The good thing is, they all know what they’re talking about, and (I think!) it all worked out well.

I have been to big book conventions before, and I’ve hated every minute of them. At a convention a few years ago I spent too much of every day downstairs, hiding in the bar, because every attempt I made at starting a conversation ended in funny looks and turned shoulders.

I agree with the article above, that these smaller, more rural book events are much friendlier and more inclusive than the big book conferences I’ve attended before.

Sonya Heaney Margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Jugiong Writers Festival 18th March 2017

Vivien Thomson’s photo.

Our panel was titled “Connection to People and Place”, which was vaguely advertised as having a rural focus. However, with authors writing everything from modern-day rural fiction, to 1930s Sydney, to 1904 Italy, this was a bit tricky! The good thing is that they all have such a sense of “place” that there was more time for conversation than there was time for the panel to run for.

Sonya Heaney margareta Osborn Sulari Gentill Di Morrissey Jugiong Writers Festival 18th March 2017

Sulari Gentill’s photo.

Stan Grant opens 2017 Jugiong Writers Festival @thelandnews #Jugiong #HilltopsRegion Over 250 visitors

Newspaper photo from… I have no idea!

I know I come from Australia’s capital city, but as often as not we’re lumped in with rural, rather than urban Australia (half the ads we have on TV are for tractors etc.), and as we see more kangaroos in Canberra than almost anyone else in the nation, I definitely don’t feel out of place in the country.

Kangaroos Lawn Cemetery Queanbeyan Australia 11th July 2015 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney Winter

E.g. – my grandparents’ graves!

My day actually began with running (okay, driving at the speed limit) to the Canberra Centre to pick up two huge boxes of books they needed in Jugiong that afternoon. So my arrival was later than the others involved in the event.

I think the issues we discussed on the stage were relevant to all fiction written by women. I’ve been (more than) mildly obsessed with Regency and Victorian fiction in the past couple of years, but I think that any of those authors could have got up there last weekend and had similar things to say.

Women want to tell stories, and women authors often face the same obstacles no matter what. They write PLACE, and they write characters, and no matter what they do, they get lumped into the same group as “lady authors”, no matter is it’s romance, crime, or… well, or anything.

Free Champagne at the end of the day Sonya Oksana Heaney Jugiong Writers' Festival 18th March 2017

Free sparkling wine at the book launch at the end of the afternoon.

The discussion definitely did NOT go where I thought it would, but it seemed the audience enjoyed themselves, so… I only wish the people watching had more time for questions, but when you have three beloved authors in one panel – it’s not easy!

The other thing about Jugiong that was great was that JUGIONG was great! I have travelled through neighbouring – famous – Gundagai many times in the past few decades, but have never been to Jugiong. It’s a tiny place, but has a gorgeous – and recently renovated – old pub that I have plans to visit again soon.

Also, thank you to Freda and the rest of the team involved in the organisation of the weekend.

On top of that, the drive in and out from Canberra? Just look at it!

Jugiong NSW to Canberra ACT 18th March 2017 On the Road Sonya Oksana Heaney 2017

Jugiong NSW to Canberra ACT 18th March 2017 On the Road Sonya Oksana Heaney 2017 Dusk


The Week: 13th – 19th March

What you see above are two shots driving home – Jugiong to Canberra – from the book festival yesterday evening (obviously the second picture was taken before the first one – the sun was setting as we drove). This whole section of Australia looks like this: dry, yellow, bright light.

So, I spent Saturday afternoon  moderating at the wonderful, friendly Jugiong Writers Festival. I was stunned that a book festival in a country town could pull in both so many celebrities, and SUCH big crowds. It was a little bit intimidating!

The wonderful book launch at the end of the day (with essential, free sparkling wine!) was a nice bonus.

Also – they have a GREAT pub! I’ve already planned a weekend trip back with my brother and his partner.

I stole a couple of pictures from Sulari Gentill’s Facebook page.

Here is the worst photograph ever, of me (and also Margareta Osborn), looking like we want to murder each other. It was put online by ABC reporter Pip Courtney. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it!

(That weird stripe across my face is actually the pot plant next to me!)

Autumn light on Friday evening in Canberra.

Thursday evening.

Finnish Ski Troops in 1940

Monday was the anniversary of the end of the Winter War, when Moscow decided to randomly invade Finland and steal regions of their country while the world was distracted by Hitler. (Anything about this situation seem relevant to 2017 – just change Finland to Ukraine and Hitler to Trump!). The Kremlin’s hybrid warfare tactics then are near-identical to what they are currently doing to their neighbours.

History is constantly running on repeat.

My review of Someone to Hold (Westcott #2) by Mary Balogh

My review of Seven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3) by Eloisa James

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Follow-up on Mem Fox

Happy Canberra Day!

The Week: 6th – 12th March

Bright Blue Sky Canberra Australia Sonya Heaney Autumn 6th March 2017

First day back home. Blue sky, sunshine, summer temperatures – and half a new deck!

We went to Canberra’s Enlighten festival last night. The national buildings (National Library – above, National Science and Technology Centre, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House etc.) are lit up. There are also bars and food stalls and opera performances and a whole lot of things.

I will find some better pictures tomorrow.

This possum has moved in (not our first one, but the smallest so far), right outside my bedroom window. The night-time fights with other animals kept me awake all night a few nights ago!

It has been absolutely gorgeous in Canberra this week. Temperatures up around thirty degrees, bright blue skies, sunshine. It feels more like summer than autumn most of the time.

Chris Miller 11th March 2017 Russia invaded Ukraine

A timely reminder from a very respected journalist in Europe.

A Ukrainian woman is behind bars in the United Arab Emirates at the moment because doctors found out she is pregnant to her fiancé. They are “testing” her to find out how long she has been sexually active, which sounds like an appalling abuse of a woman’s basic rights.

You’re not allowed to have premarital sex in the UAE, and women are imprisoned for reporting rapes. Please be aware that just because Dubai and Abu Dhabi look shiny and tourists love them doesn’t mean it isn’t an Islamic country with some terribly restrictive laws – especially for women.

I have to travel through there are few more times this year, and I really wish I wasn’t. Qantas sends their flights through there a lot now, and codeshares with Emirates, which is one of the worst airlines I have ever experienced.

Also on my list of “things that annoyed me this week”, this article:

Pope may allow married Catholic men as priests

The reason it annoys me? Ukrainian Catholic men – married, soon to be married, planning to be married – have ALWAYS been able to become priests. For centuries. Most of the priests I’ve ever known have been married – with children.

This is allegedly such a groundbreaking idea, but once again people totally ignore the fact this is already, and always has been, a thing.

Nobody knows anything about Ukraine, but you’d think a journalist or two might mention this extremely relevant fact!

And then there’s:

Muhammad Ali’s son detained at US airport for second time

He’s a flipping US citizen! What is wrong with Trump’s version of America??!

My review of Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn

My review of Devil in Spring (Ravenels #3) by Lisa Kleypas

My review of A Temporary Family by Sherri Shackelford

Patricia Briggs’ New Book

Excuse me, cover designers…

Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn


Carina Chapman wants a vacation. Somewhere hot. Somewhere decadent. Somewhere far, far away from her complicated life in New York. Somewhere in Australia appears to be the answer, until Carina discovers her PA has booked her into the wrong resort.

Cowboy Jake Richardson can cook a mean camp-oven roast, track wild horses, breed cattle and knows Australia’s rugged High Country like no other, but he needs to diversify if he wants to keep his land. Tourism seems like the answer, but his housekeeper just quit, the rooms aren’t ready and he doesn’t know a short black from a cappuccino.

Then his first guest arrives.

City slick Carina is smart, classy and disgruntled that her dreamy five-star retreat has been replaced by a rustic homestead beside the Barcoo Creek. Jake has seven days to convince Carina he can deliver all the items on her vacation checklist – including the five-step method to an everlasting relationship…

With him.

Outback Cowboy (Hot Aussie Heroes Book 1) by Margareta Osborn

Margareta Osborn has a lot to achieve in a short space of time in Outback Cowboy.

We have an American heroine (from NYC, no less) who turns up in rural Australia with no idea what to expect, no idea what the local vernacular is, and no mental preparation whatsoever for an entirely different landscape and culture. And in this shorter story we have to believe she can transform into someone who could be in a permanent relationship with an Australian man from the land.

The title itself is a play on the language differences between the US and Australia (we tend to not call our men working the land cowboys).

This is a popular theme for rural romances the world over, and it can go one of two ways. Often authors fall into the trap of painting the “city girl” heroine as vain and stupid, and they make it all about her adjusting while he stays the same – this is when this theme doesn’t work for me.

When it does is when the hero learns a few things about himself, too, and doesn’t condemn the heroine for being from a different world.

I think Margareta Osborn achieved this. This is a hero who is out of his depth in trying to turn his property into a resort, and the heroine has a thing or ten to teach him about that. Sure, she is used to pampering and city life, but she’s definitely not stupid.

However, she is not particularly likeable at the beginning of the story. I have recently enjoyed a few books where an unlikable heroine transforms as we get to know her better. It’s sort of a taboo theme for the romance genre, as readers are always much faster to hate a prickly heroine than they are a bastard of a hero.

So I really appreciate when an author takes some risks with their female characters. Women are allowed to make mistakes and still be liked.

The language differences were done well; I hate it when the culture clash is turned into a joke, but it was done more subtly here. The only thing I noted was that our American leading lady was immediately thinking of eucalypts as “gum trees”. When I worked at an American school in Asia and we hit the Australian studies unit, nobody knew what a gum tree was.

Oh, and the fact she immediately understood temperatures in degrees Celsius!

This is a smaller publisher, and I do think they need to give some more attention to their editing, as there were missing commas and extra apostrophes, and little distractions that occasionally drew me out of the story.

However, this was a solid, quick contemporary romance read that would work for people on either side of the Pacific Ocean.

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

What if you don’t want to be home for Christmas?
Spending Christmas away from home is one thing but English nurse Katie Brooks is spending hers in Coorah Creek; a small town in the Australian outback.
Katie was certain leaving London was the right decision, but her new job in the outback is more challenging than she could have ever imagined.
Scott Collins rescued Katie on her first day in Coorah Creek and has been a source of comfort ever since. But Scott no longer calls the town home – it’s too full of bad memories and he doesn’t plan on sticking around for long.
Scott needs to leave. Katie needs to stay. They have until Christmas to decide their future…

Christmas at Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

This is one of the best “culture clash” romances I’ve read, because it doesn’t treat different cultures as a source of amusement! As someone who has lived years in both Australia and England (and I see the author has similar experiences) this is the most realistic and believable one of these books I can remember reading.

Capturing a romance that happens in December, rather than a romance that is all about Christmas, I think the family issues and the resolution of those family issues was handled REALLY well in a short space of time. I believed in these characters, and they were those rare things: romance characters who act like real people!

I am a bit cautious about reading books set in rural Australia, especially when one of the main characters comes from overseas, as the clichés, the embarrassing stereotypes, and the weird slang tend to be played up to a painful degree. Not the case here.

I needed this well-written, simple (in a good way) Christmas novella after the melodramatic, sexist disaster I just finished reading! I should be looking for more from this author, because she’s one of the better writers I’ve read in recent times.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 11th – 17th May

Funeral Sophia Jacyszyn Ukrainian Catholic Church 12th May 2015

Three priests and my father…

Phew, it’s a relief for this week to be over. Monday was spent at the funeral home and Tuesday was my grandmother’s funeral. Now we’re settling in for everything that comes after, but at least the stress and the very public aspect of farewelling someone are finished.

Very odd to have to figure out how life works after the loss of someone who was at the centre of it. What happens on weekends now, for example? Do you keep going to the same pub for drinks that you used to go to with her on Fridays (we actually DID go this Friday, but it wasn’t the same…)? How about Sunday dinners? The church that was important to her but I would never have attended otherwise?

I’ve been writing thank you letters for the funeral, and have discovered just how many different people were there. Baba used to work for the Department of Defence, and I see their names in the condolence book. I’m trying to track down the people from Defence (I cannot find addresses!) to thank them, but no luck so far. I’d love to know where you are. We’re all a bit humbled by how many people came to show their respect.

Even though it feels like an age since I read a book, it really has only been a couple of weeks. However, I’m easing myself back into it now. I deliberately put all of my review books aside the moment Baba went into hospital, because we knew it was the end and I didn’t want to unfairly review with that hanging over me, but I think I’ve been fair in the past few days, and yet still I haven’t loved the review books I started.

I’ve been rereading a bit. Outlander – which is reminding me just how much humour and warmth the television adaptation’s version is missing in recent episodes. And Pride and Prejudice – I’m just in the mood for it at the moment, and have also been re-watching the 1980 and 1995 adaptations. I’d love for someone brave enough to do an adaptation that is historically accurate come along and do a new version. It’s SO stagey (almost embarrassingly so), but I love the 1980 production more each time I watch it.

This week I also read Sabrina Jeffries’ upcoming book, which had her usual strong writing. However, I think I’m becoming a little tired of new historical romances set around only a few characters in a country house. I think I’m looking for more action and excitement at the moment. A little more plot and a little less lusting!

Random thoughts on the past fortnight.

Sophia Jacyszyn Funeral Brochure

Where’d the Outlander recaps go?

Outlander 2014

My issue with Pride and Prejudice 1995


My review of Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

Reflected in You by Sylvia Day

My review of Untamed by Pamela Clare

Untamed by Pamela Clare

My review of Holding Strong by Lori Foster

Holding Strong by Lori Foster

My review of The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns

The Road to Hope by Rachael Johns

Breaking The Drought by Lisa Ireland

Breaking The Drought by Lisa Ireland

When a smooth-talking, sophisticated city girl comes striding into town on her stiletto heels, he’s the last person who wants to notice…

When Jenna McLean gets roped into attending a matchmaking ball in a small country town, she holds no illusions of meeting the man of her dreams. A no-nonsense magazine editor, Jenna doesn’t believe in leaving love to chance, which is why she’s developed Marriage Material – a fool-proof framework for husband hunting. Shearers and farmhands need not apply.

Sheep grazier Luke Tanner has met women like Jenna before, and knows not to waste his time. With the drought dragging on and bushfire season around the corner, the last thing he needs is a spoiled city girl like Jenna adding to his problems. He’ll help out with the ball because it’s good for the community, but he won’t dance, he won’t flirt, and he definitely won’t be matched.

It’s been a long dry season, but everyone knows when it rains, it pours.

Breaking The Drought by Lisa Ireland

Here’s another entertaining Australian author injecting some life into the rural fiction/romance genre. Australia’s answer to American cowboy romance, rural romance might be different in culture and language, but it appeals for the same reasons.

Breaking The Drought isn’t a romantic comedy, but it has all the elements of one. The city girl who is grudgingly taken into the bush for an escape. The local farmer who knows his town needs an injection of young women if it is to survive, but might not necessarily appreciate everything about it. The social gathering of city women looking for marriage to rural men.

Ireland has a really nice writing style. The plot has been done plenty of times before and even if you haven’t read it yet, you’re bound to have caught at least one bad reality show on television that deals with the same topic! However, some authors do it better than others, and I enjoyed this one.

A few years ago, I was finding Australian rural fiction pretty boring. Lots of sheep shearing and whinging about city people, and not much else. This type of book is much more fun.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Week: 26th May – 1st June

Ukrainians Crimeans and Russian protest against Russia in Canberra Australia 25th May 2014

Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and Russians all protesting against Russia in Canberra last weekend.

I’m going through a phase. Nothing much is exciting me, and I keep DNFing things. I did read a good crime/mystery/romance by Janice Kay Johnson that will be released in July, but then she’s always good.

It might just be me. There’s been a lot going on! I really want to sit myself down and read all the way through series by some favourite authors (like Cindy Gerard and Patricia Briggs). I should just do it instead of putting it off!

RIP USSR Vladimir Putin Russian Agrression Ukraine

So, Europe, where are those sanctions? Russia isn’t even pretending they haven’t invaded Ukraine now. They’re bussing in legions of Chechen mercenaries, and major Russian military types are openly in charge of the invasion.

Even the Berkut – the Ukrainian military police who attacked demonstrators a few months ago – have joined forces with the Ukrainian people to fight the Russians.

When world leaders see evidence the Russians are not only killing Ukrainians, but mutilating their bodies, and when footage comes out of them shooting at a children’s hospital, do they not stop and think something should be done?!

I’m disgusted with Russia, but I’m also disgusted with Europe in general. You won’t be so unfeeling or blasé when Putin starts pushing further west, and by then it will be too late to stop the bastard.

My review of Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

My review of Unmasking Juliet by Teri Wilson

Unmasking Juliet by Teri Wilson

My review of The Marriage Pact by Linda Lael Miller

The Marriage Pact by Linda Lael Miller

My review of Back to Buckhorn by Lori Foster

Back to Buckhorn by Lori Foster

My review of Abducted by a Prince by Olivia Drake

Abducted by a Prince by Olivia Drake

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

From bestselling author Margareta Osborn comes another scintillating rural romance with a devastating love triangle twist. After years of struggling as a single mother, Jodie Ashton has given up on love and passion. What she craves now is security for herself and her beloved daughter Milly. And marriage to widower Alex McGregor, the owner of the prosperous Glenevelyn cattle station in East Gippsland, will certainly offer that. If only he wasn’t so much older and so controlling. Needing space to decide her future, Jodie reluctantly agrees to a girls-only weekend at the Riverton rodeo . Meanwhile, cowboy Nate McGregor vows off women, after his latest one-night stand costs him his job in the Northern Territory. Perhaps it’s time to head back to his family home, Glenevelyn, to check out for himself the ‘gold-digger’ his father seems determined to marry. But first, on his way through Riverton, he plans to stop off at a rodeo. Two lives are about to collide in one passionate moment – with devastating results…

Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn

Some days it seems the only books you can buy in Australia are about twenty and thirty-something farmer women. Walk into a bookshop and they’re everywhere, with near identical covers: young model staring out into a field, with an Akubra plonked on her head.

You have to have something special about your writing if you’re going to stand out in the rural fiction genre, and I think Margareta Osborn is one of the better ones. She knows how to craft a lively story, and – most importantly – knows how to get all the rural talk and lifestyle across without going overboard with the details.

Because, no matter how you put it, most readers aren’t all that interested in sheep and cows!

We meet quite a few characters in the beginning of the book (perhaps a few too many in the first couple of chapters), but the overpopulation situation irons itself out pretty quickly. The best thing was that Osborn made them all individuals with distinctive personalities.

The other work I’ve read by this author had a similar, accessible feel. Sometimes in rural fiction I feel like I’m drowning in lectures about sheep shearing and the evils of city folk, but Osborn doesn’t go there. She creates interesting situations for her characters and uses themes that appeal in any genre.

Definitely one of the better rural books I’ve come across in ages.


Review copy provided by NetGalley.