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

 

Goodreads giveaway closing soon: Driftwood by Mandy Magro

Australian and New Zealand readers have until tomorrow to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Driftwood by Mandy Magro. You can win one of ten copies!

Driftwood by Mandy Magro

When the bushranger heritage of a family explodes into modern day, buried secrets are unearthed… with lasting consequences.

To Taylor Whitworth, knowing that she’ll never meet her deceased biological father is devastating. All she knows is he was a stockman, so she yearns to be like her father and to become a jillaroo. She packs her bags and hits the road, destination unknown, until she happens upon the country township of Driftwood.

Life-burdened Jay Cooper is a cowboy through and through, with his passion for the outback and bad boy image inherited from his forefathers. The whole town whispers about him but Jay doesn’t care. Except that his rough and tumble lifestyle is stopped dead in its tracks when he happens across Taylor on a deserted country road. And soon, their mutual love of horses begins a wonderful friendship that develops when Jay offers Taylor a job as a jillaroo on his cattle station.

Man Drought by Rachael Johns – currently $1.05!

Man Drought by Rachael Johns

Man Drought by Rachael Johns

I read and loved this book a few months ago. HERE is my review. Get it while it’s so cheap!

Imogen Bates moved to the small rural town of Gibson’s Find to start a new life for herself after the death of her husband. Tired of being haunted by the painful memories of her old life, Imogen set her last remaining hopes on the little town and, in particular, pouring her heart and savings into restoring The Majestic Hotel to its former glory. But while the female-starved town might be glad to see a young woman move in, not everyone is happy about Imogen’s arrival.
Sheep and crop farmer Gibson Black once dreamed of having the kind of family his grandfather reminisces about, but he’s learnt not to dream anymore. Living in the mostly male town suits Gibson down to the ground…and he won’t have anyone – least of all a hot redhead from the city – change a thing.
Imogen has never been one to back down from a challenge, especially when it concerns her last chance at happiness. She’s determined to rebuild the pub and create a future for the little town. But can she create a future for Gibson and herself, too?

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

From the author of the bestselling Bella’s Run comes another captivating rural romance set in the the rugged, beautiful high country of East Gippsland. Hope’s Road connects three very different properties, and three very different lives … Sixty years ago, heartbroken and betrayed, old Joe McCauley turned his back on his family and their fifth-generation farm, Montmorency Downs. He now spends his days as a recluse, spying upon the land – and the granddaughter – that should by rights have been his. For Tammy McCauley, Montmorency Downs is the last remaining tie to her family. But land can make or break you – and, with her husband’s latest treachery, how long can she hold on to it? Wild-dog trapper, Travis Hunter, is struggling as a single dad, unable to give his son, Billy, the thing he craves most. A complete family. Then, out of the blue, a terrible event forces the three neighbours to confront each other – and the mistakes of their past.

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

My second Australian rural lit read of the year was an engaging one, rolling over weeks of messy family conflict on the land. Author Margareta Osborn has a nice writing style that sets her apart from others in the genre, and even though some of the farm-speak was as familiar to me as Estonian (a beautiful but impossibly difficult language!), the characters kept me hanging around for more.

If I’m being honest, the star of this book for me was not one of the three adult lead characters (though I didn’t dislike them!) but Travis’ ten-year-old son Billy. Children in fiction tend to either be supremely irritating or very endearing, and Billy was one I liked. He has some issues when it comes to paying attention – a problem dealt with in the story – but he’s also devoted and enthusiastic, and he brightened up scenes.

However that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the others. Poor old Joe, with a life full of disappointments, Tammy with an abusive husband, and completely lost Trevor; there were three people in this one who’d found out life didn’t turn out at all like you expected.

People are people, no matter who they are or where they’re from, and this author ‘got’ that. The city versus country crap (er, garbage) I often have to overlook in rural fiction was nowhere to be seen here, which led to better fleshed-out characters and more interesting conflicts.

There’re a few suspenseful moments in Hope’s Road, followed by one gigantic coincidence towards the end. In my opinion, any book is made better by a bit of excitement, and I thought the final few chapters in particular were good.

I doubt I’ll ever find a piece of rural fiction that would convert me to a life of dealing with livestock (especially some of what Tammy has to go through in this one – my God, I’m too squeamish for that!), but Hope’s Road was entertaining, and makes it into my collection of better Australian rural fiction titles. Recommended for fans of women’s fiction and anyone who dreams of escaping to the bush.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Jonelle Baxter is a young woman in a man’s world – a tough, hardworking motor  mechanic from an idyllic country family. But lately things in her perfect life  have been changing, and her workshop isn’t the only local business that’s  struggling.

Daniel Tyler is new in town, posted from the city to manage  the community bank. As he tries to rein in the spiralling debts of Bundara, he  uncovers all sorts of personal dramas and challenges. The last thing Jonny and  Dan need is an unwanted attraction to each other.

It’s going to take more  than a good drop of rain to break the drought and to keep this small but very  colourful community thriving.

From the bestselling author of The Road  Home comes a moving and heartwarming story about love, change and courage – and the beauty that’s found in the bush, even in the harshest of times.

 

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

 

I received this book as a review copy from the publisher, and at the end of this review I have to mention something that unfortunately had an effect on my reading experience.

 

This is one for the tomboys!

The Sunburnt Country gives you a very good idea of what to expect with its stereotypically Australian title. Set in outback Western Australia, we’re introduced to a town struggling enormously with a drought that’s destroying not only farms, but also business throughout the community. The temporary bank manager, Daniel Tyler, sent out from Perth, is basically there for one purpose: to take people’s livelihoods away.

The heroine of this story, Jonelle Baxter, is too good to be true, if Dan’s love-struck opinion is to be believed! A mechanic who races Australian muscle cars for fun, there’s not a lot of girliness going on here.

If you’re into Australian cars, you’ll love this book. I don’t know the first thing about them, but am a huge Formula One fan who attends races every year, so the scenes describing the pits and the behind the scenes of the races really rang true to me.

Rural books – from any country – tend to be a little self-congratulatory, demonising people who aren’t from the land, and making out that only those who farm are capable of human decency. I tend to judge rural fiction on this point first: if the author goes overboard with country = perfect and city = evil, then I cannot usually look beyond it to enjoy the story.

The author evened the playing field somewhat in The Sunburnt Country, by introducing a male lead character who is from a city. I don’t know what kind of men live in Perth (having never been there), but our Special Forces are based there, and – based on my knowledge of Australian men – city guys are nowhere near as wimpy as Jonelle’s biased opinion tries to make us believe!

I did like that Jonelle is incredibly prejudiced for much of the book, and towards the end realises something has to give. She can’t keep fighting for things to always stay the same. She can’t be stubbornly blind to the possibility of an outsider being the perfect man for her.

There’s a lot of learning both characters have to do here, and nobody ends up the same as they were at the beginning.

There’re a lot of characters in this one, many of whom are struggling with the drought. Covering months of life in small town Australia, this is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of television show McLeod’s Daughters.

This is not the first book I have read from this author, and I can see her writing is developing with each one. Packed full of Australianisms, this is definitely an authentically ‘country’ read.

 

So. My complaint?

I know that when a review copy of a book is sent to a blogger we’re supposed to ignore typos and formatting errors and all of that because it isn’t the finished product. However I have to mention it here, because the ARC I received had an error in every sentence and it definitely had a huge effect on my experience of the book. Most sentences started in lower case, and almost every proper noun was in lower case too. There were apostrophes where there shouldn’t have been and none where they needed to be. Wrong words were often used. Paragraphs weren’t always separated.

Quite frankly, it was a mess and sometimes very difficult to read. I expect some mistakes in ARCs, but not to the point it makes my experience of the book far more negative than it should have been.

I apologise to the author for having to base my opinion of her book on this!

Upcoming Australian Rural Fiction

I returned from Sydney to find I had sixteen new review books, so there’s a lot of reading in my near future!

A number of those books are upcoming “Rural Lit” Australian books.

I think this new, uniquely Australian genre is now coming into its own. Authors are discovering they don’t *only* have to write about sheep shearing and misogynistic fathers, and that there’re endless possibilities for stories.

Here are a few I’ll be reading this month:

Hope's Road by Margareta Osborn

Hope’s Road by Margareta Osborn

From the author of the bestselling Bella’s Run comes another captivating rural romance set in the the rugged, beautiful high country of East Gippsland.

Hope’s Road connects three very different properties, and three very different lives …

Sixty years ago, heartbroken and betrayed, old Joe McCauley turned his back on his family and their fifth-generation farm, Montmorency Downs. He now spends his days as a recluse, spying upon the land – and the granddaughter – that should by rights have been his.

For Tammy McCauley, Montmorency Downs is the last remaining tie to her family. But land can make or break you – and, with her husband’s latest treachery, how long can she hold on to it?

Wild-dog trapper, Travis Hunter, is struggling as a single dad, unable to give his son, Billy, the thing he craves most. A complete family.

Then, out of the blue, a terrible event forces the three neighbours to confront each other – and the mistakes of their past…

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Jonelle Baxter is a young woman in a man’s world – a tough, hardworking motor mechanic from an idyllic country family. But lately things in her perfect life have been changing, and her workshop isn’t the only local business that’s struggling.

Daniel Tyler is new in town, posted from the city to manage the community bank. As he tries to rein in the spiralling debts of Bundara, he uncovers all sorts of personal dramas and challenges. The last thing Jonny and Dan need is an unwanted attraction to each other.

It’s going to take more than a good drop of rain to break the drought and to keep this small but very colourful community thriving.

From the bestselling author of The Road Home comes a moving and heartwarming story about love, change and courage – and the beauty that’s found in the bush, even in the harshest of times.

Song of the Bellbirds by Anne McCullagh Rennie

Song of the Bellbirds by Anne McCullagh Rennie

All young Lizzy wants to do is sing, ride the boundaries of her family’s Queensland property and dream of one day performing on stage. But when a freak storm hits the area, wreaking havoc and bringing tragedy, she swears never to sing another note.

Lizzy, however, has a voice as uplifting as the pure beauty of the song of the bellbirds, and others are not quite so willing to let her remarkable talent go to waste. There is the loving but ambitious Sister Angelica, a natural teacher; the vibrant and dangerously attractive Maestro Leonard Rominski, whose charms Lizzy finds irresistible; and the irrepressible Gran, whose love sustains Lizzy through thrilling highs and crushing lows.

But it is Lizzy alone who will ultimately decide if the price she must pay to sing is too high…

Heart of the Valley by Cathryn Hein – currently on sale on Kindle

Heart of the Valley by Cathryn Hein

Heart of the Valley by Cathryn Hein

Cathryn Hein’s Heart of the Valley is currently $3.20 on Kindle. This is an exceptionally good price, considering how expensive Australian books tend to be.

Part rural fiction, part contemporary romance, the story takes place in regional Australia, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Blurb:

When a tragic horse float accident leaves young showjumper Brooke Kingston unable to properly manage her family’s Hunter Valley property, she believes nothing worse can happen. Until she discovers her well-intentioned family have employed a new farm manager for her beloved Kingston Downs. But stubbornness runs in the family, and Brooke isn’t about to leave her home or abandon her darling horse Poddy. Working on the principle possession is nine-tenths of the law, she digs in her spurs and stays put.
 
Lachie Cambridge is unimpressed to arrive at his new job and find the boss’s sister still in residence. Lachie immediately classifies Brooke as yet another spoilt brat, but to his surprise Brooke proves nothing of the sort. She’s clever, talented and capable, but it’s her vulnerability he can’t resist and after a shaky start they develop a friendship. A friendship that soon evolves into something more.
 
As his feelings for Brooke deepen, and the Valley and its people wriggle further into his affections, Lachie starts to question what he really wants. He’s always believed that home is where your heart is, and his lies in the soil of his family property Delamere. Torn by his love for Brooke, Lachie must make a decision – to chase his dream or follow his heart.
 
But Fate has other plans, and Brooke and Lachie are left reeling when the very things that brought them together now threaten to tear them apart.

The theme of sexism in rural fiction

In Australia, Rural Lit (or Farm Lit, or Rural Romance, or any of its many names) is all the rage. The market is saturated with books about young women struggling to make their way in the Australian Outback. As with any genre, some books are great, some okay, some hugely original, others carbon copies of those that came before…

Not all that long ago I complained about how many of these books focus on the woman whose fathers don’t want ‘girls doing men’s work’. (I also wrote about why traditional romance heroes are losing their appeal with me) It seemed excessive to me that there could be that much old school sexism still running through a supposedly forward-thinking country as Australia.

I take it back.

Earlier today, feminist group Destroy the Joint drew my attention to an article titled Controversial farm succession plan. Here’s the gist of it:

The reason is a somewhat controversial succession strategy which her farmer-father Richard and his three brothers have in place. Their policy excludes family women from any role – now or in the future – on their beef farm, near Mt Gambia in South Australia.

Ogilvie outlined his no female policy at a recent Beef & Lamb field day near Marton, in the central North Island. He admits it has made him and his brothers some enemies, but he is unapologetic.

Ogilvie says on his farm the next generation comes on board as soon as they are able, normally at 18 – but that is where the policy of no women kicks in. Only the sons can stay on to run the farm if they want to. If they don’t, they are effectively paid off by being given a ‘good off farm education’. However, that’s a full and final payment.

For females, such as Richard’s only daughter, Courtney, there is no way they can stay on the farm.

“The girls are told right from a very early age about the ‘boys only’ structure so they know that they will be given the opportunity to get a very good education and that will be their share of the farm,” he says.

The policy even goes a stage further. As well as daughters being kept out of the business – so are wives.

“There are four brothers in this business and we’ve all married slightly different women. My sisters in laws are all good, but I’ve seen other families where the demise of the business has been because the wives start arguing the point about who’s got the best kitchen, which is irrelevant to the farming business but it causes angst.”

Want to giggle at his use of “sisters in laws“?

 

The face of today’s sexism.

Because, didn’t ya know? Mr Ogilvie’s penis makes the world go round (sorry for that mental image).

It got me thinking about Rural Lit and its common themes. Do I believe everyone in certain parts of the country thinks like the misogynistic Ogilvie family? Of course not. But it does make me wonder about how hard it is for women to get anywhere in certain pockets of Australian society, and it makes me think about how relevant those themes are for the genre.

Of course, it also makes me wish ten generations of daughters and only daughters on the Ogilvie family. I’ll bet them ten trillion dollars the world doesn’t end.