Next on our fabulous guest blogger list we have Australian best-selling author Fleur McDonald. Fleur grew up in Orrorroo, South Australia, and completed her secondary education in Adelaide. After school, she spent a couple of years "jillarooing" in South and Western Australia. Fleur lives with her husband and two children on a station near Esperance, in Western Australia, and she is very involved in the daily management of their 8000 acres, while juggling being a mum and writing. Fleur was the highest selling debut author for 2009, with her first novel Red Dust, and she was short-listed for the Australian Book Industry Awards in the Newcomers (Debut author) category. Her second novel, Blue Skies, was released in Australia in April 2010. You can read more about Fleur on her website.
RURAL LIT. EVER HEARD OF IT?
When I first heard the term ‘Rural Lit’ I scoffed! What else could they come up with! We’ve got Women’s Fiction, Chick Lit, Hen Lit and so on, but ‘Rural Lit’?
Well, I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to write about my life. I’m a farmer, mum and writer, who lives eight hours from the nearest capital city (Perth, in Western Australia) and one hours drive from the closest town, that I can buy groceries at!
Rural Lit, in Australia, is immensely popular – in a publishing industry that is depressed, Rural Lit is the shining star. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because we like to read about the romantic side of land; the girl who has taken on the running of the farm after her husband died, or the girl who knows she can run the farm but her father won’t let her. Is it seeing the girl (or woman) overcome hurdles and obstacles, in a setting that we love? Well for me, it’s the woman overcoming anything that gets in her way.
Women have always been involved in the agricultural industry, more as wives helping out their husbands, than anything else, but as a women begin to break into forefront of agribusiness companies, research and development and those sorts of things, we have started to be recognised for what we do contribute. Rural lit is unique because so few people live it, breathe it and can write about it, with authority. There are so many stories out there, just begging to be told!
Yes, the publishing industry is depressed in Australia. I have heard of authors that have had a one book contract, not being re-signed for their second one if their book hasn’t sold well. One of the things I’ve learnt is that above all, the industry is a business and if you’re a star for a while, you’re lucky. What’s more likely is that you’ll pay out your advance and not get too much more.
My call story is very different to many authors. I was picked up off the slush pile, without an agent or any formal writing training. I write, because I love it – I like to tell stories and perhaps that’s why my novel resonated with my publishing house, Allen and Unwin (the largest independent publishing house in Australia). I could tell a story. (More detail on my "call story" can be read on my website.)
I have begun to hear of a few more authors being picked up from the slush pile. Publishers realise that it is very difficult to get an agent and there are often wonderful manuscripts that are ‘the next big thing’ in that pile. If the slush pile is paid more attention to now, than it was, say ten years ago, I don’t know, but I can name three other authors who have come by contracts, that way.
Allen and Unwin took Red Dust to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008 and sold the book to Verlag Blanvalet before it had hit the shelves in Australia. By the time they had finished negotiating with them, Allen and Unwin had put together a two book deal. (Blue Skies hadn’t even been written when I signed that contract!)
The US does seem an unreachable target for my genre, but Europe isn’t and that’s where I hope my books will head next.
I now have a wonderful agent, who has now negotiated a two book deal. I’m currently writing Purple Roads, which is my third book, due out in April 2012, while Silver Gums will be on the shelves in 2014.
To publicise my writing, I was lucky enough to go on a book tour, when my second book, Blue Skies, first came out. I visited New South Wales and Tasmania, as well as having many phone interviews. Allen and Unwin take charge of the publicity, organise everything and are basically wonderful, in that area! However, if I was able to pick up some extra publicity through a contact or the internet, they are happy for us to do it, just so long as we let them know what we’re doing and it doesn’t breach our contract.
The internet has been a valuable tool in promoting my books; that’s something I’m able to do on a daily basis. For me, time away from the farm, is difficult (I still work full on the farm as well as caring for two children, one with a developmental disability). So to have interaction with my readers and being able to promote my books on line, is really important... Just so long as it doesn’t interfere with my writing time!
But you know what? All of this stuff I’ve just talked about is the business side of it. The real side for me is the passion I have to tell stories about strong female characters. Ones that make it through by themselves. They don’t need a bloke, if there isn’t one around (although my characters are fairly partial to the good looking farmer, with the strong, tanned arms!) but they can achieve and succeed in an industry that even now, is still male dominated. It’s also a privilege to be in a position to tell people who live in the cities about our life and where their food comes from. That’s why I write.