For those not familiar with your novels, how would you describe your fiction writing?
My writing is rural romance. Romance set in the harshness and beauty of country life.
You have done a range of things from speedway driving to secretarial work to running the local shop at Pingaring, a small town about midway between Perth and Esperance in Western Australian. How did you come to start writing novels?
Writing was something I guess I fell into. For me it was having a story I wanted to put out there. I have a friend and she works hard on their family farm and i loved that she was doing it and doing it well. This got me thinking about how it would make a great story and before long it had evolved in my mind, so much that I had to start typing it out so I could get some rest. Then it steam rolled on. Before long I had 50,000 words.
The synopsis of your novel The Family Farm begins, “Isabelle Simpson longs to take over the family farm, but her ailing father is locked in a tragedy of the past and won’t give her the chance she deserves. The stand-off between them threatens to tear the family apart.” Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing The Family Farm?
Well after I had my initial 50,000 words I needed more infomation about the writing world and joined the ASA and entered their mentorship program. I won a place and worked with WA writer Janet Woods. I learnt lots about how a manuscript needed to be set out and how long a single title book should be etc, so I went back and typed another 50,000 words and many drafts later I sent it off to Penguin. I didn’t have an agent but I chose Penguin because they published Rachael Treasure. A relative who read my work sent me one of Rachael’s books and after reading Jillaroo I believed there was a market for rural romances. So I sent this to Penguin in my letter and sent them the synopsis and the first three chapters. Lucky for me they picked it up off the slush pile and liked what they read. Then after more edits and an extra 30,000 words we ended up with The Family Farm.
Do you do much planning before you begin writing a novel, or do you do most of the planning as you go?
I like to plan a bit. Usually I will start with an idea. I will toss this idea around in my head for a while until a few more details take hold. Then I will dribble these ideas out, much like a synopsis. It’s usually about three to four pages of the characters and what will happen to them. I usually have an idea of how I want it to end and some of the things I want to happen through the middle. Then I start typing from chapter one…and sometimes the characters take me to different places or ideas will pop up as I’m typing and little bits will change. But I usually can’t start until I have that synopsis written out.
What makes a great first chapter of a novel for you, and is this significantly different from what makes a great short story?
First chapters are very important as I’m one of those people who struggle to stick with a book if it’s boring me to tears at the start. I like to have a bit of mystery, something that makes you want to read on to learn more and to be instantly drawn to the character. It’s the same for any length story. You have to have great characters. Although, you can’t please every reader. My idea of a great character is not the same for many others.
Who is one of your favourite literary characters and what makes that character stand out for you?
At the moment my favourite character is Rose from Richelle Mead’s VA [Vampire Academy] series. She’s tough, strong, not afraid to speak her mind, and is flawed. She’s not perfect and no one is. I guess most of us would like characters we can relate to or we want to be like. I’m in the process of writing my own YA series so that’s why I’ve been taken by Rose. But most of my favourite characters are the same and it’s the way I like to write my own characters. Strong women who stand by their beliefs and realise they can do anything they want. I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl…can you tell?
Do you read much Australian fiction, and do you have some favourites?
I love Australian fiction. I have lots of favourites from Helene Young, Rachael Treasure, Bronwyn Parry, Fleur McDonald… I love anything thats set in country Australia and I’m a romance girl. But the younger side of me also loves Richelle Mead, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give to new writers?
The best bit of advice I could give new writers is to just write. Sit down and type out your story. That’s all I did and when it was done I went and started the drafts. The first thing is making sure you have something to work on. It doesn’t matter if what your writing sounds crap because you can always go back and fix it up. Better to have something on the page than nothing.
What is next for your fiction writing?
My next book has just been signed up with Penguin and will be released at the start of next year. It is set in the shearing sheds of WA as we follow a female rousie who learns to shear. And I’m trying something new with the YA series which I’ve just started also.
More on Fiona Palmer and her fiction can be found at www.fionapalmer.com.
The Australian Literature Review