You are currently touring regional Queensland and New South Wales for your new novel A Changing Land. How are you finding the tour and the responses of people you meet?
As with last year’s tour everyone is extremely welcoming and interested. Last week I covered 900 km for 9 events, including a quick fly into Wagga for a lunch on Saturday-which was a great day. Compared to last year I have noticed that shoppers are certainly more price driven, yet remain very interested in the mechanics of both writing and my job, that of a full time grazier.
Your writing has been described as bush fiction and your two novels as a rural saga. How would you describe your fiction or your personal approach to bush fiction or rural saga writing in The Bark Cutters and A Changing Land?
In these two novels I wanted to explore the emotional attachment that generational landholders have towards their properties. I believed the only way for a reader to feel the cycle of continuity that exists in a generational farming family was to experience a story that traced four generations. The use of an interweaving narrative allowed me to compare and contrast both characters and environment in two distinct time periods while keeping the property Wangallon at the heart of the story: the land is in fact ‘a character’ in the work. It was only after I completed the first novel that I realised the term saga would be used to classify it.
A Changing Land opens with:
Sarah stared at the headstones, at the ageing monuments silhouetted by the rising moon. The clearing was strangely quiet and she wondered whether the spirits of Wangallon were welcoming her grandfather, Angus, at some other sacred place on the property. Lifting the latch on the peeling wooden gate, she stepped through grass grown long by recent Spring rains.
What makes an engaging opening to a story, or what is an example of one of your favourite story openings and what makes it work so well for you as a reader?
An atmospheric setting will always pique a reader’s interest. As a reader I want to be able to visualise the setting as I read. I want to breathe in this new world and be able to walk around in it.
What have been some of the fun or challenging parts of writing about a family across multiple novels?
Having not initially planned on writing a sequel I was pleased I did some comprehensive ‘CSI’ type profiling on my original characters. I had copious notes to refer back to when writing A Changing Land and really enjoyed revisiting some of the characters. There is also the sadness of leaving characters behind and then the challenge of creating engaging new characters that spring from the page. With the publication of A Changing Land I feel a little bereft at the loss of my ‘extended’ family.
In a recent blog post, you mentioned your to-read list included novels by authors such as Sara Foster, Helene Young and Lisa Heidke. What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and do you have some favourites?
My favourite author is Hemingway. I admire his sparse prose and powerful themes. On the home front I’ve always steered towards more literary authors; David Malouf, Kate Grenville and Peter Carey. Evocative works that also manage to examine the human condition make for marvelous reading. Although I’ve never been addicted to a particular genre, hosting guest authors on my site means my reading has expanded considerably over the last year, which can only be a positive.
What is one of your favourites stories from childhood, and what made it stand out for you?
I love Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. He was such a scallyway, always getting into trouble. I wanted to be as adventurous as Peter, however I had to wait a few years before I got my chance.
Did you find your second novel, A Changing Land, easier or more difficult to write than your first novel, The Bark Cutters, and why?
A Changing Land was much easier to write as I already knew the world my story was set in, I knew my environment. I could mentally wander the landscape of the novel and draw a mudmap of the exact location of the Wangallon homestead, river, aboriginal camp and creek and I could visualise my characters talking to each other. It was through them that the plot unfolded a natural progression of the original story. Most importantly I already had both my narrative voice and structure for the work.
In the past about two years, there have been a varied range of newly published Australian novelists who are being described as rural novelists, who also live in rural areas scattered around Australia. What are your thoughts on this new range of rural authors and stories?
Every author no matter the genre writes from a specific viewpoint. Our lives are as diverse as Australia’s landscape and the newer stories within the generic term rural spans from the more urbanised chick lit versions to intrigue and mystery. There has been concern about market saturation however I believe a finely crafted novel with universal themes has great appeal no matter the major theme of a particular work.
What is next for your fiction?
I signed another contract with Random House last year and will have a third work in the rural genre coming out in 2012. I also have a contemporary work near completion.
More on Nicole Alexander and her fiction can be found at www.nicolealexander.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review