You write Australian rural fiction. What makes Australian rural fiction appeal to you as a writer, as opposed to other kinds of fiction?
I could never imagine writing anything but rural fiction at this stage. As a fifth-generation farmer my ties to the land are very strong. Rural life is what I was born to, what I live, what I dream about. I see it, I smell it, and I work at it everyday. My surroundings give me a sense of place, of community, of belonging. Rural life grounds me and makes me who I am.
My family’s property had been in our care for 150 years which is something very special in this modern and transient age. Where I live is a very beautiful place, tucked into the lee side of the Great Dividing Range. I have also lived and worked on properties from East Gippsland to outback Queensland and thus, my novels will always have the Australian rural landscape as one of the characters in its own right. I can’t help it. I feel for our country so deeply, it just inherently pours through my writing. I guess that’s what happens when you feel so passionately about something you love.
The number and range of Australian rural novels focusing on farm life being published has increased in recent years, with authors such as Fleur McDonald and Fiona Palmer in southwest Western Australia, Nicole Alexander in northwest New South Wales and Mandy Magro in north Queensland among the relatively new authors of Australian rural novels. Do you read alot of these Australian rural novels or do you tend to read other kinds of novels?
I now read very widely because it was suggested to me, as an author, you should read more than you write. In saying this, it is very hard to fit lots of reading in around writing, farming and family commitments. This has made me very ‘picky’ as there are so many fabulous authors out there from whom I can learn a lot. Such a conundrum! Some of my recent favourites have been The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and Last Summer by Kylie Ladd.
What can readers look forward to in your debut novel Bella’s Run?
Bella’s Run is a book which bursts with vitality and love for life on the land. It is also both funny and heart-wrenching.
Bella Vermaelon and her best friend Patty are two fun-loving country girls bonded in a sisterhood no blood tie could ever beat.
Now they are coming to the end of a road trip which has taken them from their family farms in the rugged Victorian high country to the red dust of the Queensland outback. For almost a year they have mustered on cattle stations, cooked for weary stockmen, played hard at rodeos and danced through life like a pair of wild tumbleweeds.
And with the arrival of Patty’s brother Will and Bella’s cousin Macca, it seems love is on the horizon too …
Then a devastating tragedy strikes, and Bella’s world is changed for ever.
So she runs – from the only life she has ever known. But can she really turn her back on the man she loves? Or on the land that runs deep in her blood.
Bella’s Run is a story about finding yourself, the search for love and the place you can call home.
You also have an ebook novella due out in December, ahead of your second novel. What can readers look forward to in the novella?
A Bush Christmas is an ebook novella that bounces with energy, fun and romance. Set on a grazing property in the high country of East Gippsland, and in celebration of the way the bush does the festive season, it is a rollicking read. It will be released on December 1, 2012.
Who is one of your favourite characters from written fiction and makes them work so well for you as a reader?
Oh gosh, there are so many, but if I had to pick one I’d say Norah Linton, my first true heroine from the Billabong Books (Mary Grant Bruce). I say this because she was my initial introduction to being so immersed in the world the author created, that my life became Norah’s. At the age of twelve, my horse Dapples became Norah’s horse Bobs. Our family farm became Billabong Station and in time, I fell in love with Wally. It took me quite a while to find my own Wally but eventually we found each other.
How would you describe your novel writing process and the experience of writing your first novel?
I have been writing all my life, but it wasn’t until my youngest child went to kinder that I actually found ‘the space’ to sit down and start a full length novel. A published writing friend also advised me to ‘learn the craft of writing’, so I enrolled in a Year of the Novel with the Victorian Writers Centre in Melbourne and then went on to do the Advanced Year of the Novel with Andrea Goldsmith. It was an excellent investment (six hours travelling every second month for two years) because on the final day I was able to announce my writing contract with Random House. Bella’s Run was completed over that time.
Unfortunately I don’t have luxury of deciding when I write. With three children, a husband and a small farm to run, writing is squeezed in. From time to time, I also help my father on his property, so things are always hectic. My favourite place to write is at the homestead where my grandmother used to live. I find the historic serenity of the place allows words to flow. But then the next day you might find me with my laptop on the tailgate of the LandCruiser up on a mountain, or standing in the cattleyards scribbling away in my little farm notebook while I’m supposed to be drafting cattle; my writing comes with me everywhere.
What kinds of fiction did you read as a teenager and does that have a significant impact on the way you write fiction now?
Rural fiction has been around for a very long time. I was brought up on a reading diet of Mary Grant Bruce, Ion Idriess, Dame Mary Durack, Sir Sidney Kidman, Evan Green, Neville Shute, Tom Cole, and the list goes on. These were the treasure trove of literary material to be found in the old cedar bookcase at the family homestead. In later years I found the likes of Colleen McCulloch and Di Morrissy. I devoured the stories from all these authors and thus it was no great leapt of the imagination to know what kind of novel I was destined to write.
If you could bring any fiction author back from the dead for one day for the sole purpose of discussing the craft of writing fiction, who would you choose and why?
Mary Grant Bruce (24 May 1878 – 2 July 1958). She was an Australian children’s author and journalist, who was the creator of an iconic Australian series known as the Billabong books. It was her way of making the Australian bush come alive in her writing – to be recognized as a character within itself – which inspired me to want to do the same. When reading Mary Grant Bruce’s work you felt like you were feeling, touching and smelling the bush as you lived the life of Norah, Jim and Wally. I can only hope I have achieved some semblance of this in Bella’s Run. I’d love to know if Mary thought so.
What is the top piece of advice you would like to offer for aspiring novelists starting their first novel manuscript?
Learn the craft of writing from someone you respect, a person who encourages you step beyond your comfort zone but at the same time is respectful of ‘your voice’. Connect with other writers; you will learn much from them as well. And if you really want to write a novel, sit down, push aside that insidious voice that is saying you can’t do it and let those words flow. Unfortunately you can’t write a novel just by dreaming about it.
More on Margareta Osborn and her fiction can be found at www.margaretaosborn.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review