What would you say makes a fascinating main character?
I think it’s important for a main character to be believable and likeable and to be someone the reader can relate to, care about and would like to have as a friend. My characters tend to be what fellow writer Christine Webber calls SWOFTY’s – single women over fifty. My books celebrate mature women and the heroes worthy of them.
I like to start each book by putting my main character in a challenging situation –
- In Band of Gold, Anna’s husband puts his wedding ring on the table on Christmas morning and says ‘I don’t want to be married any more’.
- In Broken Threads, Jan’s son dies in a surfing accident which leads to a combination of blame and grief and threatens to break the family apart.
- In The Sand Dollar, Jenny is unsuccessful for her substantive position and offered a redundancy, then finds a sand dollar which reminds her of her godmother in Oregon.
- In The Dreamcatcher, Ellen is suffering from terrifying nightmares and has a strange premonition immediately before her brother’s old army buddy walks into her bookshop.
- In Madeline House, Beth flees from her controlling husband, a respected Sydney surgeon and travels to Florence, Oregon unsure what her future holds.
How do you choose the settings for your novels?
I set them in places I’m familiar with. Both Band of Gold and Broken Threads are set in Sydney where I lived for several years, while my Oregon Coast Series is set in the coastal town of Florence in Oregon.
I’m often asked why a Scot living on the Sunshine Coast set a series of books on the Oregon Coast in the USA. It all began over 30 years ago when I was working in Higher Education and took a forced transfer to teach in a country town university in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. I didn’t want to go the country. I wanted to get back to the city – to the bright lights of Sydney. However, to Wagga Wagga I went and there, to my surprise I met this hunk of a gentle giant who’d moved there from USA to teach in the same faculty as me. At the ripe old age of 37, I’d almost – but not quite – given up hope of meeting my soulmate. Here he was.
Fast forward around ten years, when I had started to write fiction and my mother-in-law, now widowed and in her eighties, decided to move from California to Florence on the Oregon Coast. This meant we went to visit on a regular basis, and was my first introduction to this beautiful part of the world. The deep forests and wild ocean beaches reminded me of northern Scotland, as did the weather, but there the similarity ended. Florence is widely known as a tourist haven for those who enjoy fishing, horse-riding on the beach, and driving on the magnificent sand dunes which stretch for 40 miles. There’s also the famous Heceta Head lighthouse, said to be the most photographed in the country. The Oregon Coast is also famous for its lighthouses. And the town has been hosting an annual Rhododendron festival since 1908.
Since I now live on the Sunshine Coast I have included references to that in Band of Gold, when Anna visits Peregian Beach, and The Sand Dollar in which Jenny starts off in Noosa.
Can you share a little of your journey to publication with us?
My background is in primary teaching and university teaching in teacher education. From that I moved into education management in Health, then Complementary medicine, before retiring to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Most of my career my writing consisted of course materials, reports, submission and boring stuff like that. But I’d always wanted to write fiction. I started by taking a couple of courses online and by correspondence, but they had me writing short stories which I didn’t enjoy. I then thought I’d write a Mills and Boon type story and actually wrote two which I submitted for publication, but I realised that I didn’t enjoy reading them so should write what I wanted to read. I like to read about mature women like myself, women with a bit of history. So by the time – 18 months – I heard back from M&B asking me to revise and resubmit, I was writing something else entirely. I’d also tried a few writing groups before finding my current one – one which works for me. Then I tried to get published by going down the traditional route – submitting to agents and publishers. I received very nice letters back but all rejections – I didn’t fit their lists. So I decided if I wanted to write about the mature woman I’d have to publish myself. A few have been successful in the traditional route – Liz Byrski being a case in point.
I believe that older women and the events which impact on their lives are often ignored in literature. Life for older women presents similar and different challenges to their younger counterparts. They still look for a HEA, but theirs may include stepchildren – even teenage stepchildren – and ex partners with their attendant issues. I can also explore those issues which only emerge with years. Issues such as aging and death of parents, retrenchment, retirement, downsizing, grown children, grandchildren, widowhood and the empty nest syndrome.
When I made the decision to self-publish it wasn’t without a lot of research on the ins and outs of self-publishing. I was aware of the importance of finding an editor, one I could work with and who wouldn’t pull punches, and a good cover designer and formatter. I found these and they’ve become my team, along with my critique partner, writing group and beta readers.
Where can readers buy your books?
In addition to digital copies on Amazon and Amazon Unlimited, readers can pick up paperback copies at most Sunshine Coast bookshops – can I recommend my favourite Annie’s Books on Peregian – and at Little Gnome. Angus &Robertson, Brookside, Mary Ryan, Milton and Books@Stones in Brisbane. If you don’t live near any of those, your local bookshop should be able to order copies.
Are the characters in your stories based on real people?
The short answer is no. However, there is a little bit of my husband in each of my heroes, while Travis in The Dreamcatcher has a lot of my brother-in-law in him. Several of my heroines do share some experiences with me – Jenny and I were both made redundant from a Health Service, Anna and I were both teachers, and I’d love to own a bookshop like Ellen does. I guess I pick up bits and pieces from what I hear and read and they all make their way into my entirely fictional characters
What I’m aiming to do in my writing is to provide characters who my readers can relate to, who become friends. One of my favourite authors, Marcia Willet who sets her books in the south of England, does this and I love meeting old friends when I open a new book. That’s why, although they’re stand-alone books, when you read The Dreamcatcher and Madeline House you’ll meet characters you first met in The Sand Dollar. In Broken Threads the reader meets old friends from Band of Gold. This will happen with all my books.
I’m currently over half-way though my next book – Champagne for Breakfast – which is a stand-alone, although it is the story of Rosa, a minor character in The Sand Dollar. It is set in Noosa where The Sand Dollar begins and also features Jenny and Mike from the Oregon Coast Series.
My recent release Madeline House is the third in my Oregon Coast Series.
When Beth Carson flees her controlling husband, a Sydney surgeon, and begins a new life in Florence, Oregon, she thinks he can’t hurt her anymore. She’s wrong.
Set on the beautiful Oregon Coast this is a tale of a woman who seeks to rise above the challenges life has thrown at her and establish a new life for herself.
You can buy it at getBook.at/MadelineHouse
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