Nicole Alexander is an acclaimed voice in Australian rural fiction, with her new book Stone Country, her ninth historical novel, hitting the Top Ten best seller lists within days of release.
Hi there I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and today Nicole talks about giving up a career in fashion to become a fourth generation grazier, the vivid and visceral landscapes that give her work such a strong sense of place, and the passionate emotion that drives her characters.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- What it’s like being a fourth generation grazier
- The power of setting
- Learning to live well in a man’s world
- Why city slickers love country stories
- The writers she admires most
- What she’d do differently second time around
Where to find Nicole Alexander:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny: But now, here’s Nicole. . Hello there Nicole and welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.
Jenny: Beginning at the beginning – was there a “Once Upon a Time” moment when you decided you wanted to write fiction?? And if so what was the catalyst for it?
Nicole: [00:00:28] There was a catalyst I guess. I grew up on a rural property surrounded with a lot of readers and storytellers. And my father used to sit around the dining room table with us and regale us with all these wonderful stories from the past. Tales that had come down through the generations.
[00:00:49] And one of those stories was about the actual settlement of our property.My great grandfather selected our land in 1893 and he chose a site for the homestead near the banks of a creek in that area.
[00:01:04] And in those early days he had some men with him. They spent their time cutting timber and building fences and shepherding the sheep which they’d over-landed from another property to the east.
Now we’re talking 1893 so as you can imagine the days and nights would have been equally long. And I always imagined that the monotony would have been quite extraordinary. That monotony was apparently only broken by the monthly arrival of the post.
The magic of reading
A supply rider would arrive on horseback delivering mail and other essential goods to those remoter settlers. And one thing that was delivered to my great grandfather in that first year of settlement was a book, a copy of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.
[00:01:54] It arrived wrapped up in brown paper and twine inside a saddle bag on the back of the pack horse. And you know when I think about that year. 1893, and the arrival of that novel, I can just imagine his excitement. I see him radiant, by the light of a flickering candle. Or sitting beneath fat lazy moons and the Bush stretching out around him in this really engulfing silence. That was the story I heard at a very early age.
[00:02:30] And that’s one of the reasons why when I got a little bit older I started considering the possibility of eventually writing about our past or history.
Jenny: It sparks the question in my mind. What made your great grandfather go there? What did he do before he decided to go way out there?
Nicole: [00:02:53] Well. my father’s side of the family came from Ireland, and they went across to New Zealand first.
Jenny: [00:03:00] But they obviously didn’t stay there.
The Australian adventure begins
Nicole: [00:03:04] Well, I’m not quite sure why, but they’d heard that there’d been problems with the Maori Wars and the unrest. And I think that there was a little bit of a concern there. A lot of Irish, obviously as you would know,came across to New Zealand. Particularly from early eighteen hundreds on after the potato famine and then the repercussions from that.
[00:03:31] So they left New Zealand and then came to Australia. They arrived in South Australia and then travelled northwards. My great grandfather was one of the first people to take up land along the Murray River under the Robertson Land Act in 1861. He was there for a couple of years and then I guess he was just a wanderer, because he continued going northwards and he picked up his wife along the way.
[00:04:00] My great grandmother. And then they ended up on a property eventually that was on the table lands area of north eastern New South Wales and they were there for quite a few years. Then they became concerned about foot rot in sheep.
[00:04:17] So he decided to go a little bit further to the west to a drier area which he certainly did do. Yeah that’s where the family’s been ever since. He died in 1903 and he’s actually buried on our property.
Being ‘Australia’s bush storyteller’
Jenny: [00:04:31] Gosh that’s amazing. Your publishers dubbed you “Australia’s newest bush storyteller” on your debut novel The Bark Cutters did follow your family history quite closely, didn’t it?
Nicole: [00:04:54] Part of it was so The Bark Cutters was an inter-generational narrative over two distinct time frames so from mid to late eighteen hundreds and then a more contemporary section in the 1980s.
It did follow the life of generational grazing families from arriving in Australia, establishing a property and then the generations after that. So that idea of being on your ancestors on the land. And that your literally very aware of the fact that you’re really only a custodian of that property for the next generation. So yes I most certainly there were snippets of my own background in that, but I have to say that all the rest of it is made up.
Jenny:[00:05:35] But you’ve stayed true to that particular theme through nine books, very much the rural storyteller and family saga. Aren’t you.
Nicole: [00:05:45] Yes I suppose I do try and bring those personal relationships into stories. People don’t necessarily like their work I suppose, to be classed as family sagas, but for me the stories bring an interpersonal dynamic between family members. Particularly when you’re in most cases talking about running a business in rural Australia. I think it’s important to bring those those threads together.
An outback childhood
Jenny: You’re a fourth generation grazier living 600 km north west of Sydney. As a child you had a very unusual life by most people’s standards – doing your education by Correspondence School for example. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of it is that you returned to live there after several years away?
Nicole: [00:06:52] Yes, we did have unusual schooling.For the first few years Mum taught us around the dining room table.
And then when we grew older we got received our lessons through the mail from Black Friday, the correspondence school in Sydney. I went to a local primary school for a couple of years to get used to mixing with more children, basically because most of the time I just playing with my two brothers and sister on the property.
And then I went to boarding school in Sydney and then university. I actually had a couple of years working in Singapore in fashion and I started doing a lot more writing when I was working in Singapore as well. And when I came back to Australia I was offered a role marketing role at the National Trust which was great. You know, a great opportunity, obviously.
[00:07:36] And I rang up my parents and I said to my Dad ‘Dad look I’ve been offered this great job blah blah blah etc’ and he said ‘ great well done. But have you ever thought of coming home and being involved in your own family’s business because we’ve been around for a while too.’
So he talked me, I guess into coming home. That’s how I ended up back on the property. My decision making behind that was ‘Look I’ll come back for 12 months. Yes I wouldn’t mind a break, as I have been living in Singapore for three years. I’ll just see how it goes, relax and enjoy being back and involved in the family business for a short period of time.
[00:08:17] But of course that’s 20 years ago now. So I never left. And I guess the longer I stayed on the property the more I really enjoyed being involved in a family business. Away from the corporate constraints and the restraints that can happen in that world. And the politics as well, to a certain extent.
[00:08:40] But I had entered a very male dominated world, 20 years ago. Agriculture was still a very male dominated society back then.
Great roles for rural women
[00:08:47] Now there’s all these wonderful roles for women in agriculture. Everything from – well if you want to be a chopper pilot and go to the Top End and help muster cattle you can do that. Similarly if you want to study agronomy, soil health, that type of stuff.
[00:09:03] I mean there’s some wonderful opportunities for women. But certainly when I came home, I know within a couple of months of my arrival, I heard our stockman make a comment to my dad. He said ‘she won’t stay for very long, you know. She’ll just hang around for a couple of months and then head back to the party set in Sydney.
[00:09:23] My dad didn’t say anything and I thought ‘Wow, they just obviously don’t think that I’m cut out for this type of life. I’m the type of person that likes a challenge. And so I thought I might just stay for a little bit longer.
Jenny: [00:09:36] I think it’s rather wonderful that your Dad would have been the one to even suggest it. I mean you did have brothers as well didn’t you?
Nicole: [00:09:45] Yes absolutely. I have two brothers, but neither of them were particularly interested in taking it on as a full time career.
A letter to my 29-year-old self
Jenny: You did publish online the letter to your 29-year-old self talking through some of the thoughts that you had when you were making that decision. It was a very real personal thing wasn’t it?
Nicole: [00:10:12] Well it was, because I had a lot of friends saying ‘Oh Nick , you have been in the city environment for a long time now, do you think it’s the right decision to go back to the country?’
I mean we are eight and a half hours drive north west of Sydney. We are 100 kilometres from the nearest major town. So I think they thought well – I’ve done some different things but part of that background had been fashion including some modelling too. So they all thought ‘she’s so unsuited to this.’
It was so a very different. But I really enjoyed it. I did take the view that in order to be taken seriously by the men that I was working with I really had to try and come to grips with how everything worked. Even if I couldn’t quite accomplish everything because my physicality. And I think that from that point of view it took quite a long time to be accepted.
Didn’t it make any difference at I said you know boss’s daughter by any stretch of the imagination. I didn’t take time to be accepted but I think in that length of time there was a lot more respect on both sides as well. When I first went back, I thought well why don’t they just treat me as as one of the team so to speak.
[00:11:41] But it’s a different dynamic out there. First you have older men working with younger women and 20 years ago that was a problem for some people. They used to be working in very gender specific roles as well.
[00:11:55] So it does take time for people to get used to different ideas you know as we all know not everyone’s comfortable embracing change.
Riding the ranch – on quad bikes
Jenny: [00:12:03] Now I don’t know if this is a stereotype but I imagine you did grow up riding horses and that quite a bit of the work you were doing would involve riding. Would that be right.
Nicole: [00:12:16] Look I wrote till I was about 15 or 16. And then after that we actually started using motorbikes and quad runners, quad bikes and things like that. The reason being is that unless we were walking cattle a long distance it was a lot easier to just jump on a bike and go under the job.
[00:12:37] Certainly know the few times that we were using helicopters for mustering cattle there were horses involved then. But once again I was usually on a bike. Because if you’re on the ground everyone’s got hand-held walkie talkies so you can hear what’s happening and the chopper pilot can actually speak to us on the ground as well and tell us which direction that you know the herd’s heading in.
[00:13:00] So yes, so for me it was a lot easier to zip around on a bike.
[00:13:03] Are some of the other you know stockman contractors that were brought in for larger jobs. They were much happier being on horseback.
Jenny: [00:13:12] So now you are the director of that family business now are you. Is that how it works?
Nicole: [00:13:18] Well I’m just the business manager really. So up until a couple of years ago, two years ago actually I was working on the property pretty much full time. And then writing in the evenings and on the weekends whenever I could fit it in. I used to have one of those little you know notebooks that you keep in your breast pocket to make notes.
[00:13:38] So if I thought you know wonderful pearl of wisdom for the next work I’ll be able note it down but invariably I’d leave lived on the dashboard that you know one of the trucks one of those other stockmen and take it to tally up stock numbers or whatever I’d never say it again.
So I took the view I’d have to try and remember everything where when and where I could. So I was a working partner. And then also I was doing a lot of the book work as well. So that sort of morphed into being the business manager eventually.
And then the last couple of years we actually downsized because my father became ill so we sold some of our holding and because we have downsized that means that I’m not required on the property as much anymore. So I don’t live on the property now I actually live in the town of Moree.
And when I go out to the property it’s a 220 kilometre commute. Yes, the roundtrip to get out there is that long, so I go out there a couple of days a week or when required. We’ve got a manager out there.
Jenny: I guess you are pretty much writing fulltime now, are you?
Nicole: [00:14:42] Well sort of. Even though I’m not working on the property full time, like all businesses there’s the paperwork that has to be done. Your life is filled with bureaucracy and paper shuffling.
Combining farming and writing
[00:14:59] So there’s still a lot of that and I still am liaising with contractors and our agronomists when it comes to the cropping side side of the business. We’re predominantly farming Hereford cattle now, beef cattle. So because of that it doesn’t requires such hands on involvement as when we had merino sheep and were very big cropping enterprise as well.
So from a writing point of view basically how it works, is that once I know my submission date for a novel and I’ve done hopefully done quite a lot of research, because I am very much research orientated, I then have to literally do about 5000 words a week to keep on schedule. That’s very difficult when you’re touring. I have five weeks of touring this year.
[00:15:44] I’ve done ten days in Queensland. I’m down here in Sydney for two weeks and then in May I go to south. They’re sending me to South Australia. So the publisher obviously arranges all of that.
[00:15:56] You just sort of get your itinerary and off you go. But then you have to build that into your writing schedule and what’s happening with the family business as well. It’s a real juggling act, as it is for everybody. It can a bit difficult as far as time apportioning, obviously trying to fit everything in.
The latest best-seller
Jenny: Your most recent book Stone Country turns a standard romance convention of forced marriage on its head: It’s usually beautiful young women being forced to marry – but in Stone Country the male heir of a wealthy cattle station family is forced to marry someone he hardly knows to restore the family’s reputation. Its been described as “a gripping emotional journey set against vivid and visceral landscapes.” Are you equally at ease writing male and female protagonists?
Nicole: [00:16:51] Most of my novels have had very strong female protagonists in them, but then I’ve also had very strong male characters as well. We are talking about the interior of Australia, so the pioneers – the same as in New Zealand I would imagine – were very tough resilient characters.
[00:17:11] I mean they were literally going out into these very remote areas and then trying to create a home for their families and literally carving a path for themselves into the bush and trying to establish themselves. We’re talking 100 years ago, even maybe 80 years ago. in some areas of Australia.
[00:17:34] So yes certainly I am used to sort of crafting strong men and women. I guess the difference with Stone Country is that I took my lead character – is name is Ross. Ross Grant . I decided to make the story about him. To follow his life for a period of about 40 years, which was interesting because I hadn’t sort of done anything like that before. When I was crafting Ross I had this one word in my head, which was “duality.” Duality: war and peace, love and hate, good and bad. Thinking about it in terms of the duality of human nature. And the decisions we make around that.
The decisions we make
[00:18:18] Some of the decisions that we make are decisions imposed upon us. So with Ross being forced to marry his brother’s fiance. This is because his brother goes to the Great War, goes missing and then is branded a coward.
Ross’s family are just so dismayed by Alistair’s lack of honour that they coerce him to marry, coerce him into marrying Darcy. This is Alistair’s fiancee. Ross does this very reluctantly. He has been treated fairly poorly by his family in the past.
Growing up he hasn’t had the greatest of childhoods so he’s learnt to a certain extent to barter his family’s demands with his own needs. So he agrees to this rather unusual situation but it’s on the condition that he can fulfil one of his own ambitions and that’s to go north to the territory where his family have a cattle property which has been purchased sight unseen.
This wasn’t unusual when we’re talking about the pastoral history of the Northern Territory, which is very closely linked with South Australian history as well. So he wants to go up there and see this property that no one’s ever set foot on.
I think from a crafting point of view I was very aware of the fact that you know Ross is caught between this woman he’s forced to marry and then eventually down the line he does meet somebody else during the course of the narrative.
He really has to overcome all these obstacles that are thrown at him. Not only by his family’s demands, but also some of his own poor decision making. For me it was very much an exercise in trying to find Ross’s tipping point during the course of the narrative. I literally had him on a circus highwire and was trying to have my character keep his balance and at some point in his life realize that something was going to happen where he may well fall.
Jenny: Yes. Australian rural fiction has grown into a huge category over this decade that you’ve been writing and many of your books have hit the bestseller category. You’ve seen a lot of changes over that time you’ve been writing. Why do you think the country is so popular in what is basically an urban population.
The popularity of rural stories
Nicole: [00:20:45] Well I think as far as changes go, when my book first came out of this new wave of writing. It was only myself I guess, and a couple of other authors. Then going forwards from that, now I’m one of the few people writing in the genre that have a very strong rural background and who is still heavily involved in a family business based in rural Australia.
Since then and we’ve seen a lot of authors come in, that may or may not have had that background to some degree. And they’re much more in the romance category. These days you see a lot of rural writers in romance with publishers such as Harlequin and Mira. So I think that the romance angle is very strong. My work is now classed more as popular fiction because they have adventure drama etc. Maybe there’s mystery. There’s quite often love in there as well, but it’s certainly not certainly classed as a straight romance anymore.
So I think that’s what I’ve seen really this divergence across into rural romance and also I’ve seen quite a few authors that came into the marketplace a couple of years after I started writing longer length fiction and then they’ve also dropped off.
[00:22:23] So it’s sort of we’ve had this sort of rise in rural literature in Australia but it’s had its peak. Now we’re starting to see authors diverging out into other areas. But my thing has always been pastoral history. That’s my background and I love writing about it.
I’m just fortunate that people enjoy my work. Stone Country hit the Top 10 Bestseller list in Australia, which is exciting for me obviously, Jenny. But the thing that interests me about it the most is that you know in Australia people love crime and they like more contemporary stories.
So for a book that talks about Australia’s post-war history to be in that bracket, I think is interesting. It’s breaking out and there’s bigger stories and people are more interested in stories set in rural Australia. So you have that interest because it’s beyond the Great Dividing Range.
The changing face of rural life
[00:23:27] So getting back to your question regarding more open based readers so that’s interesting unique. If you went back about 40 years ago you would have had a lot of people who still had the opportunity to go and visit grandparents on family farms or little holdings etc.
That doesn’t happen so much anymore because of population growth and because obviously families change and don’t you know diverge overtime overtime.
[00:23:56] So yes I just think there’s a general interest in this life. On the other side that to some people can be a romantic ideal of how Australia was and for other people could simply be why I’d just like to learn a little bit about that lifestyle.
And I think particularly over the last two years because the drought here in Australia has been in the news quite a lot. That’s probably peaked people’s interests insofar as what’s happening beyond the mountains. Food security, how it’s going to affect us in more urban areas. So I think there’s a whole heap of things that come in and then of course at the end of the day some people simply like as most readers do a damn good read.
A vivid and visceral landscape
Jenny: [00:24:34] Yes you’ve also been very much praised for your “vivid and visceral landscapes.” It’s such singular sort of country isn’t it? And to have it represented on the page is such a vivid way that you feel you’re there. I think that’s one of the reasons I’d read your books. I can’t spend much time there but I can get a sense of what it’s like from the printed page.
Nicole: [00:24:56] Yes. So for me, it’s always been very important to portray the land as a character in all of my novels. So you know the land you know Mother Earth it’s a living breathing thing.
[00:25:17] And I guess from my point of view, because of my rural background – all farmers are observers – because farmers are observers of the state of the pasture, the weather, the trees, the livestock, the wildlife etc.
We’re always very aware of our environment all the time because it’s our home. But it’s also obviously our business as well. So it’s a fine line between maintaining the environment and running a family farm as well. For me it then becomes vital that I go out into the field, It feeds like my inner Indiana Jones as well because I’m a bit of an outdoorsy girl and and getting out and getting a great sense of the environment.
[00:26:01] So one, it’s only background to the story obviously but for me it’s a tapestry on which the story’s unfolding. It’s just so important that everything I see and hear and feel when I’m when I’m out doing this research is seen on the page so the reader can actually experience what I’ve experienced. And then of course the other thing that goes on from that is giving a work a very strong sense of place because it’s a sense of place that defines us as individuals.
[00:26:30] You know we remember our childhood homes, where we went on holidays, maybe our favorite overseas destination if we’ve been fortunate enough to travel abroad.
Visiting Nicole’s imaginary land
[00:26:41] And it’s all those things that we remember and really do give us that strong sense of place. So I have to look at the landscape that way and put it in my novels because the majority of my novels are set in some extraordinary different country across Australia. And for me I guess because I am a fourth generation grazier it’s important for me to celebrate that as well.
Jenny: [00:27:03] That leads on really nicely to the question I like to ask writers who have a very strong sense of place. If your readers wanted to do a sort of magical mystery literary tour of some of the territory that you write about, where would they go. and how would they do it? I suppose the distances still would be immense, but could you give us a little 10 day tourist guide for where to go?
Nicole: [00:27:32] Wow. Yeah. Well I mean as you pointed out, it’s the distances I guess that makes it a little bit difficult to see a lot. If you were going to the top end of Australia depending on where you’re flying in to the eastern seaboard you’d either fly directly into Sydney and then you’d have to get a flight to Darwin or you can fly into Darwin itself.
From there you could walk around the old port settlement of Darwin because it is a port city and then down in to say Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. You could easily spend five days there. It’s extraordinary countryside. In Kakadu for example you have these really barren Granite Hills a belt of which runs through part of Kakadu National Park. And to the south west of that you have timber forested areas that eventually then drifts down into Central Australia and you have some of the great deserts down there.
[00:28:32] If you’re standing once again in Kakadu and look to the east you’ll be looking towards Arnhem Land and you’d see these amazingly verdant wetlands. There would be crocodiles and poisonous snakes hidden amongst the green grasses there. You’d probably see wild buffalo,. because they still run up in that area. And then there’s also the magnificent cave art from indigenous Australians in that region. The cave art is quite extraordinary. And most of it is painted in overhangs that in the past millennia have acted as seasonal dwelling places for the tribes in that region.
Heading west into the sunset
[00:29:11] So that’s just Kakadu. But you know it does take a while to get up there. That’s the thing. And then you have to drive down from Darwin into Kakadu.
[00:29:20] I guess an easier one would be to just fly into Sydney jump in a car drive over the Blue Mountains and before you know it you’re heading towards you know you’re into the plains and into western New South Wales.
[00:29:32] So then you’re heading out towards areas like Broken Hill where gradually you know the settlements get sparser .
[00:29:39] And you just have this flat land in front of you and you know a golden horizon basically as you’re heading into the you know the West and the setting sun.
Jenny: [00:29:48] Yes, sounds gorgeous. And you’ve still got a bad drought.
The impact of drought
Nicole: [00:29:53] It’s not quite as bad for us as it is for people in far western and western areas of New South Wales. Queensland had some relief with the cyclone that came down. And in fact in some areas it did a lot damage. It was quite devastating.
People lost a lot hundreds of thousand cattle were lost up in that area from that cyclone a couple of months ago. But other people received good runs through their rivers from it and some good rainfall as well.
So our cattle are currently out on the Stock Route. That’s Crown land and the government – the state government – allows you to walk your cattle along along those routes so you can feed them, if there’s feed there.
So up until a couple of weeks ago in our area those routes were closed and now they’ve recently been opened up. So we’re just sort of taking our cattle along for a walk for a couple of weeks to see if we get another change in the weather.
Historically we don’t get a lot of rain at all in April, until perhaps after Anzac Day, and then we can look at a change then. We’ve got all these archives in the family because I guess we’ve been around for a while in the bush and we’re just particularly good hoarders really.
And so we have rain charts. You used to be able to go back and look at those and you’d get a fair indication of what rain ‘slash’ weather conditions could be expected during any given month.
[00:31:20] But of course these days with global warming and the impact of climate change it’s becoming far more difficult to be able to do that. And certainly the weather bureau is very much up in the air.
[00:31:32] You know they say they work on eight or ten computer models and they can really never make you know top or tail of things either.
Secret of a writer’s success
Jenny: [00:31:44] Is one thing you’ve done more than any other that you would create it is the secret of your success.
Nicole: [00:31:57] Well, Jenny that’s a difficult question. I guess if I look at it from my own personality point of view, what I’ve always been reasonably good at is discipline. I’m quite a disciplined person and I think that working abroad helped me with that.
[00:32:21] Being involved in a family business helped me with that as well. And then deciding to try my hand at a longer piece of fiction as well with my first novel. Discipline has been a major part.
But I don’t think that there’s any one profession that I’ve been involved in that has probably credited with me with helping me with my writing. Except I suppose that I actually did a masters in Literature and Creative Writing quite a few years ago.
[00:32:53] Probably over 10 years ago now, and whilst I don’t think that helped me improve my writing it did fine tune my discipline. I had to get used to you know submitting essays and etc. on top and
The joys of (binge) reading
Jenny: [00:33:15] I’m not quite sure if you’ve ever been a binge reader but we’d be interested to know what you do like to read.
Nicole:: [00:33:22] You know I read a whole variety of different things. Mainly because a good story is a good story.
[00:33:28] So I’m never constrained by genre. So like Patricia Cornwell and her Scarpetta novels. I like David Malouf. so he’s an Australian writer on the literary side. Philippa Gregory I think her last series of books is coming to an end . . . I suppose that’s a series there you go. The Tudor series.
[00:33:51] I’ve read one series. Yeah she’s excellent.
[00:34:06] I don’t often find her characters very warm, because she writes in such a sort of matter of fact story but the world is so interesting. Ahe’s done so much research, so yes I like that.
[00:34:28] And my old go to is Ernest Hemingway. I just loved it anyway. When I was a teenager I read his novella The Old Man and the Sea. At the time I was only about 14 or 15.
Falling in love with Hemingway
[00:34:43] I became really enamored with this old man in this rickety boat trying to land this enormous fish. It was only afterwards when I was in my final year at a boarding school, my English teacher said to me ‘You do understand why that story resonates with you, don’t you Nicole?’
And I was like ‘Well it’s a man in a boat with fish and and it’s the nature thing that really got to me. This battling the elements.’ And she said yes that’s right, because you come from a farming background. And it clicked. I thought That’s right. Every time my father walks outside the back gate he’s battling something and it’s nature.
[00:35:20] So literally now I see that I’d fallen in love with one of these great themes in literature, which is man versus nature. So that’s another reason I guess why it’s so important for me to have that strong sense of place in my novels, because it does really help mold the characters and their progress through the narrative as well.
Jenny: [00:35:38] Yes absolutely. Look we are starting to run out of time sadly So if we look back to the beginning and then back to today, at this stage in your writing career. if you were doing it all over again. is there anything that you would change.
The time it takes to write a book
Nicole: [00:35:58] Yes, well my first book The Bark Cutters – because I’d written other things before that. I’d written travel articles for free in-flight magazines and newspapers and so forth. So when I decided to write a full length novel, I thought well what will I write about?
[00:36:14] And I chose as my first novel as I said earlier, interweaving two distinct time frames followed four generations of a family. Which is a little bit too much for your first book. And it took me eight years to write it.
Jenny: [00:36:26] It’s a big big project.
Nicole: [00:36:29] Yeah big project, and I was working full time and doing my masters as well. I was publishing some other things as well. I’d published a volume of poetry at that stage and I had bitten off a lot to do. That’s why it took me I guess so long to write it.
[00:36:47] But of course the book was very successful and it was shortlisted for Australian Book Industry Award. I’d never thought what was going to happen next, after I’d written The Bark Cutters. But because it was so successful it actually gave me the confidence to continue. So yes, I think that that’s very interesting when I look back now. Since then, I suppose, it would have been better if I’d chosen something a little easier to write. The positive from taking eight years to write your first one is that I’ve become faster
A Changing Land
Jenny: [00:37:21] And to go back to that second book A Changing Land. which was also a top ten bestseller. It continued that story of the family in The Bark Cutters didn’t it?
Yes. it did and I had no intention of writing a sequel. And as we know publishers don’t always like sequels because they take the view that if you have one book that’s great. But your readership isn’t necessarily going to remember to buy the sequel when it comes out 12 or 18 months later after after the next one so they prefer standalone works.
[00:37:55] So the second one A Changing Land, even though it was pitched as a sequel,I did write as a standalone work. But yes, I certainly didn’t set out to write it, but the publishers were very keen for me to write a sequel to the first one because The Bark Cutters was so successful. And it worked in my case which was great.
Also I guess for me, it worked too, because suddenly I had taken eight years to write a first novel and then I was presented with a two book contract and I was like ‘oh I’ve just signed this and I’ve got lots to write the second one.’ So I had everything in my head already I had the background and you know the characters and the history. So that helped me as well so I was fortunate in that regard.
Jenny: [00:38:37] Yeah look we are coming to the end now so what is next for Nicole the writer. What are your projects for the next 12 months.
New projects under way
Nicole: [00:38:45] So I’m about nearly halfway through another novel. It’s due for submission October of this year so I’m sort of still at the crafting stage really. It’s not until I get to about 50,000 words that I have a good grasp on where the story’s going.
Jenny: [00:39:04] Do you have a title for that one yet?
Nicole: [00:39:07] No, I don’t yet. I did have one title, and then the publisher has suggested another one. So at the moment it’s a little bit unclear. It’s up in the air. We said we’d sit on it and see what came to light.
Jenny:[00:39:20] So you like to do pretty well a book a year at the moment is that how it works?
Nicole: [00:39:25] Well I actually had a break a couple of years ago. Stone Country, most recent one that came out in March. Before that I hadn’t had a book out for about two years. So I have just had a break and then I’ll write and obviously I’m writing this this new one and then off sort of sit back and have a think and see what happens next.
Jenny:: [00:39:47] The creative well again.
Nicole: [00:39:50] Yeah I think so. You do have to have a little bit of a break because I do so much research that obviously you have to have the you know the brain has to recoup as well. I am very aware of that. You know I love writing but you do need to have those breaks now and then.
Where you can find Nicole online
Jenny: [00:40:07] Do you enjoy interacting with your readers. And can they find you online. You’re obviously doing the tour for five weeks so you’re going to be seeing a lot of your readers in person. But the rest of the time can they reach you online.
Nicole: [00:40:22] Yes. So I have a website which is Nicolealexander.com.au So it’s pretty easy to find. And then from there you can click through to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds as well. So I’m fairly active on all of those channels. I do have a blog on my website as well which talks mainly about pastoral Australia but some other odds and ends that might strike me at the time too.
[00:40:48] So yes, a little bit of a mixture of things but I’m certainly across most social media channels.
Jenny: [00:40:54] Thank you Nicole. It’s been fantastic talking it really has been an introduction to a world that many people just don’t have a clue about. So it’s fantastic to have you on today.
Nicole: [00:41:06] Thank you Jenny it’s been a real pleasure.
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