“The screeching of galahs in the early morning sounded like church hymns. To Maggie, nothing made her feel closer to God than this moment in the dawn. The air was fresher, the light soft and glowing as if filtering through stained glass, and the sounds of the birds assured her that she was alive. The scent of rosemary, basil and wild lavender wafted on the breeze.
Maggie was happiest in her garden. It was her little wonderland, although there was really nothing small about it – the pumpkins and watermelons sprawled out beyond the rabbit fence. She bent over to squeeze some of the basil, releasing a burst of scent. Her back groaned slightly as she stood up and stretched it. At seventy-two, she had no complaints except a tired body.A smile tugged at her lips as she admired the tomato plants, growing so well. They were only small but soon she’d have to get Toni to truss them up. Come January they’d be making their own sundried tomatoes. Eating fresh from the land was one of life’s pleasures for Maggie. If the world fell apart tomorrow, they’d survive, just as they always had. They were three generations of women who had lived off their own land. It was just the three of them, too, Maggie, Toni and Flick – the Sunnyvale girls.”
Today, I’m excited to welcome Best Selling Australian Rural Author, Fiona Palmer to my blog, to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Sunnyvale Girls.
Fiona hails from the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three and a half hours south-east of Perth. She discovered Danielle Steel at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance.
She has attended romance writers’ groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm.
Fiona also has extensive farming experience, helps out with the local mail run, and was a speedway driver for seven years. She spends her days writing, helping out in the community and looking after her two children.
She is also the bestselling author of The Family Farm, Heart of Gold, The Road Home, Sunburnt Country, The Outback Heart and The Empty Nest.
The Sunnyvale Girls is her sixth novel.
Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her and her world of writing a bit more.
Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Books Australia, especially Maria from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.
Fiona, it’s really great to have you here to celebrate the release of The Sunnyvale Girls.
Thanks for having me Marcia.
Tell us a bit about your childhood.
I had the best country childhood. I spent most of my weekends at my uncle’s farm or in my dad’s shed watching him tinker with motors. Also riding motorbikes and cars, building cubbys in the bush, catching yabbies, singing on the back of the ute with my cousins as we rounded up sheep, playing in the wool during shearing time, cutting up sheep and making sausages, music jams in the music room at my uncles…there is not a favourite childhood memory I don’t have without my cousins in it.
That sounds like one of the most carefree childhood stories I’ve ever heard Fiona, possibly more carefree than becoming an author! Could you tell us about that journey?
It was an unexpected one. Not a career I ever would have pegged out for myself due to the fact English was my one of my worst subjects. My spelling, grammar and punctuation was bad and my teacher was very focused on this and not the creative side to writing that I did love. It wasn’t until years later, when I was a new mum, did a story grow in my mind which encompassed everything I loved about my country life. It got to the point where I had to write it down. I always say I write for the story, not for the words. Once I had the story down, after 3 long years, I sent the first 3 chapters to Penguin’s slush pile and it was read and they requested the full manuscript. Then a contract. It’s still amazing and I can’t believe how lucky I was.
You sure are lucky and thank goodness they rescued that manuscript from the slush pile . I’ve recently finished reading The Sunnyvale Girls and found it exuded such warmth and character – typical of a “Palmer” novel – but for those who haven’t yet heard about it, would you mind telling us about the story we can expect?
It’s a little different as I’ve tried a few firsts with this one. I wanted to write about the Italian Prisoners of War that worked on farms in our area during WW2 and merge this with a modern story of three women on their farm Sunnyvale. I particularly loved Maggie, the grandmother and her flashbacks to 1944-1946. It was my first time at writing a period piece but I loved it. And it was my first time writing about a country other than Australia. Having my characters go to Italy was wonderful and I hope this brings a touch of excitement into my rural story.
Well, I can certainly attest to the fact that there are some exciting moments loaded into this one, including very strong themes of family, particularly between mothers and daughters as well as the ties that bind daughters to their fathers. Could you let your readers know what other themes they can expect and what you would like them to gain out of reading your book?
That hope is important. Life may not turn out as we expected but it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. People make mistakes, do wrong things to protect the ones they love, but we wouldn’t be human if we were perfect. I just hope readers enjoy the story and feel happy and content when they reach the end.
Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim? What is it?
Not really a motto as such but I have Dory, from Nemo, constantly on repeat in my head. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. But for me it’s just keep writing.
Isn’t Dory just so philosophical! What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
From my publisher Ali who told me to get Jerry Cleaver’s book Immediate Fiction. Best book. Which reminds me, I should re-read it before I start writing my next book.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
To just write. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem good, just get the words on the page. Then you can go back and edit. You can’t edit a blank page.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I try to write from 10 til 4, but that is such a rarity with housework and other things that happen. (procrastination is the worst!!) When I have a deadline I try to stick to my target of 5k to 10k words a week. I have my own desk set up in our office at the end of the house so I spend most of my time in this room.
Sounds like you have a pretty good ritual going there, but now onto the fun part of the interview. What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
If you won the lotto would you still keep writing? Yes, I would. Once you have the bug you can’t stop.
Isn’t that just a fantastic outlook to have! Pizza or Pasta?
Oh too hard. It has to be a draw!!
Hmm, again I don’t have a top favourite, but more a list of favourites. Mind you I was just introduced to Liane Moriarty.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?
I am in a book club and they have just picked to read The Sunnyvale Girls because it’s set in our town and based on a local farm. (It means I get a break this month and can catch up on my tbr pile)
Give us three good to know facts about you – be creative.
I’m shy, I’m not comfortable dressed up (especially if I’m wearing a dress!) and I love my TV/movies.
Fiona, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you answer my questions. Thank you so much for joining me today and once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of The Sunnyvale Girls?
The Sunnyvale Girls can be purchased from the following links: