Today I’m delighted to welcome Australian rural romantic suspense novelist, Bronwyn Parry to my blog, to celebrate the January release of her fifth full-length novel, Storm Clouds.
Bronwyn grew up surrounded by books and has a love of reading and stories. Commercial fiction, literary fiction, children’s literature, history – her bookshelves are forever overflowing. Academically, she’s particularly interested in story-telling and readership in popular fiction, and the research for her (very) part-time PhD is exploring the contemporary publishing environment and the impact of online communities of readers and digital technologies on authors and their publishing decisions.
Her eclectic background includes an Honours degree in social history and English, and a range of work experiences – HR in a hospital, youth worker, dance teacher, organisational development manager, educational designer, and now occasional academic.
She is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia and the Romance Writers of America, and in July 2007 was honoured to win the prestigious Golden Heart Award for the romantic suspense manuscript which became As Darkness Falls, her first novel published in 2008. Her second novel, Dark Country, and third, Dead Heat, both won an Australian Romance Readers’ award for best Australian romantic suspense novel. They were also both shortlisted for the Romance Writers of America RITA awards – the ‘Oscars’ of romance writing – and for the Daphne du Maurier award for romantic suspense.
Bronwyn lives on 100 acres of beautiful bushland in the New England tablelands, with her husband and three energetic border collies. While she’s lived in cities and enjoys the cafes and bookshops, she loves the naturalness and the rich complexity of the bush.
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 Hachette Australia
, especially Anna from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.
Bronwyn, it’s really fabulous to have you here to celebrate the recent release of Storm Clouds.
Marcia, I’m thrilled to be here. I’m excited about the release of Storm Clouds and it’s wonderful to celebrate with you and with readers.
Tell us a bit about your childhood.
I spent the first years of my life on the eastern edges of Melbourne, at the base of Mount Dandenong. We moved up to Canberra when I was six. I’m the middle one of three girls – sometimes referred to as the muddle one. Dreamy head-in-a-book, that was me. (My husband would say it still is!) Our family wasn’t wealthy, but there was enough for books and encyclopedias, for camping trips in the bush and holidays at the coast, for theatre and dance and music. (The budget would have managed sport, too, but other than dancing the whole moving-energetically thing never appealed to me.) Mum took us regularly to the local library, and as well as fiction I often browsed the non-fiction shelves and brought home books on eclectic topics. In 6th grade, when we had to write an essay each week on any topic we chose, I borrowed a book from the library and wrote an essay on Child Psychology. At age 12. I often wonder whether Mrs Crimmins and the other teachers discussed it in the staff room!
My very first fiction writing was Lost in Space fan fiction. Oops, did I just say that in public?
You have a very diverse background ranging from community services to management and beyond. In saying that, you appear to be quite academically orientated and could have become almost anything you wanted to be. What made you want to become an author? Could you tell us about that journey?
I’m interested in many things but other than short-lived dreams of being a theatrical costume designer (I realised that while I can make things, I don’t have a flair for design), I didn’t have a burning desire for any particular career. I thought about becoming an English/History teacher, but at the time I left school it was said there was a glut of teachers and they wouldn’t be hiring more for ten years . . . so I joined the Public Service in Canberra instead. I eventually did the English and History degree, and an Honours thesis on the incredibly useful topic of 18th century British worsted textiles, while working in university management. Writing had always been part of the plan, but I’d only played at it while I was doing the Proper Career thing. Then I realised I didn’t want to work in management and bury half of myself for the next 25 years – and if I ever wanted to write a book, I had to actually, you know, Write. A. Book. So I started writing, and developing my skills, and experimenting with different the types of stories and writing styles. Six years later, I won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award for best romantic suspense manuscript, and the following year it was published as my first novel, As Darkness Falls.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times before, but why rural romantic suspense? What is it about the genre that you most enjoy writing about?
Weaving together a love story and a crime story allows an exploration of both physical and emotional courage, and justice and emotional justice for my characters. The dangers they face are heightened in the isolation of the bush landscape – often there is no help nearby, so they have to rely on themselves and each other. I love the Australian bush and outback landscapes, and the strength and resilience of the people and communities, so it was a natural setting for me to write about.
I recently finished reading my ARC of Storm Clouds and, like Dead Heat, I thoroughly enjoyed it but, for those who haven’t yet heard about it, would you mind sharing with us your version of the story they can expect?
In Storm Clouds, two National Park rangers, Simon and Erin, must confront the secrets in their own pasts when a woman is murdered, and they discover her links to a reclusive community in wild country on the edge of the national park. With the police investigation stymied by dead ends and procedural constraints, Simon and Erin begin their own search for answers, and find that the seemingly benign, caring group has dark undercurrents, a history of lies and deception, and a charismatic, manipulative and dangerous leader who won’t let anyone stand in the way of his plans.
Could you give us a bit of insight into the research you had to do for Storm Clouds?
Cults, con artists, commandos and cops! Seriously though, the research into cults in particular was thought-provoking, if somewhat unsettling. I’ve always been interested in why sane, sensible and intelligent people are attracted to cults, and to why they stay in them, often for many years. So I read a lot about different cults, and studies of cult influence, leadership and mind control. There was a particular documentary I saw, about an Australian cult in a rural area, and the leader of that cult fascinated me – my gut instinct was that despite the persona projected, he knows exactly what he is doing, and does it very deliberately. Although the cult in Storm Clouds is not that cult, and the leader isn’t him, I did draw on some of that in writing the story.
What challenges did you have to overcome in getting your first novel published?
Finishing the book! I’d started a lot of stories in my phase of exploring what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. (My family will tell you that I’m really good at beginning things, and not so good at finishing them . . .) But once I started As Darkness Falls, the story came strongly and I knew I wanted to finish it. It was rejected by a US publisher, but a little later it won the Golden Heart, and I was very lucky that there were some Australian media reports about the award (it was a quiet news week) and that Bernadette Foley from Hachette Australia read them. She was on the lookout for an Australian romance, and she invited me to send the manuscript to her. It doesn’t usually happen like that, but I was fortunate that when circumstances aligned, I had a polished manuscript and a second novel underway.
Thank goodness for Bernadette! What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
BICHOK – Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard. It’s the only way a book gets written. There’s also Nora Roberts’ classic, ‘You can’t edit a blank page’. Dreaming about a story doesn’t get a book written. I do have to remind myself of this, often!
What advice would you give to aspiring romantic suspense writers?
To weave the romance and the crime closely together so that each impacts on and is integral to the other. Know what your characters are most afraid of, and then make it happen to them. And then twist the proverbial knife even further. Keep the pace tight, the stakes high, the emotions honest and the complications coming so that the reader is there with your characters on the page and holding their breath, hoping but not certain whether your protagonists will succeed or fail. Oh, and that bit about keeping the emotions honest? Don’t be pressured to put a sex scene in the middle just because you think a romantic suspense needs it. You can work in sexual and emotional tension in many different ways, but a love scene has to be emotionally honest and be logical for your particular characters in the specific circumstances of your plot structure and setting.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
It really depends on where I am in a novel, and what else is happening. Ideally, after the morning dog walking and breakfast, I do ‘business’ things – social media, admin etc – and then some writing. In the middle of the afternoon when restlessness strikes, I’ll often do something else creative, like sewing or reading. Or napping. Late afternoon is dog walking and playing, cooking and having dinner, talking with my husband, and then it’s back to writing. I do write best at night – I love it when it’s dark and still outside, and the house is quiet. If I could write until midnight or later every night, I would . . . but then there’s the seven am dog walks. Hence my afternoons often including a nap!
Now for some fun:
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
People have asked me how I’ve researched the love scenes, but no-one’s asked me how I research the murders. Maybe because I might ask them to volunteer to help.
Pizza or Pasta?
Lots – but recently I’ve particularly enjoyed re-reading Joanna Bourne’s historical romances, set in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. I love her writing, the way she uses language and deep point of view, and the way she’s woven the various plot elements of her books and her characters’ stories through her inter-connected series.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?
Books they want to read, not books they feel they ‘should’ read. ‘Should’ is not a good word when it relates to reading. (Although chocolate is an entirely different matter.)
Give us three good to know facts about you – be creative.
I flunked maths and physics in secondary college. However, since I have never yet had to use calculus to deal with life’s challenges, this has not proved very much of a handicap.
I know what calamanco is, and how to spin and weave it. However, given that being a semi-expert in obscure eighteenth century wool textiles would lead to even less income production in Australia than being an author does, I decided to write books instead. One day I may even slip in a reference to calamanco.
I knit plain socks while I’m staring at the screen, trying to write. The gentle rhythm is meditative and helps my brain get into a creative mode and focus on the words. It also keeps my fingers from clicking all over the internet. However, after 5 books I now have enough hand-knit socks, so I am currently hand-sewing a pure linen Regency-style chemise. As you do. Every woman should have at least one.
Bronwyn, it has been an absolute delight to have you visit the blog, thank you so much for joining me today. Before you go though, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Storm Clouds?
Marcia, thank you so much for inviting me! It’s been a pleasure, and I’m very happy to share a peek of Storm Clouds. In this scene from chapter one, National Park Ranger Erin has just seen her colleague, Simon, drive back into town after a two-month absence – a sudden army reserve deployment, when she hadn’t known he was still in the army:
He stood at the back of his LandCruiser in the driveway, a kit bag resting on the tray. Old Snowy McDermott, his neighbour, leaned on the fence post between them, settling in for a good long yarn. Snowy could talk the hind leg off a horse and usually missed most social cues, but Simon saw Erin and excused himself to Snowy as she got out of the ute.
As they walked the fifteen paces towards each other, the light cheeky comments she might normally have made turned to dust on her tongue. For months they’d worked side by side in the relaxed way of equals, trusting and relying on each other in their physically demanding duties for both their National Parks jobs and volunteer SES service.
He wasn’t in uniform now. Not the army uniform she’d never seen him wear. Not the National Parks uniform, nor the SES uniform they both wore often enough outside work. Just faded jeans and a white t-shirt that stretched over his fine physique and highlighted the deep hazel of his eyes. Eyes that reflected the warmth of his easy grin and gave little hint that he’d been anywhere but a relaxed holiday away.
The early autumn sun had started to set, casting a golden outline around him, almost as if nature wanted to make a gilded statue of the soldier hero. Whereas she . . . she was no hero.
They stopped half a metre from each other, within touching distance, but neither of them made a move to touch. He was out of her reach in too many other ways. Maybe the caution that had stopped her making a fool of herself in the months before he’d left had been good sense, rather than cowardice.
She resisted wiping suddenly sweaty hands on her uniform trousers and summoned up a grin, aware of Snowy watering his garden close by. Keep it simple, keep it light. Just the warm, familiar teasing she’d missed in his absence.
‘If I’d known you were coming back today, I would have volunteered you for the regional planning meeting in Moree tomorrow.’
His eyes sparkled. ‘Phew. I’ve had a lucky escape then. Who drew the short straw?’
‘Well, since Jo’s on light duties and not allowed to drive, I got the long straw, the middle straw and the short straw.’
‘Jo’s back at work?’
‘Yes, working half-days. But it’s not quite three months since her craniotomy so she’s not allowed to drive yet.’
‘So you’ve been doing all three of our jobs, all this time.’
‘Yeah. You owe me. Although I suppose if you’ve been off saving the world, that might cancel the debt, soldier.’
His cheerful, relaxed expression slipped and the light in his eyes dimmed for a moment before he gestured with a jerk of his thumb towards the house. ‘Come on in and tell me the news while I dump my gear, and then I’ll shout you dinner at the pub.’
Back at his LandCruiser, he grabbed his kit bag with one hand and then slid a metal case out. His rifle. Invaluable in feral animal campaigns. She’d usually managed to put out of her mind that in the army, his targets didn’t have four legs. His past army service had been abstract in her head, something she rarely considered in detail, because on the few occasions he’d spoken of his experiences he’d sounded carefree, as if his deployments, even in Iraq and Afghanistan, were barely more adventurous than an outback camping trip. But then he’d gone again, between one shift and the next, with scarcely a word of explanation to her. Nods and murmurs from senior National Parks staff who’d known him longer suggested there was more to his role than he’d ever let on, leaving her with the distinct impression that he’d been – was still – a commando with significant experience in covert operations.
No wonder he was such a valuable member of the volunteer SES squad and a capable National Parks ranger, especially in dealing with the law-enforcement aspect of their roles. Maybe the signs had always been there, and she just hadn’t recognised them.
But the fact that he was still in the army – that changed things, changed how she felt, although she’d spent the past few weeks trying fruitlessly to put a finger on how and why. Not that there was any point in trying to understand it, since she mattered so little to him that he’d not contacted her once since his abrupt departure. They were friendly colleagues in a small community, nothing more. So she’d keep things at that level.
She grinned with a good imitation of her usual cheekiness. ‘Well, since you apparently couldn’t remember my email address all this time, I’ll let you shout me dinner.’
She’d not often seen him discomfited, but now he grimaced. ‘Sorry. Not much internet access where I’ve been.’
Obviously not a local army base, then. But he headed towards the house without any further explanation. He set down his bag and the rifle case to unlock the front door and from behind she saw the sudden wariness tensing his spine as he pushed it open.
The odour hit her. Pungent, nauseating, dead. ‘Sheesh, Simon, did you leave dead fish in your —’
‘No.’ His hand moved towards his hip, reaching instinctively for a sidearm that wasn’t there. ‘Keep back, Erin.’
Deep in the Australian countryside, a reclusive community hides a deadly secret.
Life is falling into place for National Parks ranger Erin Taylor. She has a job she loves, she’s falling for her colleague, Simon – and she is finally leaving the past behind. Until a woman is murdered.
But the victim is not just any woman – she’s Simon’s wife, Hayley. The wife he’s not mentioned to Erin. The wife he’s not seen in fourteen years. On the edge of the national park, the alternative lifestyle community of ‘Simple Bliss’ denies knowing Hayley, but Simon and Erin suspect otherwise.
As Simon uncovers shocking details about the group, Erin is drawn further into their midst and finds a web of lies, decades old – and a charismatic, manipulative, dangerous cult leader who will let nothing and no-one stand in his way. On the wrong side of a river in flood that has become a lethal torrent, Erin and Simon must race to expose the truth and prevent a tragedy.
Storm Clouds can be purchased from the following links: