Giving a voice to the outback: Fleur McDonald

Best-selling author, Fleur McDonald, talks to Maggie Baron about what motivated her novel, Starting from Now (Allen & Unwin).

Hi Fleur, firstly congratulations on your long and successful writing career and Starting from Now, which captures the heart of change and loss, and the challenges that brings.

In this story we meet Zara, who’s called home by her mother due to family circumstances. Zara’s torn between helping out in her family’s time of need and her much-loved city life as a journalist. Most readers will identify between those conflicts of prioritising themself over providing support to their family. What drew you to using this tension to frame the story of Zara and her return to the town she grew up in?

There has to be a really good reason for someone to up-end their life and come back to a small country town where their family is. Zara’s family is only her mother, brother, and her. Her father died in an accident. All three are very close and to Zara, when she received a phone call from her mother telling her of this life-changing news, well from that moment there wasn’t any question in her mind about not returning. She was asked to come home and so she did.

As a rural journalist, Zara is able to work from anywhere and Barker provides a safe space for her to work with supports from the people who know her family and remember her as a child.

The story showcases many varied viewpoints about farming and the potential conflicts between the work of those on the land and city-based opponents of some industries. What are you hoping to share with your readers about these differing points of view?

The day PETA put their Farm Maps up onto the website and animal activists were trespassing onto farms, I was driving to Perth, listening to the ABC report on this atrocity. I was getting angrier and angrier and my speed was getting faster and faster, the more furious I became! I knew I needed to tell the farmer’s side of the story.

What was happening was wrong, the protesters were endangering lives not only of humans, but of animals, through bio-security and trying to let animals out. As I researched the book, it became clear I had to tell the story from both the farmer’s and activist’s side and try and show each other’s point of view. This was topical and everyone had strong views, on both sides, so it made for a perfect conflict to use in a book as well as trying to inform and educate both sides.

You write Crimance – a blend of crime and romance fiction. How do you use these two different genres in building your story? And why not straight crime or romance?

Hmm, interesting question. I don’t know the answer to that, because I just write where the story takes me. I have an idea in mind when I start and keep going until the end! I guess that’s an unhelpful answer but I’ve never seen myself as writing as you’ve described. I let the characters direct the story and that’s where I go!

You clearly have a love of rural landscapes. What most attracts you to these places and what do you hope to share with the reader through placing your characters in these settings?

Australia is a beautiful country and having lived in rural areas all my life, I just want to tell and show people all about them! Perhaps make them want to visit or if they can’t, hopefully, my descriptions will paint pictures they can imagine in their minds. Also, the Flinders Ranges are isolated and lonely and the perfect place for me to drop a body, when I need to hide one!

Can you tell your readers what you’re currently working on?

Yep, I have three deadlines this year, so that’s going to make for a busy time! At the moment I’m editing the next in the Dave Burrows series, Rising Dust. That’s coming out in April next year as well as working on the December title too. I try and fit in a bit of farming and a few other things in between all the words!

More info on Starting from Now here.

More info on Fleur McDonald here.