When I read novels I like to get a taste of what life is like somewhere else—reading is cheaper than travel and far less fraught with anxiety! After reading Dana Stabenow’s novels, for example, I have an inkling of what life in Alaska is like; Donna Leon paints a vivid picture of life in Venice, as distinct from going there as one of the throngs of tourists that infest the place even in the chill winter. Lee Child offers the experience of being in many different parts of the US, while Robert B Parker brings Boston to life.
The physical setting for a story makes a powerful contribution to its effectiveness, often playing an important part in the unfolding of the narrative. Michael Connelly’s crime stories could happen nowhere else but LA, while James Lee Burke creates atmosphere through his descriptions of the landscape and culture of rural America. Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy inhabits Sydney, with its crime and congestion.
As writers such as Fleur McDonald, Rachael Treasure and Nicole Alexander know well, country people are not the same as city people. Their stories are different; their priorities, values and inhibitions often diverge from what many Australians consider to be normal. Their opportunities are different, too, with a more physical lifestyle and a greater degree of independence and self-reliance than many of their city counterparts have.
My novels so far are all set in Western Australia, where I lived for two decades. After growing up in suburban Melbourne, WA was like being in another country, and one where I flourished. My first novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man is set in suburban Perth, but the rest belong to the agricultural heartland, with A Darker Music set on a remote merino stud near the south coast, The Sea Bird’s Egg hatching near the stunning town of Esperance on the south coast, while The Herb Gardener has her home on a farm in the heart of the Great Southern. Each of these locations is separate and unique, and each lends particular values and rhythm to the story that unfolds there. Leaving aside such dramatic (and often overworked) events as storms, floods and bushfires, the physical surroundings of one’s characters have an impact on the emotional tone of the story.
It’s important, when describing a character’s environment, to consider the input from all the senses—not that it would be useful to use all of them at once, but because one or more can often provide the key to the way the character feels at that moment in the story. It’s also useful to have a character, not necessarily the main one, coming to the place as a stranger, seeing (and sensing) the location with few preconceptions; this invites the reader to share in the experience and begin to identify with the characters, and imagine the place.
A sense that is often overlooked is the sense of history. The countryside wears its history in full view, if one has eyes to see it, lending timelessness to the actions of one’s characters and letting them be seen as part of a continuum. Human nature, with all its virtues and defects, hasn’t changed over the centuries, and bad behaviour is still as destructive as it ever was.
Still hurting after a painful divorce, Joanna leaves the city, moving with her six-year-old daughter Mia to a country town. She’s looking for a better, happier life, and when she meets farmer Chris Youngman, she discovers the possibility of a future as a farmer’s wife.
Joanna is at first dismayed by the unexpected isolation of the farm, but Chris’s affection helps her to adjust. Then the unexplained death of a young farm worker brings complications she could never have imagined, and Joanna has to fight for her happiness, her family, and even her own life.
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Genre - Contemporary Romance, Thriller
Rating – PG
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