Country born and bred, Fiona Palmer grew up in Pingaring, Western Australia; her parents carted grain, spread fertiliser and sprayed for local farmers and she spent many childhood weekend’s on her aunt and uncle’s farm. Country life has led to a variety of roles for Fiona – she’s driven tractors, been a rouseabout (odd jobs on a farm) and been a speedway driver … all this before settling down to marriage and motherhood – and writing. Rural life is what she knows and she’s now making a name for herself writing rural romances. Her first book, The Family Farm, turned out to be the first of many … Fiona is about to release her fifth book! Fiona will be my Stories on Stage guest on October 16 and very much I’m looking forward to meeting her. Thanks, Fiona, for making time to answer my questions.
Monique: Tell me a bit about how you became a writer.
Fiona: It all started from an idea about a story based on a friend of mine who worked on her farm. I wanted to write about my passion for our country way of life and the experiences we have. The story grew and grew until I typed it out just so I could have some head space back. I then had this story so I tried to get it published and I haven’t looked back since. I tell people I got into writing not for the love of words but for the story they tell.
Monique: You write “stories of strong women and bush characters set in rural Australia”. Did you always plan to write rural fiction? Which other genres would you like to dabble in?
Fiona: I write rural fiction because it’s what I know, it’s my life and I’m passionate about the farming communities that support Australia. But in saying that I love to read Young Adult. It’s always at the top of my list when selecting a book to read. So naturally I have just begun writing a YA series. I’m just about to finish writing the second book now. For me, my books are linked as both genres have strong women at the core of the stories, fighting for what they believe in.
Monique: Why do you think rural fiction is so successful?
Fiona: Because the landscapes are practically a character in the books. For that reason alone they really help to transport the reader into another place. I am in awe of the things mother nature can do and when you live on the land your whole life revolves around it. So it’s understandable that it’s so important in our rural fiction.
Monique: If someone who’d never lived in the country wanted to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and write a rural fiction novel, do you think readers would see it as less authentic? Is it a case of ‘Write what you know’?
Fiona: I think the best stories do come from people who have experienced it. They have lived through the floods, drought and fires. I think they can draw out the best emotions because of this and also because the landscapes and lifestyle is usually embedded into their hearts. But if you did your research right and you were passionate about writing a rural book, I’m sure a reader wouldn’t have any problems.
Monique: You’ve had four books published and your fifth, The Outback Heart, is due for release shortly. Can you tell me what I have to look forward to with this book?
Fiona: This book has a lot of heart, literally. It’s my first time at using flashback chapters for the hero and they alone are a beautiful story. It is also based on a small town and its football team. You get to see the workings of a small town and hopefully you’ll be cheering on their local team the Saints. It has some powerful messages but most importantly another happy ever after.
Monique: What are some of the main issues explored in The Outback Heart? Do you feel like you’re giving a voice to rural communities by addressing them?
Fiona: Yes, I like to think that I can put a voice to some of our issues in our rural communities. Especially like rural depression in my last book The Sunburnt Country. I also like to think I’m helping others to understand this way of life and why we do certain things. In The Outback Heart, I touch on our shrinking rural communities. My home town is one of these! Schools close, people move, businesses shut. It’s hard trying to keep some of these small towns alive and you need a lot of community spirit, volunteers and voices.
Monique: What do you like most about The Outback Heart? What was your response to the cover design? Did you have any input?
Fiona: I like that my book is based on a real-life event, which has been blended into the book. I don’t want to give too many secrets away, but you’ll know when you read it. I don’t get much input into the designs as they have a format they stick to with my books. But I do get to say if I don’t like anything. Lucky for me Penguin are good at what they do.
Monique: Does The Outback Heart draw on any of your real-life experiences? Which character do you like the most? Do any of your male characters make your heart flutter more than others?
Fiona: Yes, some of my real-life experiences tend to make it in there. Seeing as it’s set in Hyden, there are real places I go to like the Karlgarin Club where we had our hockey wind up. I like Indi the most as she is great at football. I can’t kick one to save myself. Maybe if I’d had older brothers it would be different. (Might have helped if our town had a football team too. Pingaring is too small for sporting teams) I can’t really pick between my heroes. They are all special and perfect for their roles but maybe Jack in The Road Home if I HAD to pick one.
Monique: Is asking you which is your favourite book the same as asking which is your favourite child?
Fiona: Haha. Yes, just about. They all have their own special parts to why I love them. The Family Farm for being the first, The Sunburnt Country because it has a speedway section, which was a big part of my personal life and then The Outback Heart because it is the latest one. That really wasn’t picking one was it!
Monique: As a mother, what’s your writing process like? Where do you write? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? How do you get into the “zone”?
Fiona: It’s much easier when the kids go off to school and I can spend a few hours doing chores and then I sit to write. I like to have music playing in the background as I write. Sometimes I hardly hear the music but other times when I’m stuck I will listen to the song, get back in the groove and off I go. I write on my laptop in our computer room. Not very glamorous, my paper notes are everywhere, but it does the job.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Fiona: Procrastination. Chocolate and coffee. In that order.
Monique: Do your characters create themselves? Or do you plan them out? Do they ever surprise you?
Fiona: I plan out everything before I write but along the way my characters can show me their true colours. They seem to grow as I write and I learn new things about them. I’m kind of sad to see them go when I’ve finished. They have been my friends for six months.
Monique: What do you look for when you read fiction?
Fiona: Fast paced. Exciting. Romance. Emotional. Gripping. Un-put-down-able. I’m no good with literary works.
Monique: Which writers do you admire the most?
Fiona: All my fellow Romance Writers because they are all so supportive and wonderful.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Fiona: I’m about to start The French Promise by Fiona McIntosh.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Fiona: I don’t read endings unless the book is so awful I skip bits to see if it gets better. I did that with The Slap. I skipped a big chunk in the middle and then read the last few chapters. It was a book club book so I felt compelled to try and finish it, to a degree. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Monique: If I came over for dinner now, what would we have to eat?
Fiona: Beef Coconut Curry. I had to make one for our curry night for hockey. It was so good I didn’t want to give it up, neither did my husband. So now I have all the ingredients to make one just for us.
Monique: Finish this sentence … I really hate it when …
Fiona: I’m running late on a deadline!
Monique: Which song best describes you?
Fiona: Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
Monique: Which book in your collection would you most like to have autographed by the author?
Fiona: I have lots of my rural fiction books autographed by my writing friends but I’d love my Vampire Academy books signed by Richelle Mead.
Monique: You’re based in WA’s Wheatbelt. Which places would you take a friend/relative to show off the area?
Fiona: There’s lots to see. The wildflowers are a must. Also Wave Rock is famous and where I’ve set The Outback Heart in the nearby town of Hyden. Kulin’s Tin Horse Highway is a great one, my kids love seeing all the tin horses. Our own local granite rock is beautiful and my kids love running around up there too. And we have lots of salt lakes – after a flood we can go skiing.
Monique: If you owned a bookshop, what would you call it?
Fiona: Palmer’s Pages.
Monique: What will people never catch you wearing?
Fiona: Puff sleeves.