AUTHOR INSIGHT: MEET JENNIFER SCOULLAR

Jennifer Scoullar (Photo credit: John Koenders, Studio Reflections)Jennifer has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Her house, which was left to her by her father, is on a hilltop overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. She lives there with her family. A pair of old eagles live there too. Black-tailed wallabies graze by the creek. Eastern spinebills hover among the callistemon. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian stock horses. You can find out more about Jennifer here.

Monique: You’ve just released your fourth book, Billabong Bend. It’s on my to-review shelf. I loved Currawong Creek so I’m looking forward to this one … can you tell me what to expect?

Jennifer: Billabong Bend is a star-crossed love story between a floodplains farmer and a cotton grower, set in the heart of the NSW northern riverlands.
– For riverine farmer Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on Earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one wanting the land. When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the river, old feelings are rekindled and she thinks she has an ally. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a  nightmare.
On one level, Billabong Bend is a novel about first love. That original, blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you first believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something more than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict it inevitably causes. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, you’re in for a real treat. Billabong Bend is chock full of them!

Monique: What do you like most about Billabong Bend?

Jennifer: It’s hard to choose. I love the riverland setting and the birds of course. I like the exploration of first love, and how the memory of that feeling can influence our lives. I like Nina’s passion for the wetlands, Eva’s grace and dignity, Sophie’s spirit – I can’t pick just one thing.

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Monique: Which characters do you like the most in Billabong Bend? Which one did you like least?

Jennifer: Nina is my favourite character. She’s courageous, passionate about the environment, self-sufficient, resourceful – very much her own woman. She can service a tractor or use a rifle, just as easily as she can fix a pump or fly a plane. I admire that.

Max is my least favourite character, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I like all the characters in Billabong Bend. He’s been a hard man, but meeting Sophie brings out a softer, more tender side. That part of him was always there, but he didn’t know how to show it before. Little Sophie is a catalyst for change for many of the characters

Monique: You’re making your mark in the rural fiction genre – for me, one of the things that stands out about your writing is your clear love of the land. Why do you think the Australian landscape speaks to you so strongly? And what is it that attracts you to writing in this genre?

Jennifer: For some reason I just never outgrew that original, childlike wonder and connection with the natural world. I’ve always enjoyed a deep affinity with nature and the Australian landscape. In a sense it was my first love, and the passion has never waned. My father had a lot to do with it. He was a jackaroo in Queensland, then a drover and later on became a respected horticulturist specialising in native plants. I inherited his deep connection with the land. It makes sense to write in a genre that allows me to express my passion for the plants, animals and birds of the bush.

Monique: You’ve said that writing is in your blood, but that life got in the way before you could explore that fully. What prompted your move into writing fiction?

Jennifer: As a child I was an avid reader and wrote poems and stories. I knew I’d grow up to be a writer. I think every one of us has something important, deep down inside, that we always meant to do. Then life takes over and you don’t do it. I went to University and studied law. I married and had children … and all the while that little, annoying, nagging voice, that voice of me as a child, reminded me that I was supposed to be a writer. I’m very grateful for that voice. In his wonderful essay ‘Why I write’, George Orwell says, “If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write” Anyway, one day I saw a little wasp buzz past, and it struck me as amazing that for one moment, that insect and I shared the same time, the same place, the same space. I wondered about what else we shared. I sat down and wrote Wasp Season, my first novel.

Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?

Jennifer: I sit up, turn the light on and scribble it down.

Monique: One (or more) of your characters is not behaving, or does something unexpected. How do you handle this?

Jennifer: I’m a bit of an autocrat with my characters. They do what I tell them. Sometimes it feels like they’re taking on a life of their own, but I keep reminding them that I’m in charge! That said, unexpected directions are often the most interesting.

Monique: Do you become emotionally attached to your characters? What happens when the book is finished? Do you close the door or wonder what they’re getting up to?

Jennifer: I’m more fond of my animal characters than my human ones. An interesting plot always involves plenty of conflict, and it’s hard to torture people when you get too attached. I close the door when I finish a book. I have to if I’m going to become absorbed in a cast of new characters. However I sometimes wonder about writing a sequel, just so I can get back in touch with old favourites.

Monique: Have you ever cried while writing an emotive scene? 

Jennifer: Often. I’m surprised that it happens so frequently. Once again, it’s normally something to do with the natural world that brings me to tears. In a so far unpublished manuscript of mine, I cried when a tree was cut down, and had trouble revising the scene because I became so upset each time I read it.

Monique: 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”?

Jennifer: As a mother of four I’ve learned to write whenever the opportunity arises. It’s become a lot easier now my youngest is a teenager. I can cope with noise, and have trained myself to get into the zone at will. My favourite places to write are the stable (horses like you to read aloud), my little office, the beer garden at the local pub and in bed on cold days.

Monique: You’re having trouble writing. What do you do?

Jennifer: Writers sometimes write themselves into corners, and I’m no different. Then I need to read. I need to allow another imagination to spark off my own and fill up the creative well. There’s a famous quote, ‘Show me a writer that’s not reading, and I’ll show you a writer that’s not writing’. (Can’t remember who said it)

Monique: Getting onto the romantic stuff now … what’s it like writing a love scene? Do you need different writing conditions for that?

Jennifer: No, I don’t need different writing conditions for a love scene. I just need the story to call out for it.

Monique: Following on from that … which of your romantic leads would you want to share a kiss with?

Jennifer: Definitely Ric Bonelli from my new release Billabong Bend. He’s the only one of my heroes so far that I’ve actually got a crush on!

Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?

Jennifer: Like many writers, my biggest nemesis is procrastination. Social media doesn’t help. I’ll give myself five minutes to check Facebook and next thing I’m watching horse videos on YouTube!

Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?

Jennifer: The Silver Brumby stories when I was a child. Elyne Mitchell’s writing first showed me how to paint the bush with words. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring raised my consciousness about protecting our fragile and beautiful environment. Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career encouraged me to write and be a feminist.

Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?

Jennifer: Elyne Mitchell, of course, and Charles Dickens. But among contemporary authors I greatly admire writers in my own genre of rural fiction. People like Nicole Alexander, Cathryn Hein, Helene Young and Margareta Osborn. Firstly, they are all women making a success in an industry dominated by male authors. And for another thing, I like that their heroines are strong, independent and resourceful.

Monique: Which book are you reading now?

Jennifer: Shark by David Owen

Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?

Jennifer: Yes.

Monique: Which book in your collection would you most like to have autographed by the author?

Wuthering Heights

Monique: Where in Australia would you take an overseas visitor?

Jennifer: If I had to choose one place, it would be Victoria’s beautiful upper Murray region. This is the setting for my second novel Brumby’s Run.

Thanks for answering my questions, Jennifer.