Fiona McArthur has always loved reading and it’s fed her passion for writing. Her first medical romance novel was published by Harlequin in 2001 and now she’s on her 34th novel. She’s been nominated for the Romantic Book of The Year with Romance Writers of Australia and the US-based Cataromance Readers Choice Award and has sold over 2 million books, in twelve languages. What she loves most is women writing to her and saying, ‘Thank you. Now I understand about my premature baby’s birth and the how’s and why’s of her stay in hospital.’ Or ‘I had no idea I had those choices with my birth.’ As she says, “women are powerful, and I love to write about their amazing journeys”. Read more about Fiona here, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
Monique: Your novel, The Homestead Girls, has just been released. Can you tell readers a bit about it?
Fiona: The Homestead Girls has five very different women forming a family – without blood ties – and learning to appreciate each other and themselves. On their journey together through friendship, hardship, laughter and the occasional medical emergency, they discover each other’s strengths, meet their own needs, and learn to appreciate and love each other.
Monique: What do you like most about The Homestead Girls?
Fiona: I like that they are ordinary people, like you and I, doing an incredible job and balancing the curve balls that life throws at them, not always perfectly handled, though all to the best of their ability. They are human with human faults. I love that they find support in each other.
Monique: Which characters do you like the most in The Homestead Girls?
Fiona: I love them all. Lorna makes me laugh the most, and Soretta intrigued me so much she is a major player in the next book. Which one did you like least? The blow-in farmhand.
Monique: You’ve dedicated this novel to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Can you tell readers – especially those in urban areas – why this service is so important?
Fiona: That’s a fabulous question. When we live in the city it’s hard to imagine having to drive two hours or five hours on rough tracks, or at 100kms hour to the nearest person with medical knowledge. And you might drive that 2 hours without passing another car while the person next you could be dying. Or you could be surrounded by floodwaters and there is no other way except by air. We have to imagine being responsible for getting a really sick person to medical help. People in the city with a critically ill person often say it felt like hours before the ambulance got there. It might have been fifteen minutes or possibly longer. With the flying doctors service, it can take hours, so they are skilled at supporting those at the scene with spot on, critical advice and instructions until they land. Then they have to keep that person alive, in a confined space, hopefully not in turbulent weather, and transfer them in and out of that aircraft juggling all the necessary life-saving equipment, and into another ambulance before they die. I think they are incredibly resourceful heroes and deserve to be celebrated.
Monique: You’re making your mark in the rural fiction genre. What is it that attracts you to writing in this genre?
Fiona: What a lovely compliment. Thank you. Medicine and nursing has been so much a part of my life. My husband was a magnificent, caring paramedic for thirty years before he retired with illness, and I’m in my thirtieth year as a rural midwife. We’ve both had the privilege of being with people in hugely significant episodes in their lives and I have so much faith in the strength and heroic traits in ordinary people that I naturally draw from that background.
Monique: You worked for years as a rural midwife and now you’re a clinical educator. What prompted your move into writing fiction?
Fiona: In the beginning? LOL. The idea that if I wrote a romance novel I would be incredibly rich, of course. That was the prompt! But that didn’t happen, which is lucky, or I might not still be in midwifery job I absolutely love, but what did happen was I found a world that gave me another Fiona, and I love the world of writing. I love other writers, I love writing conferences, but most of all I LOVE being lost in a scene and waking up three hours later to the real world, exhausted by the roller-coaster I just imagined. Which is why I write in the mornings before everyone else gets up.
Monique: How has this career impact on your writing time?
Fiona: For the first fourteen years night shift was an issue especially around deadline time. I can’t do much at all on night duty except sleep through the day so I’m a nice person at work. Morning and evening shifts were fine because I write between 4-6am anyway. Now that I’m a three-day a week educator, I write before work and it sits beautifully.
Monique: Tell me about your road to publication. What are some of the highlights and lowlights?
Fiona: It took me ten years to finish a book after lots of rejections of partial manuscripts. I sooo should have finished that first book before I worried about making the beginning shine. Of course a major highlight was selling that first book. Then the second without revisions. Learning to have faith in myself that I would finish each book and it would be a book I would be proud of. Being nominated for the R*BY was amazing, but anything to do with Romance Writers Of Australia is amazing. It’s such an incredible organisation. Seeing Red Sand Sunrise out last year was a highlight, and I’m really looking forward to seeing The Homestead Girls on the shelves. Lowlights? No lowlights, just learning curves and chances to improve.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?
Fiona: Give myself a stern talking to. Make sure I’m using the ‘I AM’ words in the positive. I AM A WRITER (see my future article in I AM WOMAN magazine). Maybe do some relaxation. Maybe read some other fiction books and forget about it for a day.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Fiona: The urge to have a glass of wine to celebrate.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Fiona: That most of us are rich?
Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?
Fiona: Get up and start it. No use just writing it down because I’d be awake anyway. May as well start it. You can always go back to bed if you get tired.
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?
Fiona: During the writing they are my sisters or children or lovers. I definitely wonder what they are getting up to. But after a while, once I’m into the next book that’s not connected – I forget their names.
Monique: One (or more) of your characters is not behaving, or does something unexpected. How do you handle this?
Fiona: I’d leave that section alone and the answer would come in a song I was listening to or a movie or a snippet of conversation. Funny how that works out.
Monique: Have you ever cried while writing an emotive scene?
Fiona: All the time. Crikey. And again when I read it. And again when I read it again. J Every time.
Monique: What’s your writing process like? Where do you write?
Fiona: Lately I’ve been writing in a reclining chair with a stable table under my laptop. Always been a laptop but recent foot surgery has me with my foot up. Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? To start I need quiet. If I want a lot done I need to leave the house when everyone gets up and starts talking to me. If I’m really into it I don’t hear anything. How do you get into the “zone”? Pot of Earl Grey tea and the silence of early morning.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Fiona: Just finished Kelly Hunter’s latest. Loved it.
Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?
Fiona: KH. Illona Andrews. Diana Gabaldon. Carol Marinelli.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Fiona: Never, ever!
Monique: Where in Australia would you take an overseas visitor?
Fiona: Underneath the lighthouse at South West Rocks there is a four-wheel -drive beach that goes all the way along the beach to Hat Head from headland to headland. No people unless they have a vehicle. You can stop and set up camp for the day and just sit and look and swim. The sand is pure white, the water aqua, and you can see the fish swimming in the wall of the waves before they break onto the beach. It epitomises Australia for me. Give me a ring if you’re up this way and I’ll show you. xxFi