I’d like to thank Kaye Dobbie for her piece on the appeal of small town fiction. Kaye is an Australian author living on the central Victorian goldfields. She has been writing professionally ever since she won the Grafton Big River short story contest at the age of 18. Her career has undergone many changes, including writing Australian historical fiction under the name Lilly Sommers and penning romance novels as Sara Bennett. Kaye has written about, and been published in, many countries, but her passion for Australia shows in her current Harlequin Mira novels. Her latest novel, Sweet Wattle Creek, has just been released.
I’ve lived most of my life in the country. I can honestly say that apart from a couple of years spent in Brisbane and 6 months in London, I have lived all of my life in country towns big and small.
Looking back at my writing, I can see that small, enclosed communities appeal to me. As Sara Bennett I wrote about castles and villages in Britain, and even when I put my characters in larger settings like London they seemed to set off halfway through the book for some smaller place, where I could really get to grips with them.
I’m not sure what appeals to me about these small places. Maybe I feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings, or maybe I like boundaries.
In Sweet Wattle Creek, my latest Kaye Dobbie book, I have created a small town in three different time frames, early 1900s, 1931 and 1986. Four, if you count the First World War, which comes into the story too. So I’m looking at the way the town transitions over the years.
There are families who straddle all of those time periods, and I often see that in the small towns of today. Generations of people who have long memories. And secrets. Sweet Wattle Creek has secrets. Not all of them are nice, either. When Belle arrives in 1931 at first she is welcomed with open arms, the prodigal returned, but Belle has a mind of her own and begins to act in ways the town hierarchy don’t approve of.
During Depression times the government of Australia set up camps in the major cities, where the unemployed and homeless were expected to live. Not all of them wanted this. Many of them took to the roads–the track–looking for work and the kind of freedom bureaucracy was loath to give them. They had to walk for fifty miles before they could use their food vouchers, and they weren’t always welcome in the towns they came to.
That’s understandable. These towns were in crisis too, and they didn’t want a whole lot of strangers arriving and taking what they had. So when Belle begins to offer shelter to these people the town turns against her. Of course there’s more to the story, and Belle.
In 1986 Sophie has come to Sweet Wattle Creek to hide. She and her son Dillon want to blend in, and for a time they do, but the town is warm and welcoming, and they begin to believe they are safe. Small towns are welcoming. I’m not saying it’s always easy to fit in and adjust, especially if you’ve come from the city for a Tree Change or a Sea Change. Let’s face it, plenty of those people pack up and go back to their old lives. It must be a shock to find yourself under scrutiny by your neighbours, and told you have to live in a place for at least twenty years to be called a ‘local’.
But there are compensations. Like Sophie, you make friends and you slow down. Life moves at a more relaxed pace in the country. So much so that when Sophie goes on a trip to Melbourne, she finds out she no longer enjoys the rush and noise. To her dismay she discovers she’s become a small town girl and there’s no turning back.
Sweet Wattle Creek has been a joy to write, and I feel it is a special place. There’s good and bad there, just like real country towns. Not perfect but in my eyes very nearly.
About Sweet Wattle Creek:
The chance discovery of an antique wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.
It’s 1931 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.
Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?
Buy the book or read an extract here.