Outback Brides and Places to Hide
With some books it’s easy to remember the ‘kapow’ moment when the idea first hit. Others are more like gathering clouds that come together and break apart as the wind changes, until either a stormfront forms or the story proves too weak and is blown away entirely.
I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember how I came up with Elsa’s Stand and I honestly can’t. I do recall my delight at being asked by the lovely folk at Tule Publishing if I’d like to be part of a rural romance continuity. How could I say no to working with authors of Kelly Hunter’s, Fiona McArthur’s and Victoria Purman’s talent?
I’d never been involved in a continuity before, which is like a series but with each story written by a different author and with a shared theme or location throughout. Our theme was Outback Brides, with a setting to be decided. We had a lot of fun with that, bandying around all sorts of locations, from outback Queensland to New South Wales and parts between, finally settling on Victoria’s Wimmera and the sandstone shadow of its glorious Grampians mountain range.
I’ve always adored the Grampians and have been visiting since childhood. The southernmost tip, Mount Sturgeon, is only a couple of hours drive from my home town of Mount Gambier and the Grampians was a popular Easter getaway destination.
These days I return to visit a girlfriend and her family who live on a nearby cropping and sheep farm, the landscape of which provided great inspiration for the hero Jack’s property Strathroy.
When I first started contemplating the premise and characters, I knew I wanted a strong, silent, almost taciturn to the point of rudeness hero. The sort of man who just wants to be left alone so he can get on with things. I’d recently visited Lightning Ridge in north-western NSW and been fascinated by the area. I’d also read a newspaper story about ratters (opal mine thieves) and how the isolation of the digs – many of which are located another hour further west – allows a form of bush justice to reign, as well as making a good place to hide yourself away. What my hero might be hiding from, I had yet to figure out.
Who better to challenge a man like that than a heroine who’s as chatty and social as they come? Not only chatty, but who knows a lot about her town and its secrets because people tell her. Which begs the question: who’s privy to, and trusted with, that kind of information? The local hairdresser, of course. A born and bred local who loves her town and whom the town adores in return.
Now, a town like that wouldn’t want some dusty, silent ring-in sniffing around their darling girl, would they? And if I gave him some of his own local history – a dodgy family that’d been the subject of gossip for decades, for instance – then their relationship would be made even more difficult.
So that was where I started, with a vague Romeo and Juliet, opposites-attract idea, full of conflict, but, unlike poor Romeo and Juliet, the promise of a happily ever after.