When I was a kid growing up in Mt Gambier, one of the best birthday parties anyone could hold was a day spent climbing Mount Schank and sliding from the top to the bottom on your bum. It was like a giant dirt slippery dip with the occasional thistle and rock getting in the way. In other words a complete blast.
Mt Schank, like its sister Mt Gambier, is an extinct volcano about 18 kms to the south of the town. Unlike Mt Gambier, which long ago blew its top and caved in on itself in what must have been spectacular fashion, Mt Schank has maintained its perfect volcano shape. Like a kid’s drawing, except perhaps slightly flatter.
When you’re growing up, volcanos, like dinosaurs, are cool. Being able to slide on your bum from the top to the bottom of one, getting completely filthy while travelling at what feels like 100 kms an hour, is even cooler. So Mt Schank has always stuck in my mind. For the fun it gave and for the fact that’s its completely speccy.
So when I came up with the idea for Rocking Horse Hill – one day while I was riding the
exercise bike and going off into my usual ga-ga dreamland – Mt Schank immediately sprang to mind. I was thinking about families at the time, especially those where conflict existed because of one member’s choice of partner.
We’ve all seen it – the new girlfriend who everyone hates, the boyfriend deemed not good enough, completely unsuitable or, unfortunately in some cases, dangerous. The tensions these relationships can cause are incredible, to the point where families fracture, the rift sometimes never to be repaired. They’re sad situations and difficult too due to the dynamics involved. But they make great story fodder.
Take an old-money family from a rich agricultural area and throw a stunning property at the bottom of a majestic volcano into the mix, along with a broody winter, and this is exactly type of family drama and you have Rocking Horse Hill.
And because I’m a romance writer, there’s plenty of passion too. A wonderful lovers reunited romance between the heroine Emily and the hero Josh. I do so adore these kinds of stories All that baggage! And in the case of Josh and Emily, there is plenty.
Naturally, I had to include a few animals. Star billing goes to a pair of mischievous donkeys called Cutie and Kicki who cause Em no end of grief. Then there are horses (of course!), chooks, an Indian runner duck called Chelsea, and a gorgeous dog that bears more than a passing resemblance to my late darling collie Cooch.
Oh, just a word of warning. If you’re thinking of taking a slippery-dip ride down Mt Schank, don’t. The track has long grown over and you’re likely to crash into a tree, end up head first in a nasty stand of blackberry, get into strife, or all of these things. But you can climb the tourist trail to the top and take in the magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and the sheer walls of the crater. It’s beautiful and worth the sore legs afterwards.