The Story Behind…
BAD BOYS AND CREEPY FUNGUS
From the moment I finished Elsa’s Stand, the first of my Outback Brides stories, it was clear Elsa’s friend and work colleague Serenity would have to have her own tale. With her clever quips and music bombing, she was a crack-up to write and it would have been cruel to leave her loveless. Especially when the handsome hero from Elsa’s Stand had an even more handsome and single younger brother waiting in the wings.
Readers clearly thought the same. To date, I’ve never had so many readers ask for a character’s story. With that kind of demand, how could I say no?
Besides, how hard could it be? I already had two established characters, a fabulous setting, and a dramatic idea on the boil. Writing should be a breeze.
Unfortunately, life had other ideas.
When the invitation came out to join in the second Outback Brides continuity series, I was in and out of hospital, suffering a mystery illness (you can read more about this period in When Life Becomes Fiction, the story behind Scarlett and the Model Man). With the future so uncertain, I wasn’t game to commit to anything and figured it would be prudent not to take part.
Fortunately, the announcement of the third series timed out perfectly. I was on the mend and writing again, and I’d had so much time to think about Jesse and Serenity’s story it was just a matter of getting it out of my head.
Or so I thought. Again.
Before I expand on that, let me tell you about the tunnels that play a big role in Serenity’s Song.
If you travel west along the road from Ararat to Stawell in western Victoria, to where Wirralong would be located if it existed, you’ll drive through a small place called Great Western. The area is a long-established winegrowing region, and one of the most important wineries is Seppelts. Established by Joseph Best in 1865, Seppelts Great Western is home to around three kilometres of hand dug underground cellars known as ‘The Drives’.
I’ve been lucky enough to tour the cellars a couple of times. They’re fabulously atmospheric, thanks to their age, dim lighting, dust-covered wine bottles, and an unusual fungus that clings to the barrel-vaulted walls. Apparently the fungus arrived on some oak barrels imported from France years ago, and has been happily making itself at home since.
Tunnels and a creepy mould? Something that delicious had to end up in a book one day, and Serenity’s Song proved perfect for it. Both Elsa’s and Serenity’s businesses run out of Wirralong’s historic Tobacco Warehouse and Emporium. It’s not hard to imagine a place like that having cellars and with Wirralong bring an old gold mining town, there’d be plenty of miners on hand to dig them, as there were for Seppelts.
At well over a hundred years old, neglected and mostly forgotten, the Emporium’s tunnels would likely be in poor condition. Probably sealed off because of the danger. Maybe not even mentioned much or whispered about in secret. For Serenity, those fungus-ridden tunnels would be an unpleasant place but for Jesse? How could a fit and adventurous and known risk-taking man resist?
I can’t tell you how excited I was to write about those cellars and the impact they’d have on Serenity and Jesse. Before I got to that point though, there were other problems to solve.
The first was Serenity and Jesse’s meet-cute. If you’ve read Elsa’s Stand, then you’ll know that Elsa and Jack have a highly memorable meet-cute – my favourite so far, in fact. Could I do the same with Serenity and Jesse?
It took some doing, and multiple brainstorming sessions with my various writers’ groups and author friends, but I think their first meeting is pretty cute – even if Serenity would loudly dispute the cute tag.
The second problem was how to make Jesse a sympathetic character. Regular readers will know that bad boy heroes aren’t really my thing. My heroes tend to be good men with big hearts. Yet Jesse’s backstory involves some seriously bad behaviour. In Elsa’s Stand it’s revealed that he misses his mother’s funeral because he’s been arrested. He has no job, no real direction, and Jesse’s reaction to his ex-girlfriend Merisa selling him out is to rage, then sulk and descend into drink.
I wanted darling Serenity to fall in love with someone like him? Urk!
But redeeming Jesse proved to be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing Serenity’s Song. Jesse may have had a bad boy past, but once I’d drilled deep into his head and understood his wounds, I found far more good in his soul than bad. What is even more important, is his deep desire to change. To grow from the spoiled, privileged boy he was to the man he wants to be.
How he makes that change, you’ll find out when you read the dramatic and emotional journey that is Serenity’s Song. Just watch out for the creepy fungus.