Author Archives: Jenn J McLeod

About Jenn J McLeod

Australian novelist and #gypsywriter living full time in a fifth wheeler caravan to find more story inspiration. So, come home to the country: House for all Seasons (2013), Simmering Season (2014), Season of Shadow and Light (2015), The Other Side of the Season (2016)

Bittersweet Bucket List

This #RovingWriter finally got to be Miss Philadelphia. (You know the one… Nancy Cato’s All The Rivers Run. Sigrid Thornton played the character in the 1980’s mini series of the same name.) It’s been a dream of mine to visit Echuca, to traverse that ancient wharf, to board the same wood-fired steamer, and to travel the Mighty Murray to the pulse of paddles and the huffing and puffing of pistons.

Two years ago, I heard about P.S. Pevensey (that it was the steamer used in the mini series) and if that was not exciting enough, I was told EVERY, yes EVERY, passenger gets a ticket – even the fur-kids. So, I made a promise to the one-eyed Dude dog at that time. I told her we’d take a boat trip together along the Murray.

Sadly, it’s taken two years to get to Echuca (on the NSW/Vic border) and as you may know, we lost the bravest dog in the world last year. So it was with sad hearts that we decided to go ahead and take a trip on the dog-friendly P.S. Pevensey anyway.

After telling our sad story to the lovely lady in the Discovery Centre, she gave us a canine ticket for our dearly departed ‘dog in a box’.

Canine Tickets for special passengers

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the lady took the time to write the date on the ticket, we realised the significance. While not planned, May 10 is one year – to the day – that we said goodbye to the Dude dog after 14 years with us. Suddenly, the much-anticipated trip turned bittersweet.

The one-eyed Dude dog, Daiquiri

Feeling miserable, what did we see? Bella.

What a joy. Here she is aboard and with Mum, Leanne. (I was itching for a puppy cuddle. I even had a sneaky cry.)

Once we disembarked, Bella’s family stopped with us at the Star Hotel for lunch – and some water from a wine goblet!

 

I’ve always believed some people come into our lives for a season and some for a reason. A  massive thank you to Keith and Leanne and Bella for sharing the trip and the pizza afterwards. I believe we were meant to meet today. Safe travels!

ABOUT THE BOOK: If you are interested in Nancy Cato’s novel – Booktopia has All The Rivers Run.

BEFORE YOU GO: It’s time we took back some control. Don’t leave it to Facebook (and the like) to decide what information you see and when you see it. I have book news coming soon and if, like me, you distrust social media’s filtering of information, join my New Release Reminder Service and I will email you my news direct to your inbox. (Just look top right on this page!) Leave your email (which I’ll protect with my life) and I’ll send you a reminder. This is NOT a monthly newsletter full of stuff you probably don’t want to know. I only send New Release Reminders when I have a new book out (or if my books go on sale online – and who doesn’t love a bargain book?)

albinism disability Jo Jo Moyes

Dear Jo Jo…

I emailed Jo Jo Moyes recently. I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed reading Me Before You, but more importantly, that I loved the wonderful way she portrayed her character, Will Traynor (and by that I mean bringing a leading man with a significant physical disability into mainstream fiction).

Of course, Jo Jo is not the first writer to do this. Many authors, myself included (with Will ‘Wheels’ Travelli in my 2013 debut novel House for all Season), have included character traits that are not deemed as ‘the norm’ for their male/female romantic fiction couple. By not following the traditional/safe route when it comes to creating characters readers love, authors do take a risk. Some of you might be shaking your heads in disbelief, but I received two scathing comments about my Will being in a wheelchair (anonymous Good Reads type comments). They sure were a blow to this debut author. But I picked myself up and I’ve since written three more books, each time ensuring there is a character in the story who refuses to be defined by their physicality.

As I found out, even Jo Jo was heavily criticised by disability groups who felt the portrayal of her Will portrayed a negative view of life for those living with quadriplegia.

In my 4th novel, The Other Side of the Season, I have both a leading man who suffers incomplete paraplegia, and Pearl — a person with albinism. The idea for Pearl came to me after reading a Ramp Up interview with Dr. Shari Parker. A fierce advocate, Shari (along with others) are striving to change the way people with albinism are perceived by the broader community. (This perception often influenced by movies/TV.) With the pen being mightier than the sword, there’s no better place to add weight than in our fiction novels. If thoughtfully done, novels (and movies) can tackle ‘different’ respectfully and kindly. They can be a starting point for opening dialogue on various subjects and provide a safe place in which to learn.

With the pen being mightier than the sword, there’s no better way to weigh in than in our fiction novels. If thoughtfully done, novels (and movies) can tackle ‘different’ respectfully and kindly. Sensitively and accurately portrayed, characters can be a starting point for opening dialogue on various subjects and provide a safe place in which to learn.

But . . . “Let’s get the facts straight,” as Shari Parker says in an interview. “In popular culture, people with albinism are often depicted as evil or supernatural.” [She] wants to set the record straight about the condition and remind others that widespread inaccuracies about albinism should be challenged wherever they appear.

I totally agree, but is Hollywood getting the message? According to an online source: “…from 1960 to 2006 there were 68 films released featuring an evil albino, with 24 of these appearing between 2000-2003. In comparison, there were only a handful of movies with albino characters that were sympathetic in nature, and many of these characters were used primarily for comedic value, ie: giving the characters stupid nicknames and making repeated gags about their skin condition.” And these movies were not small. They were significant in terms of box office success. (eg Including The Da Vinci Code and Cold Mountain.)

Incredibly, as recently as 2013, The Heat (starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy) included largely negative, inappropriate, and even a few disgusting one-liners that ridicule a character cast as an Albino. This sort of depiction only serves to reinforce misunderstandings, societal prejudice, and discrimination. And don’t think it’s only crime/cop shows. In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the main antagonist, named Rudy, is cast as the albino Baryonyx who is vicious and vindictive, unlike the other dinosaurs. Okay, so every good story needs conflict and a great antagonist and it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes.

Easy for the writer, perhaps. Hurtful for those being portrayed.

It’s not hard to write well-rounded, emotionally complex characters with disabilities who are not defined solely by those disabilities.

I like to challenge myself as an author—be it character, setting or structure—to make my stories stand out. This, along with and Shari’s interview, is why I decided to create Pearl in The Other Side of the Season. And I’ve received so many lovely messages from readers about her (and her relationship with Jake). She was intended to take on a secondary role, but like Alice in Season of Shadow and Light (also mean to be a secondary character when I wrote her in), readers have warmed to Pearl, even asking me to give her a story of her own. I don’t like using the word disability. I prefer the word extraordinary—and Pearl certainly is that—making her special, while still portrayed her as a regular girl.

I don’t like using the word disability and I don’t play up differences. I prefer to use the word extraordinary to describe some character traits. Pearl certainly is that—making her special, while still portrayed her as a regular girl.

And in case you’re going to ask . . . I found a list on Good Reads that has 395 books listed as being a romance with a disabled (substitute ‘extraordinary’) hero/heroine.

Have you enjoyed a story that has an extraordinary character? Let me know.

My choice is most definitely the  Jo Jo Moyes novel, Me Before You. I do intend seeing the movie soon, but for now, I am very happy to let Jo Jo’s beautiful characters and the imagery her words created linger a little longer in my mind.

Meet Will in House for all Seasons

Meet Alice in Season of Shadow and Light

Meet Pearl and David in The Other Side of the Season

 

When is a killer not a killer (a lesson for writers!)

There are faster, easier, more caravan-friendly roads to drive between Coffs Harbour and Victoria. We chose the more scenic coastal route—The Princes Highway, which is less highway and more a bitumen goat track (a drunk goat, in parts).

Our reason?

My family holidayed on the south coast when I was very young (Ulladulla, Kiama, Batemans’ Bay) but we never went as far south as Eden.

We knew the road would be challenging with 25 feet of Myrtle The Turtle in tow, but the town of Eden was a bit of a bucket list town for me. I’m not sure why, although I am certain it was not for any biblical reference: no gardens, naked men, or apples tempted me. The only temptation was the stunning Two Fold Bay and had the temperature not been single digit and the wind gale-force, I might have had a quick dunk, despite tales of killer whales.

Eden did teach this roving writer something about the power of a single word in storytelling and how reader interpretation can change the story—and that’s not a bad lesson for any author.

My lesson.

What I learned is how our words can incorrectly influence our readers and my teacher was those so-called ‘killer whales’.

You see, the Killer Whale did not get their rather unfortunate name from hunting down and snacking on humans, as I’d always assumed. They were, in a way, man’s friend, even when whale oil was a much sought after commodity in the 1800s. Twofold Bay legend of that time tells of the Killer Whale being the first known sea creature to work in ‘partnership’ with people. I recommend you read this more detailed (and short) version by Australian Geographic about the cleverness of these giants of the sea, and how they protected their species from whalers in search of whale oil, by herding the unsuspecting humpbacks (and other species) in to be killed instead. Extract: from the Australian Geographic article:

“Whaling in Eden took off in 1828, but it wasn’t until 1844 that stories of the peculiar behaviour started to emerge. Eyewitnesses talked of orcas prowling the entrance of Twofold Bay for migrating humpback, blue, southern right and minke whales. Using the unique geography of the bay, the waiting orcas would ambush whales that were vastly bigger than themselves – ripping at fins, diving over their blowholes, and forcing them into shallower waters for the whalers to finish off. Once a whale was dead, they’d feast on the lips and tongue, leaving the rest of the carcass for the whalers.”

So, when a killer is not necessarily a killer.

That’s how the killer whale got such a demonised name and reputation. Not by eating people! Over the years, legend and misunderstanding has seen the single word ‘killer’ interpreted in different ways and this is the lesson for writers.

We need to choose and use our words carefully. We need to look at words in context and understand that a single word can have different meanings or be misconstrued.

We need to be as careful with our word choices as we do our commas and apostrophes. Or else when someone says, “Let’s eat Grandma” we are not perceived to be killer grandkids when what we really mean is: “Let’s eat, Grandma.”

Discover more about at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Life as Jenn #rovingwriter

So there I am writing a big story at my tiny desk, when I hear the squeak of excited voices outside the caravan door. I pop my head out and see two women in a huddle. They’re pointing.
‘Hi,’ I say, slipping into my shoes. ‘I’m Jenn. Nice day!’
What transpires makes my day very nice indeed.

The women have seen my lawn sign shoved in the ground and guess what?They love my books. So there I am, in my uncoordinated Crocs, socks, shorts and T-shirt and feeling absolutely fabulously famous. We talk, they buy a book (they didn’t know my fourth one was out) and I sign it. Word spreads and soon I’m selling more books. (Let me tell you, there’s no greater feeling than taking an afternoon walk around the van park and hearing multiple new readers call out, “Just up to where blah does blah.”) There are definite positives to being Jenn, #rovingwriter. (There are also negatives. I’ll get to that).

The important message is, the only reason those ladies knew who was inside the caravan is because I told them. I have my name EVERYWHERE—and it works. (All I need now is the T-shirt!)

I’ve probably worked harder on marketing since hitting the road. And it’s the nicest kind of promo because I’m away from the computer and face-to-face with people. My response is also less awkward when someone asks what I do for a living. (It’s only taken four books!)

Since hitting the road I’m learning to be brave and make a noise (because squeaky wheels get attention. Facebook will tell you that!)

  • Every van park office, every small town coffee shop waiter gets a signed bookmark that says ‘thank you’.
  • Once set up on site, my first stop is the laundry. Travellers leave books they’ve finished in the laundry and those books need bookmarks!
  • Most caravan parks will display my Camp Kitchen Book Chat flyer, inviting fiction lovers to BYO wine for a bookish happy hour.
  • When I know where I’ll be well in advance I contact local bookshops and libraries. In Coonabarabran (this year I did a NSW mid-west tour, en route to a Mudgee Readers Festival gig) I visited the library. As I was only in town a couple of nights I hadn’t arranged a formal event, but I asked if they had a book club, and could I leave them some bookmarks? Guess what? The book club was meeting the next day and I was invited to gatecrash.

Apart from the Mudgee event itself, Tamworth was a tour highlight. Not only did my library event garner lots of attention, I scored the promotional trifecta: print, radio and a spot on the local TV news with a film crew visiting the caravan. (And I got to catch up with Len Klump—friend/reader extraordinaire.) See the media my NSW tour achieved HERE or View the TV News footage.

Why to I do all this?

So I can keep my name out there 365 days a year. (The norm in traditional publishing is a six-week (from release) publicity campaign.) While the publisher supports me with posters on my self-designed tours, I arrange the events and secure media exposure. (Cursor over for captions)

As you can see, so far I’ve knocked over the north-west of NSW (catching up with author friends along the way) and as I write this I’m making my way around Victoria in much the same way: bookshop signings, library talks, catch-ups with writing friends. (Friend me on Facebook to know where I’ll be next.)

Catching up with Nicole Alexander and Greg Barron.

So, is the #rovingwriter life all positive?

No. There are just as many frustrations, especially when Telstra makes you pay in blood for pathetically slow and mostly intermittent mobile data ($110 / mth for 20 GB!); or running out of laptop battery when the words are flowing and the solar panels don’t have enough charge. (We just bought a generator, because if you think 24 feet of caravan is small, try sharing the space with a cranky writer with a flat battery!) Although, I confess, de-stressing is not too difficult.

While I dreamed of hitting the road, my four-book contract gave me the nudge I needed and it’s fitting that I call myself Jenn, #rovingwriter. I love the roving life and Gypsy is the character from my debut novel, House for all Season, and she once dreamed of running away with the circus.

I appreciate not everyone can sell, or give up, everything to live in a caravan. But that shouldn’t keep you chained to your desk. Get out and find ways to make a noise in your community. If you have caravan parks, drop bookmarks into the laundry regularly. My car signage works a treat, too, with people tooting and waving madly. (I assume they’re adoring fans and not giving me the finger because I’ve inadvertently cut them off in traffic.)

So if you do see Jenn the #rovingwriter in your travels, please wave.

 

(Republished from RWA Hearst Talk Feb 2017) And if you are a writer and not yet a member of Romance Writers of Australia, I highly recommend you think about joining.

Author V.K. Black and Campfire Tales

When I found out a fellow Aussie author was hitting the road for five months to travel the country in I remember saying, “Oh, the places you’ll see!”

That author is V.K. Black and she’s taken her experiences and turned them into a series of short stories called Campfire Tales. So, what’s VK have to say?

You were so right, Jenn. Incredible, wonderful places. Kakadu, Litchfield Park, Broome, Uluru, a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles, whales, off South Australia – spouts everywhere.

The office looks familiar, V.K. I have a similar one right now, but in Victoria.

The photo of me at our table is when we were camped next to a river in the Pilbara. Nice office, huh? That notepad on the table contains the first draft of Campfire Tales, which is the anthology of short stories I was writing as I travelled around Australia.

And now—drum roll please—they’re published!

Tell us about the book.

Campfire Tales follows the adventures of Ellie and Michael, a young honeymooning couple, as they travel around Australia. Most co-incidentally, Ellie and Michael follow exactly the same route around Australia that we took. All of the stories in this anthology were inspired by little things that happened, snatches of conversations we heard, and people we met.

About Campfire Tales

Hawaii? Paris? Goodness, no. On their honeymoon, Ellie and Michael travel around Australia in their battered old land cruiser, sleep in a tent, and don’t mind at all that their air mattress is always flat the next morning. They encounter a gunman at a remote campsite, help a woman dealing with emotional abuse, and meet the warring owners of an amazing caravan.

Our very-much-in-love couple make love, fight, make up, and meet people from all walks of life during their incredible adventure. So sit back with your thermos of coffee (or a glass of wine, if you’re more like Ellie and Michael) and follow our happy couple’s adventures around Australia.

Where to get the book

Available for 99 cents from Amazon and Kobo. More Buy Links can be found on V.K. Black’s Website.

Leave a reply below if you wish.

Author, Pamela Cook, gives her 21 y.o. self some advice

So, Pamela…

You’ve just turned 21 – happy birthday! Look at you in that cute little Shirley Temple outfit at your ‘S’ themed party. 🙂

I’m well over twice your age now and it makes me smile when I think back to how young and naïve you are – in a good way. Life has so much in store for you – travel, love, children and some harder things too – loss, grief, ageing. It has a few surprises lined up, which you won’t even be able to imagine right now. Knowing what I know, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learnt. It won’t change what happens to you of course but it might be useful to those three beautiful daughters you will raise.

So, here goes …

Stick to your plans to travel. The world is a huge, wonderful, awe-inspiring place. Meet people, learn from them, take as many photos as you can and store up the memories. They will last you a lifetime. Keeping a journal is probably a good idea too.

Cherish your friends. Take every opportunity you can to spend time with them, connect with them, love them. Some of them will come into your life for a while, then leave. Others will stay but only if you nurture the friendship. Nothing can replace the value of a good friend or the memories you make together.

Follow your passions. You may not be able to earn a living from them but that doesn’t make them any less important. Choose a job you love and can be of service in but don’t ever give up on your dreams. If there’s something you want to do, start now, keep at it and learn as much as you can along the way. Your time will come – but only if you make it happen. And believe.

Family is important. You’ll move house, travel to other places, fall in and out of love, have fantastic experiences and some horrible ones, but your family will always be there and have your back. Make sure you are always there for them in return – their love is unconditional and yours should be too. Some of your ‘family’ won’t be related by blood.

Be strong. Not just physically but in your principals, beliefs and love. Your body has to carry you into old age so take care of it. Stand up for ideals and people you believe in, speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. Be there for the people you love – in whatever way they need. Muster the courage to do things that need to be done.

… I could go on and on but I don’t want to bore you and you’re probably off to see a pub band or heading to a party with your friends. Enjoy that city life because (spoiler alert) one day you’ll be sitting on a verandah in the country taking in the fresh air, the gorgeous views, watching your horses (yes, horses!) graze while you work on your latest novel.

Be kind and take care,

Pamela x

Pamela Cook is a city girl with a country lifestyle and too many horses. Her rural fiction novels feature feisty women, tangled family relationships and a healthy dose of romance. Her latest book, The Crossroads, is out now. An eclectic reader, Pamela also enjoys writing poetry, memoir pieces, and literary fiction and is proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room To Read, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes literacy and gender equality in developing countries. She also teaches creative writing through her business www.justwrite.net.au. When she’s not writing she wastes as much time as possible riding her handsome quarter horses, Morocco and Rio.

Pamela loves to connect with readers both in person and online. You will often find her lurking in one of these places:

www.pamelacook.com.au
www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor
@PamelaCookAU

What advice does author @PamelaCookAU give her 21 y.o self? #LetterToMyself… Click To Tweet

 

 This is the last letter of my 2016 blog series. Pamela tops off an awesome list of authors who each wrote a letter of advice to themselves. To see the list of contributing authors: CLICK Stand by for a fabulous new blog series in 2017.

Wanting to honour the lost art of letter writing through this blog series, I also opened my fourth novel with a character writing a letter. And not just any letter. It’s a story — perhaps the most important he’ll ever tell.

The Other Side of the SeasonReady for a sea change

Life is simple on top of the mountain for David, Matthew and Tilly until the winter of 1979 when tragedy strikes, starting a chain reaction that will ruin lives for years to come. Those who can, escape the Greenhill banana plantation on the outskirts of Coffs Harbour. One stays—trapped for the next thirty years on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams. That is until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone the truth can heal, what’s wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and . . . there’s another side to every story.

BUY now from Amazon, KoboiTunes, or

Booktopia

 

OMG! Huge news. Massive. Something I’ve never done before.

I’m driving over the border into Victoria!

It’s a first. I’ve never even been to Victoria — unless you count flying into a conference in a Melbourne hotel and flying out again.

To get this far south from Coffs Harbour, the  J and I have been traversing some pretty serious hills. We don’t like hills. We particularly dislike hills that include skinny roads and narrow bridges. (Narooma, for example. We did not like that bridge much, but the town was very pretty.) I’ve discovered that the Princes Highway (did you know all these years I’ve thought it was the Princess Highway?) presents more twists and turns than a Jenn J McLeod plot?

We were ‘tempted’ to stop in Eden (NSW’s most southern coastal town) so we did. We were very weary (and extremely wary of snakes and apples in Eden). But we needed to regroup and prepare for the BIG crossing. We also had to eat all the prohibited fresh fruit and veggies because apparently, we take them over the border. (Of course, we washed them down with wine, as grapes are also on the prohibited list.)

So, it is a first. Wish us well for the last leg as we prepare to tackle a border crossing into unknown territory and take up our first Victorian property sitting job as of Saturday.

Some things we found en route:

Speaking of weather…

Can someone tell the south coast… It’s December, for Pete’s sake!

Why do I have the car heater on today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and sound advice.

NSW we love you and we will be back, but first there are places to see and people to meet, libraries to conquer and small towns to visit.