This week on social media I posted a little promotional tile I made. I love both a tale of thwarted love and the night sky (and where we’re staying in Stanthorpe, Qld’s Granite Belt, the stars are amazing).
But, unlike the star-crossed lovers in A Place to Remember, I feel as though the stars are aligning for me this year, both in my writing and in life generally. (And that is in no small way because Tess Woods (lovely author friend) kicked my butt into gear a couple of years back when I couldn’t see the stars for all the negative clutter in my head.)
Whether a writer plots or flies by the seat of their pants (like me) we all live for and love that moment when the many carefully constructed threads in our manuscript come together. Some gems fall into our laps totally unexpectedly. We didn’t plan them but, boy, when they happen it feels like a gift from above. In those moments, I like to think someone’s looking over my shoulder, working with me to nudge those pieces into place.
My literary guardian angel has been different for each book and while writing and perfecting A Place to Remember (especially given who my book is being edited and published by) I’ve imagined my angel is a big huggy, happy Colleen McCulloch.
It was three years ago today (January 29, 2015,) that the world lost Colleen and I want to pay tribute to her, not only because she is a literary legend, but because without her I don’t think A Place to Remember would exist.
“I am so glad I didn’t write The Thorn Birds,” said no author ever!
Of course I wish I’d written something that magnificent. Not only did The Thorn Birds showcase our country, I consider it the forerunner to the rural fiction genre we all know and love today. (The Thorn Birds mini-series also gave us Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward together! If you’ve been living under a rock, I highly recommend you find The Thorn Birds DVD and watch it.)
My publisher, and the managing editor for A Place to Remember is the same person responsible for The Thorn Birds’ success and getting it published in the UK back in 1977.
For many years, Colleen was asked for a sequel, or for ‘another Thorn Birds’ novel, but she refused. She Instead followed her passion and went on to produce 25 novels, ranging from love stories to crime fiction, and the epic, seven-volume Masters of Rome historical fiction series.
Not that I would dare compare my writing to someone of Colleen’s calibre, but I can tell you that both The Thorn Birds and A Place to Remember are based on the same theme: class, meddling parents/relatives, and bad timing leading to major conflict. I am not alone here. There are numerous stories based on the same theme, including the greatest tragedy of all: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. (Class, meddling parents, and really, really bad timing.) You can no doubt list many more stories — told any number of ways. Love a musical that deals with conflict surrounding class, meddling parents, and bad timing? How about Westside Story and Saturday Night Fever?
According to Christopher Booker, the same seven basic plots are the foundation for all storylines and all can be traced back fairy tales, myths/legends, and even The Bible. Over time, our storytelling has changed and people have started to tell stories their way and put their own distinctive voice to those well-loved plots and themes to make each one different (as evidenced by Shakespeare, Colleen McCulloch and, yes, even Jenn J McLeod!)
(If you are a writer, you’ll have heard about the seven basic plots Christopher Booker talks about in his book.)
I’ve taken the themes of class, meddling parents, and bad timing, added a sprawling cattle station and a dual timeframe narrative that spans decades to make the story my own. And I’ve added depth and complexity to the setting and characters to make A Place to Remember a multi-generational saga with not one, but two love stories.
Okay, I’ve digressed (which I do often, I know) and I’ve raved on about A Place to Remember when what I wanted to write about is making the 29th of January A Day to Remember.
Three years ago we lost Colleen McCullough to that place where all our best bookish types end up and watch over the rest of us bungling our way through what has become a very challenging biz. One day (and not too soon I hope) I will get to finally seek out Colleen so I can give her a big huggy hug and say ‘thank you for the inspiration’.
It’s funny the way things work out; how a tiny thought, a single kernel of an idea, a generous deed can grow and before you know it (and as I said at the start of this blog post) things begin to fall into place.
I truly believe where I am in my life and career is where I am meant to be right now. All the signs are there. For example: Not long ago I discovered that a lady I’ve known for many years is related to Colleen. I was in Sawtell having coffee and telling her how much I love The Thorn Birds when she explained her very close connection. I sat there aghast and grinning and said, ‘Jill, why did I not know this before now?’ Then I hugged her. (It’s as close as I’m getting to hugging Colleen for a while!!)
I recall my crazy pitch to Rosie de Courcy, my publisher. I described A Place to Remember as a story of forbidden love (but without a priest!). I’d taken a proven plot/theme – meddlesome parents, class, bad timing – and set a multi-generational story on a sprawling cattle station in Central Queensland.
Once A Place to Remember is released (March 19 here in ANZ and April 5 elsewhere) I’ll have a new mission. Somehow, some day, (I suspect I’ll need Tess Woods to give my butt another boot) I WILL find a way to send this novel to Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, because it was Rachel who was in my head the whole time I was creating the main character. By golly, I’d love to see Rachel Ward bring my Ava to the screen (and her daughter, Matilda, play Nina). Bloody brilliant combination.
If my literary guardian angel is looking over me, I hope she has some pull.
Thanks for everything, Colleen McCullough, 1 June 1937 – 29 January 2015
(Full bibliography below)
P.S. “With 30 million copies sold, Colleen McCullough’s THE THORN BIRDS is legendary. But it’s not her masterwork – that accolade must go to MASTERS OF ROME, her epic, twenty-years-in-the-making labour-of-love that captures the soul of late Republican Rome in a way no other writer has ever managed.” (From Head of Zeus website: Read more about it here. http://headofzeus.com/article/masters-rome-colleen-mccullough )
P.P.S Of course let’s not forget about Tim. (That novel was our first a glimpse of a writer who would be a trailblazer, not a follower.) But you might be surprised at the extent of Colleen McCullough’s bibliography. (This list courtesy of Wikipedia) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colleen_McCullough#Bibliography
The Thorn Birds (1977)
An Indecent Obsession (1981)
A Creed for the Third Millennium (1985)
The Ladies of Missalonghi (1987)
The Song of Troy (1998)
Morgan’s Run (2000)
The Touch (2003)
Angel Puss (2005)
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (2008)
Masters of Rome series
The First Man in Rome (1990)
The Grass Crown (1991)
Fortune’s Favorites (1993)
Caesar’s Women (1996)
The October Horse (2002)
Antony and Cleopatra (2007)
Carmine Delmonico series: McCullough also published five murder mysteries in the Carmine Delmonico series.
On, Off (2006)
Too Many Murders (December 2009)
Naked Cruelty (2010)
The Prodigal Son (2012)
Sins of the Flesh (2013)
The Courage and the Will: The Life of Roden Cutler VC (1999)
Memoir: Life Without the Boring Bits (2011)