Writing historical romance stories set in rural townships of North Queensland, Australia, spanning the struggles settlers experienced between 1860 and 1898 is unfortunately not as easy as one would first think.
When first I embarked on my venture to write stories set in Australia there was never any doubt that I wanted my backdrop to be in and around where I grew up. I didn’t want to delve into the modern settings, with my characters using all the technology we’ve been graced with in this day and age. What I wanted to write was the stories of my ancestors who travelled from England to this grand island of ours and embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time – civilising the north.
So when I sat down for the very first time and tried to put pen to paper I realised what I was wanting to bring to the world was a history few people knew anything about. I mean who has ever heard of The Burdekin, or Rockhampton, or any of the other significant towns in Northern Australian history? But these towns have grand histories and were established by people who loved each other enough to try and survive the hardships of starting a new beginning in a new country. These were the romantic stories I want to give readers and show that Australian history is so much more than cork hats, pet kangaroo’s, or the stereotypical convicts my country has become known for.
Writing about Australia
When I first started submitting my work to publishers over fifteen years ago, many of them refused me on the grounds of the settings of my stories. Most of them suggested that I move the backdrops to a more popular district in England or America and resubmit. I was being told that my writing was superb but that no one wanted to read a story set in Australia. It made no sense. If my writing was so good, why could they not publish it? Why should I have to change my settings when they already had so much history and romantic possibilities? As I was told many times, Readers wanted to read stories set in England or America, not Australia. So then why was I reading that people were searching for books set somewhere different? And what about me? I was a reader too, and though I love English romances, and am thrilled by American westerns, I wanted to read something set in my own country.
First publishing contract
So I started the very bumpy ride of writing what I wanted to read. I submitted every script I wrote and read every rejection email that came in, my heart sinking a little more each time. Then one day the most amazing thing happened. I got an acceptance email offering me a contract for a book. Thirteen books later, and several publishers too, and I’m still writing romances set in historical Australia. But my books are more than just love stories. My characters also travel through scandal and mystery, discovering cattle stations and opium dens, and uncovering stolen ruby necklaces and black opals. A lot of research has had to go into each story, making certain I have the correct weapons for the time period, and slaves that were being traded out of Australia. The list goes on – there are poisons, there are valuables, there are even mail order brides. Romance aside, if these facts are not correct, then the story will falter and not be believable.
Researching for a novel
The internet, though limited for the areas I research, is a great tool to authors of today, but not everything can be found there. I have had to rely on a lot of my own family history to be able to obtain the historical facts I have needed to create a picture in my reader’s mind of a place many people overseas and in Australia are not even aware existed. I have had to talk and listen to many old locals from my home town and rely on their photographs to be able to let me see the life I want my readers to see. Australia is a passionate country, with an extremely passionate history, one so many people are dying to read about and escape to.
Submitting to international publishers
Luckily for me and other upcoming Australian authors, many publishing houses are now more welcoming to manuscripts set outside of England, Europe and America. For myself, having an American publisher still presents the odd barrier. Language. Most are simple changes I’ve had to get used to - learnt and learned; colour and color. There have been other issues though too. Australian slang. Something that is hard enough to understand for most Australians, I’ve found is even harder for someone international to try to make sense of. But as an author it is our job to breech this international language gap and bring a piece of Australia to our readers.
I’m not sure I’ll get the best seller I so crave, but I’ve managed to bring romantic Australian history to my readers and for now, that makes me very happy.