In celebration of the release of her third novel Heartland, which is officially out tomorrow, I’d like to welcome Cathryn Hein to my blog. Cathryn generously answered some questions I had for her on writing, living abroad and our beloved football team. You can read my reviews of Cathryn’s books including Promises (here), The Heart Of The Valley (here) and Heartland (here).
Q1). Hello Cathryn and welcome to my blog! Thank you so much for taking some time to answer a few – ok lots of my questions. To kick us off, how long have you been writing? And what was your road to publication like?
Thanks for having me on. Rather thrilled to be here!
How long have I been writing? Years! Mainly short stories and angsty hormonal poetry when I was a teenager, then from my twenties I tried multiple times to write a full novel only to fail with every effort. I’d get to about 10,000 words (3-4 chapters) and become hopelessly stuck because I didn’t understand conflict and how it sustained stories.
It was only when we moved overseas and I had plenty of time on my hands that I decided it was now or never. So I sat and wrote. And wrote and wrote. Three months later I had a 130,000 word novel and a complete addiction to the incredible high of finishing a book.
On return to Australia I wrote another book and also joined the Romance Writers of Australia (an amazing organisation I can’t praise highly enough). I entered my “masterpieces” in a couple of RWA writing contests, thinking this was my path to discovery and literary megastardom, only to learn quick-smart that my books weren’t even close to publishable. So I kept writing and learning and when I finally decided I was ready I started sending queries out to publishers.
Originally I’d queried Penguin with a different book but it didn’t quite fit what they were after, so I pitched Promises and they loved it.
Q2). Share a little bit about your process…where do you write? Plotter or go with the flow? Write to schedule or to mood? Is there anything you deem essential for a productive session, such as coffee, music, etc?
I’ve always treated my writing as a career and have a dedicated office, with a large corner workstation and a very weird looking but comfortable chair. There, every weekday morning at 7am or earlier, I plonk myself down and work. There’s none of this waiting for the muse business, although words do seem to flow easier after I’ve dosed up on coffee. I usually work until about 3pm, by which time I’m brain fried and in desperate need of the outdoors.
I started out just going with the flow plot-wise but learned that process tends to get me lost, so now I take the time to plan more. Although not too much! There’s nothing more exciting than when the characters take me somewhere I didn’t expect. I like the thrill of discovery as much as a reader does. Typically I start with a well-developed beginning, black moment and end, so I know where I’m heading, and let the rest sort itself along the way.
Q3). Heartland is your third novel and all of them contain animals that are very much characters in their own right – usually dogs and horses but in this most recent one we’re treated to a rather cranky goose named Honk. Where does the inspiration for the animal characters come from? Are they based on animals you may have owned or known in the past?
Generally yes. The horses are fond incarnations of horses I’ve either owned or known, similarly the dogs. Honk is based on a goose that had made its home on a golf course I used to play. Despite having been there for years he never stopped squabbling at golfers and I thought he’d be fun to put into a story.
I just really like writing about animals because I adore them so much!
Q4). What was the most difficult part in Heartland to write?
Definitely Callie’s relationship with her parents, and how to balance their emotions and actions given the tragedy they’d suffered. How do parents cope with the death of a child? And how do they then treat their remaining offspring? What long-term repercussions would that have? It took quite a lot of rewriting to get this right for the book.
I also had trouble stopping Callie and Matt from having sex all the time. All right for them, but I had a bigger story to tell!
Q5). Your heroes are all rather dreamy and very much to me what I would term as “good boy” heroes. Carrying their own issues, they tend to end up being a tower of strength for your heroines, who are all somewhat guilt-ridden and often suffering. Do you come up with the issues first and build the characters around them or do those things come out as you get into writing the story?
It varies from book to book. Matt’s issues developed as I learned more about him during writing. Other hero’s conflicts, like Aaron’s in Promises, I knew from the very beginning because they formed the backbone of the novel. Lachie, from Heart of the Valley, was like Matt, and a process of discovery. With the hero of my current work in progress, I’ve known his emotional issues from the start because they play a distinct role in the plot.
I’m delighted that you find them all dreamy. I always develop hopeless crushes on my heroes so it’s nice to know that shines through!
Q6). Your three novels have been set in different locations – Promises in South Australia, The Heart of the Valley in the Hunter Valley in NSW and Heartland mostly in Victoria. How do you decide upon each location? Are they all places you’ve lived at some time or another?
Yes, they’re all places I’ve lived, know well and feel passionately about. I think that passion is important when writing rural romance because the land and rural life are things the characters feel strongly about, and that needs to be conveyed in the story. My own love for these locations helps give their feelings authenticity.
As for deciding on the location, I don’t really know how I decide that. It just sort of happens! It’s really whatever I think will fit the story and characters, and perhaps the plot. All through Heartland’s development I kept picturing Callie with surfer-girl, straggly blonde hair and it seemed fitting to place her near the sea. It just so happened I knew the perfect location…
Q7). You’ve also lived overseas in France – what was that like? You feature a weekly event on your blog known as Friday Feasts where fellow authors share their favourite recipes… Were you a “foodie” before France or was that a passion you discovered there?
What was France like? In a nutshell: amazing. But all countries are incredible in their own way.
I’ve been passionate about cooking from childhood, ever since my grandmother patiently helped me bake my first batch of scones. I made my first Christmas pudding at age 12, started buying Vogue Entertaining in my teens, and once drove Mum and Dad crazy cooking non-stop almost every recipe out in the Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese cookbook.
Mum, bless her, has never enjoyed cooking and was more than happy to let me take over. Dad was happy to eat anything I concocted… except for an unfortunate experimental episode with endive. He didn’t enjoy that much, poor man. My brother just liked to eat!
I had quite a food epiphany in France. Before then I used to spend ridiculous amounts of time creating complicated, “cheffy” type dishes, with lots of flavours, sauces and garnishes, but Europe taught me that a simple dish, made with fresh, seasonal ingredients will beat an over-engineered meal every time. I came back with a completely changed attitude (and bucketloads of recipes). Shows like Masterchef now tend to make me crankypants and I have next to no tolerance for restaurants that spoil beautiful produce with weird food combinations in an effort to look innovative. Seriously, I could rant for Australia on the subject!
Q8). Apart from our love of books, reading and horses, we also have one other very big love in common – the AFL team the Sydney Swans! How does a girl from South Australia come to cheer for the red and the white? And 2005 or 2012 – which was the better win/gave you the most joy?
Ahh, my boys. I love them so! Would you believe there was a time in my deep, dark past when I followed Carlton? Only because Mum was a fan and I was too young to know better, but time had me seeing the red and white light!
I always had a soft spot for Tony Lockett and used to love watching him play for St Kilda. I was losing interest in Carlton anyway, so when Plugger moved to Sydney I started to follow him there and that was the end of me. The Swans had me in their feathery fold and I certainly wasn’t struggling to be released!
As for which Grand Final win was the best, well, they were both brilliant but I bawled after the final siren in 2005. It was a tough game, scarily close, and I was convinced we were going to lose. Then Leo Barry took that mark and the siren went…
I also kept thinking of the elderly man I’d met on a bus a few years before while travelling to a Swans game at Manuka Oval in Canberra. He’d been at the MCG when South Melbourne won back in 1933 and desperately wanted to see them win another flag. I hope he was still around to see his wish come true.
We were also living overseas in ‘05 and could only watch the game on the internet on 24 hours delay. To avoid spoilers, we didn’t answer the phone, check emails or even look at a television. That gave it an extra degree of tension.
Q9). Which of your heroines would you say is most like you?
Oh, what a question! If I’m honest they all have some aspect of me in them but which one has the most? No idea!
Callie from Heartland certainly has a lot of my memories of summers spent at the beach, and perhaps a little of what it was like to give up my horses. They were such an important part of my life and I still miss them deeply.
I’d be happy to be any of my heroines. These women have all scored my dream men!
Q10). You recently took part in the Newcastle Writers Fest. How was that experience?
Wonderful! For an inaugural festival they had a great turnout, with some sessions having people lining up in the street to get in. And I loved how every genre was catered for, especially romance. No literary snobbery at Newie.
Great kudos and thanks to Rosemarie Milsom and her team for what was a fabulous weekend. And thanks to everyone who attended the romance panel. We had a ball!
Q11). And lastly….what’s next for you? Anything you can share about what you might be working on?
Right now I’m a third of the way through another rural romance, this time set in South Australia, and suffering a massive hero crush. Probably the worst I’ve had. I say this with every book, but this new hero is THE ONE!
Actually, I’m loving everything about this story, from the characters to the setting to the complicated family issues surrounding both the hero and heroine. This is my most challenging book so far and I’m reveling in it.
Thank you so much Cathryn for your time and for such wonderful answers! I already know just how fabulous Heartland is and I hope everyone keeps an eye out for it in bookshops where it’ll be popping up. And good luck with your WIP, I can’t wait until that one arrives on my doorstep!