Today I am thrilled to welcome lovely Australian rural/romance author Fiona McArthur to my blog to help celebrate the release of her latest novel, Red Sand Sunrise which is published -today- by Penguin Books Australia. As well as being an author, Fiona is also a midwife and has spent 25 years working in rural communities. She’s also a clinical midwifery educator and helps teach emergency obstetric strategies working with midwives in doctors in rural areas. As well as Red Sand Sunrise she has written over 30 romance novels as well as a non-fiction book called The Don’t Panic Guide To Birth.
My review of Red Sand Sunrise will be posted on the blog a little later today but for now….enjoy learning a little bit more about Fiona and her work.
Q1. Hi Fiona and welcome to my blog! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To get us started – how long have you been writing and what was the road to publication like for you?
Hello and thank you for inviting me. I love your web page and am awed by the amount of books you read. Seriously. I loved that you read Red Sand Sunrise before asking me here. That is very cool. Thank you!
To the questions. My road to publication was more of a dirt track than a road. I started when I had four boys under ten and reached book length publication when I had five boys, about ten years later. But pretty well after the first short story I sold ‘Mum’s Joy Of Soccer’ (who had young sons?) to the Australian Women’s Weekly, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It’s still what I want to do.
Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: you seem to wear many hats so how do you balance writing with other commitments? Do you have a favourite place to write (such as a study or café) and is there anything you consider necessary to the creative process like music or coffee?
I’d love to have a cafe nearby where I could sit incognito and type away oblivious to the world, but I live 25kms out of town on a farm, and work three days a week. Of course if I did sit in a cafe to write on a consistent basis I’d meet the lovely mums I’ve met as a midwife and we’d be chatting about babies and I’d forget all about writing.
Seriously, I mostly write at the kitchen table because I write between 4:30 and 6:30 most mornings before I go to work. I started at that time when the kids were little and it was the only time I could forget the world and nobody would drown in the bath when I wasn’t paying attention. Now it’s habit and if I’m done, it’s done for the day, and I feel good. Otherwise I feel vaguely guilty and unsettled. Queer I know. Earl Grey tea for the first hour is essential and Nescafe coffee sachets to finish. 🙂
Q3. Are you a meticulous plotter or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type?
Like the cafe I’d love to plot. Can’t do it. I try. Occasionally I brainstorm with friends who are very helpful. Usually when I want to pitch a book to a publisher. Then I forget where the story was supposed to be going and the characters take me where they want to go. The really cool thing is it usually comes out at almost the right word count. No idea how that happens.
Q4. What made you choose remote outback Queensland as the setting for your latest novel, Red Sand Sunrise?
The outback has been one of those ‘always going to write’ goals. I fell in love with A TOWN LIKE ALICE, and was always going to write a book set out there. When Penguin said ‘yes ‘I was thrilled. Now any trips we make out there are all grist for the mill.
Q5. You have worked as a rural midwife for many years – care to share an interesting experience from your line of work?
You know I find that the hardest question and it comes up a lot. Funny I find it hard when I’ve written more than thirty medical romance books on the subject from my imagination. But those scenes are a mix of everything, everyone and no one. It has to come from work and my own experience but I don’t recognise the scenes as being a particular day at work. And if something does appear with a real event I think – Nope! I can’t say that.
So when you ask me to share an interesting experience, I seize up, and my brain darts around like a trapped bird in a room banging into walls.
How about – I had the most amazing birth in The Midwife’s Little Miracle where she births at sunrise, on her own, on a mountain. There was a glimmer of truth in that. Is that okay?
Q6. I thought the character of Blanche was quite hilarious but I also admired her motivation and her determination. Was she based on anyone you know personally or have encountered?
I seriously love that you love Blanche. She was one of my favourite characters ever. She looked a bit like a friend of my mums, she sounded like an older midwife I used to work with, but she was herself. She cracked me up. I LOVE tough older ladies.
Q7. I’ve had 2 precipitate deliveries so the thought of being so far from a hospital fills me with dread! However the luxury of leaving for a larger town at 36wks isn’t always an option for rural women who have many other commitments such as other children and farming work. Is an Eve in every small town as ideal a solution as there can be for rural women?
Hugs on the precipitate deliveries. Love to talk to you about that one day. I have quite a few in my books and I’d hate to be offending anyone. They do happen, mums usually say they feel like an express train has hit them, but luckily babies are tough little creatures, and they seem to manage fine. As do their incredible mothers.
But wow. Awesome question. Thank you for asking it. Interestingly there is a system like this set up for Aboriginal women in Western NSW. With a birth centre as well. It was my initial concept for the book, that a passionate midwife would be an invaluable resource for women in isolated communities, yes. Absolutely. But to be feasible, the number of babies needs to be adequate unless she does lots of other jobs. Which is fine too. But how does she keep up her skills if unexpected babies come only rarely. It’s a dilemma. Maybe a rotation of newly qualified midwives for short stays could work with promoting the concept. Or the midwife seconds to a tertiary hospital every year for a week or so. Or does the Advanced Obstetrics course every few years. See. I did think about it. 🙂
All interesting ideas and I know I was thinking how much I would enjoy doing a few weeks every year in an isolated area. There is a midwife in town I admire who has been relieving out western Queensland at Christmas for about twenty years. Actually she has a bit of Blanche in her. 🙂
I also think the Flight nurses give amazing care and support and the phone communication, the Flying O&G, and clinics are amazing.
Q8. What advice would you give to an aspiring rural romance novelist?
Same as I give to mothers. Believe in yourself.
With writing if you want to do something badly enough nothing will stop you. My process is start the book and don’t get side-tracked until you finish it. Then polish it up. Other people do it differently but I didn’t make the leap in skill until I finished a full book. Then the light came on.
Q9. Share five favourite books and/or authors
Diana Gabaldon – Cross Stitch – all time fav.
Peter O’Donnell – Modesty Blaise series – Sabretooth as favourite. Did you know he wrote as Madeline Brent? There was an amazing historical Australian novel there as well from him writing as MB.
Georgette Heyer – have every one – very tattered and well loved. Devil’s Cub as favourite.
Anya Seaton – Green Darkness. Admit I haven’t read it for years but just re-bought it on kindle as I always said it was my favourite. I wonder if it still is?
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion- Just cracked me up.
Q10. What do you like to do to relax when you’re away from the keyboard?
I love great hotels but also love camping in my little old caravan. Not that keen on sleeping on the ground or getting wet when it rains. Love kayaking – we have a great river here, and paddle boarding at Hat Head. Then there’s always reading and watching movies. And now I can say I love visiting Florence after last week. 🙂
Q11. And lastly….what’s next for you? Anything you can spill on future projects?
Present project is Flying Doctors for Penguin and there’s a fab older lady in that book, too. Totally different to Blanche but she makes me smile just thinking about her. Might be two or three of those that are linked with more women’s fiction than medical emphasis. Plus one Mills and Boon a year as I love the medical romance because I can write about anything anywhere and still be excited. And I’d love to publish my non-fiction Breech Book. Then there’s the Time Travel Midwife books which one day I will start.
Thank you so much for your time and your wonderful answers Fiona. For anyone who is interested in the setting of Red Sand Sunrise, Fiona has some amazing pictures here on her blog from the research trip she did. Definitely worth a look – they set the scene in the reader’s mind beautifully. Thanks also to the fab people at Penguin AU for making this Q&A possible.