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Review: The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

9780143799825The Homestead Girls
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 282p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

When Dr Billie Green’s teenage daughter Mia falls in with a bad crowd, Billie uses that as an opportunity to return to the small town in far western New South Wales where she grew up. It’s been a goal of Billie’s to work for the Flying Doctor Service and she’s spent time in her career doing rotations and earning qualifications that will serve her well in the remote locations. She’s happy to meet her colleagues, including the lovely but insecure flight nurse Daphne Price and their authoritarian boss Dr Morgan Blake.

Soretta Byrnes has benefited from the Flying Doctor Service after her grandfather was severely injured on their farm. But with him in hospital, Soretta is struggling more than ever to make ends meet when the drought just won’t quit. Although Daphne has supported Soretta as a friend, she decides that she’d like to do more. The homestead on Soretta’s property is huge – old and beautiful and with plenty of room. Daphne, Billie and Mia soon move out to the property as paying boarders, an arrangement which suits everyone. Billie and Daphne want a home and Soretta is grateful for the financial contribution. Teenage Mia is resentful at first…until she realises how much she can help by looking after the animals on the farm. They are soon joined by Lorna Lamerton, an eighty year old former bush nurse looking for a holiday from her son and his wife.

It isn’t long before the women overcome their awkwardness and begin to form strong friendships and attachments. The situation is working out better than any of them could have planned and there’s always someone on hand for advice on medical issues and even the odd romantic challenge. However it’s not until one of the women faces a threat to their life that they show just well they can band together.

Australian rural romance author Fiona McArthur’s latest book invites readers to far west New South Wales and introduces them to a small town which hosts a branch of the Flying Doctor Service. Dr Billie Green has just moved back to the town, which is also where she grew up and is fulfilling a dream working for the FDS. Billie has lived a life moving around, gaining qualifications but not possessions. She and teenage daughter Mia live out of a couple of suitcases and a box full of kitchen necessities.

In no time at all, Billie’s colleague Daphne has organised for herself, Billie and Billie’s daughter Mia to move from their duplex accommodation out to a beautiful old homestead some ten minutes out of town. There the women begin to become friends, settling into roles and working together. Even Mia, resentful at first being made to move out west and then away from town and to the farm, begins to prove her worth. She’s given the job of feeding the lambs and Soretta is no nonsense when it comes to any teenage attitude. Mia is told in no uncertain terms she must be responsible or else – the lambs could die if she ‘can’t be bothered’. Through being given this responsibility and trust, Mia begins to mature and grow, coming to appreciate her surroundings and the role she is developing. I really liked Mia and I think McArthur was quite understated in portraying her character as the disgruntled teen. Mia had moved around a lot and even though she resented having to move out to the homestead, yet another move, it seemed almost immediately that it would be different. This was a place where roots could be put down, where Mia could be given a role, even get a pet in the future. All she needed was a little bit of security and some faith, both in herself and from others in her and she began to really blossom which was good to read.

There’s a huge amount in this story about the role of the FDS and it’s fantastic to read. I’ve lived all my life on the coast, never been further west than Dubbo (and that was only to visit the zoo) so it’s super interesting to read about how the FDS works and the sort of incidents they deal with. There’s a wide range of medical emergencies they might encounter as well as geographic difficulties like finding the landing strip that’s the closest to the person that needs attention. I didn’t know about the oxygen issues with so much time spent in the plane in the beginning either so all of those little tidbits were great info. Although most of the population in Australia does live along the coastlines there are still plenty of remote communities and properties that benefit from this service and the amazing people who campaign to fund it.

Whilst there is a little romance in The Homestead Girls it is really quite subtle. Both Daphne and Billie are struggling with workplace attractions and I really enjoyed reading about Daphne getting some of her self-confidence back and hopefully beginning to put her past behind her and those that had made her feel so bad about herself. I’d have liked a little more romantic interaction for Billie but the focus is really on the women building those friendships and strengthening them at the homestead, as well as the role of the FDS. The women are all well constructed, with insecurities and flaws and made stronger by the growing friendship. I would love it if we saw Soretta and Mia again in the future, I’d love to know what the years to come hold for them.

A really enjoyable and heartwarming story from a must-read author.

8/10

Book #112 of 2015

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The Homestead Girls is book #46 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Make sure you check out Fiona McArthur’s guest post on the blog, talking more about the FDS.

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Guest Post: Australian Author Fiona McArthur

McArthur, Fiona, credit Carolyn Guichard3

Today I am thrilled to welcome Aussie romance author Fiona McArthur back to the blog. Fiona was here last year for a Q&A on all things reading, writing and life and now returns to share a little about her newest novel, The Homestead Girls and the inspiration for including the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in the story.

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Flying Doctors

The Homestead Girls is a story about five women and the background is about medical retrieval in the outback. I’ve dedicated the book, with much sincerity, to the wonderful people who work for and support the Royal Flying Doctor Service, because, like every Australian, I’ve always greatly admired those who meet the needs of those far-flung families who live away from the medical facilities of the city.

One of the women characters is an experienced flight nurse – I do have a friend who is one, one becomes the flying doctor she’s always wanted to be – have met and spoken to several, one used to be a bush nurse and helps raise money for the cause, and one has her closest relative saved by the service – so it’s a story that touches on how the flying doctor service can work.

Real stories of medical retrieval by the flying doctors touch us and a lot of it is the humility and appreciation of those who have been saved. So many times it’s hard working, unpretentious people in extremely remote areas who are used to managing with their own resources, those who never ask for assistance but offer it selflessly, who might need that urgent rescue. RFDS makes it their job to help those people and a whole lot more. It could be a grey nomad and his wife involved in an accident, a mum in an outback community in premature labour or a child with a snake bite. All people who need to travel from a remote outpost to a larger hospital in what could be a matter of life or death.

If you do travel to Longreach, Charleville, Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Broken Hill or Dubbo then drop into the RFDS visitor centres because the statistics and stories and history of the service is fascinating and inspiring.

You can read a story, there’s hundreds of them, that will thicken your throat and blur your vision when you look up case a history from the RFDS Stories like ‘Fuzz’s, here. http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/News.html?NewSite=1&ItemID=891&count=1

Fuzz knew his heart was probably going to stop. Just imagine him telling his mate to strap that AED onto his chest in case they’d have to use it. I’m certainly going to use it in my next book. Not because it’s dramatic and almost unbelievable, but because I admire Fuzz, who has probably saved other people’s lives, for not only thinking of himself, he was worried about his mate and how his mate would feel if he couldn’t keep Fuzz alive until that plane landed. Go Fuzz, and go his mate who did CPR until Fuzz regained consciousness, but unless Fuzz was retrieved to a large hospital by the RFDS for surgery he would have died.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is only partly funded by the government. It runs on donations from individuals, groups and fund-raising activities, and when you run down the list of people, and what they do to raise that $20 million funds every year, it’s humbling.

An example is Operation Pudding that the senior bush ladies from around Broken Hill come together for every year. The way these women gather, some travelling hundreds of kilometres, to cook for a week and how every single one of those Christmas Puddings are snapped up, not just because it’s a secret recipe and the best pudding in the world, but because people are supporting the RFDS.

Money is raised by sponsored car rally’s, circumnavigating cyclists and women walking the Kakoda Trail, though it’s the RFDS tin that sits in every hairdresser, pub and shop in the outback towns that quietly accumulates, too. So if you see a tin, or a fundraiser, smile, share a thought for the people you can help, and be generous and be thankful, Australia, in all her vastness, has the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

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I found the RFDS really interesting in The Homestead Girls, there’s so much to consider when staffing and running an organisation that relies on planes to access its patients. I’ll have a review of The Homestead Girls up on the blog later today so make sure you check back for that! Thanks again for stopping by, Fiona.

9780143799825

 

 

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Review: Red Sand Sunrise – Fiona McArthur

Red Sand SunriseRed Sand Sunrise
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Books Aus
2014, 290p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Midwife Eve Wilson barely knew her father but when he dies she decides that she owes it to him to travel to the funeral in outback Queensland and meet her stepfamily. She doesn’t expect to be so taken with both the other part of her father’s family and also, the town itself. Far west Queensland is brutal but also breathtakingly beautiful as well.

Eve’s half sister Dr Callie Wilson not only has to deal with the shock death of her father but also another personal tragedy as well. She moves back to Red Sand to spend time with her mother, the two of them providing support for each other in their shared grief. It also gives Callie a chance to meet one of her two half sisters, when Eve arrives for their father’s funeral. Eve and Callie find a common ground almost immediately and are both keen to get to know each other and develop their relationship. Eve and Callie are both given a chance to help establish the area’s first medical clinic, where both will get a chance to share their expertise and help in the day to day medical issues of their rural community.

Eve’s other sister Sienna, the one she grew up with, can’t understand why Eve would throw everything away to go and stay out in some rural backwater for six months. An obstetrician on her way up the career ladder as fast as possible, Sienna lives and works in Melbourne and has no interest in visiting Red Sand, for their father’s funeral or otherwise. Unfortunately for Sienna, Red Sand has Blanche McKay, the driving force behind the small town’s first medical clinic and she wants Sienna’s expertise. There’s a medical mystery to solve in Red Sand and Sienna finds herself sold out and heading bush in order to investigate what is going on up there.

Fate is bringing the three sisters together and giving them the chance to have what they were denied growing up – a proper family relationship. They’ll need to be there for each other and they’re going to need all the skills they have in order to not only work out what the medical mystery is but also work to save someone special when disaster wants to take them away.

I’ve never been very far west in my life. When I was 12, my parents took us to the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, which was a lot of fun (and exhausting). I think that is the furthest west in Australia I’ve ever been. I grew up on the Mid North Coast of NSW and since then have never lived much further than 10-15m from the ocean. However, this book took me into the heart of far western Queensland and I loved every bit of it!

When I pick up a rural romance, it’s ones like these that I really enjoy reading. Eve and Callie are such wonderful characters. They share a father but have different mothers – it’s a bit of a complicated family past but Fiona McArthur explains it well. Both Eve and Callie are open to getting to know each other, enthusiastic about it even. Eve’s mother has passed but Callie’s welcomes Eve to Red Sand and into their lives. A trip for her father’s funeral and to meet her other family members turns into returning to help set up the town’s first medical clinic. Birthing in rural areas can be difficult – often women have to leave at 36wks and travel to an area that has a fully equipped hospital. This leaves them away from their family for weeks at a time – it could be anything up to 7 or 8 weeks depending on when they actually birthed and how long they and their babies spend in hospital. This obviously doesn’t suit everyone, especially busy farming women who also often already have other small children. Many would appreciate being able to at least have all their check ups much closer to home and maybe even the chance to birth close too, providing they are deemed low risk.

Experiencing Eve and Callie form a friendship was such a fun process to watch. I don’t have a sister and even though Eve grew up with her other sister Sienna, the two of them aren’t particularly close. Sienna is ambitious and dedicated and I think Eve feels that Sienna seems to regard her as a bit of a mess, a poor Eve type thing. With Callie Eve is a person fully formed and the two of them are both adults, forging that adult relationship. Both Eve and Callie are so likable, they’re exactly the sort of people I’d want to be friends with myself. Especially if I lived in a small community like Red Sand. The introduction of Sienna, who is very different, was fascinating because in the first few times the reader sees her, she’s not really that likable. She is not backwards in her thoughts about Red Sand and just how much she doesn’t want to be there, either. However the more Sienna appeared, the more I liked her. She was greatly improved when she met the local police officer, a man of few words. Sienna came to realise that rural medicine wasn’t a lesser career and that skills were just important out there in the real world in everyday situations as they were in an operating theater in a big hospital. Whereas she wasn’t particularly ‘hands on’ in the past, Sienna gets the chance to give it a go more than once and she finds it’s not really so bad!

There are three heroines in this novel, so that gives us three heroes. And they are all so very wonderful! I’m a big fan of the tall, handsome and mysterious type so….Lex McKay quickly became my favourite. Or as Eve describes him, ‘a stern-faced giant’. The sparks fly early on between those two but it’s also quite an understated budding romance. Lex has some complications that he must deal with and Eve has to decide if Red Sand is for her on a more permanent basis. I loved their interactions though – actually I loved all of the interactions all of the characters had in this book. There’s so much warmth and charm here. That laid-back vibe kind of makes it all the more shocking when something terrible occurs and I was utterly immersed in that scene. As a mother, I do have a bit of an interest in delivery – sometimes I think that I should’ve done widwifery. It’s the only aspect of nursing that interests me at all but when I was applying to university, I didn’t care for babies. If I was to do a degree now, it would most likely be that. Watching Eve and Sienna work was very interesting and I was definitely keen to find out what the answer was behind the medical mystery that kept affecting pregnant women in Red Sand.

I really enjoyed every aspect of this book. It was such a wonderful read and I am so keen to get out there and track down more books by Fiona McArthur. Highly recommend this one.

9/10

Book #111 of 2014

Make sure you check out my Q&A with Fiona McArthur here

AWWW2014

Red Sand Sunrise is book #40 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Author Q&A With…. Australian Author Fiona McArthur

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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?

Red Sand Sunrise

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.

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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.

Visit Fiona’s website
Follow her on twitter
Red Sand Sunrise at Penguin AU

AWWW2014

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