Raw and risky, a new rural romance that explores the dark side of small towns, and the people who put everything on the line to protect them…
It’s Melbourne Cup day, but not everyone gets in on the Spring Carnival.
If you’d like to celebrate horses, may we humbly suggest taking your day off and enjoying a good rural story?
Here are some of our favourites with equine secondary characters.
From Escape Publishing’s Queen of historical Australian romance comes a new story about a privileged member of Australian’s colonial squattocracy, a bushranger, and a very special horse.
For readers of Jenny Downham, John Greene and Maureen McCarthy, a poignant young adult romance about following your dreams and realising what really matters.
A book about the first Melbourne Cup race! Can she save her family’s horse stud and reputation?
Shirley Wine takes us back to Darkhaven, where secrets and scandals can’t stay hidden for long…
by Louise Forster
A true story.
Cross my heart … and stuff.
Our robust, Mediterranean brother in-law, Jon, died of pancreatic cancer. A long and excruciatingly painful death.
A loveable man with a huge heart and short fuse. He used to fire up when his immediate family did hot-headed stupid things. He had a strong sense of right and wrong and his siblings, aunts and uncles, even his mother would cop it at times. He protected his wife, my sister in-law, from a lot of the squabbling and no one dared say a word against her. He was always gentle and loveable towards us, his in-laws. He’d greet our girls, arms out wide ready to give them a tight hug with, “G’day Tiger. Who luvs ya baby.” They will always remember him with a soft smile and a warm heart.
After the funeral, we spent few days taking a relaxing drive through country Australia from Melbourne to Northern NSW. We stopped at Dubbo Zoo and other interesting places to give my sister-in-law a well-earned break. Early one morning after our first night home, something roused me; to this day I haven’t a clue how or why it happened. I raised myself up off the pillow, and eyes open, I looked at what I can only describe as a bunch of broken white lines in the form of a person gliding past my side of the bed. There was no soft ghostly-wispy look about this vision. As for me, I wasn’t in the least bit troubled seeing this. I thought, Oh, okay that’s interesting, and then I lay my head down and went back to sleep. I have since wondered whether Jon had the power to simply ease my concern and send me back to sleep. I can’t help it, I have a strong suspicion that he did this to me – or rather for me.
Later that morning as we sat around the table having breakfast with DH’s sister-in-law, I noticed he had a faraway, pensive look, and had become more emotional again. Jon’s cancer and death had hit him hard … he questioned why this loveable bloke whose heart was huge and nothing was ever too much trouble had to suffer such an agonizing death. A man who gave his girls amazing confidence in their abilities; a man who sized up their boyfriends with a ‘do not hurt my nieces’ look. Hoping it would help, I mentioned what had happened to me that morning, and how my scepticism, which bordered on ‘what a load of nonsense ghosts are not real’, was given a good rattling. That what I’d seen that morning was not a figment of my imagination, also that I wasn’t the least bit worried about the whole episode. DH is a disbeliever, the after-life, ghosts, angels, heaven and hell do not exist for him. After he’s listened to my story, his face had a weird ‘I don’t believe this stuff’ quirky grin he gets sometimes. But eyes wavering between scepticism and doubt, he told me that he’d dreamed Jon came to his side of the bed and that he got out of bed to hug him goodbye. DH said he felt him, felt Jon’s arms around him as he felt Jon’s shoulders against his, saying, ‘Goodbye mate.’ And then he woke up.
And now we wonder.
Art teacher and occasional life model Sofie Dove wants to know what’s up with Brock Stewart. Everything about the ex SAS soldier turned police officer seems to scream passion—and it’s all for her—but he just won’t express it. All she knows is that he has a past that still keeps him up some nights.
After a semi-trailer crashes through Sofie’s house and the driver disappears into thin air, Brock insists he’s the only one who can keep her safe—but can he, when they can’t seem to trust each other?
While Sofie works on figuring out why this man keeps giving her mixed messages, Brock is determined to find out who’s out to get her—as they both find out why falling in love is a bit like being hit by a truck.
This Hallowe’en, we asked our authors – have you ever had an encounter with ‘the other side’? Their stories will thrill and chill you!
by Eva Scott
The Ghost of Eldritch Farm
Many summers ago I got a job renovating an Elizabethan era farmhouse in the Sussex countryside. The house had been added to over the centuries but the main part retained the distinctive uneven Tudor beams of its heritage. My job was to paint the small bedrooms on the upper floor and cut in the beams. While I painted shades of lilac and primrose on the walls I’d stop once in a while to take in the bucolic view out of the tiny window.
The fields were full of horses, which the farm specialized in breeding, and a vast quantity of rabbits. The eccentric brother and sister who owned the farm, Walter and Meredith, refused to allow the rabbits to be poisoned or shot so crossing the field to bring the horses in became a dangerous occupation in avoiding a broken ankle.
Being a working farm there were several dogs running around, the cutest being a Red Setter puppy. He’d visit me regularly tracking muddy paw prints up and down the stairs and leaving stray hair in the wet paint. Occasionally he’d go crazy, barking and leaping about. My family had bred setters, so being familiar with their temperament I put it down to the dog being basically bonkers.
One morning the puppy started barking and bounding about playing some imaginary game in the room where I worked. I turned around to shush him and there standing before me was a little girl of roughly ten years old. She regarded me solemnly, dressed in an old fashioned pleated smock, the kind you see in historic paintings of the English countryside. Surprise and confusion made me freeze for a heartbeat. There were no children on the farm so where had she come from? Then I yelled with realization, the hairs on the back of my neck literally standing on end, and she disappeared.
To say I was rattled was an understatement. The dog had clearly been playing with the little girl all along. I didn’t see her again and I would have doubted I’d seen her at all had Meredith not backed me up, having encountered her once in her own bedroom. She had tried to find out who the little girl might have been but the records for the house were patchy at best. Perhaps we had disturbed her with the renovations or maybe she just liked the company of the puppy. A great many other odd things happened on that farm but that, as they say, is another story….
Tamsin Cooper’s career as a Parisian showgirl is coming to an end. Nearly thirty, with no boyfriend and no prospects of a family of her own, she decides to take up her inheritance—her Uncle Ted’s cattle farm in Queensland.
Farm life seems to be suiting her until Tamsin discovers that Uncle Ted had a secret—and her sexy neighbour Angus Walker helped him keep it.
Faced with losing her farm and her heart, Tamsin returns to what she knows best, dancing, and starts teaching the residents of Elliott’s Crossing how to get in touch with their inner showgirl.
She may have the dance moves, but can she shimmy past a forty-year-old lie and a betrayal of lost love to find her place—and rediscover love—in this country town?
by Melanie Coles
I have a somewhat hazy memory when it comes to my foray into the world of romance novels, but as a girl-child of the eighties, here are the ones I do remember reading that influenced my love for them:
- Sweet Valley
My earliest memory of romance novels, Francine Pascal’s engaging series about twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield had me hooked for years. Though they weren’t strictly romance, it was certainly enough to whet a young girl’s appetite for the genre.
2. Anne of Green Gables
I saw the telemovie before I discovered the books, swooning over Jonathan Crombie’s Gilbert Blythe along with millions of other girls, but once I found them I couldn’t put them down. He was the first fictional hero I ever fell in love with, and to this day the love story of Anne and Gilbert remains one of literature’s most endearing.
File this one under “sex-ed for tweens”. Judy Blume’s coming-of-age story was the first book I read that dealt with issues of teenage sex and intimacy. The book was so popular that I spent a month on a wait-list at the local library for my turn to read it.
4. Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy.
Melanie Cole brings her love of Pride and Prejudice to rural Australia in her re-imagining of the classic, Evan and Darcy.
by Jacquie Underdown
Nothing can divide a room more than reality television.
You either love it, or you pretend not to.
For a people watcher (aka author) like myself, I’m firmly in the love camp. Give me The Block, MasterChef, Famer Wants a Wife or The Bachelor, and I’ll gladly have my eyes glued to the television every night of the week.
A nod, wink, and finger-gun salute at my reality-television-loving tribe.
As for the pretenders, I hear you loud and clear. Why the f***?
Yes, reality shows’ sets are staged, some of the storylines are scripted, but the one thing that remains constant is that the contestants are real. The emotional reactions are real.
Don’t scoff. I know some contestants might look like Prince Charming with a side order of yes please, or the latest swimsuit model for Sports Illustrated (The Bachelor, I’m looking at you.) But mostly, a closer-to-real-life diversity among contestants on reality television is not found anywhere else.
Only on MasterChef will you see a woman wearing a hijab. Only on Farmer Wants a Wife will you find a sixty-year-old Central Queensland farmer pursuing realistically shaped women his own age. And I’m not even starting on The Great Australian Bake Off or My Kitchen Rules.
Watching real people, who are placed under extreme pressure in a confined competitive environment, reacting in ways we ourselves might, holds a tremendous amount of appeal.
Witnessing Richie’s face on the new season of The Bachelor, with all his adorable awkwardness, when Lady Eliza serenades him seconds after their first introduction is priceless viewing. An actor could not portray or improvise that raw, tender human expression and emotion, nor evoke in the viewer a sinking twisted feeling of embarrassment for having watched the interaction it in all its uncomfortable glory.
And no script-writer is going to come up with the line, ‘Wow! Olena is a total babe’ like Richie delivered making us marvel at his me-good-at-words skills.
Okay, okay, that’s all ‘cool bananas’, but what’s this got to do with romance—specifically, a romance novel?
I’m glad you asked.
Let’s focus on reality dating shows, shall we? You know the ones—The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Farmer Wants a Wife and Married at First Sight. If you look closely, each of these shows possess all the components you love in a romance novel:
- a heroine we can love and sympathise with
- a sexy hero who may not be perfect but he sure as hell is mouth-wateringly close
- exotic settings
- loads and loads of conflict.
Bless reality television for showing us so many tears, tantrums and tender moments. *sigh*
But don’t you ever want to know what happens behind the scenes?
Did last season’s Bachelor, Sam, really fall hopelessly in love with Snezana like we all hoped?
Did they sneak a moment to secretly get hot and heavy with each other between filming?
How did Snezana react when she saw the footage of Sam kissing the other beautiful contestants and whispering his sweet-nothings in their ear?
And when all the girls were getting sloshed on champagne, did any take it too far and have to secretly rush to the toilet to vomit?
Okay, maybe scratch that last one.
The point is, I want to see what’s left on the cutting room floor. Or what didn’t even make it on to film in the first place. I want to know the motivations, secrets, regrets, excuses, and behind-the-scene squabbles. But mostly, I want all the romance and love found in a reality dating show dished up with a big bowl of happily-ever-after, wouldn’t you?
Of course you would. And your wish is my command.
*waves magic wand*
Enter the romance author. (That’s me!)
I’ve taken all of the best parts of reality television and a romance novel and mixed them up together. The result is Catch Me a Cowboy: a big, delightful mishmash of catty contestants who risk their hearts to win the love of a hunky man-mountain cowboy.
The best part is, nothing is left out. All the goodies are on show.
And that is how reality television and romance collide!
Crash into Jacquie’s new novel, Catch Me A Cowboy.
Emily Wolfe, real estate agent to the elite, is tired of being alone. So when she gets a chance to compete on a reality dating show she decides to risk it all for love in the biggest game of her life.
The city girl is surprised how much she enjoys switching her high heels for cowboy boots and pedicures for mud treatments—and not the kind you find at a day spa. And she’s falling hard for Wil Parker, the sexy, rugged farmer at the centre of the show.
Amidst the chaos, tantrums and editing tape, the heat and passion between Emily and Wil reaches boiling point. But can they survive the imminent explosion, let alone the fallout?
by Louise Forster
We lived in The Netherlands for a couple of years, and soon discovered that Dutch spoken at home was quite different to trying keep up with relatives talking through and over each other. Never mind TV announcers who seemed to speak Dutch, plum-in-mouth, which was equally daunting. Television was appalling and the winter nights were long. I needed something to occupy my mind so I ventured into the attic of the house we were renting. I soon discovered said places are always dimly lit, and creepy to explore; a bit like tingles along your spine all the way up to the back of your neck, making your scalp prickle. Nevertheless, creeped out, but determined, I hesitantly poked around and discovered books with English titles. Eureka! Neatly stored in a bookcase, were John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, and oh my god, Henry Miller; he blew the cobwebs right out of my prissy upbringing.
Then Jennifer Crusie stole my romantic reading heart.
Her books were and still are a delight. There are two that stand out for me: Agnes and the Hit Man and Fast Women. If I had to choose it would be have to be Fast Women. I loved crazy Nell and grumpy Gabe.
The opening para is absolutely brilliant:
‘The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart figured that was par for the course since she’d been going to hell for a year and a half anyway. Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she’d arrived.’
Who’s Nell? why was her life hell? Who is Gabriel and what made Nell think he looked like the devil? Fantastic, I was hooked. Surely this would have any non-romance reader intrigued as well.
Jennifer Crusie’s dialogue is always brilliant. Her characters draw the reader in, and make you want the whole business of an unlikely romance work out. Gabe is a private detective and his office is exactly how he likes it … a bit of a shrine to his late father who passed away twenty years ago. Livewire, Nell, hired to type and file, thinks the whole place needs updating. Mindful of grump Gabe, she starts carefully with a good clean out and uncovers a mystery involving Gabe’s dad and her ex’s family. There’s plenty of humour, and the intricate plot would keep anyone turning the page.
Just to add more reading fun the whimsical china called Walking Ware features in this book.
Louise Forster grew up in country Victoria, but has seen quite a bit of the world. Experiencing different cultures, she learned that one of the enjoyable things to do was step back and watch as events played out. It fascinated her how European and Australian men romanced women, which differed for every country, yet, happily, the outcome was the same … usually. 😉 Her latest book pits a small town teacher against the wounded soldier who just wants to keep her safe.
by Catherine Evans
The first romance I remember reading was Lucy Walker’s Gamma’s Girl. One of our neighbours dropped it in because she knew I loved rural stories and Mum had shared with her the Mary Grant Bruce Billabong series.
In Gamma’s Girl, I don’t remember the exact story, what I remember is the aching sweetness of their love. I think it was her first love, and he was her everything. It was a rural Australian story and I loved it. I devoured everything I could find by Lucy Walker. I still have a copy of The Bell Branch, which is set in England so I’ve no idea why I kept that one.
I had a hunt around the internet to see if I could find a blurb, but I’ve had not much luck. It came out in 1977, and I would have read it a few years after that. On Goodreads it hasn’t got many stars, so maybe my first romance isn’t the best I’ve ever read! Looking on eBay, there are a lot of Lucy Walker stories but no Gamma’s Girl, although, I’d probably not read it again in case it bursts my gorgeous memory!
Here’s a bit of a blurb from AusLit.edu.au: “Gamma’s Girl tells the story of Nairee, who is found as a baby by an Aboriginal woman, and brought up by Widow Peech, whom Nairee calls ‘Gamma’ (a childish way of saying ‘Grandma’).”
Does anyone else remember this story?
If you’re looking to try romance, my suggestion is to pick the sub-genre you like to read and start there. I loved Aussie rural stories so it was perfect to read a romance along those lines. If you’re not into rurals, there’s pretty much romance to suit all tastes – I have Dad addicted to the fantasy and suspense romances!
Catherine Evans stays true to her roots: her story, The Healing Season, is a true blue rural romance.
Dulili is suffering a people drought. Over the years more people have moved away than have arrived to stay in this old New South Wales farming town, and now only a handful of young families and elderly residents are left. The locals put a plan into action to entice newcomers: offering the town’s empty houses to people from anywhere in Australia. Who could resist renting a beautiful homestead for a dollar a week?
Three writers, one town, three stories…
How do you make a collaborative writing endeavour work? Take Catherine Evans, Lisa Ireland and Jennie Jones and have them like each other! Then have them wrangle the necessities of creating one fictional country town in need of help. Give them a few weeks of emailing back and forth across three states and hey presto! Dulili, a forgotten town in NSW is born.
The series A Dollar for a Dream is made up of three stories, each a stand-alone book, but each set in the town of Dulili (which means Together).
All three stories will be available together in a paperback called Last Chance Country in all the usual places at the end of March.
We wondered what kind of inspiration our authors had for writing their story, and they said: ‘being new in town’. We couldn’t resist asking why…
Jennie Jones—A Heart Stuck on Hope
Coming from a countrified town in Wales, my biggest ‘new girl in town’ moment was moving to London when I was 18 to spend the next three years of my life in drama school. London is a big city. It seemed to me like all the suburbs were simply one large town themselves.
And in all the 15 years I lived in London, I only got to know about seven or eight suburbs really well, although I could drive through London without a problem, and without GPS, I might add.
But that was when I was young—and everything is so much easier to handle (mainly) when we’re young, because we’re enthused and adventurous even if a bit shy, like I definitely was.
When I reached what people think of as ‘adulthood’ (I refuse to think I’ve truly grown up—where would the fun be if that happened?) it got a lot tougher.
Remember joining the new book-club group? The mothers and babies group? Or nodding hello to a group of women in the local grocers who were chatting, and having to walk on when nobody asked you to stop and talk because you were the new person and they hadn’t sussed you out yet?
Scary stuff! And yet everyday ordinary stuff that everyone has to go through.
Living in London taught me many things that are valuable to me now as both a person and a writer of small town country stories. For starters, I discovered that I don’t ever want to live in a city again.
But living in a big city taught me to venture out and discover what’s on offer when I moved to smaller towns. It taught me to see, understand and appreciate friendships, no matter how fleeting— even a great conversation in the local deli about the weather makes you feel part of something when you’re the new person in town.
I remember so many fleeting friendships or acquaintances from the varied new towns I’ve had to live in. People in corner shops. Odd characters who lived in my street. The lady I met on a bus. They all touched my life in some way. I thank them for that.
Lisa Ireland—Honey Hill House
When I took up a teaching position in the small town of Longford, Victoria, I wasn’t too worried about moving from the city to the country. In fact, I relished the thought of all that fresh air and beautiful scenery. I was sure I’d adapt easily. After all, I was from farming stock. My dad grew up on a dairy farm and I’d been holidaying in the country all my life.
Turned out, living in a tiny country town wasn’t quite as I expected! (Are you surprised?)
My introduction to the harsh realities of living in the bush came in my second week of teaching. I was at the school’s annual ‘Welcome Bush Dance’ when a lightning strike started a grassfire nearby. The fire siren sounded and half the school’s parent population disappeared to go fight the fire. I had no idea what I was supposed to do in such a situation.
Fortunately the grassfire was short-lived, because of the torrential rain that followed the lightning. Unfortunately this created a new problem—flooding that cut us off from the nearby regional centre. The usual ten-minute drive into town was now a 100-kilometre round trip. The locals were all well prepared for this, but with no groceries, a near-empty fuel tank and no petrol station in town, I was in a spot of bother.
It was then that I learned the true beauty of living in the country. Offers of help came from far and wide for the new girl in town. Sure, I had to cop a bit of good-natured ribbing about being such a city slicker, but my fridge was filled and I had a ride anywhere I needed to go for the few days the flood persisted.
Evolving from a certified city chick to a bone fide country gal took some time, but I had a lot of fun learning and, thanks to some old-fashioned country hospitality, I was never short of company (or advice!) along the way.
Catherine Evans—The Healing Season
When I was preparing to leave home I got some advice from my family that has always stuck with me—not saying it was all good though *big grin*.
Mum’s advice: It’ll take at least three months before anything feels familiar. You can’t come home for 12 months; you have to give it a fair go.
Grandma’s advice: Always have fruit cake in the cake tin so you can offer it to visitors.
Da’s advice: It’s bloody cold in winter so wear thick socks and have a damn good coat.
Those first few months in a new town were hard. Mum was right—nothing was familiar. I could have been in a foreign country for all that was recognisable to me. But I was desperate to learn, so I asked questions, devoured the local newspaper, shopped locally, joined clubs, and went out to events in town.
Almost to the day of being three months in Wagga Wagga, I was doing the groceries and I met a lady from work also shopping. I almost fell over myself saying ‘hello’. She must have thought I was nuts but to me it was a sign that I was beginning to settle in. And that was a huge relief!
Winter was cold, and thick socks and a coat were a good thing. Not so sure about the fruit cake, though it may have been applicable if you were the new bank manager’s wife, as Grandma was in her day. But country hospitality was amazing—it just took a while to kick off. I think Mum’s advice was the best I was ever given…except she should have said those first three months could feel like years!