Penguin Books Australia
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Her house, which was left to her by her father, is on a hilltop overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. She lives there with her family. A pair of old eagles live there too. Black-tailed wallabies graze by the creek. Eastern spinebills hover among the callistemon. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian stock horses.
I have read three books by Jennifer; Billabong Bend, Turtle Reef and her latest Journey’s End. I have been impressed by all three. I love the connections to the land; the flora, the fauna and amazing Australian rural settings. The narratives are engaging, the social and environmental issues add considerable weight to these contemporary reads. A favourite read you ask? I think Jennifer’s writing is becoming more and more special and appealing with each release, Journey’s End is outstanding… but I loved the cover of Billabong Bend (and the narrative which took me to a landscape I have yet to witness first hand).
Please welcome Jennifer to my blog.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jennifer Scoullar
Let’s talk childhood. What aspirations did you have as a child?
As a child I was an avid reader, and felt a very special, secret connection with animals and plants. I wrote stories, poems and began my first novel when I was eleven. I think it was some sort of a plagiarised version of The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. I wrote three chapters before I lost the manuscript, but I knew I’d grow up to be a writer.
Let’s talk early careers; studying law… and the paths to the road of writer and… foster carer.
My childhood ambition may have been to write novels, but things soon changed. I think every one of us has something important, deep down inside, that we always meant to do. Then life takes over and you don’t do it. That was how it was for me.
I went to University and studied law. I worked as a prosecutor with the National Crime Authority and as a defender with Legal Aid. I got married, had kids, got divorced, became a foster mother to many more children … and all the while a little, annoying, nagging voice – the voice of me as a child – reminded me that I was supposed to be a writer. I’m very grateful for that voice. In his wonderful essay ‘Why I Write’, George Orwell says, ‘If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.’ He also said ‘never use two words when one will do’. More good advice.
Anyway, one day I saw a little wasp buzz past, and it struck me as amazing that for one moment, that insect and I shared the same time, the same place, the same space. I wondered what else we shared. This got me thinking about unlikely connections. I sat down and wrote my first novel, Wasp Season.
Let’s talk writing. Tell us about your family influences…
I grew up in a house full of books, and in a family of story-tellers. My father told fascinating stories about his time as a jackaroo in Queensland. My mother didn’t only read to me and my brother. She was a frustrated writer herself. Mum could invent wonderful tales on the spot, with recurring characters and highly original plots. The Magic Professor series was my favourite. A little girl (me) went for a walk in the bush and fell down a wombat hole where she found a science laboratory complete with a magic professor. They became friends, and he’d invent potions to help her with problems. Trouble was, they always backfired hilariously.
My grandfather was the editor of a country newspaper, and would secretly write letters to the editor to encourage engagement with readers. Sometimes he had fiery arguments with himself. My great aunt, the writer Mary Fullerton, died before I was born, but I have her novels and poems. My mother was very proud of Mary’s friendship with Miles Franklin, and her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement.
What do you love about writing?
I love the writing process – the rhythm of the prose and the pleasure of getting a sentence just right. I love that everything happens the way I want it to in my imaginary world. And as an introvert, I love the seclusion.
People often ask me about the solitary nature of writing. It can be no other way and fortunately I embrace solitude. If you don’t, you probably have no business being a writer. Many writers are loners. I’m a complete hermit. Some people ask me how I put up with being on my own so much, but I ask them how they put up with all the interruptions.
In any case, I’m not really alone. I have my characters, and I have the ghosts of readers. I feel an uneasy intimacy with future readers through my written words. It’s an uneasy intimacy because writers gently impress themselves onto readers’ private space. Even though writers are invited by readers to do so, it sometimes still feels like an imposition.
Let’s talk books and influences. Who is your favourite author?
I can’t choose one. Elyne Mitchell, author of the Silver Brumby books, is still one of my favourites. I adore Charles Dickens. What a master story-teller! Nobody draws characters better or with more humanity. I love his warmth of feeling, his sentimentality and his ability to draw the reader in emotionally. I love the way he sets a scene, painting a vibrant picture by evoking the sights, sounds and smells of a place. But most of all I love the courage he shows by engaging with social issues, attacking and exposing injustice wherever he sees it. I love Barbara Kingsolver for the same reason. Her work often focuses on biodiversity and the interaction between people and their environment. She inspires me to do the same.
Do you have a favourite book?
It changes all the time. Currently it would be a tie between Where The Trees Were by Inga Simpson (my former writing mentor) and Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.
Let’s talk about the characters in your books – your novels are character driven narratives – how do you construct a character? Fully formed before you begin writing? Influenced by people you know?
For me, the possibilities of place always come first. My stories are always inspired by some natural place that particularly interests me. I try to write animals and landscapes not as mere background or setting, but as essential parts of the narrative. So once I’ve decided on where, the characters evolve organically from there.
Sometimes they are influenced by people I know. This is particularly true of the main character in Journey’s End, Kim Sullivan. She was inspired by my old school friend, Kim Gollan, a real-life bush regenerator. Currently she’s on remote Lord Howe Island, restoring habitat for the Lord Howe Island Giant Phasmid, the world’s rarest insect.
Let’s talk about themes in your work. Conservation and nature are themes that feature in your novels. Can you talk to us about rewilding and how dingoes feature in this landscape?
I’m fascinated by the notion of rewilding – restoring flora and fauna to their historical range. The theory has gained popularity after conservation success stories such as bringing wolves back to Yellowstone, and the large-scale return of Europe’s apex predators like lynx, bears and wolverines.
Australia is beginning to embrace rewilding. Quolls, bilbies, bandicoots and bettongs are being returned to parts of their natural range. Plans are afoot to bring Tasmanian devils back to the mainland after a four-hundred-year absence. Many ecologists advocate reintroducing dingoes to control introduced pests like rabbits, cats and foxes – a concept I explore in Journey’s End. Yet rewilding isn’t just for our land. It’s a concept for our minds and spirits as well.
Let’s talk about research for your books – you obviously have a great deal of knowledge about your settings and the flora and fauna of the region – how do you research for your books?
For Journey’s End the research trip was particularly simple. Twenty years ago, my real-life friend Kim established the Dingo Creek Rainforest Nursery at Bobin on the edge of Tapin Tops National Park. I had the great privilege of staying at their nursery, and having a guided tour of Tapin Tops by two passionate botanists who love and understand the sub-tropical rainforest found there.
However, I’ve always been an amateur naturalist myself, and am fascinated by everything wild. I read a lot of non-fiction. At the moment I’m reading a book called Once and Future Giants – What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth’s Largest Mammals. Also a book about Australian wildflowers, a book on Tasmanian history, and the 40th anniversary edition of Born Free by Joy Adamson, A Lioness of Two Worlds
Novels with relevant subject matters are also must reads. For example, one of my works in progress has a fair bit of falconry in it. Reading novels such as H is for Hawk and My Side of the Mountain adds to the knowledge bank.
Lets’ talk next book? Are you currently writing a new novel? Where will it be set? What issues do you want to draw our attention to?
I’m thrilled to announce that I have a new contract for a sweeping historical saga that will be out in the first half of next year. I’m very grateful to Penguin Random House for allowing me to explore this new genre.
It’s said that history is written by the winners. I want to write a fresh version of history, giving a voice to the outsiders, and to the animals teetering on the extinction precipice. My new book begins in late 19th century Tasmania, and is the first novel of a trilogy. It’s the story of Luke Tyler, a man unjustly condemned to prison in his youth, and of Isabelle Holmes, the girl he loves. The narrative follows their lives over a twenty-five-year period. It’s a compelling love story.
As in all my novels, animals play an important part. For example, I also tell the story of one of the last Tasmanian tigers, soon to disappear from Earth after a twenty-five-million-year reign. Apart from a little gem, Coorinna, written in 1957, there is no historical fiction concerning the Thylacine. I think it’s time to fill the gap.
My new novel explores the forces that caused the extinction of the greatest marsupial predator since Thylacoleo Carnifex the mighty marsupial lion, vanished forty-five thousand years earlier. What if the ultimate culprits weren’t the men who shot and snared them? What part did xenophobia play? And could the heroic actions of one young fugitive determine the fate of an entire species? I’m having a lot of fun writing this one.
Keep in touch with Jennifer here:
What a nice smile 🙂
What a great series of interviews, Carol! Thanks to both of you for an interesting read. I agree: writing is something you do by yourself.
Thank you Margot – I am privileged to have access to so many talented authors!
Great interview Carol, Jennifer actually lives about 30 minutes from me! I am so impressed by her book so far, so many interesting components to think about. I love the characters and the issues that they are all struggling with. I am struggling with Jennifer’s book being put in the Rural Romance category, as I believe it has a much deeper tone to it, I think as we discussed Contemporary would be better. I think the cover is like so many other rural romance books, hence it being put in that category. Interesting that Jennifer is spreading her wings into a trilogy next – I am so excited to read these books, I love books in a series. Perhaps I may have to convince her to come to my workplace and give a talk 😉
I think she might just like that Janine! Great idea. And yes- the label romance is an entirely different read, I find “rural romance ” is more relevant and has plenty of social issues with usually a realistic amount of relationship rather than “romance” if that makes sense?