Welcome Jenn to my blog and thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this discussion about all things reading, writing, Riesling and travel. But first congratulations on the release of your new book Season of Shadow and Light, a powerful Australian narrative of secrets, trust and complex family relationships (no spoilers here Jenn).
Jenn I have discovered that you are now travelling the country in a fifth wheeler – how exciting. Last year we (husband and dog) spent eight months on the road in our pop top caravan yet I can’t imagine packing up my life and living in a caravan permanently.
Carol: Can you tell me a little bit about how you transitioned from Sydney corporate world to running a dog friendly B & B in a small town (double points from me for it being dog friendly) to life on the road in a fifth wheeler? What was the impetus for this last huge lifestyle change?
Travelling with pets should not be so hard. Our B&B was all about the dog. Our motto: “We prefer fluffy dogs to fluffy robes.”
For me, life has been a series of stepping stones, knowing I would end up back on the road. It was thirty years ago and three years camping around Australia, living out of a converted ford F100 and tent, that I discovered my affinity with country life. And no one was more surprised than me! (I’d started my career as a hairdresser and a make-up girl in a department store. My friends at the time had to almost break my fingers so I’d let go of the hairdryer I couldn’t take on the trip!) Fast forward through twenty years spent in corporate roles with long hours and good pay (and a few overseas trips) and I knew I had to get back to the country. In a way I have come full circle, but with the luxury of a fifth wheeler – with hairdryer and coffee machine!
The Fifth Wheeler
Carol: What does a typical day in your life look like?
My days probably sound pretty boring. But right now I am in a lovely beachside van park, so the view is spectacular. (It helps that my current work is set in a beachside caravan park in a small coastal town!) I wake at about 7AM (van parks are surprisingly quiet, except during the school hols!) and after breakkie we take the little one-eyed, 15 y.o dude dog (aka my muse) for a ‘walk’. By then it’s about 9AM and time for coffee and social media hour (or answer blog questions J ). After that I start writing. I write anywhere, mostly outside if the weather is good. I did get a small desk and large monitor installed in the van for winter and for editing (the big screen helps, plus I get to sit in a proper office chair – occasionally!)
I chat to people a lot. I observe people a lot. I am finding just being out of the house has heightened my senses and the way I use them in my writing. “Get out from behind the computer and experience ‘life’” has always been the advice I give writers. I guess you could say I took my own advice — to the extreme!
Jenn in action
Carol: Is the town Coolabah Tree Gully based on any particular town or region you have travelled to or visited?
My Seasons Quartet novels (House for all Seasons, Simmering Season, Season of Shadow and Light, and my 2016 release) have all been inspired by the north NSW countryside – inland. (Dorrigo and north to Kyogle.) The area of Bonablo/Kyogle inspired Paige’s road trip at the start of the book.
Carol – We drove through that region (Dorrigo) last year – on our way home and said we would love to visit that spot again -so beautiful.
Carol: How many kilometres have you travelled so far on this trip and where are you heading next?
Due to an unexpected family situation (and selling the house faster than we anticipated) we’ve had to stay close to home (Coffs Harbour area). As of June we are heading north, to Queensland and onto some Rockhampton friends who have a paddock we can park in. (We love free/cheap camping!) What I hope to do while travelling through smaller regions/towns is drop into local libraries to say ‘hi’ and offer to do an author event with locals, or even writing sessions. I did an author chat at Casino last January and it was fabulous. Small towns rarely get authors dropping by for a chat. I’d like to change that. Readers on Twitter can follow my #WriteRoundOz hashtag.
Carol: Is there a particular region that you yearn to discover?
I’ve seen very little of QLD. Thirty years ago our trip was cut short due to family illness so we never did get to QLD or Tassie. We also sped (figuratively speaking) around the Victorian coast. Oh, and also Margaret River and Esperance. And . . . and . . . .and . . .
Carol: Do you have a favourite caravanning destination? Do you prefer to stay in caravan parks or free camp?
We are well set up for free camping. Unfortunately, a writer’s imagination can be a scary place. (I curse the day I watched Wolf Creek – you may have noticed a few references to the movie in Season of Shadow and Light!) The world is a different place from thirty years ago when we would park anywhere for a night or two. These days there are ‘rules’ for free camping that makes it a reasonably safe prospect and I am sure I will feel better about it as time goes by. But right now I am finding caravan parks very comforting.
Great spaces to write – life on the road.
Carol: Where can we expect to see Jenn J McLeod on this book tour? Are you heading to WA?
I wish a book tour would take me to WA soon. I have so many wonderful writer friends and readers over there. In fact, I spent more time in WA than any other state on that first trip and still saw so very little of such a magnificent state. I will make it over there in the van one day and I may never leave. Stay tuned!
Carol: What sorts of books do you read for enjoyment Jenn? Can you share with us 5 books you have recently enjoyed?
Helene Young’s Northern Heat
Kylie Kaden’s Missing You
Margareta Osborn’s Rose River
Dianne Blacklock’s The Best Man
Loretta Hill’s The Maxwell Sisters
Carol: Now a very important question Jenn, what style of wine will we find in your caravan cellar? Does your fifth wheeler have a cellar? Ours does – a box under the bed J
*snap* We actually love saying . . . “I’ll go to the cellar and select a wine.” Our choices, however, are limited to what was on special at the time of purchase. We live a frugal life these days: food is simple and we rarely eat out (owning a café turned us off eating out anyway!), our designer clothes (ie shorts and sarongs) come from opp shops, as do our fave flannelette shirts (perfect for happy hour when the sea breeze cools and the mozzies come out). Our motto these days is ‘make do’ (and hope readers keep buying those books!) But the one thing we don’t go without is our happy hour. My favourite white would be a Semillion and red would be a Shiraz. (Hmm, it’s now only 10AM and I am hanging out for happy hour! But I have a few thousand words to get down first.)
Carol: Thank you for taking part in my “in Conversation With” blog posts Jenn J McLeod and good luck with the upcoming book tour. Cheers. Safe travels.
Thank you, Carol, and we must ‘talk’ about your dog friendly van park experiences. Our little one is 15 years old. We lost her mate last year, after only a couple of months in the van. We know having a dog while travelling can be difficult, but we can’t imagine life without a canine companion. Like our wine, some things we cannot go without.
Book information and BUY links – Simon & Schuster Australia. http://authors.simonandschuster.com.au/Jenn-J-McLeod/404929874
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