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Episode 48

Episode 48 is here and it's a huge one! Join hosts Veronica and Darren for some industry news, chats about vulnerability and its importance in literature, the dangers of a furry tummy, the honest and sometimes uncomfortable bridge between abuse and drug addiction, the power of books that can change your life, and a magical interview with the unbelievably awesome Mary-Lou Stephens... not to mention a heart pulsing read from Chapter Five of Kevin Klehr's Winter Masquerade!


What Country do you write on? 

Gubbi Gubbi.

What inspired you to write this book?

Ironically, for a novel that starts with bushfire and drought, it was a very rainy day when the idea for this story landed inside my heart. I had interviewed Monica McInerney for a literary event in the morning, and in the course of the interview we talked about grief and how it informed her writing. That afternoon the premise for this novel revealed itself to me. I found the idea terrifying. It was too big, too daunting and so very sad. 

Also, I might have grown up in Tasmania but I knew very little about growing apples. I emailed Monica the next day to tell her about the idea and added, ‘It’s your fault. It was all that talk about grief.’ She very generously replied that she could take none of the credit and that I must write the book even though it terrified me. In a wonderful turn of events, after I had overcome my fear and written many drafts, Monica became my mentor through the Australian Society of Authors mentorship program, and guided me through the final drafts before I submitted to publishers.

Is there anything specifically Australian about your book?

The Last of the Apple Blossom is set in the Huon Valley in Tasmania starting on the day of the 1967 bushfires and tracing the demise of the apple industry into the 1970s. This period was one of great change in Australia and all those changes are woven in throughout the book.

Is there a message in your book/books/writing? 

The novel is a reminder of the huge changes Australia went through in the 1960s and 70s and how we navigated those changes. Everything always changes but some things always hold true - love, respect, friendship, integrity. We’ve all been through so much change in the past year and a half. Many of us have had to be resilient in the face of these changes. The Last of the Apple Blossom is a testament to our ability to navigate our way through hard times and problems, and come through them with the ingenuity and the support of those who love us. I would love my readers to gain a sense of hope from reading The Last of the Apple Blossom. No matter how hard things are there is always a way through, even though it can be hard to find at first.

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

One of the concerns I had about writing The Last of the Apple Blossom was that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to all the hardships the orchardists went through and how they navigated them. I was also mindful that I needed to be respectful of the fact that many people still remember the 1967 fires and all the trauma involved. (I remember the 67 fires. I was six at the time and the early chapters of the novel are based on my memories.)

When I began receiving emails from women who had been through the fires and had lived on apple orchards in the Huon telling me that I had done them proud, I cried with gratitude and relief.

How much research is involved in your writing?

I might have grown up in Tasmania, but I knew nothing about apple growing in the 1960s and 70s until I started researching. I read books, spent hours in the archives of Tas Libraries, investigated online and listened to many of the oral histories recorded in the National Libraries Apple and Pear project research of orchardists who’d lived through these times, but I was still left with many questions. 

I tracked down Naomie Clark-Port, an orchardist in the Huon Valley on a property established by her family in the 1800s. We stood in her orchard surrounded by apple trees, some over 160 years old, as she told me stories of orchard life, struggle and perseverance. She also arranged interviews with some of the old orchardists in the area who remembered the events I write about in The Last of the Apple Blossom. I spent hours listening to their tales of bushfire, drought and hail, good harvests and bad. Over the course of our conversations they revealed many details that I never would have discovered otherwise. I’ve used several of their anecdotes in The Last of the Apple Blossom – they were too delicious not to.

What’s the most useful writing advice you’ve been given?

‘No body cares. The world does not need your book. The less I care the better I write.’ I did Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass a few years ago and that was the first thing she said. I was stunned. I didn’t understand what she meant at all. I’ve now used this advice when I’ve been stuck with my writing or got too caught up in my own head. Remembering ‘nobody cares’ lifts the pressure right off and frees me up to write.

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