I’m Jenn J McLeod, a nomadic novelist, and since 2014, home for has been a purple and white caravan I call Myrtle the Turtle.
Downsizing my life into a 25 foot van meant getting rid of my huge book case and all my books (*insert sad face*). On the plus side, I’m discovering towns to find inspiration for my country stories (like Barmoya/Yeppoon in Qld) and I do lots of library talks and bookshop events in regional towns around the country.
Sometimes the towns are so small only a few people will turn up to those events. I rather like that because I can put away the official audio-visual presentation, sit down, relax and just talk books and reading. As an author, I learn more by listening to what readers love and hate about all sorts of books and writing than I do from any craft book.
Sometimes our bookish discussion will confirm what I already know. For example: Small-town fiction writers, like me, have two masters to please. Small-town story readers can be anyone, but they be discussed as two broad categories:
- Those who dream of living the country life and everything is awfully romantic. (Like a day in the shearing sheds is all about the smell of lanolin and sweet-smelling sweat on hunky men wearing Akubra hats and not much else!!) Or:
- Those already living the life and know the often-harsh realities of a life on the land.
I feel a responsibility when I write about country life so to not only be ‘creative’ in the way I paint places and people, but more importantly (for me, anyway) to be authentic as an author.
The problem for rural writers is . . .
These two, broad groups have different life experiences and therefore different expectations.
If an author over-does the country characters/setting, the city dreamer may love it, but you may alienate your rural readers who dislike being stereotyped. (Country folk are not all blue singlets and sweat. They can be educated, modern, intelligent, environmentally sensitive people and where someone lives, or what they do for work, does not define a person).
But . . .
A consequence of avoiding stereotypes/clichés is that your characters may not be “country enough”, which could mean city dwellers are left thinking your cute country boy-next-door-character is really no more quintessential than the office worker they see on the bus each morning, only without the Wranglers and big hat.
The solution . . .
Authentic, relatable characters require as much thought as plot and setting. Even setting in some books can be cursory, when ‘in my book’ (literally) the landscape is another character and therefore needing the same love and attention in the planning and writing phases.
To ensure I satisfy as many readers as possible, stay authentic, and avoid clichéd characters, predictable plots and stereotypes, I aim to create characters with depth and build worlds/settings with heart. Then I cross my fingers that a broad readership will find people and places to love among those pages.
The other thing I learned during our bookish chat was . . .
What and why readers read.
They told me when they pick up a mystery or crime novel it’s all about plot: finding the missing artefact, solving the crime, seeing the baddie get their comeuppance, etc.
In women’s fiction it’s all about the character. So, I chatted to them about the importance of the character’s journey when I’m creating my stories and how every book is a journey – for me and for me reader.
With my fifth novel garnering high praise for both the relatable characters and the portrayal of setting (a sprawling, fifth-generation cattle station) I know I have grown as a writer, but I have no desire to stop learning, which is why I enjoyed my reader chat the other day. I will continue to strive for perfection and hope readers continue to ‘’pick me’ off the shelf.
But I also appreciate readers are spoilt for choice these days. There are so many authors and books out there and we all have a limited book budget.
So, I make a reader promise to you.
To always try my hardest, do my best, and keep improving and growing so I can guarantee your hard-earned money and precious reading time is a good investment and will reap reader rewards.
If you would like to find out more about me and my books, sign up for my newsletter and I will send you a short story I narrated myself!
Website/newsletter sign up: www.jennjmcleod.com (I do have information in my ‘Book Room’ about how to have a book club chat with me via Skype.)
If you would like to join me on my book journey around the country, because every book is a journey, you can find me here: https://www.jennjmcleod.com/author-events/