By MC D’Alton
Born and raised in Toowoomba, Susanne is an Australian author of contemporary and rural romances set in Australia and exotic locations. She adores travel with her husband, both at home and overseas, and weaves stories around the settings and people she encounters. Her Outback series, Hearts of the Outback was inspired by her time teaching in far north-west Queensland.
Her heroes have to be pretty special to live up to her real life hero. He saved her life then married her. They live on the edge of the Range with their German Shepherd, Freya. In another life, Susanne was a senior English and Drama teacher with a passion for Shakespeare and creative writing, but now her two children have flown the coop, she writes full time.
Susanne is a member of the RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) and won third place in their 2011 Emerald Award with her first novel. She placed third in the Pan Macmillan national short story competition with Chez Romeo. A hybrid author, she is published with Harlequin Escape, as well as being self published. A popular guest speaker, she presented the keynote address at the Steele Rudd Pilgrimage, and was a guest speaker for the Dynamic Life Speakers Series for U3A, and has been invited to speak in libraries, at book clubs, and to community groups.
When fashion designer Serena Quinlan arrives in Mindalby for the annual cotton festival, she is hoping to do two things: meet local leather worker Paul Carey and check out all the 50–year–old men to see if they might be her father. She doesn’t expect the explosive attraction she feels towards Paul, nor the untimely and unwanted arrival of her ex–fiance. When her search for her father leads to unexpected results, Serena will be torn between the past she came searching for and the possibility of a future she never expected.
Mindalby, a small town, a community, a home. But when the mill that supports the local cotton farmers and employs many of the town’s residents closes unexpectedly, old tensions are exposed and new rifts develop. Everyone is affected and some react better than others, but one thing is certain: living on the edge of the outback means they have to survive together, or let their town die.
Q. Tell us about your book
Starting Over is the story of how the community of Mindalby begins to fight back after the cotton mill closes. While it can be read as a standalone book, readers are sure to enjoy the whole series. Starting Over is the second book in the central four-book ‘mill’ story. I wanted to explore the idea of how far reaching the effects of the mill closure would be on the broader community and so I was drawn to characters who weren’t ‘directly’ associated with the mill.
The idea of two creative people was my next consideration. Paul is the town saddler and an artist in leather and Serena is a fashion designer. As I created these two characters I thought of my mother. She used to work for Norman Hartnell in London back when they made gorgeous outfits for royalty. Mum would close her eyes as she felt a piece of fabric, and describe to us what the finished outfit would look like, accessorised and all.
Our rural districts are doing it tough again in this current drought, but that strong sense of community is one of the key elements to their future resurgence.
Q. Where did the idea for your book come from?
SE Gilchrist (whose book, Cotton Field Dreams is book 1 of the Mindalby story) had created A Bindarra Creek Romance which I was part of about three years ago. We enjoyed the experience of working in a larger group of authors on that series and when Suz and Sandy suggested another joint writing project, I was delighted to participate. Hard times for our rural sector happen for reasons other than natural causes, and the idea of the Mindalby mill closing was the catalyst for this series.
Q. Why do you write romance?
There is a great deal of hardship in our world. Writing stories where there is a guaranteed HEA (happy ever after) feels like fighting back against that, which doesn’t mean romances are ‘unrealistic’. Certainly I, and the other rural romance writers whose stories I have enjoyed, use aspects of real life to create our stories. That realism resonates with readers, but it’s fun to give my main characters a happy ending.
Q. Is there anything that sets Starting Over apart from any other book in the genre?
Each writer has a unique voice and approach to any given topic or situation. Readers read for the story first, but also because they enjoy a writer’s interpretation and voice. I hope readers will enjoy the combination of characters and situation that I have created, and will read all the books in this series.
Q. What, if any, were the challenges you faced writing your book?
The hardest thing for me was that my mother-in-law passed away when I was in the early writing stage. I found it difficult to focus on writing and structuring a story while preoccupied with our loss. I feel grateful to our publisher that she saw enough in the story to request a rewrite. Several months later and with a better perspective on everything, I rewrote a strong story and characters I was very happy with.
Q. Tell us about your process, how do you get into a writing mindset?
Sometimes it’s very easy. I get up and start writing. Then there are ‘those’ days when every sentence is a struggle and the best I can manage is a couple of hundred words. So long as I keep chipping away, I will eventually remind my muse what her job is and often, the rest of the story flies. If I write later in the day, I have to clear the decks of emails and so on before I can focus on ‘my’ writing.
Writing can be a lonely occupation. The other element I find very helpful is regular check ins with another writer friend during the day, and the chance to chat for five minutes and ‘share’ a coffee while we talk about our work.
Q. What is the underlying theme of your book, if any?
Family and all that we are prepared to do to protect them. At the core of community is an underlying sense of connectedness, which I enjoy exploring through my rural romances. Family is at the heart of community. Paul Carey has put his business on the line to help his family through financial troubles, and will do so again – if the situation with the cotton mill closing threatens the Carey cotton farm.
All her life Serena has only had her mother, but her mother’s health issues make Serena determined to find the man her mother lost contact with before he knew he’d fathered a child. Putting family before others is instinctive, but what happens when an ‘outsider’ upsets the pattern of your life?
Q. Would you call your hero and/or heroine a typical romance hero and/or heroine? Why not? What sets him/her apart from the men/women we usually encounter in romances?
Typically, romance protagonists have a core sense of decency and honesty, but some are more vulnerable or ‘damaged’ than others. Through some form of external conflict, which will cause internal struggles and reflection, they will ‘progress’. Often the other partner will be part of the conflict as well as contributing to the solution or progress. In that sense, my characters are typical.
However, like people in real life, each is a unique being. The skill is to make both relatable or understandable, even if they aren’t a person we would likely be friends with. Paul cares about his community as well as his family and friends; he has a larrikin sense of humour and a creative side that resonates with Serena.
Q. What was your inspiration for your MC?
I probably covered this one already when I talked about the book. My mother always seemed to be there in spirit beside me as I wrote my two creative main characters. It helps that my writing chair was my mother’s favourite seat.
Q. What kind of research did you undertake when writing?
Legal points relating to the idea that ‘saves’ the town! My information came from several sources, including my own legal beagle husband. Within the group, there is usually someone who knows someone and can gather first-hand information; this happened particularly with the cotton growing elements of the series. One of the group interviewed a cotton grower and shared the results. We researched elements of the processing, and lots of little details that a reader shouldn’t ‘notice’, but which add depth to the story.
Q. What was your favourite part in writing this book?
The wonderful group of writers with whom I collaborated; their support and encouragement was an inspiration, particularly in that unhappy beginning in my early drafting.
Q. Besides the gorgeous cover, what about this story will draw your reader into your world?
The ongoing external conflict of the mill closure for the town of Mindalby, and the urgent push to find a way to save their town will draw readers in. And because family is such an integral part of life for many people, Serena’s search for her father – the other half of her family tree – may touch a chord.
Q. Where can we buy your books?
Heart of the Town: https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781489263674/heart-of-the-town/
Here to Stay: https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781489263681/here-to-stay/
For specific retailers, use the links below:
If you would like to touch base with Susanne, you can find her at the following:
Or on her website: http://www.susannebellamy.com
Susanne, thank You for taking the time to chat to us about your writing and your book.