Love in the outback with
Red Sand Sunrise
WHAT: Red Sand Sunrise, (published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books, rrp $29.99) by Fiona McArthur draws on the author’s extensive midwifery experience. The story centres on three estranged sisters reuniting, establishing a much-needed medical clinic in a remote area where the landscape is dominated by the typically Australian red earth. There’s a solid injection of romance.
WHO IS FIONA? She writes at her kitchen table in rural Australia with a view of the paddocks beyond. After completing her novel, she went to Tuscany, where she recently attended a writers’ workshop. Nice life. Fiona has also worked as a rural midwife for 25 years, mining a rich vein for story inspiration. She is a clinical midwifery educator and teaches emergency obstetric strategies while working with midwives and doctors from isolated areas. Fiona has written 30 medical romances, which have sold over 2 million copies in 12 languages. She has been a RWA Romantic Book of the Year finalist and American Cataromance Readers Choice finalist. Fiona is a midwifery expert for Mother and Baby magazine and the author of the non-fiction work, The Don’t Panic Guide To Birth.
WHERE: Fiona lives in northern NSW, and knows expertly how the tyranny of distance affects medical services. The important and lifesaving Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Flying Obstetrician are featured in Red Sand Sunrise.
WHY: I asked Fiona about how and why the Australian landscape influenced her book, why workshops, those at home and overseas, benefit writers and why romance authors use pseudonyms.
Q&A with Fiona
Q. Do you have a particular space at home where you write?
A. This is really unromantic, but I usually write at the kitchen table (and you don’t want me to describe that ) but I can write most places. If I need to really produce words for a deadline or writing goal I might hole up in my little old caravan down in the shed. The windows look over the paddocks and it’s very girly, and fun, but often I’ll end up on the bed snuggled up. The most fun place I wrote was in a hotel in Fremantle at a writer’s conference. The place had a huge glass pyramid-shaped atrium, and hundreds of writers walking past, but for some reason the noise didn’t bother me, and the collective energy from there had the fingers flying on the keyboard.
Q. Can you tell me more about where you live in northern NSW and how it influences your writing?
A. I live on a farm about 15 minutes from the most incredible beach, South West Rocks. Unfortunately I drive in the other direction to go to work. At home windows face the paddocks and it’s fabulous in the early morning with mist and moonlight and birds waking up and I get up about 4am and write till 6. Most mornings I have the pleasure of sunrise over the paddocks. My Facebook friends must be so sick of my sunrise posts but every day is different.
Q. How did the 10-day Tuscan retreat go?
A. Ten days in Castellina in Chianti, at the Hotel Salivolpi, with Eloisa James as resident writer in our own chalet rooms. Yep, it was amazing. Writing in that setting was a dream, all organised by Minerva Education, and it’s on again next year. Sigh. We walked to dinner in an authentic restaurant every night and they began to really spoil us after a few nights – for example the Limoncello came out! Most days one or two of us would take a break from writing and amble the 1km to cobblestoned Catellina, a small village that had real Etruscan ruins, feast day dinners, and one of the most awarded gelato shops in Italy. What more can I say?
Actually, I need to say more about Eloisa. She is a NY Times bestseller, seriously savvy, a Shakespearean professor, and extremely generous. For me it was the daily tutorial on the business side of writing as well as the discussions on why books are favourites and how ‘reader pleasure moment’ scenes are so important. I’ve written 30 books, do most things instinctively, but light bulb moments were coming every day and I love to learn. The writers in the workshop were at all stages of their careers. Eloisa looked at everyone’s work, several times, and workshopped one-on-one. We all mixed brilliantly, though it was said Eloisa ran the day and I ran the party side of the night. Not a true comment, but it amused me.
Q. Do such workshops benefit writers? I wondered if the beautiful place where you live might be a good location for a writers’ retreat!
A. I certainly benefitted from going to Tuscany, writing and business savvy wise, so not just in the handbag and ice cream department. The fact that any travel fills the well of imagination is a huge plus for me. Locally, I have organised a writers’ retreat in the B&B at Smoky Cape Lighthouse we found highly conducive to writing. Not surprisingly, leaning back against the lighthouse and watching the beams stream out over the ocean, with a glass of bubbles, is good for the imagination.
Q. Several years ago I covered the annual Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Sydney as a journalist writing a feature story. I had no idea so many workshops went into the process. Is that a common misconception?
A. The workshops at RWA conferences are amazing. The people who attend are incredibly generous helping other writers to grow and learn. I think readers would be amazed at the things you need to take on board to be a professional writer. My husband has a very good sense of humour, luckily, when his wife slips off to another conference. Research wise I’m a midwife and there’s a lot of drama and emotion and heroics in medicine and in my books. I have clinician friends I check facts with as well.
Q. Do you think the romance genre still has longevity despite reading habits changing with digital media?
A. Absolutely. Life is love, not death and destruction. If you have a bad day one solution is to escape to a better world and every better world has love in it. It can be the love that grows between sisters; or bromance – Eloisa talked about bromance and the word still makes me smile – in this instance I’m talking male mates not Brokeback Mountain; or ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the love of mankind. There will always be a happy endings and someone becoming a stronger person because of love in my books. I believe there should be a happy ending, somewhere, for everyone. As for romance genre losing readers I think the internet will open up authors to a whole new world of readers and more people will enjoy our books more than ever before.
Q. Have you used a nome-de-plume for your other titles?
A. I use my middle name, McArthur, not my married name but I was always going to write under that name because it made me feel closer to my mother. I’m so glad I didn’t change my first name as an author. I have friends who forget to turn around when their pen name is called and I think, phew.
Q. Why do romance writers often write under fictitious names?
A. Anonymous can be good – especially if you are writing something that people might forget to separate the writer from the writing with. The hottest, sexiest books I know, are written by a sweet little older lady with a really good pseudonym. I don’t blame her. I did write quite a sexy story once, to see if I could, and my husband was horrified. He said he didn’t want to answer phone calls looking for the horny housewife, which made me laugh, so I added another pseudonym that I don’t use now.