Writing Historical Romances set in North Queensland townships between 1860 and 1898 is unfortunately not as easy as one would think.
When I embarked on my venture to write stories set in Australia there was no doubt that I wanted a historical set in my hometown or a similar town. I wanted to tell the tale of our forefathers, who travelled from England to this grand island of ours, and embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time – civilising North Queensland.
There was one fault in my plan though – there isn’t much known about the townships in North Queensland — Inkerman, Ravenswood, Brandon, and Sarina, the towns I wanted to write about. These are towns with grand histories and big beginnings but were swallowed up by the harshness of the Australian environment.
Many publishers have refused my work over the years, saying though the scripts were well written, the setting was wrong, and I should think of moving my backdrop to a more popular district in England or America, or if I must write about Australia then I should choose a more popular city such as Sydney or Victoria. I was told many times these settings were popular and what readers were looking for.
My question was why? Why should a setting need to be changed when there was obviously so much history and romantic possibilities in the townships I had already chosen?
I read romances too, and though I love English romances, and I’m thrilled by American westerns. I wanted more. I wanted to read something different, something set somewhere away from the norm.
These were the stories I wanted to tell. Stories that would captivate the reader into seeing a romantic side to Australia that didn’t involve cork hats, pet kangaroos, or convicts or other stereotypes.
In researching my books, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Australian History.
The research I have found useful about Australian histories, and the hardships that drew people together have been found in many Michael Cannon books, an author who shows not only the popular side to Australian beginnings, but the rustic side of the smaller townships, the townships I wanted readers to fall in love with.
Finding reliable historical facts has proved a challenge, though. Yes, I write romances, but I also incorporate mystery, scandal, and murder in my books. I have to make sure I’m using the correct weapons for the time period and double check if the weapons were available for to be shipped to Australia. The list goes on – I’ve researched poisons, valuable cargo’s, and even mail order brides.
I’ve also researched Aboriginal remedies and customs – something also quite common in my books. It’s difficult to find accurate information on the subject. I’ve relied on Les Hiddens, known as The Busk Tucker Man here in Australia, who’d spent many years researching aboriginal lifestyles. Thanks to his findings, I’ve used native Australian birth control methods, native poisons as well as pulses and medicines.
Romance aside, if these facts are not correct then the story will falter and not be believable. These are little details considering the main genre is erotic romance, but there will always be at least one reader who will pick out every wrong historical fact and never pick up one of your books again.
The internet, though limited for the areas I research, is a great tool to authors , but not everything can be found on-line. I have had to rely on a lot of my own family history to obtain the historical facts to create a picture in my reader’s mind of a place many people didn’t know existed. I’ve spoken to many old locals from my hometown, who have shared their photographs. This has allowed me to describe those images to my readers.
Fortunately, many publishing houses are becoming more welcoming to manuscripts set outside of England, Europe and America. But it is still hard to sell Australian romances. It is harder still for Australian authors to be picked up by Australian publishers if they don’t have an agent.
I was picked up by an American publisher, which has proved interesting and educational for both myself and my editor due to certain language differences. Some are simple – learnt and learned; colour and color – simple changes that need translating into ‘American language’ as my editor said with a cringe. But there are other issues too – Australian slang – which is hard enough to understand to most Australians and an even bigger struggle for someone international, but sometimes necessary especially when a book is set in outback Australia.
I have persevered and kept my stories in these once prosperous townships; locales my current publisher, Red Sage Publishing has found a ‘breath of fresh air’.
I’m also thankful that the publishing industry for the most part now embraces romances set beyond America and England. They are allowing writers to explore worlds closer to their own hearts including Australia, but also Southeast Asia, and so many other worlds beyond that, that don’t need the author to resort to a fantasy based novel.
As for me, I am glad I stuck to my guns and found a publisher for the works I write in the towns I chose. Every writer out there should have hope in the fact that if their story is solid and their characters strong, there is a publisher out there that will scoop their story up and make it the masterpiece they already believe it to be.