Growing up in North Queensland, Australia, I was always taught that we were an ‘odd breed’. We had our own greetings and even our own type of lingo to the rest of the country. As a young child, I honestly did think this was just some story my parents told me, but as I grew up and entered the publishing world, I realised just how very true this all was.
When I first entered the publishing world, I did struggle quite a lot. You see I didn’t follow the trendy settings of the books I grew up reading. Instead I decided to set my stories in and around my home town in North Queensland. A lot of people have told me that using such a setting is akin to pushing a wheelbarrow full of cow pads up a very steep hill. Despite such opinions, the last few years have been good to me. I’ve been blessed to have quite a few of my books accepted and published. Though I would have loved to be published in my own country, it seems it wasn’t to be. That said, the publisher I’m with now is wonderful and supportive in so many ways. There is one interesting fact though – they’re American.
Now an Australian being published in America is nothing new, and as excited as I was to take this journey and see my books released into the world, I did forget one very vital thing – American’s don’t speak Australian. I guess it seems like a weird thing to say, I mean we both speak English right? When my edits arrived though my parents words came back to me and I realised that they were right – North Queenslanders really do have their own language.
Let me break this down for you. I grew up remarking that someone sculled their drink, so when I put this in one of my books I thought the description would be obvious. It wasn’t. Apparently to the rest of the word sculling involves boats.
I also was writing a scene about a station hand, and in one of the middle sentences shortened it to hand. I was told it didn’t work as it gave the descriptions of an actual hand walking around. And though this remark made me laugh, it certainly wasn’t the image I wanted a reader to be envisioning.
The list goes on and I was beginning to fear that my latest publisher was going to give up on me. I didn’t want this to happen, but the stubbornness in me wouldn’t allow me to change my ‘Australian’ way of writing either.
It wasn’t just the lingo though. The part of the world I’m from is so very different to anywhere else in the world and I needed to be able to have a reader see through my writing what I see every day. That said, my books are set in the late 19th century, so what I actually wanted to show was how this part of Australia must have looked to the first settlers who came here.
I decided to keep it simple and describe the settings in my stories as local beautiful native trees surrounding old bluestone buildings, which is pretty accurate for that time in history. Then there was one passionate love scene where the hero of the book holds the heroine against a smooth rock face sticking out of a waterhole as he embraces her. The publisher loved it, and enjoyed my North Queensland setting, explaining the description of the area made her feel as if she was actually there. When I asked my husband to read such a scene his eyebrow raised and he began to laugh. He then reminded me that most of our native trees would have black cockatoo’s or blue mountain parrots nesting in them squawking and pooping as they sat on the branches; as for the waterhole, we called them swamps and the only rocks sticking out of them would be hard, rough granite. I guess I should have been upset with him, but his reality check made me laugh because I knew he was right. Needless to say, I try to avoid love scenes in waterholes in my books now.
Thankfully this story has a happy ending. My publisher asked me to explain so many expressions to her in the editing process, and we ended up meeting halfway. In other words she didn’t make me change my style at all. She grew with me, and allows me to put in some very Australian expressions and descriptions. I do still get pulled up at times to explain certain sayings, but for the most part I’m happy with where my writing journey has led. I’ve managed to bring a piece of my North Queensland hometown to the big wide world and I’ve found a publisher on the other side of the world whose happy to help me do that.
As for my settings, as I explained to my husband, despite how we see our surroundings now in North Queensland, to those immigrants who came here in the 1800s, this part of the world would have looked so vast and beautiful – including the waterholes.