Romance down under?

Writing Historical Romances set in North Queensland townships between 1860 and 1898 is unfortunately not as easy as one would first think.

When first I embarked on my venture to write stories set in Australia there was never any doubt that I wanted my backdrop to be in and around my home town, but not with a modern setting with all the technology we’ve been graced with.  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 the north.

There was one fault in my plan though – there isn’t much known about the townships in North Queensland during that time period that I wanted to write about – towns like Inkerman, Ravenswood, Brandon and Sarina.  These are towns with grand histories, and big beginnings but were swallowed up with the harshness of the Australian environment and unforgiving temperatures.

But surely as these towns were being established, and were at their most prosperous, they held as many if not more great love stories as those tales we read set in England or America.  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 kangaroo’s, or convicts or other such stereo types about this country.

The main research I have found useful about such 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.

Many publishers have refused my work over the years, saying that though the scripts were well written, the setting was wrong, and that I should think of moving my backdrop to a more popular district in England or America, or that if I must write about Australia then I should choose a more popular part such as Sydney or Victoria.

My question was why though.  Why should a setting need to be changed when there was obviously so much history and romantic possibilities sitting in the townships I had already chosen?  As I was told many times, because these settings were popular and what readers were looking for.  But I was a reader of romances too, and though I love English romances, and am thrilled by American westerns, I wanted more.  I, as a reader, wanted to read something different, something set somewhere away from the norm.

I found this was a very bumpy path to take.

Still I have persevered and kept my stories in these once prosperous townships; townships my current publisher of Red Sage Publishing has found a ‘breath of fresh air’. 

Finding reliable historical facts to put with the passionate romances has proved a challenge though.  Yes I write romances, but I also incorporate mystery, scandal and murder in my books.  It is because of this I have had to make sure I have the correct weapons for the time period, and weapons that were available to be shipped across the seas to Australia.  The list goes on – there are poisons, there are valuables, there are even mail order brides.  Romance aside, if these facts are not correct then the story will falter and not be believable. The internet, though limited for the areas I research, is a great tool to authors of today, but not everything can be found there.  I have had to rely on a lot of my own family history to be able to obtain the historical facts I have needed to create a picture in my reader’s mind of a place many people overseas and in Australia are not even aware existed.  I have had to talk and listen to many old locals from my home town, and rely on their photographs to be able to let me see the life I want my readers to see.  Australia is a passionate country, with an extremely passionate history, one so many people are dying to read about and escape to. 

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 to so many of them.  It is harder still, for Australian authors to be picked up by Australian publishers if they don’t have an agent.  Myself, 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 are needed to go into ‘American language’ as my editor cringed saying.  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.  There is also Aboriginal remedies and customs – something also quite common in my books, something also hard to research accurately.  Les Hiddens, known as The Busk Tucker Man here in Australia, spent many years researching aboriginal lifestyles, and it is his knowledge that has allowed me to use native Australian birth control methods, native poisons as well as pulses and medicines.  These are little details considering the main genre is erotic romance, but there will always be at least one reader out there who will pick out every wrong historical fact and never pick up one of your books again.  It is our jobs as authors to try and stop that from happening.

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