I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander to my blog this month. Nicole and I published our first novels at a similar time with the same publisher, Random House, in 2010, and since then Nicole has been a prolific writer – The Great Plains is her fifth novel! Nicole covers an astonishing breadth of topics in her books and skilfully absorbs all her painstaking historical research into her stories. It was a pleasure to chat to her and find out more about her new novel. Before we begin, here’s a taster of what you can expect from The Great Plains:
It is Dallas 1886, and the Wade Family is going from strength to strength: from a thriving newspaper and retail business in Texas to a sprawling sheep station half a world away in Queensland.
Yet money and power cannot compensate for the tragedy that struck twenty-three years ago, when Joseph Wade was slaughtered and his seven-year-old daughter Philomena abducted by Apache Indians.
Only her uncle, Aloysius, remains convinced that one day Philomena will return. So when news reaches him that the legendary Geronimo has been captured, and a beautiful white woman discovered with him, he believes his prayers have been answered.
Little does he know that the seeds of disaster have just been sown.
Over the coming years three generations of Wade men will succumb to an obsession with three generations of mixed-blood Wade women: the courageous Philomena, her hot-headed granddaughter Serena, and her gutsy great-granddaughter Abelena – a young woman destined for freedom in a distant red land. But at what price . . . ?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Nicole. THE GREAT PLAINS is your latest work of fiction. Can you tell us about it, and what inspired you to write it?
My aim was to write an epic narrative that told the story of two lands, two frontier worlds, Australia and America, and the people both settlers and indigenous who inhabited those countries. With that background in mind in plotting the novel I asked myself this initial question: what would it feel like to be displaced in the world? What would it be like to be lost to the world you were born into, only to find that on being reunited with loved-ones that you truly didn’t belong? During the American Civil War, a confederate soldier, Joseph Wade, gets caught in a skirmish and is killed, his young daughter, Philomena, abducted by the legendary Geronimo of the Apache Indians. This is Philomena’s story, and that of her descendants, strong-willed women, whose destinies are altered by fate and whose lives are hampered by the prejudices of society and the mixed-blood that runs in their veins. It’s also the story of the powerful Wade family across two continents and the men who became obsessed with these women and the families, both in Australia and America, struggling against adversity during periods of enormous change.
Your novels have covered The Great Depression, World War One, and now the American Wild West. Can you offer us an insight into your research process – how you tackle it, and keep it under control?
To date I’ve had a previous interest in every topic I’ve written about, so that’s made it easier to pinpoint timeframes and include specific historical events. It is easy to get carried away with the research side of things and I have to be quite disciplined in what and how much material I read. I find the best thing is to read widely on the subject area first and then begin writing. Getting the story down is fundamental. I then research along the way as specific points come up and again when the manuscript’s completed. This is part of double-checking facts to ensure accuracy.
Sometimes novels evolve as they are written. Now that THE GREAT PLAINS is finished, how does it compare to the book you envisioned when you began working on it?
I never plan an entire novel. I don’t like the restrictions that places on the work. Novels grow organically, characters change, situations can be improved on, or the chapter order may need to be altered. I start with an idea and usually plan the first quarter of the work and then I begin writing. Once I have a feel for the work I wait for the characters to start talking to me, for my imagined world to come alive. The Great Plains was a major undertaking, the story changed, as did the characters, but the kernel of the novel, that initial idea, remained constant.
THE GREAT PLAINS is your fifth novel. If you could revisit yourself when you were working on your first novel, THE BARK CUTTERS, what advice would you have to offer about writing and publishing?
Writing is about redrafting, refining and re-polishing, making a seed into a pearl. Make life your muse and writing your passion and with luck and timing you’ll create something worthwhile. I’ve been telling myself the same thing for over twenty-five years now.
As well as writing, you are also a busy with rural property and numerous farming projects. How do you combine these two occupations?
With great difficulty. There’s no writing or editing while I’m on-farm, the place is pretty busy. I tend to turn off my writing brain and concentrate on the work at hand. A typical property work day for me starts at 7.30 am and could involve anything from mustering sheep and cattle, working in the stockyards, doing bookwork in the station office or checking cultivations with our agronomist. I’m a 7-day-a-week person, which includes 3 full days for writing as well as nights, although work-related injury has slowed me down this year on both fronts.
When you hit a roadblock in your writing, how do you get going again?
I usually re-read what I’ve previously written, or read about the subject I’m writing about. If all else fails I go and do something else and hope the muse returns. It may take half an hour or a week, but eventually I’ll get back on track.
What else are you feeling passionate about at the moment?
Red wine and chocolate, but then I always feel passionate about red wine and chocolate. I’d like to emulate Oscar Wilde who only seemed to work half a day and partied the rest of the time, but luckily or unluckily my work commitments don’t allow it!
I love book recommendations. Tell me about one book you’ve loved in the last year?
On the literature side I really enjoyed Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North. My guilty pleasure? Phillipa Gregory’s The White Queen and The King’s Curse by the same author which I’m currently reading.
And now THE GREAT PLAINS has been published, what are you working on next?
My current work-in-progress is set in Australia on the northern NSW frontier in the 1830s when settlers went beyond the designated counties to the outer limits.
Finally, where can people go to find out more about you and your books?
They can head to my website www.nicolealexander.com.au