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GUEST BLOG: NICOLE ALEXANDER, author of A Changing Land

I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, author of the bestselling debut novel The Bark Cutters (Bantam 2010), which I had the  true privilege of reading before it was published. Her travel, poetry & genealogy articles have been published in Australia, America and Singapore and her first volume of poetry, Divertissements-Love·War·Society (Kre8 Publishing) was published in 2008. Nicole is the business manager on her family’s rural holding north west of Moree and is a regular contributor to New England Country Living Magazine. A Changing Land, her second novel, has just been published, and is already climbing the charts. Over to Nicole to tell us more:

When I signed my contract with Random House for my rural novel, The Bark Cutters, I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel. I was still getting over the excitement of landing a major publishing contract when the publisher said they would like one. However as the initial contract was for two books I excitedly wrote a one page synopsis and sent it off. Then reality set in. I had twelve months to write it. Twelve months less the editorial process involved in turning The Bark Cutters from manuscript to novel form, twelve months less a month touring for the first novel, less my normal work commitments on the property where I live 110km northwest of Moree in north western NSW.

While the concept of bringing two novels out in quick succession in order to cement your reading audience makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, from the author’s perspective suddenly your days are measured in terms of how many words you put down on paper: In an hour, a day, a week. Eventually I wrote A Changing Land in eight months. Along the way I suspect I wrote and deleted approximately thirty thousand words, suffered from cramping in my fingers and right hand, developed a healthy fondness for merlot and became acutely conscious of how much faith a publisher must place in a new fiction writer. Publishers invest many hours and thousands of dollars in establishing new authors and I’m sure Random House were holding their collective breaths hoping I wasn’t a one book wonder. So was I!

Luckily they liked A Changing Land. The writing of this novel was made easier as I already knew the world my story was set in. I knew my environment. I can still mentally wander the landscape that is Wangallon and I can draw a mud map in the dirt as to the exact location of the Wangallon homestead, creek, aboriginal camp and river. I could envisualise my characters talking to each other and through them the plot gradually unfolded, a natural progression of the original story. The environment was so real to me I could smell it and I realised how important it is to know your created world even better than your real one, for otherwise how can you make it believeable?

For those of you who have not read The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land is a stand-alone work. You can certainly pick it up and be thrust into the continuing legacy of the Gordons. So for a brief story rundown it is about four generations of a rural family, the Gordons. The work has an interweaving narrative with the story split between 1909 and 1990.

It’s 1909 and Hamish Gordon has a large rural holding built on stock theft. Determined not to bow to his wife Claire’s genteel need for respectability, he embarks on a final stage of land acquisition. His ruthless plan, triggered by an antagonistic English neighbour nearly destroys Wangallon and has serious repercussions eighty years on.

In 1990 after the death of her grandfather and family patriarch Angus, fourth generation Sarah Gordon now runs Wangallon with her fiancé, Anthony. Their relationship begins to deteriorate when a power struggle develops between them, Sarah’s problems escalating with the arrival of her Scottish half-brother. Jim Macken is intent on receiving the thirty percent share of Wangallon bequeathed to him by Angus. Stunned by her grandfather’s will which effectively destroys the family legacy of a strong succession plan, Sarah discovers that Anthony has embarked on a project that will ultimately change the face of the property forever. Unable to buy Jim out and with the possibility of losing one third of Wangallon, Sarah finds herself fighting the law, her half-brother and her beloved Anthony.

Sarah knows she must continue in her forefathers’ footsteps, however has she the same unescapable Gordon qualities that will ensure both her and Wangallon’s survival.

I’m touring NSW/QLD to chat about A Changing Land during March & May (while trying to write book 3!) so please visit www.nicolealexander.com.au for details or contact me through my site. Enjoy!

Thanks for popping by, Nicole, and wishing you the best of luck with your novels.

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Finding the time to write

Book pages 1An older version of this blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 8th April 2010

For me, for a long time my writing was my hobby, and as such I would get through everything else first, promising myself writing time later, as some kind of reward. However, it’s far too easy for that time to never arrive. It was only when I dedicated myself to finishing Come Back to Me at the end of 2007 that I really made the strides forward that I needed to then pursue publication. Now I do try to schedule time to write, but it’s not always easy. I have an active one-year-old little girl, all the general aspects of life to keep going, and my husband would quite like some attention sometimes too, I think. I have just finished my second book, and managed it by making the most of the time my little girl was asleep or my husband was here to care for her, as well as having the help of a wonderful childminder for a few hours a week. (Also invaluable was a well-timed visit by my mother!) Although I used to write at all hours of the day, for now I have to make the most of this dedicated, limited time. I usually have lots of scribbled notes to work through by the time each session comes around, as when I’m busy on other things I still make sure to make notes on ideas so that I can refer back to them later.

As with many other writers, it may well be necessary for me to continue my day job of editing to make a living. Then I will not only have to remind myself to make time for my writing, but to work hard to make sure that time actually happens. When the task at hand seems enormous, I also remind myself to just make a start, and that if I keep doing that every day, one day I’ll reach the finish line! And, if I don’t find the time I need, I may have to look hard at the things I am making time for. I once heard a popular fiction writer in England talking about how if you just turned off EastEnders, a prime-time soap opera that runs for half an hour four nights a week, and used the time to write, in six months you would have a book.  It’s worth thinking about.