Monday, 27 September 2010


I've been looking through my previous novels while converting books to ebooks, and it’s brought home to me how very strongly place has influenced my writing. Born in the UK, I’m a ‘Lancashire lass’, but I’m also Australian now, so both places figure prominently in my books.

When I started writing, where did I set my first big novel? Lancashire, of course. I didn’t know then that I was writing a saga. I was just writing the sort of story I enjoyed reading. I’ve been writing sagas ever since.

At first all my stories were set in Lancashire, but after I emigrated to Australia I just had to write a story set there. I’m particularly interested in Western Australian history, because Sydney and especially the convict era in the Eastern States of Australia have been used rather often.

I began collecting historical ‘titbits’ years ago and am gradually working through them. One incident happened when the American Civil War stopped cotton supplies to Lancashire. This closed most of the mills, so a group of 60 unemployed cotton lasses was sent out to Western Australia as maids. That story seemed meant to be told, uniting both sides of my own and my writing background.

‘Farewell to Lancashire’ was born when I found a published diary which described the voyage which brought the cotton lasses to Western Australia. I added four more lasses to the group, but it’s the same ship, with the same events during the voyage.

Book 2 of the series is ‘Beyond the Sunset’ (my 50th novel published) which came out in July 2010 in hardback. In this, one sister is so homesick she has to return to England. That journey takes readers by a route of the 1860s that has been less used in fiction, via Galle, in what is now Sri Lanka, Suez (before the canal was built), rail to Alexandria and then sailing on to Gibraltar and Southampton.

Book 3 is ‘Destiny’s Path’ and tells the story of the remaining pair of sisters. It’s not published yet but is due out in March 2011.

But that story led me to a new place, because a minor character was so vivid, I’ve given him his own series – and that starts in a new place, Singapore in the 1860s. It was fascinating to research.

I started writing modern novels at the same time as we began house swapping holidays from Australia to England. Naturally, this led to several different backgrounds for my modern stories, starting with Dorset, our first house swap. For a while we went all over the place, Cheshire, modern Lancashire, Ireland, Derbyshire, Wiltshire – and so did my stories. In fact, I’ve had a ball.

Using places you visit as settings for novels makes you learn far more about them than you would if you were just playing tourist. I hope this has given my readers a taste of a few new places, too.

My latest modern novel (Licence to Dream) is set in a small town in the state of Western Australia, which readers would probably never ‘visit’ otherwise. It was one of the earliest places settled in that state, but it is still a very small and charming country town.

I’ve even been around the universe when I was writing SF/F as Shannah Jay – those stories are now out as ebooks if you want to join me on a much longer trip to distant planets.

Do come and travel to my special places sometime.

1 comment:

  1. Love the jackets, and being a Lancastrian myself, I am always fascinated by stories of the cotton industry. Several of my own ancestors lost children in the cotton famine, their deaths no doubt caused by poverty and malnutrition. Must look out for that one.