Australian author Fleur McDonald was born on Glenroy, a working farm in the small town of Orroroo in the Flinders Ranges. Like all the other local kids, she loved roaming free with her brothers and sisters, mucking in on the farm and riding her bike. Never in Fleur’s wildest dreams did she imagine she would grow up to write twelve novels and sell over half a million copies.
The bestselling author’s rural fiction novels, including the wildly popular Red Dust, Fools Gold and Suddenly One Summer, have all been heavily influenced by her life spent living and working in regional Australia. Fleur says “painting pictures (of the outback) with words and making the reader have the sensation of sun on their skin and dust in their eyes, all from their lounge room” is just magic.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Fleur. After she left school she did a stint selling meat with well-known Australian cook Maggie Beer in Meningie, SA. She then tried her hand at jillarooing for twelve months on an Angus stud farm. Fleur always knew she wanted to stay in farming, but found it so hard to get work as a female in agriculture. As a result, she moved across the border to Western Australia, where she found there to be more land and more opportunities.
Many of Fleur’s books focus on the experiences of rural women overcoming adversity. Fleur says to empower women “is one of my big aims of my writing”. Her books always feature a strong female lead, and Fleur says “when women see other women are achieving, I hope it makes them feel they can too.”
There are many unique challenges faced by rural women and these feature heavily across Fleur’s writing.
“While there are more women in farming now, women just aren’t as prominent. To avoid isolation, you have to find a great network of people to be your sounding board and to talk things through. Don’t ever be afraid to be the only woman in the room.”
But, at the end of the day, in the words of Fleur’s character Fiona in Sapphire Falls,
“We’re country women, we just get on and keep going. No one else is going to do it for us.”
Fleur says there’s no better industry to be involved in. “Other than writing”, she laughs.
Never one to sit back, Fleur has created an online interview series called Bush Lanterns, celebrating exceptional Australian women in agriculture. She also channels her passion for supporting women through her not-for-profit organisation Breaking the Silence for domestic violence awareness. Fleur says women in small communities need somewhere they can go for help while remaining anonymous, so the foundation’s website provides localised information for rural women escaping abusive relationships.
Today, Fleur lives in Esperance with her husband, her two children, and a Jack Russell terrier called Rocket. So, what’s next for Fleur? “More books!” she says.
Twelve novels down, Fleur is yet to run out of storylines. She says she gets a lot of her best ideas from radio programs and news headlines. Her novel Silver Clouds came straight out of an ABC Radio program with Barry Nicholls when a caller rang up with a story about two gold rings left on the side of a billabong. Fleur says, “I usually just ask myself ‘what if?’ and go from there!”
Her latest novel, Where the River Runs, was inspired by an old newspaper clipping Fleur’s nanna held onto after many years. There’s a mystery unfolding across several generations and, of course, a strong female protagonist in lead character Chelsea Taylor. We can’t wait to dig in.
Fleur McDonald’s latest novel, Where the River Runs, is available now through Allen & Unwin ($29.99).