Review: The Sunburnt Country by Fiona Palmer

Title: The Sunburnt Country

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: Penguin Australia February 2013

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Status: Read from February 25 to 28, 2013 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Sunburnt Country is Fiona Palmer’s fourth engaging novel set in the regional area of her home state, Western Australia. In a small country town where the residents are struggling to survive the drought, bankers are the enemy.

Jonelle Baxter dreads having to meet with the new Bundara bank manager, her mechanical repair business is not in good financial shape despite keeping her as busy as ever and she is risking bankruptcy by falling behind in her loan repayments. She doesn’t expect to be attracted to the suited city boy who threatens everything she loves.
Daniel Tyler is in town to do a job, he has two months to tie up loose ends before the permanent bank manager will arrive and then he can return to his comfortable city life and a significant promotion. He doesn’t expect to find a home in Bundara… or love with the town’s only mechanic.

I found Jonelle aka “Jonny” a very likable character (though not her name so much). As a mechanic with a love of dirt car racing and a Torana her most prized, she is a little different to most romantic heroines, though definitely a tomboy she is still feminine. Her loyalty to her family, friends and community is her best trait. She risks her own business, accepting barter and delayed payment, in order to support those doing it tough and serves as an volunteer rescue crew member. She is close with her family which includes brother Zach and best friend Nae (Renee,) who provide a secondary romantic subplot and when childhood friend Ryan falls apart, she doesn’t hesitate to do all she can to help him get back on his feet.

Jonny’s close family and friendships contrast with Daniel’s lack of genuine relationships. His relationship with his father is complicated by the man’s narrow focus on work and his estrangement from his mother and younger brother after his parent’s divorce. Daniel is still very much in his father’s shadow but his time in Bundara gives him a fresh perspective. I liked the way in which Palmer developed Daniel’s character, though as a hero he was perhaps a little too passive for my tastes.

The romance between Jonelle and Daniel is fairly low key, developing naturally and pleasingly not beset by simple misunderstandings. There are good reasons for their wariness with each other – Jonelle will never leave Bundara while Daniel has a life in the city to return to. Though the romance is a feature of the novel, I really like that the author doesn’t rely on their relationship to promote personal growth for each of her characters. The decisions both Jonelle and Daniel make are about their individual needs, not the romance between them.

Fiona Palmer authentically captures the spirit of a community doing it tough, waiting for the rain, and I really liked the way in which she showed how the effects of the drought affect not only the farmers, but the town as a whole. She also touches on the issues of depression and suicide as Ryan struggles to deal with the end of his marriage and his failing farm.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Sunburnt Country, just as in The Road Home, Palmer’s own passion for the land bleeds into the story, her scenes are vivid and genuine, just as her characters are. This is another Australian rural fiction title I am happy recommend.

Available to Purchase

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Review: Blackwattle Lake by Pamela Cook


Title: Blackwattle Lake

Author: Pamela Cook

Published: Hachette December 2012

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 11 to 13, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the Author}

My Thoughts:
In Pamela Cook’s debut novel, Blackwattle Lake, Eve Nicholls has returned to her hometown after an absence of twenty years, having inherited the family farm upon her mother’s death. She plans to sell up and move on as quickly as possible, unwilling to remain in the community that drove her away twenty years ago. But as Eve sorts through a lifetime of clutter and memories, she is forced to confront the consequences of the choices she made as a teenager, and find a way to live with them if she is to have the future she hopes for.

I was expecting what has become a reasonably formulaic storyline for the rural fiction genre (misled in part by the cover) only to be pleasantly surprised by Blackwattle Lake. This is largely a character driven novel focusing on the protagonist’s need to confront the tragic circumstances that precipitated her abandoning her home, family and friends, though she is also forced to cope with external challenges including a raging bushfire that menaces the community.

The moment Eve swore, lit a cigarette and poured herself a drink while her kelpie, Banjo, lay panting at her feet, I knew we were going to get along. She felt familiar in an indefinable way and is probably one of the most authentic characters I have encountered in a while. She is complicated in ordinary ways and though defensive and abrupt at times, Eve invokes sympathy without pity.

For me, the absence of a traditional romantic subplot was refreshing. There are a few interesting moments with the childhood sweetheart she left behind, the cheating ex who follows her to beg for forgiveness and the vet who saves Banjo’s life but they contribute to developing Eve’s character rather than providing a convenient distraction from her journey.

I found the realism of character, crisis and landscape in Blackwattle Lake very engaging. Cook proves to be a skilled writer, deftly capturing natural dialogue and behaviour. From the first page I was able to create a mental picture of Eve’s surroundings with small details, such as the “crushed Coke can littering the path”, and the “humming of cicadas working their way up to a crescendo somewhere above her head” providing sensory realism to the scene.

Well written, with appealing characterisation and an engaging storyline, Blackwattle Lake is an appealing contemporary novel set in rural Australia which I truly enjoyed. I look forward to reading more from Pamela Cook in the future.

Click here for your chance to win a Signed copy of Blackwattle Lake

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Available To Purchase

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AWW Feature & Giveaway: Pamela Cook

Hachette - Pam 1

Welcome Pamela Cook!

I am pleased to welcome Pamela Cook to Book’d Out today.

Pamela lives in the southern suburbs of Sydney and spends as much time as possible at her “other” home at Little Forest on the south coast of NSW. Being a country girl at heart and spending so much of her time around horses enticed Pamela to “write what you know” and she’s more than happy to now be a writer of Rural Fiction. Apart from being a writer, teacher and mother of three gorgeous daughters she also manages a menagerie of dogs, rabbits, birds, fish and horses and her favourite pastime (after writing) is riding her handsome quarter horse, Morocco.

Her fabulous debut novel, Blackwattle Lake (Hachette 2012), tells the story of Eve Nicholls who has reluctantly returned to her rural home town. She’s glad to have her best friend Banjo the Kelpie with her … and a bottle of bourbon. Her plan is simple: sell the farm , grab the cash and get the hell out. But as she sorts through a lifetime of clutter and memories, Eve is forced to confront the consequences of the choices she made as a teenager and find a way to live with them if she is to have the future she hopes for.

My review of Blackwattle Lake will be published later today. In the meantime, read on to learn more about how Blackwattle Lake came to be and for details on how to win a signed copy.

My Journey To Publication

Hi there and thanks so much to Shelleyrae for having me as a guest on the Book’d Out Blog.

I thought I might share with you today how I came to be a published author – the years prior to Blackwattle Lake.

My background is in high school English teaching which fitted in beautifully with my love of books and my yearning to share that love with others. As the curriculum became more crowded though and the opportunity to discuss good books and teach creative writing lessened I found myself craving more creativity so I enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing at UNSW. That was a turning point. I met other writers, shared ideas, got feedback on my work (which brought me to tears until I toughened up) and found myself loving the escape of creating a story and inventing new characters.

The year after completing my Masters I enrolled in a First Page to first Draft, a write–your-book-in-a-year course with Jan Cornall at The NSW Writer’s Centre. It was here I met the wonderful writers who became my writing group, The Writers’ Dozen. After a few years of meeting each fortnight we self published an anthology of our work, Better Than Chocolate through which we raised over $6000 for the organisation Room to Read which builds schools and libraries in developing countries and provides scholarships for girls. That was another pivotal moment as I became heavily involved with Room to Read as a volunteer and fulfilled another life long dream two years ago – a visit to India to see the programs in operation.

But back to the writing …

Over the last decade I have written a number of short stories and poems which have made their way into small anthologies but most of my time was spent writing a novel about a woman’s journey, set in Nepal. This novel was a long learning process and a labour of love. I finally completed it about three years ago and began sending it out to publishers and agents, receiving some interest but nothing more. I still think of that manuscript as my baby and intend returning to it one day soon. BLACKWATTLE_LAKE_Cover

I also wrote a first draft of Blackwattle Lake as part of Nanowrimo 2009. If you haven’t heard of it Nano is all about writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, the idea being to let the words flow and worry about the revision later. Well, I started with an image of a woman standing at a gate to a horse property but the gate was locked and she couldn’t get in. From that single image I just followed the nano guidelines and kept on writing. It amazed me how the story seemed to tell itself – I’d spent years labouring over small details on my previous novel and yet this story seemed to be just telling itself. The muse was definitely with me!

I left the draft alone for a while and then in early 2011 started revising it and sent the first 50 pages off to the Queensland Writer’s Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program along with my first manuscript (which I’d entered in previous years). From past experience I wasn’t hoping for much response so was blown away when I received a phone call requesting the rest of the manuscript and even more elated to receive a second phone call telling me I had been accepted into the program.

In November 2011 I headed to Brisbane with eight other writers and met with Hachette publisher, Vanessa Radnidge, who gave me great feedback and a few more ideas on what to do with the manuscript. I also discovered that I was a Rural Fiction writer, a genre I’d heard of but hadn’t read. The group I met in Brisbane were all amazing writers and the whole experience was rewarding in itself.

So after more revision I resubmitted the completed manuscript and sent it off with fingers crossed and more than a few prayers whispered. Someone was listening because about 6 weeks later Vanessa called to say they loved it and wanted to publish the novel.

Needless to say there were quite a few champagne corks popped over the next few weeks. Holding that first copy in my hand, having a book launch (my very own!) and seeing it on bookshop shelves have all been the most surreal experiences. I’m still pinching myself!

For me, writing has always been about connection – connection with yourself first and then with others – those who share your journey and ultimately those who you will never meet who read your words and find something in them that resonates. The genuine good will and happiness I’ve felt from so many people over the last few days has been another form of connection – a sharing in the joy of realising a dream.

And I’ve learnt that realising a dream is all about commitment – committing to the dream and believing in it but also doing the work to back it up. Sometimes the dream comes true just as we imagined, other times it might be in some varied form but I truly believe that with persistence and hard work we can all make our dreams come true in some form or another.

Win a Signed copy of Blackwattle Lake

I’d love to connect with more readers on my blog and twitter. Over the next two weeks anyone who signs up to follow me on one of the following and messages me with a comment that includes the hashtag #BlackwattleLake will go into the draw to receive a free signed copy of Blackwattle Lake.

Follow Pamela Cook

Website I Blog I Twitter I Goodreads

Available To Purchase

All good bookstores including Dymocks and Unleash. Also available at Target, Big W and Kmart.

Harbour Bookshop Ulladulla