AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Tamara McKinley
Describe yourself in one word:
What is your background with regard to writing?
As an only child being raised by my grandmother and great aunts, I learned to read very early on, and loved becoming immersed in the exciting world of books. I then began to make up my own stories, and little plays, even bits of very bad poetry. When I was in senior school, I told my teacher I wanted to write a book one day – and she looked at me in amazement and told me I had about as much chance of doing that as flying to the moon! Needless to say, I proved her wrong. Once my children had flown the nest, I sat down to write the story of my family – something I always wanted to do as their lives were far from usual, and their stories contained everything an author needs; love, deceit, betrayal, travel, adventure and the complexities of family divisions.
When did you first begin writing with a view of embarking on a career as a published author?
Having written the story of my family, which necessarily contained a great deal of fiction to glue together the bits I’d heard and knew, I decided to write something purely fictional. I joined a writers’ group, and once I’d finished the book, it was read by an agent. He sent me a four page critique – unheard of in the publishing world – which tore the book to shreds. But, at the end he said I was a born storyteller and should carry on writing. This was all the encouragement I needed, because I knew that writing was something I could really do. It took five more books before I’d learned my craft well enough to have a book published, and my agent got me a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton for my psychological thrillers (now out of print). I have since had twelve Australian sagas published under the name of Tamara McKinley, and seven British wartime sagas under the name of Ellie Dean. I wonder if that teacher ever read one and realised who the author was?
Tell us a little more about Savannah Winds:
I wanted to write a story with an element of mystery and perhaps a sprinkling of magic within it, similar to Matilda’s Last Waltz. I always wait until my characters are ready to introduce themselves to me, and once I’d met Blue, I fell in love and knew I had the perfect person to tell Annie’s story and to guide Fleur on her journey into the past.
Savannah Winds alternates between the 1940’s and the modern day and explores emotion-charged themes of love, rivalry, and the importance of sharing family history. What sparked this concept for you?
Having lived in a fractured family and experienced all of the emotions that weave the threads of the story, it wasn’t too difficult. But Fleur’s hope for a baby, and the heartbreak which followed, mirrored that of someone very close to me, and it was this which really sparked the story.
The central character, Fleur, receives word of a sudden inheritance from an aunt she never knew. Armed with her aunt’s long-lost diary, Fleur is thrust into a journey of historical discovery to find out more about her family’s past. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular part of the story?
The challenge was to tell Annie’s story in a way that didn’t interrupt Fleur’s. The two had to be seamless, even though their lives had been led during very different times. Fleur’s time at Birdsong, and her meeting with Blue helped me to show how love is timeless, how lies and hurts and betrayals can be survived.
What kind of research was involved in the planning of Savannah Winds?
Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process? There was a good deal of research to be done to get the facts right, and I was very surprised to learn how long it took for the returning soldiers from Burma and the Far East to be repatriated. A lot of research was done driving through the Savannah, meeting the people, seeing their homes and the way they led their lives – often unchanged for decades except for planes and electricity. We drove through a swarm of locusts, saw the one-legged men in Kurumba who went fishing despite the crocodiles, watched sunsets and the flights of Brolgas against the dawn. There’s nothing better than to be there, to smell and touch and listen and see.
What one character trait will most endear Fleur to your readers?
Fleur was a complex character. She was a thoroughly modern girl, with a good career and dreams of having a family. Her relationship with Greg was perfect, they both had jobs they loved and lived in a beautiful home. It was her hope that he’d change his mind about having a baby, and her desperate need to understand why he couldn’t that tore at me. But despite the conflict, not only with Greg, but within her family, Fleur is a tough cookie, and like Annie, she refused to be beaten.
One thing you’d like readers to know about the romance genre…
We all love a good romance, even if it does make us cry – and I often cry as I write. Silly, isn’t it? I’m also a firm believer in closing the bedroom door so that the reader can use their own imaginations. Sex is incredibly hard to write, and if it isn’t done well, then it just becomes a parody.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else really, it’s such a part of me, and of who I am and what makes me tick. But it would have to be creative. Perhaps photography? I’ve always fancied doing a travel book of the places in Australia that I’ve visited during my research trips.
What’s next for you?
Another book – in fact, another two books. And a bit of a change, for although there will be links to Australia, they will be set in Europe.
Favourite snack whilst writing?
I try not to snack – my hips are wide enough after all the sitting down I do!
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Don’t listen to people who put you down, and go for your dreams.
What do you find easiest to write? And, the hardest?
Dialogue and descriptions are easiest – sex is the hardest.
Favourite travel experience?
Western Australia, to Monkey Mia, driving up the coast and exploring, and then watching the dolphins coming in to the shore to show off their young. Emus pinching crisps, Fairy Penguins coming ashore at night, turtles laying their eggs in the sand – a campfire and storytelling under a magnificent starlit sky. So many wonderful experiences it would take pages to relate them all.
Number one thing to do on your bucket list: To visit Vanuatu.
Milk, dark or white chocolate? Dark chocolate – with sour cherries.
Red, white, bubbly? Always bubbly.
Salty or sweet? Salty.
Beach or mountains? Beach.
Give or receive? Give – I love Christmas.
About the Author:
Tamara was born in Tasmania, and adopted by her maternal grandmother who went out to Australia at the start of WW2. Tamara went to school in Our Lady of Lourdes in Devonport and spent a great deal of her time on Bluff Beach, which is where she returns every time she’s over there. Raised by her grandmother and two great aunts who were very English and Victorian in their outlook, Tamara learned to read and write whilst still very young. By the time she was six, she could do crosswords and write bits of poetry (very bad poetry). At the age of ten, her grandmother decided to return home to England and took Tamara with her. Tamara didn’t enjoy the girls’ school in England, although she did make many good friends – and yet she always felt different, set apart by her accent and the family circumstances. The theme of stranger in a strange land has weaved its way through her books ever since. Following two disastrous marriages and the threat of bankruptcy, Tamara was saved by the publication of Matilda’s Last Waltz. Matilda was a world-wide success, with sales reaching over five million. She also married for the third time, and is now blissfully happy. Tamara has a son and two grandsons in Australia, another son living in Thailand, and a daughter living in Brighton.
Alternating between the 1940s and the modern day, between the wild Australian Gulf Country and contemporary Sydney, Savannah Winds is an exploration of love, rivalry and the importance of sharing family history.
When Fleur receives word of a sudden inheritance from an aunt she never knew, it couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. Her relationship with her beloved husband is crumbling, and she’s caught in the middle of a serious family rift.
Consulting her aunt’s long-lost diary, Fleur decides to follow her footsteps on a voyage of historical discovery down the coast and through the Gulf Country to find out more about the secrets of her family’s past. Alternating between the 1940s and the modern day, Savannah Winds is an exploration of love, rivalry and the importance of sharing family history.