TELL US YOUR BACKSTORY with Sophie Green
Sophie Green is the author of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, available in paperback and ebook on 8 August.
I have worked in the publishing industry, in way or another, for almost my entire adult life. My first day as a bookseller – at Shearer’s Bookshop in the northern Sydney suburb of Gordon – was the day after my last HSC exam. Today I’m a publisher of non-fiction books at Hachette Australia. In between that I’ve done a few different things but they’ve always involved words.
What led me to writing fiction, though, was not my background in publishing so much as my side gig: as a country music blogger. This is my hobby, and it has been since late 2011. The blog existed before then but I started blogging in earnest after a sudden, dramatic illness meant I had to immediately stop teaching yoga, which until then had been my main creative focus. By that point I’d been teaching for almost ten years, most of that in addition to a demanding full-time job. When I ended up in hospital, though, the teaching stopped – and a vacuum was created.
Something else happened after that illness: I couldn’t focus on words for very long. It took me weeks to be able to read anything longer than a newspaper article. I honestly thought I might never read a whole book again. Slowly, though, reading came back, and writing helped that. Stuck at home, physically unable to do much, I decided that writing about music – something I had always wanted to do – might be something I could manage. I had been in a country music band a few years before; since we’d played at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, Australian country music had become a passion. Years before that I’d done a stint on a street-press music mag in Vancouver, BC, interviewing musicians, reviewing bands and albums. That experience was lurking, waiting to be used.
So I did some research, contacted some publicists and was fortunate to be offered some interviews with musicians. Soon I was being sent CDs and asked to do more interviews. That blog is still going today, and it’s more work than ever. Its scope has expanded as requests have come in from the US and the UK. It is still a hobby. And it is also regular writing practice. When I review albums, songs or EPs I try to write from the listener’s perspective. I want to convey the experience of listening to the music rather than what is technically going on. This has trained me to think about the audience, constantly.
I also realised that country music is a broad umbrella stylistically but there are two characteristics that tend to define it: the songs are usually both entertaining and meaningful. Country music audiences want stories told from the heart. They accept stories sung by a range of voices; age, sex, nationality don’t make much difference. Authenticity is key, and if the audience can tap their toes in time to it, so much the better.
So once it came time to write fiction – time to take on something longer than a blog post – not only did that writing practice help but so did the lessons I had learnt from country music. I want to write fiction that is entertaining and meaningful at the same time. That’s what I like as a reader, and I think that’s what a lot of readers like. I don’t believe those elements are mutually exclusive; over and over again I have seen them work in country music. If Australian country music is our national storytelling in song, I hope to emulate that in print, in my novel, The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club. I don’t think I could write a song to save myself – but if I can tell a story that is half as good as my favourite country songs, I’ll be satisfied.
The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club
In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect.
Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child.
With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club.
Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick.
Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.
If you loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and The Thorn Birds you will devour this story of five different women united by one need: to overcome the vast distances of Australia’s Top End with friendship, tears, laughter, books and love.
The publisher Hachette Australia is giving away three copies of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club to AusRom Today readers. To be eligible to win, share with us one of your favourite Australian authors and one of their books: