AusRom Today Book of the Month: Jenn J McLeod’s A Place To Remember
In three words, describe to us your novel:
It’s 140,000 words!!! (Is that three words?) Okay, I’ll be serious . . . Three words: epic, vibrant, poignant.
A Place To Remember is a multi-generational saga set in central Queensland that walks the tightrope between what could be uncovered from the past and whether it should be uncovered. What led to this particular story arc for you?
I love a ‘secret’ story. I enjoy watching characters squirm as they try keeping one, or their desperation while trying to uncover one. Mostly I love playing with my characters’ minds and their morals. Ethical and emotional conflicts in a storyline, pushing a character to make decisions that will hurt the people they care about, makes for great reading.
Authentic and relatable characters connect with readers and make them care and hope and cheer. Readers want antagonists to get their comeuppance and protagonists to get their happy ever after and it’s the character’s journey, especially when a character you care about finds themselves morally compromised, that can be heart-wrenching. I was once told ‘every book should be a journey and it’s a strong character arc that keep readers turning the pages’.
With A Place to Remember being a big novel (two love stories in one) there are so many people keeping secrets and more ‘arc’ than Noah knows what to do with. (Oh, sorry, that should be ‘ark’. Where is my gorgeous editor when I need her! *wink* )
What makes Australian romance fiction unique?
With A Place to Remember being my first novel to find wings and leave our sunburnt country for the UK and USA, I am already finding out how much readers love an Aussie setting. I believe the vastness of our country adds a unique aspect to our fiction. We have a huge country crying out for sprawling stories set on equally sprawling cattle stations. Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds, three decades ago) was my introduction to Aussie authors writing in this romantic saga genre, and the harshness of the setting is beautifully woven throughout her storytelling.
When it comes to setting, Aussie authors remain unafraid to ditch the romantic, the quintessential, and the charming to celebrate the ruggedness. I remember my first glimpse of the Barmoya region (where this book is set). Almost smack-bang over the Tropic of Capricorn, a little inland from the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and the Queensland region touted as the place ‘where cowboys meet the coast’, I was surprised to find a brown and brittle landscape punctuated with severe rock formations (volcanic plugs) that rise resolutely out of flat plains.
Although unexpected, the setting turned out to be ideal inspiration for a story about a man passionate about the land . . .
He scanned paddocks crying out for rain and crushed brittle blades of grass between calloused hands while the weight of his legacy leached into his veins. John Tate was a proud fifth-generation farmer. It was all he’d ever wanted to be. Even knowing that a landscape like this would throw up unknown challenges in the years to come, he was ready and willing to meet every one.
And the epitome of a woman worn down by life, but still strong.
As the car whizzed along the road, passing the most impressive of all twelve trachyte formations towering over the region, Ava tried to imagine how enormous the volcano must have been before; over millions of years, its shell was slowly stripped away by the weather until all that remained was its resilient heart of hardened lava. People had tried to wear Ava down over the years, too, but she’d protected her heart, built a wall, made it strong and kept it safe. Until John. Leaving him might break it.
Oh, and that’s the other thing about us authors . . . We do resilient and capable women in a very Aussie way – with strength and humour.
What led you on the path of storytelling?
Decades ago, I was reading the likes of Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts and I remember putting a book down, a little dissatisfied, and thinking . . . . “I’ll try writing a novel.” So I did. I set the story in Boston and New York, because at the time I thought that’s what I had to do, and I subbed to 46 publishers and agents (all in the USA). I received 46 rejections and that very first attempt went into the bottom drawer, never to see the light of day. (Maybe!)
Decades passed, and Rachel Treasure and Fiona Palmer et. al started telling rural fiction tales. Back then, I didn’t know one end of a wheat header from the other (or cow, for that matter). What I did know about was leaving the city behind and coming home to the country to discover roots and family secrets that run deep. So I wrote House for all Seasons and it went on to be #5 top selling debut novel in 2013.
After a decade-and-a-half I know a lot more about cows (and bulls, as readers of A Place to Remember will see!) and I admit to having a lot of fun with some of the yard scenes as I wrote the story. So here I am, book #5, and excited to hear readers are laughing and crying – and perfecting their scones!
Is there an author who you particularly admire and what aspect of their work/life/personality has inspired that admiration?
I have had been inspired by different authors at different stages of my career. For A Place to Remember I wanted to bring that big cattle-country feel to a novel, so for inspiration I looked back to Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, and to Barbara Hannay (a doyenne of dual timeline). For my feisty daughter, Nina, and her hilarious ‘bestie’, I drew on Rachel Treasure (who’s never afraid to be a bit naughty and have fun herself) and as always, Monica McInerney’s life-affirming plotlines and multiple point of view storytelling (where each character is as important as the other).
A Place to Remember
Jenn J McLeod
A man loses five years of his life. Two women are desperate for him to remember.
Running away for the second time in her life, twenty-seven-year old Ava believes the cook’s job at a country B&B is perfect, until she meets the owner’s son, John Tate. At twenty, the fifth-generation grazier is a beguiling blend of both man, boy, and a terrible flirt. With their connection immediate and intense, they begin a clandestine affair right under the noses of John’s formidable parents.
Thirty years later, Ava returns to Candlebark Creek with her daughter, Nina, who is determined to meet her mother’s lost love for herself. While struggling to find her own place in the world, Nina discovers an urban myth about a love-struck man, a forgotten engagement ring, and a dinner reservation back in the eighties. Now she must decide if revealing the truth will hurt more than it heals…
Jenn’s vision board for A Place to Remember