Falling in love – fictionally speaking! – Jenn J. McLeod

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By Jenn J. McLeod

I HAVE A CONFESSION. I fall in love easily – and often – and while it’s always unrequited, I wouldn’t have it any other way.♥

It’s said all good things must come to an end and I can get quite emotional each time I’m forced to say goodbye. But say goodbye I must because those precious, uplifting, joyous relationships finish every time I type the words . . . THE END.

As a novelist (and my books are not small ones) I can spend more time in a week dealing with my characters than I do my family because well-rounded and relatable characters take time to shape. They must be nurtured. The family is used to fending for themselves.

Harder than saying goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know so well can be leaving my small towns behind. In fact, I was so attached to the fictional town of Calingarry Crossing in House for all Seasons, I wasn’t ready to leave when I typed THE END. So, although I didn’t intend linking stories, Simmering Season picks up secondary threads, weaving them into a standalone school reunion story with a difference – one that brings home more than memories for Calingarry Crossing’s publican, Maggie. For Season of Shadow and Light I forced myself to leave Calingarry Crossing, going about 50km away to Coolabah Tree Gully. For book #4 – The Other Side of the Season – I took a leap over the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales to take readers on a sea change to Watercolour Cove.

While my towns are fictional, they are inspired by places I know and love, so I do get attached.

There’s no better example of that than Iron Pot Hill Retreat in Candlebark Creek – my setting in A Place to Remember, which is based on the very real Henderson Park in Queensland’s Capricornia region. A remarkable place where it’s said ‘the cowboys meet the coast’.

Authors are a funny lot. We spend our days (and nights) hunched over a computer keyboard, talking to fictional friends and falling in love with our characters. I once sent this tweet:

#WriterMoment – when you realise you are more in love with
your fictional character than your partner!

A joke, of course! But think about it. Authors can pick the very best of everyone they know to create the perfect person. We play around with features and morph characteristics all the time – a bit like a Mr Potato Head (only more attractive!) or maybe a Police Identity-sketch kit (only not so creepy!) As a panster – the industry term for writing by the seat of one’s pants rather than plotting – I sit at my desk and let the story take me on a journey. Then, along the way, I fall in love with my conflicted characters – the good, the bad and the flawed.

And flaws are fine. Just like Mr Potato Head can never be George Clooney or Colin Firth, our made-up people don’t need to be perfect either. As one of my characters says in House for all Seasons: “I’m a flawed person trying to be good”, and I think it’s the ‘do good’ bit rather than the need to ‘be perfect’ that makes a person beautiful. So yes, flawed characters make for a more authentic story, and readers relate to authenticity. They expect it from their authors.

This blog post goes towards answering that age-old question every author is asked from time to time: “Do you write yourself into your books as a character?” Obviously the answer is “no”, because that would mean I like falling in love with myself and that’s just plain weird.

One of the joys of A Place to Remember is that I wasn’t writing one love story – I was writing two. The great thing about that is I got to create two leading ladies, Ava and her daughter, Nina, and both are talented, capable, resilient and determined woman.

My challenge when writing strong female characters is to keep them real. If a female lead is too strong, too perfect, too stoic, my readers may not relate. Women perceived as too powerful or indifferent may mean readers disconnect, or just not like them. Finding the right balance of flaws (or vulnerabilities) is as important as finding ‘the right’ leading man to support these women in their quest. Enter John and Blair – my male leads in A Place to Remember which is:

• Not one love story – but two.
• Not one star-crossed couple – but a second relationship thwarted by class, meddling parents and bad timing (a theme you’ll recognise in everything from classics (Romeo and Juliet) to The Thorn Birds and The Notebook.)
• And featuring two main characters – strong and determined women (a mother and daughter) – who experience love and heartache three decades apart on central Queensland cattle station.

As acclaimed Australian author, Annie Seaton, writes about the characters and setting in A Place to Remember:

“Jenn J McLeod captures the essence of the Australian landscape and the central Queensland countryside is depicted beautifully in this story. But it is the realistic and finely drawn characters who engage the reader, as we experience their love for each other in a sudden, intense and dramatic affair. The story unfolds with perfect pacing and a relentless hold on the reader’s emotions as we are taken through two generations, and joy and sadness vie for the reader’s emotion as a tragedy unfolds. Uplifting, joyous and triumphant, A Place to Remember is a must read for 2018.”

I hope you fall in love with A Place to Remember. I can’t wait to see what you think.

In the meantime, look at the vision board I used while writing A Place to Remember and see the remarkable and surprising Central Queensland setting for yourself.

Jenn J. McLeod was fifty when she started ticking things off her bucket list. So far she’s made that sea change, written that bestseller, and downsized her life to hit the road full time. Since 2014, home for Jenn (and her partner) is a 3-tonne, 25-foot caravan named Myrtle the Turtle.



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