Aussie Author Round-Up: Nicole Alexander, The Great Plains

I’ve always wanted to host the lovely Nicole Alexander on my blog and today, I’m absolutely delighted to have her here with me to celebrate the release of her latest historical fiction novel, The Great Plains, published by Random House and being released today.

Nicole is a fourth-generation grazier and, as well as writing bestselling novels, she has a hands-on role in running her family’s property near Moree. Most days you’ll find her in the stockyards, mustering sheep or cattle, inspecting crops, or working in the station office.

Nicole returned to her family’s property in the early 1990s and is currently the business manager. She has a Master of Letters in creative writing and her novels, poetry, travel and genealogy articles have been publish in Australia, Germany, America and Singapore.

She is also the bestselling author of The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land, Absolution Creek and the WWI epic, Sunset Ridge.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her and her world of writing a bit more.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Random House Australia, especially Kirsty from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Nicole, it’s really great to have you here to celebrate the release of The Great Plains.

It’s a pleasure, Marcia. Thanks for having me to visit. I’m about three and half hour’s drive from your part of the world, Toowoomba. Love the Garden City, although it’s a bit chilly in winter.

Yes Nicole, it can get rather chilly here, but we just love the open spaces and countrified feeling of living on the outskirts of the main city and it’s a great place to bring up kids. Speaking of which, please could you give us some insight into your childhood.

I grew up on our agricultural property Murki, which has been in my family for 121 years. My early education included lessons through the mail via the Correspondence School in Sydney. Mum taught myself and my siblings around the dining room table as by that stage the old school-house which still stands on the property and is now used as a storage area had been converted into extra accommodation for jackeroo’s. I had a typical bush childhood. We were always outdoors, making up our own games, getting into trouble and annoying the jackeroos. Riding horses, swimming in the creek, fishing for yabbies, building stuff - boats to drag through the puddles with a piece of twine, go-karts to race down the dam-bank, kites, all featured regularly. Looking after orphan calves, lambs and the odd baby kangaroo competed with who would get to go out with Dad to muster livestock. 

Now, I know I heard a bit about your journey during your book launch in Toowoomba recently, but for those who couldn’t make it to any of the launches being held in SE Qld and N NSW, could you tell us about your journey to becoming an author?

I was first published over twenty-five years ago but my interest in the craft started long before that. I recall when I was in my early teens reading a novella by the great American author Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea. I loved the book and subsequently read a biography about his life and I became intrigued by the man, this big game hunting, martini drinking, bull fighting aficionado who wrote half the day and partied at night and yet created these wonderful stories. It was Hemingway who inspired me to put pen to paper and by the time I’d finished my education, boarding school and then university I realised that I would have to be a little more dedicated in my writing endeavours if I ever wanted to be an author. I wrote travel articles, poetry, genealogical works and the odd short story gradually building up a list of publishing credits which in turn led to the writing of my first novel, The Bark Cutters.

The Great Plains promises to take us on a journey from the American Wild West to the wilds of outback Queensland. Would you mind sharing with us the story we can expect?

During the American Civil War, a confederate soldier, Joseph Wade gets caught in a skirmish and is killed, his young daughter, Philomena, abducted by the legendary Geronimo of the Apache Indians. This is Philomena’s story, and also that of her descendants, strong-willed women, whose destinies are altered by fate and whose lives are hampered by the prejudices of society and the mixed-blood that runs in their veins. It’s also the story of the powerful Wade family across two continents, America and outback Australia and the men who became obsessed with these women as well as the families who struggled against adversity during periods of enormous change. 

What scene did you most enjoy writing? And why?

I have to tell you my second favourite scene, so as not to give anything away. It is where the Wade men give chase to one of Philomena’s descendants on horseback. Having visited Oklahoma last year while researching the novel it was fascinating describing the landscape and characters in the early 1900s in what was still wild territory.

I read Absolution Creek in 2013 and remember how you so capably transported me to the world that Jack and Cora inhabited which made it quite obvious that you do a great amount of research for your writing. Could you give us a little more detail on that process?

It is easy to get carried away with the research side of things and I have to be quite disciplined in what and how much material I read. I find the best thing is to read widely on the subject area first and then begin writing. Getting the story down is fundamental. I’m also fortunate in that my own family archives go back through four generations to the early 1880s so I have a lot of primary source material to draw on.  

Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim? What is it?

Redraft, rewrite, refine. Polish the kernel of an idea into a pearl.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Make life your muse and writing your passion. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I would add to the two answers above, dedication, persistence, timing and luck all come into play when hoping for publication.  

That's some great writing advice from a multi-published author. As well as being a writer though, you manage the family farm in Moree. What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

A typical work day for me starts at 7.30 am and involves a forty-five kilometre round trip along a dirt road to the main homestead where my parents live. Days can involve anything from mustering sheep and cattle, working in the stockyards, doing bookwork in the station office, checking cultivations with our agronomist or driving heavy machinery. I write three days a week, including weekends and most nights. It’s a hectic juggle, but by attempting to get 5000 words down every week somehow it works; although I invariably have to request an extension when it comes to manuscript submission time. 

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing? I would have pursued acting. I have been actively involved in live theatre since school and more recently in community theatre.

Nicole, it’s been really fabulous having you here. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join me and good luck for the last leg of your book launch, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of The Great Plains?
‘There was a white woman with the Apaches.’ 
Aloysius stood, his chair falling backwards to land with a loud thud on the timber floor. He scanned the contents of the letter. 
‘The similarities are strong,’ Clarence said evenly, ‘but obviously we cannot be assured that the woman mentioned is –’
Aloysius tapped at the letter. ‘They say she is blonde-haired, striking in appearance,’ his eyes grew misty, ‘and aged in her thirties.’
‘The details are compelling, I admit but I urge you, my friend, not to get your hopes up,’ Clarence replied carefully.
‘It’s her. It’s Philomena.’ Aloysius’s voice grew tight with emotion.
‘I know how long you have prayed for this moment, Aloysius, but the probability that this woman is indeed your niece remains slight.’ 
The single sheet of paper trembled between Aloysius’s fingers. ‘They have found my dead brother’s daughter.’ He looked to the ceiling, ‘God be praised.’
‘If it is her,’ Clarence cautioned, ‘if it is indeed your niece, as your friend I can only advise you to temper your happiness until you learn the true nature of her state.’
Aloysius frowned. ‘What rubbish are you speaking of, Clarence?’
‘It is over 20 years since her abduction.’
‘And I have never stopped thinking of the child. She is my brother’s blood.’
‘She has been raised by savages,’ Clarence countered. ‘Please, dear friend, I share your joy if indeed the woman is Philomena, but I also urge you to prepare yourself.’
Aloysius folded the letter, returned it to the envelope and tucked it inside his suit coat. ‘I have been preparing for this moment for 23 years, Clarence. My niece was born a Wade and no Indian, Geronimo or not, can ever take that away from her.’ 
No, Clarence thought, they can’t take a name but they can take other things.
The Great Plains can be purchased from the following links:


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