I'm extremely honoured to be hosting the lovely Jenn J McLeod on the blog today as part of the Blog Tour celebrating the release of her fourth novel, The Other Side of the Season.
Having been an avid fan since the release of her debut, A House for All Seasons, I can honestly say that Jenn is an author who truly embraces setting and today she's here to talk about just that, as well as welcome us all to Watercolour Cove.
No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took her first tentative steps towards a tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.
For her, moving to the country was like coming home.
After ten years running a B&B on her NSW property, she now gets to write her contemporary Australian fiction (life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep) grey nomad style–a wandering writer of no fixed address. Yep! She's hit the road in a Ford and a fifth wheeler –writing in and under the Southern Cross.
Readers and reviewers alike enthusiastically received her debut, House for all Seasons, placing it at #5 on the 2013 Nielsen’s Best Selling Debut Novel list. Simmering Season is book two in her Seasons Collection (all standalone reads) with her third, Season of Shadow and Light released in 2015 and The Other Side of the Season, recently published by Simon and Schuster Australia and in your nearest bookshop now.
Jenn, thank you for providing this post.
A lot of the feedback I get is about the strong sense of place that puts readers smack bang in the middle of my small towns, which is lovely because I do try really, really hard to paint those pictures. The fictional setting in The Other Side of the Season was not so much of a challenge, perhaps because the setting is a combination of two real NSW towns I’ve got to know over the years: Nambucca Heads (with its incredible painted rock breakwall) and Coffs Harbour.
To create Watercolour Cove, I kind of dragged those two elements side by side (because as an author I can) and I populated it with characters—local and visiting, introducing one unique and mesmeric individual, named Pearl (who I adore and hope I’ve done justice).
I love working with setting and I treat the creative process in much the same way as I do my characters. That means getting to know the town—the location, the property, the house—intimately, as well as understanding it has a history and usually hurdles to overcome.
I found history especially important for The Other Side of the Season as the story is set in Watercolour Cove in both 1979 and current day; often the importance of setting can be overlooked in dual time period novels, particularly where both story strands, spanning several years/decades, take place in the same location. Even though my setting is the same small town, the story spans three decades, so I knew the backdrop couldn’t stay static. Towns and places grow, age and change, just like people.
If a character ages, as mine do over thirty-five years, how they interpret their surroundings and what they notice, has to change too. Buildings date, some get demolished, while others are heritage listed and restored. Trees grow (or are cut down), infrastructure is improved (but not always in small towns!), modern conveniences and fast food outlets spring up in the oddest of places, while some things disappear from our landscapes completely, with public phone booths, electricity poles, and post boxes replaced by a glut of road signage and mobile phone towers. Even in the thirteen years I’ve lived on the Coffs Coast I’ve seen changes. Where once Coffs Harbour—home to the Big Banana—had hills covered in lush, green plantations, these days, those same hills, if not left bare and scarred, are swathed in white bird netting to protect the new multi-million dollar industry—blueberries.
I thought about all these details, if only in my head and in my planning notes, because with every small town story my goal is to take the reader on a journey back home to an authentic country town. (Okay, so with book #4 we’re having a little sea change, but rest assured Watercolour Cove has all those small town characteristics readers love.)
Emails are already arriving in my inbox, asking if Watercolour Cove is a real place. It’s not, but there are some hidden pockets of paradise on the Coffs Coast and despite living the gypsy life since 2014, I keep coming back. I highly recommend you put the NSW North Coast on your travel list. In the meantime, I hope you fall in love with Watercolour Cove.
When offering to drive her brother to Byron Bay to escape the bitter Blue Mountains winter, Sidney neglects to mention her planned detour to the small coastal town of Watercolour Cove.
Thirty-five years earlier, Watercolour Cove is a very different place. Two brothers are working the steep, snake-infested slopes of a Coffs Coast banana plantation. Seventeen-year-old David does his share, but he spends too much time daydreaming about becoming a famous artist and skiving off with Tilly, the pretty girl from the neighbouring property. His older brother, Matthew, has no time for such infatuations. His future is on the land and he plans to take over the Greenhill plantation from his father.
Life is simple on top of the mountain for David, Matthew and Tilly until the winter of 1979 when tragedy strikes, starting a chain reaction that will ruin lives for years to come. Those who can, escape the Greenhill plantation. One stays—trapped on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams.
That is, until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone the truth can heal, what’s wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and . . . there’s another side to every story.
Book information and BUY links
Jenn loves to connect with people on social media so go ahead and look her up:
You can also join in the discussion at her Facebook Group, Readers of Jenn J McLeod (no cat memes allowed!)