Kerry McGinnis writes like poetry – you’ll understand that after reading this post. The way she recalls places, feelings and is able to write about them with such authority, is why her writing stands out among Australian authors.
Kerry has led an extraordinary life – although if you said so, I bet she would shrug her shoulders and say it was pretty normal and she wouldn’t have it any other way! Born in Adelaide and, at the age of twelve, took up a life of droving with her father and three siblings. The family travelled extensively across the Northern Territory and Queensland before settling on a station in the Gulf Country. Kerry has worked as a shepherd, droving hand, gardener, stock-camp and station cook, eventually running a property at Bowthorn, near Mount Isa. She is the author of two volumes of memoir and now lives in Bundaberg.
I’ve just returned from a trip to W.A. where is was much colder than sunny Queensland but very interesting. I flew over (Bundy/Bris/Perth) then joined my brother Patrick and drove back across the southern half of the sate to Adelaide (even colder!) before flying home. The jonquils and daffodils were out in the Adelaide hills and wildflowers were spread from one side of W.A. to the other. I love seeing new country. I create my books by starting with a character but I need the immediate back-up of their setting, whether it be the rugged beauty of the Gulf, the flat treeless plains of the mid-west QLD or the stark ochre ranges and red sands of the centre to five the story depth and a sense of place. Getting my readers to feel and see the uniqueness of that particular bit of land is as important to me as having them empathise with my protagonist.
So every look new country is a delight. We’d do it after the first storm of the season up on the station. ‘Where are you going?’ was the cry as the Toyota backed out of the shed.
‘Me too, then.’
It’s something bushies understand. We’d marvel at the simple things – how high the creeks had run, how fresh the country looked with new washed foliage and roads swept clean of tracks. The sky bluer, the road surface firmer, the ratty old grass and dead leaves broomed away by the change of the season. Such excursions made indelible impressions that I can recall at need, foe everything experience or seen is grist to the writers mill.
I may never write about my recent trip but if I ever do I will remember how the fierce winds shaped the scrub, how the sun glinted on the leathery saltbush and the fleshy leaves (like teensy stubby fingers) of the bluebush. I shall be able to recall the sense of endless space and the hum of hidden life that becomes apparent if you lie down amid the squat growth of the Nullabor.
The tiny town of Penong had a hall – a unlovely utilitarian thing with a date on the façade and a noticeboard for tourists. It was built in 1901 and had seen a multitude of uses but back at its opening a dance had been held. A very successful one for the board recorded that ‘they danced until daylight.’ There were no bitumen roads back then. The people would have come on horseback, and in traps and buggies – hours and hours of travel over dusty, bumpy tracks. They had to return the same distance but with tired horses and the morrow’s work ahead – and yet they danced until daylight! Standing rapt before the hall I could see their shadowy figures departing – going back to the loneliness and silence with memories to last them twenty years. Maybe I shall choose one of them one day and make him or her real because I have seen the country they would have travelled across to be a part of that wonderful night.
Writers are always asked how they find their ideas.
Well this is the way I get mine. But just go with whatever method works for you.
And good luck!