Today I have great pleasure in welcoming the very lovely Susanne Bellamy to Behind the Pen. It’s our lucky day too, as Susanne is sharing a sneak look at her upcoming release, The Cattleman’s Promise.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
Back in 2010, a good friend and work colleague ‘confessed’ her guilty pleasure was reading romances. We had a chuckle and decided they’d be ‘dead easy’ to write; I added that I hadn’t read one since I was a teenager and we went back to work. But something about that conversation lodged in my brain and while my husband was off trekking and climbing mountains in Nepal, I challenged myself to write a whole novel. That first book (White Ginger) won third place in the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Emerald competition in 2011 and was published by a small publisher.
Since then, I’ve written over ten novels, six in my Hearts of the Outback series with a possible seventh bubbling on the back burner.
What is your favourite scene from one of your novels and why?
I absolutely love dancing and have been known to play a song on a loop while writing a scene to help me stay ‘in the mood’. I have fond memories of listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘At Last’ while writing Winning the Heiress’ Heart. In Wild About Harry, Harry Douglas can actually dance well. His mother teaches ballroom dancing and insisted her son took dance lessons to provide an artistic balance to his school footy. When Harry needs to convince a very reluctant two-left-feet Bri to accompany him to a party, he teaches her a basic tango. Dancing in a special someone’s arms is such a wonderful sensuous feeling and I love sharing that with readers.
What inspired your most recent novel?
More often than not I ‘see’ the initial meeting between the protagonists and work from there and that kind of happened with Harry and Bri in Wild About Harry. However, Harry had made a brief appearance in book 4, Winds of Change, when his small plane was hijacked and he had to save himself. Like Lizzy Wilmot, the heroine of book 2, Heartbreak Homestead, I just knew Harry had a really interesting back story and was compelled to uncover his history and give him a brighter future. Part of me always wants to know why people behave as they do. Being a writer gives me permission to delve into characters’ psyches and poke around!
Jeff Alistair in my new novel, The Cattleman’s Promise (releases 20 January), was supposed to have his story told in book 2. That was before Lizzy took over. And at the end of book 2, I just had to explore Sarah and Caleb’s first meeting with the handcuffs in Long Way Home. And so it continued until I was invited to present the keynote speech at the Steele Rudd Pilgrimage. As part of my research I interviewed a good friend who owns a large cattle property out west. The interview also gave me plenty of material that I incorporated into Jeff’s story. Cattle, horses, and the technological changes rippling through our agricultural sector all come into play in this story.
How much research do you do? How do you balance the demands of getting the facts right and telling a good story?
I research whatever needs to be discovered or checked, from the types of bird or plant life in an area to details of black lung disease, endurance riding, and landing protocols for small planes. For Jeff’s story, I had to delve into how heifers give birth and what problems can be associated with first time births. And drones! I learned how they operate and ventured into the realm of solar power research. Little details make a difference to creating a realistic and compelling world for our characters, and I am a little OCD in this regard. That being said, occasionally a story requires a little dramatic licence and I’m fine with that too.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
I used to call myself a pantser as in fly by the seat of your pants, but one day, I realised that wasn’t strictly true. I do plan, loosely. I know the key conflicts and events, and I usually know the way the story will end. However, I need the freedom to explore the relationships between characters. Sometimes they throw a curve ball and a story takes a wonderful sharp turn and is richer for it if I allow my characters to lead the way. At a conference in Wellington, NZ, I heard the term ‘organic writer’ and realised that described my approach much better. I allow the story to grow. I have a clear idea of my characters’ basic goals, motivations and conflicts, which makes writing a story a little easier, but my chapter outlines almost always deviate from where I think the story will go once the characters take over.
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
My earliest memories are of treasured books, of reading and being read to, of books arriving in the mail and the excitement and wonderful promise as I opened a new one. One of my early favourites was Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. Oh, to be able to fly down that amazing slide, waving to the folk of the Faraway Tree as I whizzed past on a plump cushion. I must admit, some of the lands at the top of the tree were scary to a young child, but there was always the promise of a really good one to follow. As the youngest child, with an age gap of over ten years between me and the next sibling, I was often left to my own devices and books opened up so many worlds. I’m fairly certain they impacted on my adult need to create my own stories.
Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why is this book so significant to you?
This is a difficult question because I treasure many books for various reasons. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern fired my imagination, and Leon Uris’ Exodus stirred my nascent teenage sense of justice. But two I re-read every two or three years are Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. They are rich in language and powerful in themes. When I come of age as a writer, I want to be these authors.
If you could sit down for an afternoon with an iconic person from history, who would you choose to spend that time with?
If I could stand the smell of 16th century London, I would choose to spend an afternoon with William Shakespeare. His plays hold a universal appeal because his themes and characters explore powerful and real conflicts and relationships. Hamlet has been reinterpreted any number of times, including the animated and musical versions of The Lion King, while Romeo and Juliet has numerous incarnations, including the musical version, West Side Story. Incidentally, I also love musicals! I’m fascinated by how quickly Shakespeare wrote, and the rich detail he added to the English language.
What sort of paranormal being would you like to be?
I love the Harry Potter stories, which my children grew up with, and the ability to do magic with a wand would be awesome! Plus, while I was overseas I visited several Harry Potter ‘sites’ in Oxford, including the ‘infirmary wing’ and the tavern where Butter beer is all the rage. An added extra – Hermione loves books and is a nerd, occasionally impatient when the boys stuff around and inclined to just get in and do what needs to be done. She would have been my hero when I was a kid!
A psychic has told you about your past life. Who were you and what did you do?
I would hate to be poor or incarcerated, and I expect much of the past isn’t as exciting or safe as we would be comfortable with, but …
Ginger Rogers! I got to entertain people, dance with Fred Astaire and Dick Powell, wear glamorous clothes, and dance, dance, dance! Oh, and I won an Academy Award for my role as Kitty Foyle in the 1940 movie of the same name.
Extract from The Cattleman’s Promise:
From the room across the hallway, a groan was followed a moment later by Jeff’s voice. The words were slurred and indecipherable. Was he dreaming, in pain, or—
“Look out! Get back. No . . .”
Sam tapped softly on his door, but agitated fragments of warnings continued. Without hesitating, she opened the door and followed the blue glow of a digital clock to Jeff’s side. His top sheet lay mostly on the floor and the bottom sheet barely clung to the mattress corner. He tossed his head, and muttered again. As she reached forward to shake him her foot tangled in the sheet and she fell, saving herself only by smacking a heavy hand on his shoulder. His skin was hot and sweaty and muscles bunched under her fingers.
She shook him more firmly, willing him to come out of his nightmare. “Wake up, Jeff.”
“Get out of the way. It’s a brown snake.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled.
Off balance, she slipped on the sheet and fell across his chest, landing with a thump that knocked the breath out of her. Jeff’s arms wrapped around her and dragged her off the floor. In the low light from the clock, his eyes were closed and a sheen of sweat covered his forehead and chest.
A broad and very bare chest against which she was pressed.
In desperation she tried to wriggle backwards, but his hold tightened like a vise. Praying no one else heard his shouts and came to investigate while she lay clamped to his chest, she spoke his name again. She had to get out of his hold. It didn’t matter that she was trying to help him wake from a nightmare. He was her patient and this situation was ludicrous. That and the fact she was wearing pyjamas in his bedroom.
“Jeff, you’re dreaming. Wake up.”
Beneath her, Jeff stilled and she glanced at his face. His eyes were still closed, but there was alertness in the breathing and the way his hands slid across her back.
“Please, Jeff, let me go.”
More titles from Susanne: