I am delighted to welcome Anthea Hodgson to Behind the Pen today, here to talk about her latest release, The Cowgirl.
Your latest release, The Cowgirl, features a buried house. I had never heard of such a thing before now! Where did the inspiration for this come from?
It grew quite organically, from two different directions. I liked the way Teddy observed the wind rushing past as other parts of the world visiting her, and rushing on again, leaving her stuck – in the mud. The sky became my symbol for freedom and adventure, and so the earth came to represent work, duty – staying still. The buried house was all of this – it’s buried on the farm just as Deirdre has been, just as Teddy has allowed herself to become. It’s also a great metaphor for (ok, so slightly obvious!) digging up the past, and for digging up secrets. The buried house felt like a quest, and like a good way to represent the memories and secrets that lie hidden for Deirdre. And, of course, it may or may not be a treasure hunt!
The Cowgirl is loosely linked in terms of setting and a common character to The Drifter. Was it always your intention to write “a series” or is this merely happenstance?
There was always going to be a second Windstorm book as part of my contract, although I was given enormous scope as to what that might be. I knew I wanted to revisit Windstorm because I love the landscape and the characters so much (I know a good number of them!) and I was keen to spend time with Deirdre, who was totally grumpy and therefore appealing to me. I wanted to share her story. What happened to her to make her so grim? I tend to think of the two novels as bookends – where I brought the Drifter home, I wanted to set the Cowgirl free.
What is your favourite scene from The Cowgirl?
The fire scene, absolutely! I don’t even want to describe it, because although it’s near the end, I wrote it early in my draft of the manuscript – and wrote the rest of the novel heading towards that huge, cathartic scene. How I love it! To me, it is the meeting point, by the fire, of all the stories, histories, lost dreams, dances, and folklore in the novel, and in our lives. It feels so joyful to me, triumphant, magical, and a little sad as well. I feel that scene so deeply I can’t read it aloud.
How far has your writing career evolved from when you first began to write to what it is today? Is this in line with your initial expectations?
I must say, in that I have been published at all, it has far outstripped my expectations! My career began a few years ago when I wrote The Drifter in five weeks – it was a fast and furious beginning, which stalled for two years while I searched for an agent or publisher without any success at all. Then, in another burst of speed (dating) I did a 5 minute pitch to Ali Watts from Penguin Books – and was speedily contracted to two books. Now I am in the stressful yet completely satisfying process of actually writing and editing. It is a total privilege, and I intend to savour every moment until Penguin come to their senses and give me the flick!
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
Anywhere and anytime. I take my laptop almost everywhere just in case I get a moment and I can get back to writing. I have a few favourite local cafes, I write on sporting sidelines, in libraries, at the kitchen table, the couch, in bed – I just love to write anywhere. When I was young I used to make up serialised stories in my mind, pausing them and picking them up again the next time I was bored – often on long car trips. I wasn’t writing anything down, but I was going through stories, making them up, including dialogue, scene by scene. I think the process of seeing my characters before me is very natural to me now.
What attributes do you think you need to remain sane as a writer? Are there any particular things you routinely do for yourself to maintain your own headspace?
I think you need patience, and, although it’s hard to achieve, a solid self-esteem. That you’re ok, that your voice is good, and that people will care. There is a lot of waiting in a writing career. Waiting to find a publisher or an agent, or both, waiting for them to get back to you on a manuscript, waiting for edits, waiting for release, waiting for reviews… it’s easy to allow the waiting to make you second guess yourself, so you need to have faith, that you can produce the manuscript, and that it is worth reading. I went through two years of silent rejections from publishers and agents before I backed myself, flew to Melbourne, pitched to Penguin and scored a deal. Maybe I’ll call it faith and patience (which sounds like names of some sweet girls growing up on a prairie).
Is there any one particular season on the year that you find more creatively inspirational than the others?
Any season but Summer (shudder). Summer has been kicking sand in my pasty face for way too long and I refuse to allow it any creative input whatsoever. I do however find ALL of the other seasons particularly engaging. So there, Summer. Suck it.
Can you share with us a vivid childhood memory?
I have many happy memories of rounding up sheep with Dad, in the blasting heat of summer, with the windows of the ute right down to flush the hot air into the cab, and freezing cold days with the windows up, and the windscreen smeared with recent rain, dust and bug guts, listening to the hiss of the ABC on the rather terrible ute radio. And I remember my quiet childhood pride when he often left me there, at the end of the race a few kilometres from home at maybe 6 or 7 years old. You bring them home Antha Pantha, he’d say, and he’d drive away through the paddocks to set the gates, to pick up the wool packs from town or complete a thousand other tasks. And there I’d be, alone on a little farm road behind 300 sheep, pattering along ahead of me, pausing to nibble the grass in winter, or to hopefully inspect clover burr in summer. The cold wind making my nose ache, or the hot sun blasting down on my hat and my arms. The ground hard and dusty, or covered in fresh cape weed and sheep manure. But the real memory was this – that I was trusted, and the warmth of it stays with me still.
After growing up in the WA wheat-belt, are you a cowgirl at heart like Teddy or a city girl through and through?
I’m disappointed you’d ask! Country girl at heart! Even though I don’t get to spend as much time in the country as I’d like, I feel the freedom and the beauty of the country as soon as I drive over the Darling Range on the way home again. I love the landscape, the farming communities, the small towns, the scent of the shearing shed, the bright glow of the new crop in morning sunlight, the thin high sound of lambs calling for their mothers on the next hill, the boots outside kitchen doors, and the strong hot cups of tea at kitchen tables within. I love it all. (But I also love living within a kilometre of about a bazillion cafes, and the convenience of dashing to the corner for a carton of milk..!)
Now, onto the really important question: if you could only own one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, what type are they and what colour?
Ok – Important! I have to say I already pretty much live in one pair of shoes – my magnificent and highly alluring Birkenstocks – black, because they go with everything. Reasons I love them? Comfort – at least three reasons right there. They’re also kind of generic and anonymous, and I feel as if my feet have anything to say to the wider world I would like it to be, I’m clean, and my toenails have recently been trimmed. Everything else I have to communicate to the world I prefer to do with my brain and my sunny disposition.
‘When you look up at that sky, tell me you don’t know the world is bigger than this farm.’
Teddy Broderick is committed to her busy life in the country – seeding, harvest, shearing, and the daily milking of her grandmother’s cow – but she dreams of another life, in the world beyond the farm gate.
But just as she thinks she knows everything about her family, her grandmother Deirdre announces there is a house buried on the property, and archaeologist Will Hastings is coming to dig it up.
What is hidden in Deirdre’s childhood home that she needs to see again before she dies? What is preventing Teddy from living the life she truly wants, and will she ever find her freedom?
As Teddy and Will work to expose past secrets to the light,the stories they tell bring them together, and unearth a whole world of buried treasures.
The Cowgirl is published by Penguin Random House Australia.