Fleur toasts bush storyteller prose

Fleur toasts bush storyteller prose

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Writer Fleur McDonald has set her third novel Purple Roads near her childhood home - the Mid North.

Writer Fleur McDonald has set her third novel Purple Roads near her childhood home - the Mid North.

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FOR many rural women, days are consumed raising a family and helping on the farm but Fleur McDonald has squeezed-in one more role as a successful author.

Aa

FOR many rural women, days are consumed raising a family and helping on the farm but Fleur McDonald has squeezed-in one more role as a successful author.

The young mother of two has just released her third novel Purple Roads.

Her debut novel Red Dust, published in 2009, has been a runaway success, selling more than 26,000 copies.

She was named the debut author of the year across all Australian publishers, and shortlisted the following year for the Australian Book Industry Awards as Newcomer Author of the Year.

Two more books followed in quick succession - Blue Skies and Purple Roads. Purple Roads was written in just nine months.

Fleur says she enjoys being able to escape from farm life into prose.

"You can make it rain whether it is raining or not on the farm," she said.

"I just love the saying that 'you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you'."

She says family and farm are her priorities, most of her writing is done during trips to Perth and Esperance, although she does pen a few lines while moving mobs of sheep on her family's mixed farm.

Each of her three books have characters with the same indomitable spirit shown by many living on the land. The tight-knit rural communities could be in any number of country towns in rural Australia.

"It is easy enough to come up with a storyline but it is the setting which gives the story wings," she said.

"You have to write about what you know, so mine are based in the country."

Fleur's childhood - growing up at Orroroo - has given her plenty of inspiration for her books, with Red Dust and Purple Roads set in the Mid North.

"The area is still embedded in me and it is an area I still love to come home to when things are tough," she said

During those formative years, Fleur met many interesting characters while travelling with her father in his truck.

Her parents John and June Parnell - who still live at Orroroo - were fuel distributors for many years, delivering to remote areas including Moomba and Marla Bore.

In 2010, John was inducted into the Shella Rimula X Trucking Hall of Fame in Alice Springs for his service to the industry.

Fleur's grandparents owned a sheep station - Glenroy - and this instilled in her an empathy and understanding for agriculture which shines through in her writing.

During her boarding school days in Adelaide she yearned for the country and decided a career in farming was the way to go.

"I was pretty keen on heading back to the farm but mum and dad were keen for me to get some experience working elsewhere," she said.

After school, she spent a year in the South East working on custom-feedlot Wanderribby at Meningie for the Gunner family.

She then headed to Western Australia to work on a sheep and cattle property west of Esperance.

"Back in the early 90s it was hard to get a job as a female on a farm but Esperance had not been opened up that long so there was more tolerance to women farmers," she said.

It was here that she met her husband Anthony.

The couple bought their first farm in 1999, a handy 110 kilometres east of Esperance. They have expanded the original 810 hectares to 3240ha, running Angus, a White Suffolk stud, producing prime lambs, and cropping a small section of the farm.

Just like the main characters in her latest book - Matt and Anna - the McDonalds have endured dry times, especially 2008 when just 300 millimetres fell in their 550mm average annual rainfall district. They ran out of stock water.

"We have only just got back on our feet," she said. "We had all our cattle on agistment nine hours away and we saw a lot of friends really struggle that year."

Fleur said she was always encouraged to write and finally had the time to give it a go a few years ago.

"I was always drawn to reading and never had my head out of a book when I was a kid," she said.

"Red Dust came about when we hired a workman for the first time and I thought 'what am I going to do now', so that was when I started writing it."

* Full report in Stock Journal, May 10 issue.

The story Fleur toasts bush storyteller prose first appeared on Farm Online.

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