Jenn McLeod – The Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival

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The Bellingen Readers and Writers festival will be amazing! There is no town quite like Bellingen, and with a program of workshops, talks and forums, there’s no literary festival quite like this one – March 22 – 24, 2013.



Introduce yourself … when and why did you move to the Coffs Coast?

Not until my early 20s, after having grown up in leafy suburban Sydney, did I discover an affinity with the country. For three years, I travelled around Australia in a converted Ford F100 van, working wherever I could, doing anything I could – an approach that kick-started a diverse range of work experiences once back in Sydney.

Twenty years later, I took the first tentative steps towards my tree change, escaping the all-consuming corporate chaos in 2004 to buy a small café in the seaside town of Sawtell. What I found was a warm, welcoming community with wonderful local characters, and I immediately felt my move to the country was like coming home.

No longer in the café business (although still drinking way too much coffee), I’ve spent the last few years focused on writing stories – life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep within them.

How did you get started as an author?

Unlike those authors who have written since they could hold a pen, the desire to write a novel didn’t hit me until later in life (although my mum is likely to tell you my story telling was quite prolific from a very young age). I dabbled for years, trying to fit writing around a busy corporate career. Not until relocating to Coffs Harbour did I dig out those old manuscripts, never dreaming I’d one day see a book with my name on it sitting on a bookshop shelf.

You have secured a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster. Can you please tell us about your debut novel, House for all Seasons, and what inspired you to write it?

House for all Seasons is the first book in my Seasons Collection, with Book 2 – The Simmering Season – due for release in March next year. My inspiration for my novels is the changing seasons. Where I live in the picturesque Bonville Valley, every season is unique; the sights, sounds and smells stirring my creative side. If I was clever enough, I’d capture it on canvas.

As a writer, what I love about the seasons is the contrast, and contrast is what makes great characters and conflict in a story. Creating four female characters as different as the seasons seemed like an interesting premise.

Poppy, a tough, ambitious journo still craving her father’s approval; Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love; Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures; Caitlin, a third generation doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.

From that kernel of an idea, House for all Seasons grew into a story of unravelling friendships, tightening of family ties, and the unsettling after-effects of choices made. Mostly it’s a story about coming home to find your place in the world and discovering small towns can keep big secrets.

How many genres do you write in? What do you write about?

I am influenced by something I heard Jodi Picoult say: “The best books straddle genres and attract a variety of readers.” I write what the business calls popular fiction (a.k.a. commercial or women’s fiction) with its broad themes appealing to a broader audience (making the distinction from what the industry refers to as literary).

Despite the label, House for all Seasons would sit just as comfortably on a shelf alongside more literary works or contemporary romances. I’m happy to be labelled ‘popular Australian fiction’ if it means more people read my work. That, after all, is why I write.

What is the Bellingen Readers and Writers festival? How long has it been going and what can one expect to experience there?

In its third year, the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival is regarded as a must-do on the cultural calendar, and I’m thrilled to be amongst such literary talent; this year’s lineup is amazing and with a focus on women writers, their stories are in the spotlight.

Quite unlike other literary festivals, and what makes Bellingen unique, is the intimate environment that provides ticketholders with a ‘close encounter’ with authors and industry professionals.

But I love the concept too. With a writer’s life a solitary existence, our days filled with fictional friends rather than real ones, meeting people who share a love of reading and who enjoy talking about Aussie fiction is rewarding and inspiring. I hope to inspire others in return when I join Macksville’s Karly Lane (Saturday program) to discuss Small Town Secrets in Popular Fiction.

Thanks Jenn.

This article was published in issue 30 of Coffs Coast Focus

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