This week (and most of next week) I am dedicating my reading (and most of my blog posts) within that of the vastly popular genre of Australian Rural Fiction, or as its more affectionate known these days, Chook Lit.
Why and a week and half you may ask? Well to put it simply, I couldn’t choose just seven books and authors that I wanted to high light and read as part of this book. When I first thought about running this idea a few months back I sat down and tried to name just seven books that I thought would be ideal to cover the genre. In virtually no time at all I had my seven books… plus about another ten that all remained rather diverse and yet were firmly integrated as part of the established rural and chook lit genre. Twice I tried to cull the list down and somehow ended up adding more books to the list rather than taking some out, so I present to you my week and half of Australian Rural Fiction and Chook lit.
I can’t put into words how excited I am to be undertaking this mini-project. Ever since I thought of the idea I have been thinking non-stop about what I could do and who I should include, actively seeking out ideas and a timeline for my every growing list. I need to mention here that although I’m taking on the genre in a big way this week (and a half…) I’m also very new to the genre. In fact I think I only really started to read rural fiction because I was sent a copy of Loretta Hill’s The Girl in The Hard Hat through work to read as an advanced copy. I’d previously purchased her first novel, The Girl in The Steel Capped Boots, but hadn’t found the time to read it. Having received the sequel, I sat down to read the first book around Christmas time, and read both books in a week or so. Since then I have been completely and utterly hooked. So much so that I’m actively seeking them out to read as part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge for 2013 and having a ball reading whatever I find.
As far as I can tell rural fiction and Chook lit is mainly classified by two elements. The writers (to date anyway) are predominately Australian female authors (although there are American authors such as Rachael Herron who appear Australian in their work and are doing very well because of it), and they seem to simply be stories of the land and those who inhabit it. At the very heart of each story though there is this underlying understanding that the genre incorporates what is probably best described as “a uniquely Australian take on romance fiction.” Its fiction set in our homeland, about ‘real’ (well as real as you can get in fiction) people in typical everyday situations across Australia. They feature characters and personalities that 9/10 Australians would have encountered at some point in their lives and thus it makes the narratives more real and true to life in many ways because we can relate to them a hell of a lot easier.
I recently found an article that the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) ran into 2012 (“Romance and Rodeos Rule As Rural Readers Turn To ‘Chook Lit’” by Kylie Northover, April 30, 2012) which quotes Penguin’s Ali Watts as saying that the dominating factor driving the genre’s popularity can be put down to its “”Australianness’. We’ve had international chick-lit novels dominate the market for so long, with heroines who are concerned with shopping and eating out, now I think Australian readers are looking for more than that.”
While I completely agree with Watts here, what I think is most interesting and fascinating to me as a reader however, and I guess the biggest attraction to the genre as a whole, is the way in which each of these rural and ‘chook lit’ novels all feature strong, confident and independent female leads who not only love the land, but know how to get things done. Gone are the days where week and simple-minded heroines ruled the pages, and instead we a presented with a confident female characters who knows exactly what they want from the land, their family, the man of their dreams and their not afraid to go get it. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the ‘quieter’ female leads, but there is just something so empowering and fun about having a sassy female protagonists who takes no bullshit and gives as good as she gets.
The SMH article also featured a quote from Random House’s Beverly Cousins who states that rural fiction and chook lit is ”the only fiction genre that is growing. It’s almost a guarantee, and at the moment in fiction publishing you don’t have many guarantees’. As a recent devotee of the genre, I sure hope it continues to thrive and bring many more voices to the mainstream Australian market.
Featured over the next week and half will be a variety of authors and their novels that each make up different sections of Rural Fiction and Chook Lit. I’ll be starting with the rural fiction of Rachael Treasure, whose work has been credited with developing, and pioneering, the genre (and popularity) of Rural fiction in Australia. For lets face it, even if you haven’t yet read it, you have more than likely heard of her 2002 release Jillaroo. As a rule Treasure’s work focuses on the more country aspects of rural fiction and while it does feature romance elements, its not as overtly romantic and thus Chook Lit, as say Rachael Johns Man Drought, or Cathryn Hein’s Heart of the Valley.
Either way I look forward to exploring this genre more fully and hope that you enjoy some of the reads as well.
The authors and books I’m hoping to cover over the course of the next two weeks (not necessarily in this order) are as follows:
Karly Lane – Bride’s Choice
Rachael Johns – Man Drought
Charlotte Nash’s debut novel – Ryders Ridge
Jennifer Scoullar – Brumby’s Run
Cathryn Hein – The Heart of the Valley
Alissa Callen – Beneath Outback Skies
Fiona Palmer – The Sunburnt Country
Fiona McCallum – Saving Grace (review posted yesterday)
If you know of any other rural or chook lit novels that you would recommend that you feel have been left out and forgotten feel free to leave me a message/comment and I’ll try my best to include them. If not now, then later on in the year.