GUEST POST: The Relationship Between Research and Country by Kerry McGinnis

Today I am ecstatic to share with you all a guest-post Kerry McGinnis wrote to celebrate the release of her new book The Roadhouse. The following post has been supplied by Kerry McGinnis and Penguin Random House Australia through their bookclub LOVE BETWEEN THE PAGES. Don’t forget to check out my review for The Roadhouse by Kerry McGinnis that will be posted at 4pm today.

Kerry McGinnis was born in Adelaide and at the age of twelve took up a life of droving with her father and four siblings. The family travelled extensively across the Northern Territory and Queensland before settling on a station in the Gulf Country. Kerry has worked as a shepherd, droving hand, gardener and stock-camp and station cook on the family property Bowthorn, north-west of Mt Isa. She is the author of two volumes of memoir, Pieces of Blue and Heart Country, and the bestselling novels The Waddi Tree, Wildhorse Creek, Mallee Sky, Tracking North, Out of Alice, Secrets of the Springs and The Heartwood Hotel. Kerry now lives in Bundaberg.


The Relationship Between Research and Country by Kerry McGinnis

My novels might be fiction (or as my then five-year old nephew put it (his moral sense was very strong) when I attempted to explain the difference between imaginative and factual writings, ‘But it’s all lies if you just make it up, Aunty.’ However the localities of my stories are as real as you can get.

Some of the settings of my novels — Central Australia and its deserts for instance, the locale for The Waddi Tree, Out of Alice, and The Roadhouse — I knew as a child, while the Gulf Country with its battering monsoons was my home for forty years. It was, therefore, an easy setting to write for Wild Horse Creek, Tracking North and The Heartwood Hotel. Such intimacy with country means that the very smell and taste and feel of the land leaches into one’s soul. A phrase can recreate it; the scent of rain, the taste of dust, or the coruscating light of a droughted landscape is forever waiting in the wings of the mind ready to be to given life again.

Other novels such as Mallee Sky arose from childhood memories of that tough, many-trunked scrub amongst which, back as an eleven year old, I helped fossick for firewood on weekends. Such recollections were then aided by a more recent holiday taken around the township of Nhill in western Victoria. There I drove through paddocks of grain, walked among the red gums along the Wimmera, and remembered childhood days in South Australia; dusty roads and glaring light and the grateful shade of peppermint trees in country schoolyards.

The Secret of the Springs presented me with a problem. My parents had lived in the Corner Country post-war and my eldest brother was born in Broken Hill but if I was ever there as a very young child I carried no memories of the place. Either I would have to visit or scrap the idea of using the locality in the novel, but Orla, my imaginary protagonist, plainly belonged in that hazily pictured aridity, and I could imagine her nowhere else.

The Broken Hill area is a very long and ardurous drive from Bundaberg. Supposing I blew a tyre? Yes, once I could change a tyre, nowadays I doubted my ability to even get the wheelnuts undone. Or I might have a breakdown. It was simply too risky. I had lived in the bush long enough to respect the perils of taking unnecessary chances.

The sensible thing would be to go with a party of fellow travellers so I booked myself onto a coach tour, packed a camera, notebook and biro, and spent our frequent stops collaring leather-skinned, big-hatted men to ask them about the country. Its carrying

capacity, rainfall, how deep the water table lay, the size of the paddocks. There was a tree I had seen and couldn’t name: here were some leaf samples — could they tell me what it was called? How many types of saltbush, and did bluebush grow out here as well?

In this way I built up a picture I could relate too, and the men’s shrewd squinty eyes and slow, considered answers gave me a glimpse of the tempo of the land beyond the Barrier Range. Mostly old shearers, or fencers, they were not so different to the Gulfites though they spoke of droughts and dust storms, rather than floods and bushfires.

Out of Alice also required a coach trip, this one from Adelaide to Darwin in order to pass through Kings Canyon. I could do the desert on my ear but I had never visited the Canyon, a truly staggering gash through the range, reaching a depth I would never have believed that predominantly flat country could produce. It pays to check up, I told myself, and have continued to do so each year.

For The Roadhouse I had to cross the Simpson Desert in a convoy of four wheel drives, tenting under the stars through frosty nights and bitter dawns with wild camels seen amongst the dunes and dingoes prowling curiously about our camps. None of that gets a mention in the novel, but the ranges are right, and the trees, and the exact shade of the grasses, turning gold in the autumn air. The bones of the country never change but it is good to look upon a beloved face again to remind oneself of the beauty it owns.

Research undertaken in this fashion is time consuming and expensive. But it’s a lot more enjoyable than the internet which cannot give you the flavour of a place. And a definite upside is how much of Australia I’m getting to see just ensuring that the factual aspects of the story aren’t make-believe, or as my nephew would have it, plain lies.

To purchase a copy of The Roadhouse, visit the following online retailers:

PENGUIN BOOKS AUSTRALIA | Amazon AUS | Amazon US | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Book DepositoryQBD

To learn more about Kerry McGinnis, visit the following social media pages:

Penguin Books Australia | Goodreads

To learn more about Love Between the pages bookclub, visit PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE AUSTRALIA’S WEBSITE or FACEBOOK PAGE. 

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