Today we welcome the gorgeous and talented Jenn J McLeod to share her story behind the story. Jenn lives the gypsy life in a fifth-wheeler caravan, her days spent writing heart-warming, small town tales: tapestries of friendship, family and contemporary country life. House for all Seasons was Nielsen’s #5 Best Selling Debut Novel in 2013. Her fourth novel, The Other Side of the Season, is out now with Simon and Schuster Publishers.
Three things inspired the writing of this book
- a newspaper article
- and a rock.
Anyone who’s read my novels will know I’m inspired by the seasons.
My first book, House for all Seasons—a four-part story of four women who return to their hometown to spend a season each in an old house—allowed me to dabble and experiment with writing each season. Simmering Season was, as the name implies, a sticky, steamy, stormy season with a small town school reunion turning the heat up. While for the setting in Season of Shadow and Light I immersed myself in a summer flood event in a small country town.
This year, while I’m taking readers from the country to the coast for a sea change, you might expect a summer setting, but as you’ll discover when you read The Other Side of the Season, I prefer to do the unexpected. *nudge/wink*
Instead, to complete my Seasons Collection, I decided to give winter a voice and let it shine.
While looking for wintery inspiration, I discovered this quote from a celebrated American painter. It was perfect for a story with a strong art theme and the Andrew Wyeth Office (in Pennsylvania) granted permission, so you’ll find this at the beginning of my story:
I prefer winter when you feel the bone structure of the landscape,
the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.
Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
Now, about that local newspaper article . . .
In 2014, two brothers were hanging up their last bunch of bananas after seventy years working the slopes of an iconic Coffs Harbour plantation. I read the article and my writer’s brain took over:
- What if my fictional brothers, tied to each other by the land, didn’t get on?
- What if one had different dreams?
- What if something went terribly wrong?
As for how I turned a rock into a book . . .
I’ve always wanted to incorporate The Nambucca V-Wall into a story. For those who don’t know it, there is an ocean breakwall on the mid NSW coast and its massive boulders are a graffiti gallery of funny, heartfelt . . . often curious messages. Hidden amongst the memorials, the mosaics and the marriage proposals was this rock.
(Transcribed from picture.)
A thousand words
how strong the
Love is that i have
for you. You are the
Love of my life the one
i want to be my wife.
Without you i dont know how i
would get through. You are my
soulmate my rock my everything.
I’ve never met Dean or Brianna. I don’t know them and I don’t know if this message was intended as a proposal when Dean wrote it, or if he was simply a man expressing his feelings for everyone to see.
If it was a proposal . . .
- Did Brianna say yes?
- Did she and Dean marry and live happily ever after?
- Or did one of them meet with tragedy, or have an affair, or did they fall out of love?
I stood there, staring at that rock, not knowing anything—except the urge to correct his grammar and add apostrophes!
So, I had a Coffs banana plantation idea, a rock on a breakwall in Nambucca, two brothers—one a budding artist.
Those early days of a new story for an organic writer like me—when the words flow on to the page—are fabulous. Only sometimes you don’t recognise the challenges until it’s too late. There were moments I cursed myself for attempting such a huge, sprawling story that included multiple character point-of-view and complex, interconnected lives. There was no other way to approach a story spanning three decades but to use a dual time period structure, rather than over-using flashbacks that frustrate and confuse readers. So I channeled Kate Morton for some dual time period structure inspiration and started over.
A dual time period piece means I am essentially presenting two stories (1979 and 2015) to be read simultaneously, both with vague (often invisible) connective concepts in the early stages. Not until much later in the book do the connections become clear and those crumbs I’ve sprinkled get swept into a nice neat pile of plot revelations for readers to devour. But first I needed to make sure I kept readers reading.
And read it they are. I couldn’t be happier with the end result, and the reviews (like this one) calling it ‘my best yet’ are very comforting for this, my fourth small town story: a story of first love, family love and forever love.
About The Other Side of the Season:
When offering to drive her brother to Byron Bay to escape the bitter Blue Mountain’s winter, Sidney neglects to mention her planned detour to the small seaside town of Watercolour Cove.
Thirty-five years earlier, Watercolour Cove is a very different place for brothers David and Matthew and the teasing and tantalisingly pretty Tilly from the neighbouring property. When tragedy strikes in the winter of 1979, those who can leave, do, while one stays, trapped on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams. That is until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone that the truth can heal, what’s wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and . . .
. . . there’s another side to every story.
Book information and BUY links – www.jennjmcleod.com/book-room