Australian author Fiona Palmer chats to Leanne Francis about her latest release, The Sunnyvale Girls.
1. Tell us about your inspiration for the story – how did you come across the real life story of the Italian prisoner-of-war soldiers who came to Australia?
I started out wanting to write a story involving an Italian POW. Over coffee I mentioned this to my friend Lea, who then told me about their POW Giulio who they had housed during and after the war, and it was so amazing. I got his records from the National Archives and knew this was the angle I needed.
2. Is it true that you travelled to Italy and met with some prisoner-of-war soldiers and the story of their lives is worked into your novel?
Yes, I went to Italy in search of more information on Giulio. I ended up, amazingly, finding his two daughters Isalda and Carla. Sadly Giulio had passed away but the whole trip was inspiring and moving.
3. All three female characters are such strong women. Do you like to and/or always make your women characters strong and empowering? Are those characteristics that come with working on the land?
Yes, all my girls are written this way. I admire these qualities. Maybe it’s from growing up with a mum who was strong and would often help my dad doing the heavy shovelling work, shifting heavy things. Also being surrounded with women who worked on the land, got their hands dirty and kept our community alive. For many who help their husbands or families on the land they are very much strong women who have to turn their hands at everything.
4. Who was your favourite character to write? They were all so great, but I loved Maggie, her forbidden love story was so beautiful.
Maggie was my favourite too. I loved writing her 1944 scenes and I could picture it so vividly in my mind. Toni was a close second because I wanted to see her with Jimmy, she was due some happiness.
5. Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? How did you hone your skills and learn the craft?
I fell into writing. It was the need to tell a story that pushed me in this direction. So I wrote down that first story, which came from my love of the country, the passion for my way of life and the inspiration it gives me. My craft came after publication, working with an editor and also the Romance Writers of Australia. Without either I don’t think I’d be here today.
6. Do you have your own writing space? Tell us a little about where you like to write?
I write in our computer room, which is filled with my overflowing bookshelves and cupboards filled with random stuff that doesn’t seem to have a home. I have a big jarrah framed picture on the wall of my first designed cover for Gumlea (The Family Farm) that my aunty made me. It’s messy most of the time but I can shut the door and try to focus on writing.
7. What type of books do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?
I love reading Young Adult/New Adult books. Katie McCarry is great and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. I also love my fellow rural writers’ books. I don’t have a favourite author as it changes so often but more like a collection of authors I love to read.
8. Are you working on another book?
I’m working on The Farmer’s Son, a book about a small town whose school is set to close. It follows the city teacher who works there and a single father farmer who helps her as he battles his own problems.
Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart.
Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners-of-war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.
When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.
Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia. She discovered Danielle Steel at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance. She has attended romance writers’ groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm. She has extensive farming experience, does the local mail run, and was a speedway-racing driver for seven years. She spends her days writing, helping out in the community and looking after her two children.