Jennifer Scoullar digs deep on Turtle Reef, explaining how it showcases a natural wonder.
Turtle Reef is beautiful in its simplicity yet depth of characters. What aspect of the story was the most difficult to bring to life?
Breathing life into the animals of Turtle Reef required the most time and thought. First I learned as much as I could about them. This involved research trips to the reef, as well as many hours of reading. Then I built my animal characters in much the same way as the human ones – inventing back-story, motivation and personality. As with any other character, not all of this invention found its way onto the page, but I kept it in mind as I wrote.
How challenging was Turtle Reef to write?
Of my seven novels (two yet unpublished), Turtle Reef was the easiest one to write so far. Maybe experience is paying off, or maybe my enormous enthusiasm for the story carried me through. For whatever reason, the narrative flowed in a straightforward way. I’m not much of a plotter. My stories grow organically, and half the time I was writing to find out what happens next! That’s my favourite way to write.
How has your passion and love for the Greater Barrier Reef inspired the story?
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral ecosystem on our blue planet, and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It holds a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of most Australians. I wanted my story to showcase the reef’s unique beauty, its fragility and also explore the important part the reef plays in the human and animal life of Queensland’s coastal communities. It was also an excuse to write about dugongs and dolphins!
Looking back on the characters, is there anything you would change about them or their journey within Turtle Reef?
No, I love them just the way they are!
What do you find the most fulfilling from being an author?
Living a creative life, making stuff up – nothing beats it! Connecting with readers is a joy. I also love to work at home in my pyjamas!
Who inspires you to write?
As a child I was inspired by Elyne Mitchell, who wrote wonderful Australian stories about brumbies in the high country. I wanted to be like her. These days I particularly love our Aussie rural authors: Nicole Alexander, Rachael Treasure, Fleur Mcdonald and many more. Women telling authentic, romantic stories set in the bush – what’s not to love? The novels of American author Barbara Kingsolver are also a great inspiration to me. Flight Behaviour is particularly amazing!
Where do your ideas for storytelling come from?
Anywhere and everywhere: My imagination, a media article, an overheard conversation, even a photograph. I always set my novels in and around Australia’s beautiful wild places, so choosing a landscape influences the sort of story I will write. Once the kernel of an idea is there, I’ll often brainstorm ideas with writer friends.
Are you a people-watcher and if yes, does this help build characters within your stories?
People-watching for me is more a way to flesh out minor characters. I quite like writing at a local cafe. Sitting by the window, the passing parade of people is a rich source of material. Listening to people’s phone conversations can also be interesting, and it’s not difficult. Everybody is on their mobiles.
Is becoming an author something you have always aspired to be?
As a child I was an avid reader and began my first novel at eleven. I knew I’d grow up to write books. But as so often happens, life got in the way and I pursued a career in law instead. However all the while, that little, nagging voice of me as a child, kept reminding me that I was supposed to be a writer. I’m very grateful for that voice. It made me pick up a pen again.
If you could invite three authors to dinner (alive or dead), who would they be and why?
They’re all dead! Charles Dickens would be my first choice. Nobody draws characters better or with more humanity. I love the way he draws the reader in emotionally. I love the way he sets a scene, painting a vibrant picture by evoking the sights, sounds and smells of old London. But most of all I love the courage he showed by engaging with social issues, attacking and exposing injustice wherever he saw it. He has inspired me to tackle issues, particularly environmental ones, in my own writing. Elyne Mitchell would be number two. I’d like to thank her for inspiring me to write and then listen to her stories of life on Upper Murray cattle station. Last would be Henry Thoreau, nature writer extraordinaire.
What would you feed said authors?
Takeaway. I wouldn’t want to waste precious talk-time cooking!
At what point of your novel writing, do you say… that’s a wrap? Or could there always be more?
Author Gene Fowler famously said, ‘A book is never finished; it is merely abandoned.’ He’s right. A manuscript is never perfect, but at some stage you have to let go.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what would be the one book you had to have with you?
Walden by Henry David Thoreau – a simple-living bible.
The cover for Turtle Reef is simply beautiful. What input did you have in its creation?
It is lovely, isn’t it? I didn’t have much input. I put my faith in the Penguin design team, and they never let me down.
Do you self-edit your work or leave it up to the editor to help or suggest changes?
I self-edit heavily at all stages of the manuscript development. Once it gets to the editing stage, I have the support and expertise of Penguin’s editorial staff, which is great. However I will always do a final revision, even after the book has been through a series of professional edits.
What advice do you have for up and coming authors?
Read and write and read and write and don’t give up. Sometimes it’s when you’re most disheartened that a breakthrough happens – and try to shut up your internal critic. Work on your craft. Don’t compare yourself unfavourably to other writers. Comparisons in any field can act as sabotage, and no more so than with creative writing. Research the publishing industry. Join your state writer’s centre. Join a writing group.
Unlucky-in-love zoologist Zoe King has given up on men. Moving from Sydney to take up an exciting new role in marine science in the small sugar town of Kiawa is a welcome fresh start. Zoe is immediately charmed by the region’s beauty – by its rivers and rainforests, and by its vast cane fields, sweeping from the foothills down to the rocky coral coast. And also by its people – its farmers and fishermen, unhurried and down to earth, proud of their traditions.
Her work at the Reef Centre provides all the passion she needs and Zoe finds a friend in Bridget, the centre’s director. The last thing she wants is to fall for her boss’ fiance, cane king Quinn Cooper, so she refuses to acknowledge the attraction between them – even to herself. But things aren’t quite adding up at the Reef Centre and when animals on the reef begin to sicken and die, Zoe’s personal and professional worlds collide. She faces a terrible choice. Will protecting the reef mean betraying the man she loves?
Jennifer Scoullar has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. Her house, which was left to her by her father, is on a hilltop overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. She lives there with her family. A pair of old eagles live there too. Black-tailed wallabies graze by the creek. Eastern spinebills hover among the callistemon. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian stock horses.