I was born in 1959 under the Libran stars in a small country town in South Australia, a great disappointment to my parents who had been convinced their second child would be a son who could inherit the family farm. Fortunately after me there came a son, although his planned brother turned out to be a girl as well. Because there were not enough sons, we girls mustered sheep and drove trucks.
Our father's family had been the first to build a stone house in the district and were leaders in the community. No mention was ever made of the original inhabitants of the land. Dad went into parliament ably supported by my mother.
Interested in everything, afraid of nothing except maybe housework, my mother had been raised on a farm, gained an honours degree at Adelaide University, and been presented to the governor as a debutante. By that stage she had already received a medal for bravery for saving a drowning boy. She never lost that sense of family responsibility begun by driving her brother and sisters to school in a pony trap at the aged of seven.
Following my father's career, we moved to the city where the water came out brown and eventually bought a house by the beach. I bodysurfed and swam in gales, revelling in the uncaring power of the water. We still spent many weekends working on the farm, an hour's drive away. I thought all kids worked after school. By then we were mustering cattle and helping Dad with his experimental crops and inventions.
The family was falling apart. Dad had fallen in love with another woman and he resigned his position in the party although he stayed in politics. Our mother went back to teaching. We four kids bickered and fought. At 13 I was the first to be sent to boarding school, a world of girls who seemed to understand everything by instinct.
We still worked on the farm in the holidays where we had changed from sheep and wheat to cattle and clover. By the time I was 14 I had my own tractor, an International which was nothing but an engine with big wheels and a small iron seat on top. My elder sister joined me at boarding school and when I was 16 the family bought a house near the school so we could be 'day-bugs'. We learned to lift our faces for the gully winds instead of the sea breeze.
I was expected to maintain the family's standing, but, contrarily, I made friends with the librarian's and the groundskeeper's daughters. I won creative writing prizes and spent the money on Lord of the Rings and Asterix books instead of 'literature'.
Somehow I gained admittance into Medicine, but I had little grounding in physics and chemistry. So with poor marks and no one to cook at home I went to Uni, the only medical student who wore jeans, and patched at that. I remember sudden silence in a lecture, and looking up to see the lecturer beaming at me. Out of 120 medical students, I was the only one taking notes. The problem was, I was writing a story.
My mother married a company director. This was something of a surprise. I gained three stepsisters and a stepbrother to go with the half-sister and half-brother my father had produced with his new wife. I went to live in a mansion in Medindie with Chippendale chairs and gloomy artwork and a stepfather who exclaimed 'But it's physics!' as the answer to everything. He sailed a 43-foot yacht on weekends. My mother lowered the tone somewhat by keeping a calf in the outside restroom for a while, a by-product of the hobby farm her husband gifted her.
It was too late for me. Although I had reached third year Medicine, I didn't belong there. My friends were not students. I understood nothing and I felt I would be an incompetent doctor. I never had enough money. I quit Medicine and sat the public service exam and became a public servant.
Encouraged by my new employer, I started studying Law part time and that appeased my family. Over the next decade I threw myself into my job, gaining a promotion every year. I completed second year law and didn't go any further. I hadn't meant to quit, I was just tired of trotting off to lectures when there was so much to be done at work. My husband and I went on long four wheel drive camping trips in the outback, where I wrote miles of journals. We painted our house and entertained our friends with gourmet cooking. My first entry in a writing competition, typed on a manual typewriter, won me a bottle of perfume, convincing me I had arrived on the writing scene. We had children and life took on a surreal quality. I was working three days a week, doing all the cooking and cleaning, visiting extended family and getting up in the night for three children born in three years, while writing a novel based on our outback adventures and trying to avoid the siren call of other stories.
My husband changed everything by accepting a job in the States. I lost my career and became a full time mother, the best thing that ever happened to our family. I became the quintessential soccer mom, rushing kids to unfamiliar soccer grounds in my left-hand-drive SUV. I wrote novels in between baking, music lessons, sports, Sunday school, girl guides, music practice and homework. I gave optional Australia classes to elementary school students. We moved from Minnesota to Maryland and the kids suffered many school changes.
When we returned to Australia 5 ½ years later we had American accents and school issues. My stories changed to romances between Americans and Australians as I was fascinated by the cultural differences between the two countries.
My mother died an untimely death at 71 and the extended family dramas would have challenged the belief of the most credulous soap opera fan. Eventually the court cases and paperwork were over and I went back to work full time.
My own family was in trouble. My husband was working in a demanding management position, studying for his MBA, working out and swimming in the mornings, with a run at lunch time and a bike ride in the evening. On top of his flying small planes and piano playing this made him too busy for housework, house maintenance, driving kids around or helping them with their homework or music practice. Our marriage ended in divorce.
My beliefs greatly shaken, I moved into a small house with only one daughter to care for. I enrolled at Uni and undertook a graduate diploma in creative writing while working full time.
It was heart-wrenching leaving my stories behind to create literary fiction, but wonderful to be introduced to Spenser's Faerie Queen and Milton's Paradise Lost. Finally I could see the difference between literary and genre fiction. In my opinion, the two cross over. Literary fiction is original. Good literary fiction is a genuine attempt to explore the human condition. Poor literary fiction is playing with language for the sake of it, or making literary references to appeal to literary readers' sense of superiority. Genre fiction is fiction which can be placed into categories such as romance, horror, mystery, suspense, and further subdivided. Some genre fiction is derivative, providing the excitement expected by the market without making a true attempt to describe real characters. Whole-hearted genre fiction is both original and thrilling.
At last I found the heart of my writing problem. I had been writing fairy stories about youngsters gaining independence, and labelling them as romances. My stories are for people needing to think about how they want to behave in their lives, and who they want to be. In fairy tales, children are frequently cast out into the world without their parents to find a path for themselves. Fairy tale heroes triumph above terrible difficulties, emerging stronger and wiser, kinder and more able to help others during their journey through life.
I hope the children who read my stories will understand the power they possess to change their own lives despite the huge pressures placed on them by our society.