Early in 2014, Jennie Jones, Lisa Ireland and I began discussing the possibility of a joint project. We're all with the same publisher, we all write rural romance, and we all knew each other. Surely those were enough things for a successful adventure!?
One of the first problems we discussed was - how do we do something combined when our styles are very different?
We decided to base our stories around a town, so we had 1 town; 3 very different stories.
Then we had to work out where to put this town, and what to call it!
Jennie lives in Western Australia, Lisa's in Victoria and I'm in NSW, so we had no common ground. Lisa went hunting and thought central western NSW looked like a nice spot. I'd lived not far from there so was half-familiar with it and then I went on a bit of a driving tour to fine-tune. Our town is roughly around Lyndhurst, Mandurama, Carcoar, Neville and Barry.
Then to create a name. We all thought using an Aboriginal word would be best, with a good meaning, but it couldn't be used elsewhere in a high profile place. We had names and ideas flying before we eventually settled on Dulili, which means together. Nothing could be more appropriate.
Groups aren't always successful but we were very lucky with our group - we've enjoyed ourselves and we're still friends, even better friends than before! I think because there's three of us, it's made things easier to work through. We email constantly. When we're trying to decide something, we all sit at our keyboards and the emails fly fast. We discuss openly and honestly but politely and sensibly. More often than not, we all agree easily. We came into this project with open minds, to create something fun for the three of us. We can all compromise and laugh. We help each other out, always.
I had a change in writing style mid-way through the project which was a little traumatic for me. I had to re-write my entire story and without Jennie and Lisa to keep my spirits up, I'm not sure I would have gotten through. Then I had a major story edit after submission, and again, there they were - my very own cheer squad. Add to this, I thought I'd have a book out before this one, but now it's my debut and I'm riding their coattails...but they didn't worry at all. You couldn't find better people to work with.
As a bonus, we love each others' stories. This has made blending in the town's characters to our own story so much easier. One of Jennie's fabulous characters is in both Lisa and my books. One of Lisa's fabulous people is in Jennie and mine. And one of mine is in the other two stories. We have a map of Dulili pinned to the wall so we all know where everything is, what each building looks like. We love Dulili so much, we'd like to move there :)
I love all three of these stories - A Heart Stuck on Hope; Honey Hill House; The Healing Season. I hope you will too.
In April 2017, I had a phone call out of the blue. It was the Escape Publishing editor, Kate. She said, "I have an idea about a series on women's AFL, are you interested?"
"YES!" I couldn't get the word out quickly enough.
I had been watching the women's AFL (and the women's cricket) on TV with tears in my eyes. So I had ideas. I loved that women's sport had come so far. I was the kid who complained that I couldn't play footy. I was the kid who wanted to be playing "boys' sports". I was Mum's nightmare! She could never satisfactorily explained why I couldn't play, and now I realise there was no answer she could give me. It was just 'how the world is' and I did have to 'live with it'.
But no more! YIPEE! (Except now I'm too old...but I can dream!)
While I was at uni, I worked in a high school lab. I played basketball in a team with some teachers and their friends. I loved that team because they were so accepting of me. I didn't shoot a basket all year, but they didn't care. At the end of the season, one of the players came up and explained that she was leaving the team and that I should probably come to basketball in my gear and not get changed in the changerooms. You know, it was an odd comment, but she was an odd girl who always came to basketball with her mum - in her 20s! As it turned out, she and I were the straight girls on the team. I had no clue, and it didn't really bother me either. We were playing sport. They didn't care if I was useless. We had fun.
As I became more aware of my teammates lives, I saw lifestyles I'd had no expose to before. Some girls were elite athletes and played in the state women's teams, or the Aussie teams. Some girls had kids and juggled their sport into life to remain sane. Some were teachers who needed to exercise after working. Some were women who had escaped domestic abuse. The thing that struck me was that when we all accepted who each other was, we had a lot of fun, played great games and enjoyed ourselves. Our backgrounds made no difference.
This is what I wanted in my story. I wanted Cress Kennedy to be a girl who didn't care about background, sexual orientation, financial status, education level, or whatever else is often seen as important. Cress was a girl who wanted to play in a team committed to enjoying their sport.
Quin Fitzpatrick, plays men's AFL and he's a bit jaded by the lifestyle, the pressure, the concerns and demands of being an elite athlete constantly in the public spotlight. I wanted him to see the fun of sport, to see the passion and exuberance you can get from doing your best, working together and enjoying life.
Sport has always been an important part of my life. I come from a family who love sport, and married into a family with similar focus. I'm not good at athletics, but it's brought me many many hours of enjoyment, friendship, and fun.
I had the best time writing this story. I have to give a huge vote of thanks to my AFL playing best mate who helped me out with the footy scenes. I've got no technical knowledge of AFL, I realised! I watch it for the sporting spectacle...okay, and the shoulders and legs!!
I hope, whatever your background and even if you don't love sport, you might find enjoyment and pleasure in reading Cress and Quin's story.