The Aussie author you must read

I DISCOVERED Australian author Nicole Alexander quite by accident.

One of her novels, River Run, was on display at my local library.

On a whim I scooped it up on my way past, hurriedly trailing my youngsters to the kids' area.

Since then I have read every book of hers my library can get in for me. And as fast as they can get them. 

River Run, An Uncommon Woman, Wild Lands, The Great Plains and now her new release, Stone Country.

I've read all of them, one after another. Devouring each page with the same delight as when I first picked up River Run.

My favourite so far? Definitely Wild Lands. Although when I spoke to Nicole, I told her my angst of wanting to know what happens to the main characters after the novel ends.

She laughed and said: "Because I'm doing stories that are classed as a saga, although it is historical fiction, it is hard to be finate with an ending. Because you have all these characters, you can't have this definitive ending."

Nicole's novels are a rich tapestry of complex characters, clever narrative and authentic settings woven within historical events.

She is described as the heart of Australian storytelling and writes with a deep knowledge and love of the Australian landscape. 

A fourth generation grazier, the talented author grew up on 26,000 acres 110km north west of Queensland town, Moree.

"The homestead where I grew up is the original block that my great-grandfather selected in 1893," Nicole told me.

"We always used to sit around the table in the old homestead and Dad would tell stories. All families have this great trove of history. If it is not passed down orally it is lost by the fabric of time."

When asked where she gets her ideas for her novels from, Nicole said all of her books have a snippet of something that has come from a piece of her family's oral history.

For example, in her latest novel Stone Country, which was released last week, the decision to send the brother of protagonist Ross Grant to war was drawn from her own family history.

"My paternal grandfather decided to enlist in the Great War, while my uncle decided to stay and look after the property.

"It seems logical but when you think about it, one goes and one stays and if they one that stays is reading all these accounts of the war, would he feel guilt? Would he feel bad?"

In Stone Country, a lot of Ross's angst comes from this. He is also given a white feather.

"A white feather is the symbol of cowardice. But quite a few men didn't go away to war because they were involved in industries or providing food." 

While Nicole said there is no record of her great uncle being given a white feather, he would have been the recipient of derogative remarks. 

Something Ross is also subjected to. 


Stone Country follows Ross on two distinct journeys: one physically from South Australia to the Northern Territory and one internally. 

"I saw Ross as being on one of those circus high wires. At some stage in all our lives we have this tipping point and it is our reaction to that event and can affect the rest of our lives."

When it comes to creating her characters, Nicole said once she has decided who is who she then does "this full CSI profiling".

"I consider their parents, grandparents, whether they're rich or poor, their education levels, social economic background and events that might have affected them.

"With Ross I had this word in my head: duality but I was thinking good or bad.

"Character flaws and weaknesses are brought out in limitations by his family and his poor decision making.

"As I'm doing my research and bringing those lines together I'm bringing those threads together and building the character."

While a lot of research goes into her characters, more goes into the setting.

Nicole always visits the location of her novel.

"Because of my background, my love for the land, being born and bred on it, it is important to really bring it out in my work.

"Landscape is the canvas the story is unfolding on. What I'm seeing, feeling, smelling I want the readers to see or feel that too."

And as such, the landscape almost becomes a character itself. 

With Stone Country, Nicole said she knew very little about the Northern Territory.

"I was reading and studying for about six months before I started.

"Then I went to the NT in December.

"I visited Kakadu. I'm standing on a hill with a guide and a map drawn by a surveyor in 1922 and like I write in the book; there are cliffs coming out of flood plains on one side and woodlands on the other."

After she has done the research and gone to the place she is writing about, Nicole then works on a minimum of 5000 words a week.

"I'm writing and reading, sleuthing for facts as I go."

When it came to writing her debut novel Bark Cutters, Nicole was also working full-time on the family farm.

"Before we downsized the property I was a full working partner - mustering, driving a tractor, working on the farm - it was very hard to do my writing then.

"I'd do my writing in the evenings and on the weekends, there was no work life balance but I'd decided I wanted to be a writer." 

It was hard work but it paid off.

"Before Bark Cutters I had been writing travel articles and short stories. I already had an agent and when I finished Bark Cutters I sent it to her and she said she was happy to shop it around to publishers.

"She came back and said she had two that were interested. I went with Random House."

The Bark Cutters remains the highest selling debut novel in the rural literature genre and was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award in 2011.

"The shortlisting gave me the confidence to sign a two book contract.

"Then I was immediately thrown into writing full time."

Since her first novel, Nicole has written eight others, producing almost a novel a year.

"I had eight months off when my father was sick. Other than that I've been on a book a year. It's been a full on apprenticeship."

Since 2016, Nicole has been living in Moree, only visiting the property a couple of times a week.

"We downsized when by dad become ill. We sold off the homestead and now have an overseer on the property."

Sadly her father passed away not long ago but Nicole said he was very supportive of her writing.

"He was very supportive and my mum is part of the writing team and she is my first reader."

Her mum also accompanies her on trips for research. For The Great Plains, the mother and daughter duo visited America. 

"We had a great time in Oklahoma and travelled around there for 10 days and saw all these amazing places."

When I spoke to Nicole she was in Ballina doing some research after a week of events promoting Stone Country.

She has already done six weeks of work on the next book.

"I have the thread of narrative but haven't decided where it is going to be set just so doing general reading at the moment.

"I like the detail of the story to be buried in fact. All the basic stuff.

"I like to look at district histories, gives you insight to that area."

Stone Country is now on sale for RRP $32.99.

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