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Joy Rhoades, Author of The Burnt Country on being Drawn to Stories about the Bush, Country and Community

August 14, 2019

About the author:

Joy Rhoades was born in Roma in western Queensland, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, whether playing in creek beds and paddocks, or climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth generation grazier and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.

At 13, Joy left Roma for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over: first Sydney, then London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. It was in New York that she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the New School University, and wrote much of The Woolgrower’s Companion, a novel inspired in part by snippets of her grandmother’s life and times.

She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.

Buy a copy of The Burnt Country here. // Read a review of The Burnt Country here.

Joy Rhoades shares with us how her childhood in country QLD has influenced her writing?

The marvellous American novelist, Willa Cather, said that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of 15. I often think of that because I was about 14 when I left the bush. I went away to boarding school, 1000 km from the small town where my parents lived.

I missed home with an almost physical longing. In a good season, there’s no place more beautiful, no light more golden, than the going down of sun over good country. Bush people scratch their heads at the thought of city life, their love of the land unwavering. But since my early teens, I’ve been away from the bush, a city dweller of the type pitied by country folk who live under a big sky.

Because for me, life in the bush is seductive but cruel, fortunes determined by unreliable rains and unforgiving commodity prices: beef, wool, wheat, cotton. Calamity is a constant, striking a blameless family or even a community, farms, businesses wiped out by a quirk, a tic in a weather pattern. I swore that when I grew up, I’d get away, that I’d have a livelihood controlled mostly by me and my performance, not at the whim of weather gods with their nasty sense of humour.

For the longest time, that’s what I did: I had a job that didn’t depend on good fortune. I trained as a lawyer in Brisbane. My lawyering took me to Sydney and then around the world: London, Asia, New York and London again. And it’s interesting work. But all that while, I was writing stories on the side, stories about the bush: the light, the dirt, rain and even fire. Perhaps that writing began as a solace of sorts, an escape from the city, if only on the page. I was drawn to stories about the bush, of country and community and connection and they shaped themselves into The Woolgrower’s Companion, a best selling debut. Soon, Penguin commissioned me to write another book, The Burnt Country.

I’m a full time writer now, with all the challenges and wonders that brings. It’s passion that binds me to writing, just as it’s passion that binds bush folk to the land. And I’m still not at the whim of the weather, but instead I’m dependent on whether my publisher sees a demand for my kind of books, and on whether readers like what I write. I see the irony in that. For it’s no longer the weather gods that impact my livelihood, but the book gods. Passion demands its price.



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