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Sweeping Rural Historical Fiction: Q&A with Nicole Alexander on writing Stone Country

March 18, 2019

About the author:

A fourth-generation grazier, Nicole returned to her family’s property in the early 1990s. She is currently the business manager there.

Nicole has a Master of Letters in creative writing and her novels, poetry, travel and genealogy articles have been published in Australia, Germany, America and Singapore.

She is the author of eight novels: The Bark CuttersA Changing Land, Absolution Creek, Sunset Ridge, The Great Plains, Wild Lands, River Run, An Uncommon Woman and Stone Country.

Purchase a copy of Stone Country here 

Read our full review of Stone Country here 

Stone Country is a sweeping rural historical novel set in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Can you tell us a bit more about the novel?

The novel spans the period 1901 to 1940 and follows the life of Ross Grant, the second of two sons born into a wealthy Scottish family in Adelaide SA. In his youth Ross idolises his older brother Alastair even though he often becomes the scapegoat for his brother’s mischief making. When Alastair disappears during the Great War and is suspected of desertion, his family coerce Ross into marrying his brother’s fiancé in an effort to restore the family’s reputation. Ross’s reluctant agreement comes with the promise that he can fulfill a childhood wish and travel to the Northern Territory where his family own a cattle property. During the course of the novel Ross is caught between the woman he loves and the one he is forced to marry, between his personal desires and family duty and between the life he left behind and the country that captivates his imagination.

What inspired the idea behind the story?

Two things really. Firstly, I wanted Ross to embody the duality of human nature, the good and the bad. For that to occur he needed to take two very distinct journeys. The outer one, where he is thrust into a foreign, isolated environment. And the second journey being Ross’s personal one and the obstacles he encounters during his life, both from his own poor decision making and those difficulties imposed on him by his family.

Part of Ross’s challenge is learning to live with the repercussions and guilt of not having served during the Great War and I drew on my own family history for this section of the narrative. My paternal grandfather served in the Great War however it was decided that his younger brother David would stay behind and look after the family property and their mother (their father having died in 1903). This apportioning of responsibilities, whilst logical made me consider what it would have been like for the brother left behind, waiting for news of an older sibling who may or may not return from the front. My grandfather was awarded a Military Medal and returned home eventually. But what of the boy at home on the farm. This was a period when men were handed white feathers for cowardice. In Stone Country Ross is the one who is told he must remain at home and this guilt haunts him for many years after his brother goes missing.

Stone Country features some stunning descriptions of rural Australia. How does the Australian landscape inform and inspire not only your stories, but also the way you tell them?

I treat the land as a character in all of my works. It’s the stage upon which the narrative unfolds. It is after all a living, breathing entity that sustains and nourishes us, so for me it has to form an integral part of any story set is less-urban regions. I always visit the area/s a work is going to be set and read up on the flora and fauna. I want the reader to become immersed in the narrative, to see and hear and smell what I have seen, to have a strong sense of place.

This is your ninth novel – how do you feel your writing has changed and evolved since your first published work?

It took me eight years to write my first novel, The Bark Cutters. Granted I was working full-time and studying, but I was also trying to decipher how to write my first long piece of fiction. As my writing career has progressed, so has my knowledge of the craft and my self-discipline, publishing deadlines ensure that. However, I have also found myself falling in love with the research component of my work, which is far more in-depth compared to the beginning of my fiction career. What hasn’t changed for me is the angst and self-doubt of the creative process. I wouldn’t wish a writer’s life on anyone, but I love it.

What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?

I really enjoyed Circe by Madeline Miller. She brings a frequently overlooked goddess to life in this story of a woman battling for the right to control her own story. High on the reading radar for 2019 is the non-fiction work, Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis. I’m also rather fond of Tom & Meg Keneally’s Monsarrat series of historical crime novels. There is a new installment out soon.


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