About the author
Fiona Lowe has been a midwife, a sexual health counsellor and a family support worker; an ideal career for an author who writes novels about family and relationships. She spent her early years in Papua New Guinea where, without television, reading was the entertainment and it set up a lifelong love of books. Although she often re-wrote the endings of books in her head, it was the birth of her first child that prompted her to write her first novel.
A recipient of the prestigious USA RITA award and the Australian Ruby award, Fiona’s books are set in small country towns and feature real people facing difficult choices and explore how family ties and relationships impact on their decisions. When she’s not writing stories, she’s a distracted wife, mother of two ‘ginger’ sons, a volunteer in her community, guardian of 80 rose bushes, slave to a cat and is often found collapsed on the couch with wine.
Your latest novel Home Fires is an evocative tale of everyday people fighting for themselves, their families and their town. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
Love to! Home Fires is set in a small town nestled in the Victorian Otway ranges and it opens eighteen months after a bushfire ravaged the town. Myrtle is trying to look forward and get itself back on the map. I’ve told the novel from five points of view—four women and one man—and the premise is that a group of people can be connected by their shared survival of a natural disaster, but each will have a unique experience that will impact on their recovery.
What inspired the idea behind this novel?
I’m a Victorian and bushfires are a way of life. I grew up listening to family stories of the Black Friday bushfires, where my mother was on Apollo Bay beach with ash falling on her. In 1983, I was a student nurse on community placement not too far from where the Ash Wednesday fires started. I treated CFA volunteers in a make-shift medical centre, irrigating eyes and treating minor burns. The following week I returned to the Alfred Hospital and was rostered on the burns unit where I nursed horrendously burned people caught in the fire. That never leaves you. My sister’s house survived the fire but I’ll always remember the inky black and steaming block and the dead chooks.
On Black Saturday, my eldest son was at boarding school in the Victorian high country and surrounded by bush. Fires had burned there in 2006 and we’d been told it was one of the safest places he could be as not much left to burn. I had the jitters all day but the relief I experienced when we heard he was safe was juxtaposed against the devastating news that Kinglake, a town we’d driven through four days previously to take him to school, had burned down. I watched the agonizingly slow rebuild of houses in Kinglake, many of which were still not constructed four years later when my second son attended the same school.
This novel deals heavily with bushfires, an issue that is truly an Australian struggle and close to our hearts. What research was involved in writing Home Fires to ensure you truly captured the devastation and destruction, both at a community and individual level, that bushfires cause?
As I just mentioned, there was some personal experience involved, but I did do a lot of research for HOME FIRES. I interviewed a CFA captain who’d been on the ground when the Murrindindi Mill fire started on Black Saturday and I heard his and others’ stories. I read swathes of the Royal Commission, I watched many video interviews put together by the Australian Broadcasting Commission about the fires and I read a variety of reports on the impact on both physical and mental health after natural disasters. I tried really hard to understand the new building codes in fire prone areas—nightmare!—and was thankful I didn’t have to deal with them. On a lighter note, I also interviewed a stay-at-home dad, an apiarist and a hydroponic tomato grower. I attended a few CWA meetings and gate crashed a Men’s Shed and traded numerous emails with the Victoria Police.
You’ve been described as a writer who has a ‘sharp eye for human foibles’ – why do you choose to write about human relationships and the human condition?
I’m fascinated by people and I’m especially interested in what a person believes about themselves, which can be correct or incorrect, and how that impacts on the way they think, what they say and how it drive their reaction in every situation.
What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2019?
TOO MUCH LIP by Melissa Lucashenko. The author takes the reader deep inside the Salter family, warts and all, and she doesn’t shy away from posing many difficult and uncomfortable questions we all need to be asked.
I’m always behind in my reading and next on my TBR pile is a 2018 novel, THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kate Morton who is a must-read author for me.