What inspired the idea behind this book?
My stories always come from multiple directions at once and then the strongest parts intertwine to create the narrative. I had heard my uncle Anthony mention several times that he’d like to take a trip on the Ghan and it must have wormed its way into my subconscious as a great bucket list item to explore. It became both a physical and metaphorical journey my characters could take together. When I started looking at jam as the foodie element in my book, I discovered competitive jam making and I was taken with the idea to have a whole family of women who competed for the jam queen role. The IVF angle came very directly to me in the early stages of listening for Aggie’s voice. One morning, I found myself listening to a radio interview, the subject of which was the difficult choices women and their partners need to make towards the end of IVF cycles. There was so much complexity in it that I wanted to work through the options via Aggie’s voice.
What was the research process like for the book?
I love research. It is my favourite part of writing a book and it can happen in bits and pieces over years, as it did with The Jam Queens. Location research is always a powerful way to ground myself in a story. I need to build my story worlds from the outside in. That is, I have to know my locations well and have explored my food themes thoroughly enough to have ‘set the stage’ long before I bring my characters into play. For this book, I took my husband and then five-year-old son on a research trip down to the Barossa Valley and we spent a week scouting out locations and speaking with locals. Then two years later, I journeyed on the Ghan with my sister, taking the train from Darwin down to Adelaide. Those two trips gave me so much rich material from which to build the story’s world.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Every book is so different, with each one having its own joys and challenges. Fortunately for me, this one was blessed with relative ease. The biggest challenge for me is always that I don’t truly know what I’m writing till I’ve finished writing a first draft. It’s only then that I can look at it and work out what its highest purpose is, as there’s always tension between what I think I’m writing and what the story wants to say. In the case of The Jam Queens, the character of Holly was actually based overseas in the first draft and I had a whole other family on the train with Aggie and her family. Between the first and second drafts, I had to delete those four characters from the other family and bring Holly back to Australia and into the family, which is where she belonged. In the grand scheme of how much rewriting I usually do, this was actually fairly straight forwards, just time consuming. I got lucky with this book.
Do you write about people you know? Or yourself?
I never write directly about people I know or myself. Naturally, there will always be small moments, a sentence that someone says, or a particular characteristic, such as the way they take their coffee, that might find its way into my writing. I muck around with characters for quite a while in the beginning but they always find their own voice and well and truly become their own people. The greatest joy is when they become so ‘alive’ that they speak for themselves and I no longer have to try to put words into their mouth. That’s the ‘writers high’ and that’s why I write.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
You have to love writing for the sake of writing, whether or not it ever gets published. Write for love. If you can do that, you’ll always find it’s worthwhile.