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Fiona McCallum on Writing about Horses and the Country

July 11, 2015

fiona-mccallum_leap-of-faithFiona McCallum is passionate about animals, horses in particular, as well as reading and writing.  She spent her childhood years on the family cereal and wool farm outside a small town on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. At age nine she decided that she wanted to be the next Enid Blyton and though not yet as prolific as that writer, she is on her way. She is the author of PaychequeNowhere ElseWattle CreekSaving Grace, Time will Tell and Meant to Be.

Her seventh novel, Leap of Faith, is about Jessica Harrington, a promising horse rider with dreams of representing her country until the death of her father, also her coach and mentor, shatters that dream. When she fails at the Adelaide International Horse Trials her fears are confirmed and her world begins to fall apart. We spoke to Fiona McCallum about her new novel:

1. Leap of Faith is your seventh novel. How do you discipline yourself to be so prolific?

Thankfully being very disciplined comes naturally to me. Other traits that hold me in good stead are being highly organised, focussed, driven and tenacious. Loving what I do and having plenty of ideas floating around in my head helps, as does being badgered by characters fighting for their turn – though that can become a little overwhelming and exhausting at times!


2. You now live in Adelaide but most of your material is drawn from country life. How much has Australian rural living and your background influenced your writing?

Each of my seven published novels to date has been set in the country, so my rural upbringing has clearly had a huge influence. I was living and working on farms until just before my twenty-sixth birthday, so it’s a big part of who I am. The saying “You can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl” is certainly true for me. My fascination with the idiosyncrasies of small communities, which can be both very toxic and very supportive at the same time, has also been a strong influence on my writing.


3. What were some of the earliest influences in your life?

My maternal grandmother was a big influence on me. She was a very calm, strong woman who was kind and generous to the core. Having chosen a different life than what was expected of her, she subtly taught me that I could choose my own path. I’ve only very recently realised this influence she had on me. She also fostered in me, as did my dad, a love of reading, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. Being able to lose myself in a story and forget the harsh realities of life for a few hours has seen me through some quite difficult experiences.


4. We are celebrating Australian authors this month. Can you tell us about which Australian writers – contemporary and classic – you admire?

I read widely and voraciously and enjoy the work of many authors from around the world. Some of my Australian favourites are/have been Kerry Greenwood, Joan Lindsay, Monica McInerney, Shane Maloney and Elyne Mitchell.


5. We understand that Leap of Faith is based to some extent on your own experience with animals – horses in particular?

Yes. I tend to draw a lot on my many and varied life experiences in my stories. Leap of Faith in particular contains quite a bit of truth. I owned horses and competed in most disciplines for many years. Near the end of my riding career, I rescued a starving, skittish horse called Comanche who’d had a sad history of abuse. I spent many hours working with him to gain his trust and retrain him. He rewarded me by becoming an incredibly sweet, brave and giving horse with a heart of gold – even going so far as to win a Pony Club One Day Event competition.


6. The issue of animal rights is one that is close to your heart – can you tell us about that?

I grew up surrounded by a wide variety of creatures and inherited a love of animals from my father who was a gentle, compassionate man. Sadly he died when I was nineteen after battling a brain tumour for eight years. But he left me with wonderful memories of watching and helping him rescue and rehabilitate animals of all shapes and sizes. One of the things that struck me from an early age was how his love and care for animals was often at odds with the harsh realities of life on the land, of which death was a big part. I was bullied quite a bit growing up so I think that further strengthened my bond with animals. I’ve experienced and witnessed a lot of cruelty from humans, but never from animals.


7. Can you tell us about what you are working on next?

My next book out will be In Safe Hands (April 2016), which is a sequel to Wattle Creek. Again readers will see a small community band together for a cause, though this time it’s an entirely different one…


As told to The Better Reading Team

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Fiona McCallum


  1. Pamela Cook

    Lovely to read about the influences on your writing Fiona. Looking forward to reading Leap of Faith.

  2. Melissa

    Loved all your books…especially the utton jar series…i had so many ways I thought they were going to end! Loved leap of faith….can’t wait for your next book in April

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