About the author
Mary-Anne O’Connor has a combined arts education degree with specialities in environment, music and literature. She works in marketing and co-wrote/edited A Brush with Light and Secrets of the Brush with Kevin Best.
Mary-Anne lives in a house overlooking her beloved bushland in northern Sydney with her husband Anthony, their two sons Jimmy and Jack, and their very spoilt dog Saxon. This is her fourth major novel. Her previous novels, Gallipoli Street (2015), Worth Fighting For (2016) and War Flower (2017), have all been bestsellers.
In a Great Southern Land is an epic story of the cost of freedom and the value of love in a far-flung corner of the world where a new nation struggles to be born. Can you tell us a bit more about the story?
In A Great Southern Land is the story of Kieran Clancy, an oppressed Irish farmer who is given a fresh start in life when his family are granted land on the other side of the world in New South Wales. When he gets there, however, he is distracted by the wild bachelor existence he enjoys with his mate Dave in Sydney and prolongs travelling to Orange to settle down on the new family farm with his brother and sister. If not for this diversion he may never have met Eve Richards, a convict girl who becomes the love of his life.
Eve has been sentenced to live out her days in chains but then the kindest man in the world gives her a chance at a respectable, fulfilling future. Yet life on the goldfields is stirring her Kieran’s rebel Irish blood and she knows he must choose now between love and loyalty, rebellion and freedom. In the end she cannot make the choice for him – it will be made by Kieran’s heart.
What inspired the idea behind this book?
My Irish ancestors. They emigrated as a family form County Clare to Orange/Parkes in 1841. I’ve always wondered what would prompt an entire clan to uproot and move to the other side of the world. The journey itself was perilous and Australia was completely foreign in so many ways – a wild unruly place one historian described as ‘a gaol without bars’ at the time. Life in Ireland was extremely harsh, though, and poverty and disease were rife. Still, it took great courage to make the move and I loved walking in their shoes and imagining their adventures.
You grew up in the Bushland shire of Hornsby-Kuringai, in northern Sydney. How has your experience of growing up in Australia influenced the way you write about the landscape in your novels?
I look out across a eucalypt vista of hazy blue and green hills where eagles soar on windy days. I’ve always been entranced by the bush and spent much of my youth daydreaming down by the creek or exploring with brothers and friends. My father, Kevin Best, was a wonderful landscape artist and I learnt to see this great southern land through artistic eyes. Such an incredible privilege.
In a Great Southern Land is set in 1851. What type of research did you conduct to capture the essence of this historical period?
I read a great deal of newspaper articles, first-hand accounts, historical reports and I also watched re-enactments which was very helpful. You don’t want to get anything wrong when it comes to the Eureka Stockade – it’s very meaningful to so many Australians.
What was your favourite book of 2018, and which book are you most looking forward to reading next?
I finally got around to reading The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman which I thoroughly enjoyed. My TBR pile is massive as writing to deadlines has monopolised my time but I am looking forward to reading Darry Fraser’s The Widow of Ballarat and Jacyln Moriarty’s Gravity Is the Thing.
Keen to read more books about women in history?
WIN prizes valued at over $1000 with Herstory: Books that write Her back into History at harpercollins.com.au/herstory.