Guest Blog Wednesdays with Helene Young

It’s Aussie August month! This week on Guest Blog Wednesdays at The Australian Bookshelf we are joined by Australian author, Helene Young. Helene has put together a great post about the setting of a story.

A Sense of Place

I grew up with my head in a book, often underneath the bedclothes with a torch when I should have been sleeping. (Is it any wonder I’ve now succumbed to reading glasses…) One of my favourites was ‘Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie’. The ‘banksia men’ were very vivid for me as we lived in an area where the hardy native trees grew and I could see those wicked little characters everywhere. Later I discovered the Magic Pudding, then Seven Little Australians, Timeless Land, and eventually Dirt Music by Tim Winton.

Those stories inspired me to look at the landscape and the people around me through different eyes, through glasses with a different tint.  I still love books set in Australia. The richness of landscape and language, uniquely ours, draws me deeper into a story. Sometimes after reading a story I add a place to my ‘must visit’ list. At other times I smile with nostalgia. Occasionally the pages blur with tears at a memory that’s intrinsically tied to a location.

So what is it that makes a story Australian or British or American? Rural stories have had a rapid rise up the best-seller list in Australia. Rachael Treasure started that movement. Authors like Fleur McDonald, Fiona Palmer, Karly Lane, Mandy Magro, and now Cathryn Hein and Barbara Hannay, are taking it to a different level.  We’ve been discussing that phenomenon over the weekend at the Romance Writers of Australia conference and couldn’t reach consensus. Is it the setting, the language, the climate, the culture? Or is it the stories themselves that resonate so strongly with readers?

I think the pattern of the character’s speech and their humour makes a difference. Our heroines are capable kick-ass girls with determination who speak their mind. The ideal of mateship, which springs so readily from the ANZAC tradition of the First World War, is strong in our heroes. Our physical isolation as a country hasn’t stopped our population from becoming ethnically diverse so we have a blended culture, albeit with British roots, that lends itself to unique characters.

At the heart of it, though, is this sprawling country with its fringing population and vast red centre. I know when I write I try to transport my readers to somewhere they’ve never been. I see our country from the left hand seat of an aircraft, flying at twenty-five thousand feet.  The colours and the textures change seen from that altitude and for me that landscape will always be the essence of why a story is Australian. I hope that for the few hours someone’s reading one of my stories they lose themselves in a setting that may be very different to their ordinary world.

What do you think makes a book uniquely Australian, American, English or another nationality? Do you have a favourite author who brings their settings alive? Do you have a preference when you read for a particular location? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for your great post Helene, I really love the emerging Aussie rural genre with authors such as Fleur McDonald and Rachael Treasure.

 Check out Helene’s books:

Wings of Fear (Formerly Border Watch) Wings of Fear: Contemporary Suspense Novel set in Northern Australia.

Above the crystal-blue waters of North Queensland, Captain Morgan Pentland patrols the vast Australian coastline. When Customs Agent Rafe Daniels joins her crew, she is immediately suspicious. Why is he boarding her plane when she isn’t there? And why is he asking so many questions?

What Morgan doesn’t know is that Rafe has her under surveillance. Critical information about their Border Watch operations is being leaked and she is the main suspect, but when Morgan and Rafe are shot down in a tragic midair attack, they realise they have to start working together – and quickly. One of Australia’s most loved icons is the next target and they have only nine days to stop it.

Will they uncover details of the plot in time, or will the tension that is growing between them jeopardise everything?

Shattered Sky

Shattered Sky: Surviving a missile strike on her aircraft suddenly seems like the easy part for Lauren Bennett. A year after being attacked mid flight, Lauren is sure she’s overcome her guilt at losing a friend in the ensuing crash. Her brittle, glossy veneer doesn’t fool Callam Granger but the naval patrol boat captain knows he’s got no right to an opinion. He wasn’t there when she needed him most and she’s not going to let him forget it. On a routine surveillance assignment Lauren uncovers an operation trafficking sex slaves. Pursuing the women – and their captors – will take her deep into the Australian outback and a reluctant Callam knows this time he can’t let her go alone. Is it possible for Lauren and Callam to put aside old enmities to outwit, outrun and ultimately out-fly the traffickers? Or will the frantic race to free the women simply ignite their emotions, endangering yet more lives?


  • Wonderful giveaway thank you. I am looking forward to reading WINGS OF FEAR.


  • Wow Helene! That blog gave me goose bumps and a lump in my throat! It is such a moving piece and you can see from it that you are so very passionately Australian. We are a breed of our own us Aussie’s. with a love for a country and a mateship towards others that is rare in other places in the world. I think we all like to feel united, bonded, strong as a country. We are proud of our land and the beauty of it and we are proud of the nation that we are! Thanks for such a lovely blog! xx

    • Thanks Mandy. Your stories as so evocative of the country you love. I think be able to introduce readers to somewhere special to us is one of the great joys of being a writer. Hope your next book is taking shape!

    • Our pleasure! It’s always good to spread the word about Aussie authors far and wide. With ebooks becoming so popular the barriers to connecting with readers in different countries are coming down 🙂

  • I think that national pride is something that all countries and citizens strive for with varying degrees of success.

    Most of us will be able to connect with books set in our home countries and in setting and eras that are familiar to us and I think that is a good thing.

    Lets face it the old cliche saying IS true.

    There IS no place like home.

    Thanks for the giveaway and for opening it to woldwide ntries.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

    • You’re spot on Carol. I spend a lot of time away from home and when I land back in Cairns I always feel a sense of warmth, of peace. I also love reading about books set in places that I’ve visited – especially if I have wonderful memories from a trip.

      Thanks for dropping by the blog!

  • Congrads on the Ruby helene !!! A true aussie through and through !! Its nice to have some wonderful Australian authors and close by 😉

    I cant wait to read your books, once my reiview pile is done Im doing some me time reading 😉 both yours and Mandys!!!

    The exceprts sound great !! and congrads once again !!


    • Thanks Katrina, I think I’m still floating after such a wonderful weekend.

      I know you’ll enjoy Mandy’s book and I hope you enjoy mine as well. Keep up the good work with the reviews 🙂

  • Wings Of Fear sounds amazing!:)I am looking forward to reading this!

    Thanks for the giveaway and for making it International!!

    justjanhvi at gmail dot com

  • Helene, I am such a big fan of yours. The Ruby belonged to you, in my mind, all along. You bring the gorgeous QLD alive in your books and now I’m so glad i’ve had the chance to visit your area. As always another wonderful blog. 🙂

  • Thanks, Fiona! Lovely catching up with you at conference and I wish I’d had your confidence about the RuBY! It was so unexpected!!

    I’m glad you had fun in North Queensland with your family. Can’t wait for 2013 and the Perth conference so I’ll have an excuse to visit WA again!

  • What makes a book uniquely Australian, American or English or Asian or African?

    The language. The setting. The dialogue.

    Diction. Definitely setting. Some settings are so unique that you’d instinctively recognise it. For example, if someone mentions heavy, heavy traffic and lights everywhere and if you whistle, a cab will come right up. What do you think of? New York City right?

    So setting helps.

  • Hi Helene,

    You know how much I want to win a copy of your book *grin* Yes, I’ve entered yet another one. I love the excerpting. You are such a good (and gracious) writer of “place.” Settings are my greatest weakness (characters are my forte) so it’s an honor to share the same whitespace with you for a second 🙂

    • Your characters are certainly memorable Sarah, but I think you’re short changing yourself about setting. In Coming Home I did get a strong sense of a city in decay.

      Fingers crossed for you with the giveaway 🙂

      And thanks as always for dropping by!

  • Hi Helene, it was great meeting you at the conference, and I’m thrilled for you about the Ruby award! I think what makes Australian stories and rural stories so unique, is that without all the distractions of city life, the characters journeys and their relationships are allowed to shine through more strongly, against the backdrop of the Aussie landscape… if that makes sense!

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