I am thrilled to have Bronwyn Parry on The Australian Bookshelf to chat about her books and writing about our beloved outback settings. Bronwyn Parry is an Australian author who writes gritty romantic suspense set in rural Australia.
Hi Bronwyn, thank you so much for joining me on The Australian Bookshelf. I have read As Darkness Falls and your latest release, Dead Heat and loved them both. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to chat with you.
Hello Jayne! It’s a delight to invited to The Australian Bookshelf. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I do enjoy your reviews and guests. You’re a great champion of Australian books – so thank you for inviting me to visit!
I grew up on the edge of cities, but my awareness was always much more focused outwards, towards the bush, the mountains and the country, than on the city. My parents often took us out into the bush on day trips or holidays, so from a very early age I learned to love and appreciate the landscape around me.
I’ve travelled a great deal through regional and outback Australia over the years – I much prefer back roads to highways! I moved up to Armidale in the northern tablelands of NSW in 1988, and immediately felt at home – the landscape here is beautiful. We now live on 100 acres of regrowth forest, with plenty of wildlife, and large grazing properties all around us.
My novels are all set in regional areas because they’re interesting places, with practical, resilient people. The isolation heightens the danger for my characters – when there’s no-one else around (except the bad guys…!), and no mobile phone reception, they have to draw on their own strengths and ingenuity.
Q. Tell us a bit about your latest release, Dead Heat.
When Jo Lockwood, a National Park ranger, discovers the body of a man in an isolated camping ground one morning, her peaceful life is shattered. She’s seen a killer’s face, and now she’s at risk.
After years of undercover work, Detective Nick Matheson wants his new posting to north-west NSW to be a chance to return to normal life. Instead, he’s immediately landed with a case that rapidly evolves from one murder into more. His colleagues distrust him, his past is coming back to haunt him, and out there in the wilderness there are killers determined to silence Jo, a woman who is fast becoming important to him.
They’re both slow to trust, but they will have to rely on each other’s skills and knowledge to have any hope of surviving.
Q. Dead Heat is characterised by murder, drug lords and gangs… how do you get ideas for the crime plots in your stories?
I’m happy to say, not from personal experience! However, I do read the news and keep an eye on what’s going on out in the world. Also, it’s amazing what you can learn about things behind the news (or never reported!) by talking with people and hearing their stories. Add in a vivid imagination and some research, mix and bake for a while in the writer’s brain… and the story gradually evolves.
My research for previous books has led me to become friends with Gemma, a local police sergeant, who is a fantastic and helpful advisor about police procedure in rural areas, and for Dead Heat I have had great advice from Emily, a National Park ranger. A few of the speakers at Romance Writers of Australia conferences – a martial arts expert, a Victorian undercover police officer, and a forensic pathologist – all provided some fantastic insights in their sessions which helped me to shape aspects of my characters.
Q. What inspired you to write Dead Heat, specifically set in National Parklands?
I’ve spent a lot of time in National Parks over the years. Away from the cities, the parks are often quite isolated, with few visitors at a time. If you wander away from the easily accessible park sites – lookouts, camping grounds, picnic spots – you can find yourself in a huge wilderness, alone. The country can be rough, dangerous, and it’s a long way to mobile phone reception or any form of help. It’s not only in space that no-one can hear you scream!
The idea for Dead Heat started with the question, ‘What if a park ranger found a murder victim…?’ I instantly had a practical, dusty-booted heroine, capable and comfortable in the wilderness, and a crime. The idea for the perpetrators of the crime came from some articles I’d read about the increasing activity in Australia of a particularly violent kind of drug trafficker. So I needed a hero who could be actively involved in investigating – a detective – and one capable of comprehending the crime and the criminals. What better than a man who has worked undercover amongst such criminals for years? He’s new to the district, unfamiliar with the landscape, and distrusted by his colleagues. There was potentially a good mix of dramatic tension already there, even before his and Jo’s back stories evolved.
Q. Nick and Jo are quite controlled characters, analytical in nature and have deep-seated defence mechanisms… When writing, how do you get into the mindset of various characters from the strong female heroine to the troubled cop?
As soon as Jo appeared on the page, I knew that she was a scientist by both instinct and training. I’ve known a few people who have loved the outdoors as Jo does, including my father, so I’ve seen that kind of active, analytical intelligence at work – the deep appreciation for the complexities and interconnectedness of the natural ecosystems, the lively enquiring mind, constantly observing, processing, and reasoning. It’s not that Jo isn’t deeply emotional, but she uses reason (and her knowledge of bio-chemistry!) to understand and deal with her own emotional responses – in a big part as a defence mechanism, so that she doesn’t lose herself again.
For Nick, self-control, constant analysis and the ability to become someone else has been necessary for his survival and he’s been doing it for so long that it’s more than second-nature to him; his own nature has been buried.
Part of getting into characters’ mindsets is through reason and logic, but for me there’s a large element of instinct and imagination as well. I generally get a strong sense of the emotional feel of the characters; I don’t have conversations with them and regard them as real, but they do need to be multi-faceted and complex, and that gradually evolves as I write them.
Q. What is it about romantic suspense that attracts you to writing in this genre?
I love the mix of heart-stopping emotion and edge-of-the-seat action. The conflicts are multi-layered; in addition to the crime and the external threat to the characters, the emotional threat that each represents for the other is an important element of the story, and heightens the tension.
Contemporary romantic suspense gives the opportunity to explore some gritty issues and realities of life, but in a way that affirms the strength of the human spirit, and the value of emotional courage. The stark contrast between the absence of love – the crime – and the developing respect and love between the protagonists adds to the stakes, and the consequent engagement for the reader.
Q. Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I often knit while I write. It might seem an odd mix with crime, but honestly, it’s nothing like knitting beside the guillotine! I’m not a fast writer, and it takes me a little while to focus my creative brain on the words, so knitting on a plain pair of socks (in beautiful yarn) while I’m staring at the screen is a kind of meditative practice… and it keeps my fingers away from clicking on the mouse and all over the internet! Plain socks don’t take a lot of brain power, and I can easily put them down to start typing the moment words come into my head. So, it’s quite logical, really. Plus there’s the added bonus that when I’m writing through long winter nights, my feet are cosy in pure-wool, perfectly fitting socks!
Q. For writers hoping to break into romantic suspense (like me, hopefully!) what is your advice?
Weave the romance and the suspense closely together; each scene, each development in one aspect of the story should create complications for the other aspect. Play on your characters’ deepest fears and make them confront them, making them not only physically, but emotionally vulnerable.
Not all romantic suspense is as fast-paced as mine, but pacing is important. The story needs to keep moving forward, with slower elements, such as reflection, description and back story woven in sparingly, through the eyes of the point-of-view character, and plenty of action and twists to keep the reader’s interest engaged.
I’d also recommend reading a lot of romantic suspense, to get a feeling for how the pace and tension keep moving the reader through the book. While I do sometimes feel guilty when I hear that a reader has been up until 4.30am finishing one of my books (especially new mothers!) it does mean that I’ve done my job as a writer, hooking the reader and keeping them hooked.
Q. Rural romance has skyrocketed in popularity in the past couple of years, why do you think this is?
While Australian publishers are currently giving us a wonderful array of rural romance books, I think it’s important to realise that this isn’t a short-lived trend – romantic fiction set in rural Australia has been popular for well over a hundred years! Rosa Praed, Marie Bjelke Petersen, Lucy Walker and Joyce Dingwall are just a few Australian authors who have been international best-sellers over the years.
Now there’s a great range of authors such as Fleur Macdonald, Fiona Palmer, Cathryn Hein, Karly Lane and Margareta Osborn. They all write with a genuine love of the land, and their books feature strong female leads and resilient, hard-working women and men in communities that face tough times again and again but keep standing back on their feet to work on for the things important to them.
The wildness and beauty of the Australian landscape and the strength of character of rural Australians – it’s a great combination.
Q. And just for fun:
ebooks or paperbacks?
Ebooks more and more now. I ran out of bookshelf space ages ago, and my middle-aged eyes appreciate adjustable fonts. Also, reading on the laptop or the computer means that I don’t have to hold the book, so I can knit while I read – a bonus for a busy life, being able to do two things I enjoy at once!
Reading in silence or surrounded by chaos?
Planes, airports, cafés – I don’t need silence to read. If I’m absorbed in a good book, chaos can reign beyond me and I wouldn’t notice.
A book and…A cosy lounge and fireplace or outdoors beneath the sun?
As mentioned above, a comfy computer chair, a cup of tea and my knitting!
Publisher- Hachette, April 2012
Synopsis- National Parks Ranger Jo Lockwood is often alone in the wilderness, and she likes it that way – until she discovers the body of a man, brutally murdered.
Detective Nick Matheson’s new posting to the north-west of New South Wales is supposed to be an uneventful return to normal duties and a normal life. He knows organised crime from the inside out and suspects that the victim in the camping ground is not an isolated murder.
Jo is committed to helping the investigation but she has seen the killer’s face and now she’s at risk. Nick’s determined to protect her but as the body count starts mounting, his past and present collide, threatening the people he cares about most.
Trapped in rugged country in scorching summer heat, pursued by hunters who can’t afford to fail, Nick and Jo will need to trust each other completely, and use all their skills and knowledge in order to survive. http://bronwynparry.com
GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED
With thanks to Hachette Australia and the author, I have THREE paperback copies of Bronwyn Parry’s latest release, Dead Heat to give away.
This is an AU/NZ giveaway only
(sorry international followers but postage costs are too high).
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Entries close midnight 3rd June (Syd time).