Today I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for The Woolgrower’s Companion by Joy Rhoades – already available for kindle and in hardcover, and published in paperback today by Vintage Books. The more I read about this book, the more I want to read it – it’ll certainly be one of the books I’ll be hoping to get to over my forthcoming summer break. My thanks to Sian Devine for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Doesn’t this look wonderful?
‘A heart-breaking tale beautifully told. This compelling story of war and love, of family and prejudice is magical and its characters and place are so deeply evocative’ Kathryn Stockett, bestselling author of The Help
Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family’s sprawling sheep station but, with her father’s health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.
Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.
Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.
It’s a real pleasure to welcome author Joy Rhoades as my guest today: Sian asked her, on my behalf, to talk us through the process from conception to completion…
Writers don’t really fall into writing, in my experience. It’s an urge within you, like an itch you can’t scratch. Unless you’re writing. And writers usually start out as readers too. That’s certainly how it was with me. So, I was always interested in books, and I worked my way through the local library in Roma, the small town in western Queensland where I grew up.
And I was always writing bits and pieces. Writing has always been a pleasure for me, especially creative writing. So when I was starting to write, I found I tended to write stories about the Australian bush, even though I was, by then, living outside Australia. The stories were inspired by my grandmother, a wonderful kindly woman, who lived almost all her life on her family’s sheep station in northern New South Wales. Her stories of raising sheep, of drought, of the circumstances of Aboriginal people, showed me a life and times that was both wonderful and terrible. I wanted to capture that on the page.
I was especially captivated by her stories of WWII, and the war on the home front. Wool was considered an essential industry so Italian prisoners of war were stationed, unguarded, on sheep farms to provide labour. These POWs were treated with great suspicion by many Australians, especially as news was beginning to filter back of the harsh treatment of Allied prisoners at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.
The response of the Italians makes for fascinating reading. Here they were, in a wild and rugged country, half way round the world from Italy. Despite their relief at being out of POW camps, the going was harsh and depended almost entirely upon the willingness of the grazing family to meet the Army’s conditions for housing and ‘employing’ these men.
The war proved a great leveller for women too, of course. Suddenly, so many jobs and roles that had been denied them because of their sex, were open as there were no men to do them. That opportunity was grasped by many, reluctantly or enthusiastically.
I wanted to explore what it might be like for a woman essentially to be a lady, to have to cope with running a sheep place. And that’s what I wrote. Kate, my protagonist is young, 23, and her husband is away, fighting in the war. An only child, she’s been coddled by her parents and is inexperienced. She married, after a short wartime romance, to a man she knew little, largely to please her parents, and her mother has since passed away.
So Kate is very much alone and she has to fight the ageism and sexism of that time and place—as well as confront the draconian policies around Aboriginal Australians—if she is to save her farm and those closest to her.
The Woolgrower’s Companion then is also, I hope, a testament to bush women in Australia, both black and white, to their spirit and resilience. It is also a love letter to the Australian bush.
Once I’d finished the book, I was lucky enough to find an agent quite quickly. And then Stephanie managed the competing publishers interested in buying the book. It was a wonderful experience and remains so. I feel very lucky.
And, wonderfully, The Woolgrower’s Companion sold well in Australia, where it was released first, in 2017. Penguin Australia has just commissioned the sequel, so I’m working on that now! It’s fabulous to be back on Amiens with Kate, and taking her life forward.
Wishing you every success with this one, Joy – it’s certainly captured my imagination. Here are the details of all the blog tour stops – I bet there will be some great reviews…
About the author
About me? I grew up in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia. I spent my time with my head in a book, or outdoors – climbing trees, playing in dry creek beds, or fishing for yabbies in the railway dam under the big sky. Some of my favourite memories were visiting my grandmother’s sheep farm in rural New South Wales where my father had grown up. She was a fifth generation grazier, a lover of history, and a great and gentle teller of stories. My childhood gave me two passions: a love of the Australian landscape and a fascination with words and stories.
I left the bush at 13 when I went to boarding school in Brisbane. I stayed on there to study law and literature at the University of Queensland. After, my work as a lawyer took me first to Sydney and then all over the world, to London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. But I always carried in my head a strong sense of my childhood: the people, the history, the light and the landscape. Those images have never left me and they would eventually become The Woolgrower’s Companion. It’s a story I’ve felt I had to tell.
I currently live in London with my husband and our two young children. But I miss the Australian sky.