As you know my camera is normally pointed in the direction of wildlife and landscapes. (If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see many of my photos.) Australia has been and is a photographic goldmine for me.
I love learning about my new environment and enjoy sharing that knowledge. However, to this date I’ve not really said anything about some of the wonderful people who I’ve met along the way. Therefore in the coming months, I’d like to introduce you to a few so you can get to know them as I have. And what better way than a guest blog. So without further ado, I’m rapt to introduce you to Mardi Alexander.
I met Mardi shortly after I arrived in Australia. Since then we’ve become good mates. Her debut novel, Twice Lucky, will be released by Bold Strokes Books the beginning of March.
Tell us a little about yourself, Mardi.
I’m the middle child of four kids, eldest girl, growing up in a single parent, super conservative environment on the coast. It took me a long time to put two and two together!
I was lucky enough to go to Uni on a scholarship, later giving up a career to help support my family, working where I could. A thousand years later, I moved to a dilapidated old farm house in a tiny highland country town, fell in love with the lifestyle and now can’t see myself anywhere else. Living on a farm is not always easy, but it has taught me some of life’s greatest lessons and provided the perfect outlet for my love of animals.
Being isolated, I also realized that if the farm were to be impacted by fire, I had no idea what to do, which terrified me, so it was then that I joined the fire brigade. After many years of training and on the job experience, fire still terrifies me, but I now know what to do if my house catches on fire – RUN!
With the drought conditions, are you worried about bush fires?
At the moment, because we have had some rain, conditions aren’t too bad, but at the beginning of every season, or when conditions are extreme, my partner will tell you, I get a tad toey, as does everyone in the country, and everyone’s vigilance goes up a notch.
I met my partner on line and we became mates. When the penny finally dropped to both of us that we had something more than friendship growing, the city girl moved states to come and live in a crappy old farm house. Now, I think she secretly loves it as much as I do, except for the leaking roof, oh yeah, and no shower, and a cooking stove from the 1930’s, and the water pump that keeps crapping out, and…
Your isolation must make it hard to have a repairman a phone call away. I reckon you ‘ve had to learn how to fix things by yourself.
It can be tricky with tradies sometimes charging the earth in ‘travelling’ costs, even though we aren’t that far out of town, but I have certainly learnt to become relatively handy and adept at fixing things.
Do you have solar power? How do you get internet service?
No, we don’t have solar power, sadly, but perhaps down the track we might look at getting it. Internet is via a USB dongle and reception is pretty good now as we have a number of towers around the zone greatly improving reception.
You clearly live in the bush… describe where and what that’s like.
I live on a sheep farm in the New England, one thousand feet above sea level on the Great Dividing range in New South Wales. On a map, if you were to put one finger on Brisbane and the other on Sydney, then I am about half way in between. True to our New England reference, we have four very definite spectacular seasons in the year.
The air is so fresh and crisp it’s almost cutting. Clear nights reveal the full skyscrape of stars – the Milky Way stretching on forever as satellites track across the vastness and shooting stars race to a fiery end. But the best part are the storms, watching them roll in across the fields and light up the night sky up, making the landscape look like the Flanders Fields, exploding in flashes and noise.
If that sounds too dull and boring, I also live smack bang in the middle of Thunderbolt country, the local bushranger.
That sounds like heaven to me. Please explain Thunderbolt.
Frederick Wordsworth Ward (aka Captain Thunderbolt) (1835–25 May 1870) was an Australian bushranger renowned for escaping from Cockatoo Island, and also for his reputation as the “gentleman bushranger” and his lengthy survival, being the longest roaming bushranger in Australian history.
He spent a lot of his years in and around the New England area. He was reported to be a bit like a modern day Robin Hood, often taking from the well to do and helping out the less fortunate members in the community such as widows and families doing it tough.
Describe your farm.
It 350 acres of (at the minute!) green! Every day I marvel at the loud green colours shining out at me – less than a month ago our dams were drying up and we had fields of dirt.
There’s a wonderful little creek running through it and a spectacular granite rock covered hilltop with small cave-like fissures running through it – kids of all ages love to climb over and through the rocks, looking for bushranger’s hidden treasure.
Kids young and old I suspect. Have you panned for gold in your creek?Can’t say that we have, but we are in the middle of what used to be a big gold field area, so you never know. 😉
800 sheep? Any other livestock?
The farm is a primarily a working sheep farm. There has been the odd cow or two over the years, but for the most part I am surrounded by large groups of natural blondes. Despite the drought this year and downsizing, we still managed to pop out 550 lambs this last season.
How many hands does it take to sheer that many sheep? Do you use dogs to herd?
Two dogs and a ute round them up nicely. In full swing we have a three stand shed, so there are three shearers, a rouseabout, a table of wool classers and a baler, so all up about ten people will get through about fifteen hundred or so head in about 4 days if the weather is kind.
What’s a typical day like?
Ahh, that’s a tricky question. I’m not sure I have a “typical” day. The “ideal” day is very simple, get up, breakfast with my partner and the animals, some quick chores, before heading out the door and off to work and pretty much the same in reverse at home time, followed by dinner, family time and a dash of writing to round the day off.
“Ideal” days however can necessitate a large cup full of “flexibility” added to the mix depending on work, weather, my fire pager going off, or calls to rescue, collect or care for an injured animal.
So I guess in reflection, I’m not so sure that I have a “typical” day…but I can honestly say there is never a dull moment.
What a great life though!
Tell us a bit about your book… how much of it is from real life experience?
My partner and I love our animals and are strong supporters of our local RSPCA. I have trained and worked in hospitals and of course I am a volunteer firefighter and firefighting instructor. So while I have employed small bits and pieces of creative licence in ‘Twice Lucky’, I have been fortunate enough to have had a wealth of real-life material with which to drawn on for my first book.
I’m really looking forward to reading it when it comes out.
Well the good news is, you won’t have to wait long as March is just around the corner.
Tell us a bit about your main characters… what makes them interesting or unique?
Mackenzie ‘Mac’ James is a firefighter at the local station who has been reassigned, away from the front line, to present community education and safety inspection programs. Her nickname is ‘Mouse’ – she’s confident at her job, but a quiet, shy individual.
Sarah is a doctor and in charge of the local Emergency Department. She knows where her life is at and is completely immersed in her work. She’s never had a long term girlfriend, she’s not looking for a relationship and falling in love has never been on her agenda.
Both are well established in their ways of life. So it seems only fitting that fate steps in and turns that all on it’s head.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I think I can cheerfully say, all of it. But if I had to narrow it down, I would think that it’s that small point in time, when the research and the story concept circle each other, gathering in intensity, as the plot begins to solidify and grow in my mind, and when the moment is right, it spills over and with great excitement and energy, I begin to put the words to paper, and let the magic begin. That for me is a real buzz.
You sound more like a seasoned rather than a debut author.
LOL. I can assure you, ‘Twice Lucky’ is my first ever piece of writing, so while I am excited about it, I am a bit nervous too, but having a hoot learning all sorts of stuff along the way.
What made you decide to write and what are your ambitions for your writing career?
Impending surgery was my motivator – I knew I was looking at a period of time where I needed to sit quietly while I recovered. Not being terribly good at the sitting still part, I set about looking for some hobbies I could do to keep my head busy. Of course, there was the catching up on a much neglected pile of reading, I bought a mandolin and was going to teach myself to play and I decided to have a go at writing – to see if I could sit still long enough to finish something. Even though I had never written anything before, I sent the script off to Bold Strokes Books on a dare and promptly forgot all about it, assuming it would be rejected. I got the shock of my life when they accepted the manuscript and now here we are on debut eve. Needless to say, I didn’t get much reading done and I still haven’t learnt how to play the mandolin.
My ambitions? Ideally I would love to retire and enjoy the time doing things I love, i.e. writing, reading, animals, firey stuff…but in reality, my greatest ambition is simply to keep enjoying doing it.
How much research did you have to do for your book?
‘Twice Lucky’ is set in Australia, Queensland – a different state to where I live and am most familiar with, so a lot of my research centred around trying to make sure that I got the references right or realistic and relevant to the states practices in both firefighting and in the health service.
Small things, things like uniforms, town and street references, and radio codes needed to be checked and qualified. There was also a slight blurring of duty roles as I had Mac the firefighter undertaking both a volunteer and a paid firefighting role.
Anything in the works you can tell us about?
I am currently working on a second book, ‘Spirit of the Dance’, which will have a heavy rural Australian flavor to it. It involves a returned soldier, a local saddler and horse trainer and a small conservative country town where life is simple, predictable, and safe. By necessity, it is also full of secrets.
Hurry up and write that one too, will ya? Sounds fascinating.
All I can say is, watch this space in 2016.
Do you have any questions for me?
Probably lots, most revolving around the best fishing spots down your way, but I’ll save them up for when we get together sometime for that illusive beer.
Rock, river or beach fishing… we have them all down here. I’ll shout you the first beer.
Consider it a deal.
One last thing…Can I come visit? 🙂
Absolutely and bring the pups! If you’re lucky, I might even be able to introduce you to a very special koala who loves to cuddle, and I am guessing you would hate that…not!