Readers can’t seem to get enough books from the burgeoning rural-romance genre. It has led to the birth of a generation of new writers who often juggle penning their latest saga with life on the farm.

Story By Patricia Maunder

Outback romance, rural romance, farm lit, chook lit, call it what you will, this is a book genre going gangbusters. And it isn’t only in rural and regional Australia that readers can’t get enough of it, but in the capital cities as well. Many titles are published internationally to an audience attracted by an irresistible combination of love story – usually with a sassy, central female character – and the red dust and blue skies of the outback.
Arguably, the genre began with Tony Parsons’ 1999 novel The Call of the High Country, but things undoubtedly took off in 2002 with Jillaroo by Rachael Treasure, the author who has defined the genre. While most Australian authors do well to shift a few thousand units, 100,000 copies of Jillaroo have been sold, and Rachael’s three subsequent novels have each rung up about 50,000 sales. Publishers spotted a lucrative trend, and several new rural romance authors, including Fiona Palmer, Fleur McDonald and Bronwyn Parry, have been picked up over the past few years.
“We’re responding to women’s interest, both city and country,” says Louise Thurtell, publisher of Arena, an Allen & Unwin imprint. “For country women it’s about stories that reflect their world, which are a bit novel for women in the city.”
Fleur McDonald, one of Arena’s rural-romance signings, says that her readers seem to be drawn equally from city and country, and “just love reading about strong female characters”. Those, like her, who live in the bush, also “love reading about our own life … though when we go out and do it every day and our hands are dirty and there’s dust everywhere, I’m buggered if I know why we want to read about it as well!”
The author of bestsellers Red Dust and Blue Skies, Fleur grew up in Orroroo, SA, and joined her fuel-distributor dad on the road north to towns such as Alice Springs and Coober Pedy. After finishing school she was working as a jillaroo and studied agribusiness, before marrying and buying a farm about 100 kilometres east of Esperance, WA.
The day before being interviewed by OUTBACK, Fleur says she had had “a classic” day. “We left home at half past five, and ... had 2000 ewes and lambs to draft off so the ewes could get crutched, and we had rams in the yards to shear, and then I was home by lunchtime helping my daughter with her homework, and trying to pay some bills, and also trying to plan my fourth book,” she says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #80

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2012