Sunday, 8 May 2022

Retreat into Paradise - Fact or Fiction?

Yea is a delightful country town set in beautiful countryside around 110km north east of Melbourne. In the late 1980s my then-husband was keen to ‘go farming’ in the district and we bought a 147 acre paddock. It contained an old boundary fence, a small dam, and a few well-established trees.

We agreed on a ‘deal’ at the start of our adventure. ‘Okay’, said this inner-urban author, ‘I’ll help you realise your farm dream, but I’ll stick to the garden. The animals are all yours.’ Famous last words. Pretty soon I was roped into chasing cows and driving the ute across steep grassy slopes.

We progressively built a shed in which we parked a caravan as temporary weekend accommodation, then a second shed for hay storage, and eventually we built a large house.

Farm at Yea

As city slickers (we both had senior full-time roles in the finance sector) we had to learn the ropes as farmers, and our patient teacher-turned-friend throughout the next 15 years was our next-door neighbour, Pat Drysdale. We were in our forties and she was considerably older. Pat and I enjoyed many laughs, often at the macho ways of men around cattle, and some years into our friendship I promised her that one day I’d write a book about her.

The real Pat Drysdale

But first I needed to expand my writing skillset beyond the non-fiction style required by the business world. As a compulsive reader I'd always been keen on the escapism of mysteries and historical romances, but as a writer I’d been imprisoned for years by the concept of the literal truth. To free myself up, I joined several romance writing groups known to provide excellent training in their craft and obtained valuable feedback by entering several competitions. In the end, for this first attempt at a novel, I compromised between fact and fiction.  

Unfortunately, by the time I had much of an inkling about 'how to write a novel', Pat Drysdale had left this world. Sadly, I’d left my run too late for us to giggle together about her proposed starring role - but it was not too late to write an actual story.

‘Retreat into Paradise’ is dedicated to Pat. But how could I create a character where she was the teacher but the story carried narrative tension? How could I shape the rather mundane if amusing events in our daily lives to create a story of possible interest to others?

I came up with the concept of a love triangle, where the characters were in their twenties and thirties. Their interactions drove the story. Settings for romances usually need to be over-the-top, so I used exaggeration and embellishment to describe the cast of characters and the physical attributes of our farm.

After the pressure of exercising my powers of imagination, it was comparatively easy to build a genuine adventure into the story - the discovery of a new world. For a start, all of the scenes with the cattle really happened. How could you not fall in love with these beautiful animals? 

Angus Cattle

What's more, we did have a tiger snake intruder under the fridge in our shed. We did run over a wombat at night on the Maroondah Highway near Yarck and wait for hours for a tow truck. I did side-swipe a kangaroo on the Melba Highway. Our tree plantings did attract koalas to our property. We did have a resident bird of prey. We did climb Mt Buller and frequent the Merrijig pub. We did walk across the cracked-dry landscape of Lake Eildon when we should have been drowning under 20 metres of water. An amazing thunderstorm did break our prolonged drought. The Black Saturday bushfire did occur (not while I lived at Yea), as did a fatal head-on collision on the bridge at Murrindindi. Later I witnessed the Westpac rescue chopper in action when it landed at a road accident scene near another home of mine. The challenge was to make these experiences relevant and meaningful within a coherent, flowing story.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter, from https://rescuehelicopter.com.au/

The idea for Philip’s internal conflict originated in the convict heritage of many Australians. My earliest forebears arrived as convicts on the First Fleet in 1788 and in the 1790s, and I was proud of their subsequent achievements. My ex-husband’s convict forebears arrived from Ireland in 1815, convicted of making base money (counterfeiting) and, although they too made good in their new homeland, he was very sensitive about this ‘stain’ on the family name. It was not something to brag about at corporate dinner parties!

Needing to dream up the names for my characters (other than Pat’s name), I went for names consistent with those in a real family. My own. Easy to do when you are a family historian, able to draw on an abundance of interesting names in earlier generations, such as my great grandfather who happened to be a bank manager named Philip Boulton.

Philip Boulton, 1852-1895

Because I was trying to disguise the farm's specific location, to make my story more generic as a rural romance yet make it sound more Australian, I named the farm after Wallumatta Road where my parents once lived at Newport in Sydney.

All that effort finally came together as my first novel, and here’s some of the reader feedback:

  • An excellent story, with twists and turns that keep you guessing. I started it Christmas night and finished it Boxing Day, so easy was it to read, loved it.
  • Romantic fiction is not normally what I read but I was already familiar with Louisa Valentine’s writing as Louise Wilson, author of some very acclaimed family histories, so I gave it a go and it was well worth it. It is a jolly good story.
  • An enjoyable read with great descriptions of country life in rural Victoria.
  • I enjoyed the characters in the book and all of the twists in the story.
  • It was a great holiday read.
  • I enjoyed this romance for many reasons including its wit and humour. It has the requisite amount of sexual tension as well as some very interesting aspects of life on a cattle property.
  • I thought for a while - when it got to the slightly racy bits - that it was shaping up to be Fifty Shades of Yea !
  • I found it very hard to put down. It is beautifully written and the story very believable.
  • I am half way through your book and loving it! As a 50-year-old Yea local, I particularly enjoy the local references- Hamilton Island, Horace the fencer, the Rotary Club Art Show, a young Pat Drysdale, the local hospital with the helipad opposite and the Yea PS Skipping Team! I have recommended it to everyone!
  • Termed fiction but containing so much fact! I had an idea you may kill off the hero with a twist somewhere, but he survived to ride into the sunset! Loved it all and am now about to find your next one.
  • An American reader, unaware of the concept of 'outback Australia', gave the book five stars for 'clean relationship-building, working out differences, overview of cattle operations in the outback'.

Grab your paperback or digital copy of 'Retreat into Paradise' at your favourite online retailer using this link.

Then, why not try my second novel, 'Trading Secrets'? Set in Sydney's financial markets and an infertility clinic, it can be ordered here.

Or my latest novel 'Still Waters Run Deep', all about two young couples struggling with lives not going according to plan, available here.

I continue to grapple with the question - am I writing ‘romances’ or ‘women’s fiction’? With three novels completed, I’m still not sure. They are not 'girly love stories', to quote a male cousin. It’s the quality of the developing relationships between kind and loving people that interests me, and is what I focus on as a writer. But, as the heroes and heroines in my novels have a happy ending, technically my stories fit the 'romance' genre. 

If you're a Babyboomer like me (born in the years 1946-1964) or a Gen Xer (1965-1980), my daughter’s age group, you are bound to connect with the worlds portrayed in my books, but I'd be very happy to hear from younger readers who also enjoy my stories. Connect with me by following my Louisa Valentine Facebook page. Or check out my website, which I share with my alter ego Louise Wilson.






 

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Dipping into 'Still Waters Run Deep'

In ‘Still Waters Run Deep’, two young couples struggle with lives that haven’t gone according to plan.

Sarah and her husband Andrew long for children, but hide their infertility problems.


Jack and his wife Jenny have two small children, Tom and Lottie — whose arrival forced a marriage before Jack and Jenny were ready for it.

Both couples are living in a Third World country, keenly involved in projects to advance its economy and national development. Sarah works for Jack and, in their small expatriate community, they also cross paths in their social lives. 

In the following scene, Jack and Jenny are driving home, with Tom and Lottie asleep in the back seat of their car. Jenny has just met Sarah for the first time:

Jenny bit her lip. ‘It worries me, that you work all day with Sarah.’

‘Well, it’s not quite like that. She’s one of my staff, working out in the main office among quite a large group of men.’

‘But you’ve never had a dynamic, attractive young woman working for you before.’

‘True, she’s the first female I’ve supervised. Hey, are you jealous of her or something?’ He reached sideways and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

‘Just feeling frumpy. I put on all that weight, having the kids.’

‘Most women do, don’t they? Except those who live on dry crackers and sparkling mineral water.’ She had gained some kgs, but how to be tactful yet truthful was currently eluding him.

For once, she saved him the effort of a suitable white lie. ‘Thanks, Jack. For putting up with me. I know I’m not what you wanted.’

Her gloomy voice frayed his heart strings because he’d grown to love her—but she’d put into words exactly what he knew to be true.

Especially since Sarah had flashed into his world.

Hey there, cheer up. Have you ever felt that I don’t love you?’

‘No, you’ve been kind and loyal, loving, but not exactly ‘in love’ with me.’

‘Love grows, you know. And has many shapes and sizes. Passion and drama and purple prose is not compulsory. Have you been reading too many of your Mills and Boon novels?’

She gave him a sheepish grin. ‘Maybe. I should give them a rest.’

He took his eye off the road long enough to lean across and plant a quick peck on her cheek. ‘I don’t regret our uni days, or the decisions we made.’ He spoke staunchly, doing his best to console her. ‘Would your life mean as much without Tom?’

‘Of course not. But you hadn’t sown your wild oats. Nor had I, come to think of it, but I never wanted to, after I met you.’

‘We’ve come through. So far, we’ve survived okay. You may have been my first—and only—proper girlfriend, but I’m not one of those men who feels compelled to play the field.’ He had to reassure her—because he was trying to reassure himself.

This story is full of moral choices. Did Jack succeed? Could Sarah give up the man she loves?

Find out by pre-ordering your copy of 'Still Waters Run Deep' using this link at Amazon, Apple, Kobo or your favourite digital store. The book is coming soon - on 1 May.

To stay in touch, follow Louisa Valentine on Facebook.

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Trading Secrets - Nicola Meets Tom

Since my teenage years I've devoured novels embracing history, mystery and romance - and you'll find all three elements in 'Trading Secrets'. 

The heroine meets the hero in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a foreign exchange trading room in Sydney:

Nicola Pearson fanned herself with the hand clutching her notepapers, deftly used her right hand to punch the number code into the security keypad and took a deep, steadying breath to control her pulse. You can do this. She sucked in another deep breath. You can do it.

She possessed supreme confidence in her work skills. Being capable banished an amazing number of inner insecurities. But recovery from her marriage to David meant that regaining belief in herself as a woman remained a work-in-progress, continually challenged by the man’s world she inhabited at work.

The door clicked open. She’d known what to expect but the testosterone ‘hit’ was palpable. Legions of screen jockeys, the big swinging dicks of the finance world, manned the wall-to-wall desks crammed with computer screens. Summoning every ounce of the confidence she needed to face this challenge, Nicola stepped into the enormous noisy space as the door slammed shut behind her.

As trading positions with Asia gained or lost thousands of dollars, disembodied yowls of rage, whoops of joy or frustrated expletives inflated the general buzz of the crowded room. Traders in Singapore and Hong Kong, three hours behind Sydney at this time of year, were preparing for their lunch break by squaring off their books in Sydney’s financial markets.

Everyone else was waiting for London markets to open, eleven hours behind Sydney.

During this mid-afternoon lull in the daily frenzy of a trading floor, its occupants needed a diversion, and she was it. Nicola, a woman on a mission, determinedly ignored the ogling dealers as she marched past them.

She sized up the nature of her likely opposition by scanning the overall environment. Unlike her last job at the Grosvenor Bank, the signs here were positive. This trading room, at least, seemed under control. Desks were relatively tidy. Floors were free of paper rubbish and clutter. There were no black lace knickers or G-strings stretched across any computer screens here. Someone in authority undoubtedly discouraged this particular gang of young bucks from displaying their trophy symbols. She breathed a silent Phew. In the sexist world she inhabited, it was a small but promising sign that their boss might, just might, show her a bit of respect.

‘Well … hull-oh there!’ Mr. Hot Shot himself could hardly wait to attract her attention. He swivelled towards her, lunged forward on his chair and leered at her.

She took an instant dislike to the lascivious tone of his voice. Like wolf whistles in the street, cocky one-liners of this nature were best ignored. She glanced at him and kept on walking.

His eyes narrowed with annoyance before he tried again to engage. ‘Looking for Tom Forrester, babe?’

‘Babe’ had the ring of a deliberate sexist taunt. Her skin crawled in disgust. In your dreams, buddy. I’m not your babe, and never likely to be.

‘That’s right.’ To avoid giving him any hint of encouragement she didn’t break step. She had no intention of being sucked in as one of the boys, a tit-for-tat player in the suggestive banter infecting trading rooms like these, full of guys. Let them think she was uppity. She had to establish some above-the-fray respect if she had any hope of succeeding in her new role. And it was crucially important to her that she did succeed.

‘Over there.’ He jerked his thumb towards the corner office.

His screen tag put a name to his face. John Wrigley. She made a mental note to be careful of him in the future. He exemplified why these men were not her kind of people, although her job meant she had to work with them. Not that she was sure that any men were her kind of people. She murmured ‘Thanks’ as she passed. Good manners were timeless and never went astray.

John’s directions weren’t needed. She already knew Tom’s office would be in the prime corner position. No-one wasted panoramic views over the finest harbour in the world on underlings.

The dealers closest to her quarry’s office had been alerted by Mr Hot Shot Wrigley. A female target was approaching. They nudged each other and snickered. New women in the trading room were a welcome distraction from perpetual enslavement to the flickering screens. Who was this chick, and what was she doing there? Who could be first to score?

Head held high as she ran this gauntlet, she reached the corner office dead on time for her appointment. He should be expecting her but she tapped on the open door out of common courtesy and eyed the lion’s den.

Sparks fly from the start. But Nicola is reserved with Tom, holding back on a secret in her private life. And Tom is smart enough to begin to figure it out. Eventually he finds the key to unlocking a mystery puzzling them both.

Want to read more? Get your copy of 'Trading Secrets' here.

For regular updates, follow Louisa Valentine on Facebook.



Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Looking for Love in All the Right Places

'Write what you know.' Authors often receive this advice. 

That's why my books 'Retreat into Paradise', 'Trading Secrets' and 'Still Waters Run Deep', all works of fiction, are based on worlds I have inhabited. A farm outside Melbourne. A foreign exchange trading room in Sydney. A third world country. The writer's task of conveying the right ambience seems easier when you've lived in the environment central to your story.

And, like the interesting women I've met in life, my heroines pursue serious careers, are aged around thirty, and fall in love with intelligent men:
  • In ‘Retreat into Paradise’, historian Hannah is ‘not yet quite thirty’. The hero, senior bank executive Philip, is ‘late thirty-ish’.
  • In ‘Trading Secrets’, risk manager Nicola is ‘late twenties’. The hero, foreign exchange manager Tom, is ‘mid-thirties’.
  • In my forthcoming novel 'Still Waters Run Deep', economist Sarah meets and bonds with her boss Jack when both are in their mid-twenties and they meet again in their mid-thirties. 
Louisa Valentine's Novels
These are romantic stories about marriage, children, divorce, parenting and women in the workforce - in unexpected roles and places. They are believable people living believable lives - yet readers say they can't put these stories down.

I ask myself - where else could I choose as the setting for my next novel? Where would be the right place? 

The City of London and Hong Kong Island are old stomping grounds of mine. I've spent years as a resident of Melbourne, famous for its changeable weather, its coffee culture and for being one of the world's most liveable cities. My long days at the wheel on the Hume Highway, driving between Melbourne and Sydney, might inspire a road trip story.  I frequently spend time with my sisters who live in three widely-scattered country towns in Australia - the basis for another rural romance? The Northern Beaches area of Sydney, where I grew up, is famous for its surfing culture and dare-devil kids.
Board Surfers and Pool Surfers at Dee Why Beach, Sydney
A few ideas are percolating for using one of these locations to generate, I hope, a fourth engaging page-turner.

Meanwhile, why not try my latest book 'Still Waters Run Deep', to be released on 1 May 2022? Pre-order it here.

Stay in touch by following me on Facebook.
 

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

The Love Triangle - Philip, Hannah and Pat

An amusing love triangle drives the story in the Australian rural romance 'Retreat into Paradise'.

In Chapter 1, as Philip explains the duties he expects of Hannah in her new role as the caretaker of Wallumatta Farm, she hears about Pat:

‘You don’t need to know much. My neighbour knows what to do. Just call her.’

‘Her? Do you mean the same neighbour that feeds the cat?’ Hannah could barely suppress her surprise. A woman who knew all about running a farm? It astonished her that this hunk of masculinity relied on a woman for such a non-traditional role.

‘Yes. Pat. She grew up on the farm next door. In fact, my property used to be part of hers. Or rather, her father’s, before he died.’

‘Oh, I see.’

Hannah didn’t really see, but she guessed she might eventually cotton on to Pat’s role in the scheme of things. Judging by her name, popular in Hannah’s mother’s day and earlier, Pat was bound to be one of those grizzly old-timers populating the Australian countryside.

A week later, in Chapter 2, at the end of a long, hot and confronting day, Hannah meets Pat at the local pub:

‘What’s easy to deal with?’ A woman’s voice intruded.

Hannah looked up to see a walking advertisement for a top fashion house. A pair of frosty eyes glared down at her. They warmed when they turned to her dinner companion. ‘Didn’t expect to see you here tonight, Philip.’

‘G’day, Pat.’

Hannah nearly choked on her wine. This was Pat? Young. Gorgeous. And making eyes at her handsome neighbour.

Pat said, ‘I thought you were heading off overseas. I was just beginning to wonder what to do about the cat.’ She stood so close, she loomed over him.

He rubbed his neck, twisted at an angle to see her, and pushed back in his chair. ‘You know I wouldn’t have gone without contacting you. And in any case, my trip’s been deferred for a week or two.’ His face creased into a smile. ‘I’ve actually got some good news for you. No need for you to feed the cat now. Meet my new caretaker, Hannah Stockton.’ He turned towards Hannah. ‘Hannah, this is Pat Drysdale.’

Pat nodded curtly at Hannah. ‘Saw an old car pull into Philip’s place a while back. Is that yours?’

‘‘Fraid so.’

Philip interjected. ‘Pat, you never miss a trick, do you?’ He turned to Hannah. ‘See, told you that Pat’s a good neighbour. Old habits die hard. She’s always kept a good eye on my place for me.’

‘And I’ll continue to do so. After all, I live here.’ Her tone implied that she didn’t expect to see Hannah lasting the distance as a resident caretaker.

Hannah’s dominant intuition kicked in. Pat had clearly set her sights on Philip and wasn’t going to help her, an interloper and city girl, with the cattle. In her effort to escape Alex, now she had four new things to fear … snakes, swimming spiders, the cattle and Pat’s animosity. Philip should have known this Pat arrangement would never work.

To find out what happens next, grab your copy of 'Retreat into Paradise' here.

Follow Louisa Valentine on Facebook or visit the website she shares with her alter ego, Louise Wilson.

Monday, 28 March 2022

Trading Secrets

Reviews and feedback are 'gold' for authors, so I was thrilled to receive this email from one of my non-fiction readers.

To test out my fictional skills, she'd ordered a paperback version of my book 'Trading Secrets'. 

None of this juggling with ipad screens, phones, push buttons and the impact of 'blue light' on her ability to get to sleep - she likes to read a 'real' book when tucked up in bed at night:
"Well, I have finished reading 'Trading Secrets' which is a page turner.😊

I was very keen to get to the end to see how you were going to tie Nicola and Tom's stories together, especially as there was a hint, when Tom was taken with how much Thea's eyes were like his own.

I enjoyed the book very much and have to admit I learned a lot about banking culture and finance gurus! I had images of you breaking through the glass ceiling yourself working amongst macho men! I certainly hope you came across some goodies like Tom. 😍

For people who aren't familiar with early colonial history I am sure they will have learned something too. I can see why you had Nicola recounting this history as part of her character development though.

Having a wonderfully strong, successful female (albeit somewhat vulnerable) central to the story was so refreshingly current and yet some of the language was quite oldy-worldly, such as 'old boiler' and reading a 'rag'... but immediately recognisable to an older reader like me.

Thank you! Having discovered the joy and pleasure of reading romance, I will look forward to purchasing your next book."
Her thanks are returned twice over. Page turner is what every author wants to hear! I’m glad she enjoyed spending a few of her precious hours in this specialised area of banking – a world I once inhabited. The credibility of the story was boosted, I hope, by my personal experience - such as an evening spent at a gala dinner at Circular Quay in Sydney for an international conference of foreign exchange dealers. 

View of Sydney from McMahons Point
The English traders at the dinner were inclined to be scornful of Australia's convict origins - while the Europeans and Americans were curious - but once it was pointed out that every single structure they could see had been built in the last 200 years - the city high-rise buildings, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the harbourside mansions -  they looked suitably impressed. Recalling this occasion as I wrestled with plot development for my novel, I couldn’t resist incorporating a colonial history element into 'Trading Secrets'. Then I wove these iconic Sydney landmarks into the view from McMahons Point, where Tom lives and dreams of Nicola.

'Collaroy' approaches Circular Quay from Manly
Nor could I resist including a scene featuring Sydney's famous Manly ferries. I've been riding on those ferries since my childhood.

This fictional form of writing is such a welcome release from the burden of ‘proving’ everything I write in my non-fiction books.

The language employed in 'Trading Secrets' also suits my ‘target market’ for readers of fiction – I guess I am aiming for Babyboomers and Gen Xers. Despite enjoying lovely times with my four teenage grandchildren, I don’t feel confident that I could convey the language and attitudes of the up-and-coming generations well enough in any book I’m trying to write. Call me old-fashioned, even if I’ve had three husbands!

Speaking of which - yes, some 'goodies' like Tom did exist and probably still do exist in the macho world of international finance. 

And, on another matter - yes, I do have personal family experience of a mistake made by an infertility clinic, but not the one described in this book.

So remember, 'Trading Secrets' is not a true story. 

If you've read it, I'd love your feedback on Amazon or Kobo or wherever you bought your copy, or on the book lovers' website Goodreads.

My blog posts don't follow a regular schedule but I say 'hello' more frequently on my Louisa Valentine page on Facebook. Why not follow me there?

My next book, Still Waters Run Deep, is all about two young expat couples struggling with lives not going according to plan. It comes out soon and can be pre-ordered here.


Thursday, 17 March 2022

The love you can't forget

Ideas for stories come from everywhere. 

 Years ago, a group of young men and women living in the share house next door to me included a pilot - a hunk with his choice of girlfriends. 

(Lacking a photo of him, I've used the next best thing, my mother's hunky pilot cousin Peter Boulton.)

Peter Boulton, RAAF

But one 'ex' had left her mark on my neighbour. 

 An adoring flatmate of his complained to me he was never the same man afterwards, and would (figuratively) bite everyone's head off whenever that girl's name was mentioned. 

He couldn't let go of her memory and couldn't move on - just like Sarah in 'Still Waters Run Deep'.  Her story will be released on 1 May 2022.

Order your copy of the book here https://books2read.com/Still-Waters-Run-Deep.


Follow Louisa Valentine on Facebook or visit the website she shares with her alter ego, Louise Wilson.