Darry Fraser is the bestselling author of Daughter of the Murray, Where the Murray River Runs, and The Widow of Ballarat. We first met Darry on the podcast, here, where we talked about the research and writing of The Daughter of the Murray, and here, last Christmas, as part of our Summer Reading Series.
This week we talk about the discipline of being a writer, about learning to be present while you’re writing and how finding your own style is critical to building a successful author career.
You can learn more about Darry and her books here.
Mel: Welcome to a very special Christmas episode of Writer on the Road. I have with me today one of my favorite writers who’s been with me since the beginning. I’d like to welcome Darry Fraser.
Darry: Thanks for having me once again.
Mel: We first met with Darry’s first novel, Daughter of the Murray. Then there’s Where the Murray River Runs and now we’re celebrating the Widow of Ballarat.
Darry: Thank you. It was a wonderful experience to be writing this particular book so I’m hoping that it will do.
Mel: Dhari has a reputation of one of being very shy and retiring but the fact is your book are doing not only really really well and are some of the best sellers here in Australia at the moment.
Darry: It’s wonderful news. I actually don’t have a sense of how they’re doing out there. I’m very grateful that people are happy for me and reading my books and contacting me about them. And as long as I’m doing what I love to do and somebody else is loving to raise them I’m more than happy.
Mel: There’s another lady we have on the podcast, the beautiful Tea Cooper. She’s doing very well as well.
Darry: Yes, we have very very different styles of course and very different interests in our history in the sense that she seems to focus on a happiness at a time where we might have dual timelines. She a very easy style. It’s quite interesting to look at another historical fiction set in this time.
Mel: I don’t think I’m giving any secrets out here that you live on the beautiful Kangaroo Island but your books are set on the Murray River. You’re in a great part of the world for Australian history aren’t you.
Darry: That’s correct. People have asked why I don’t focus on my own area a little bit more. I’ll leave that to other people. There are a lot of events to draw upon here but the things that interest me about that time are relationships between people and clearly the things that affected people are the same as now, relationships between people and how events affect them such as in the bigger pilot Ballarat and the director so have been them have been the sort of thing that drives my story so I guess that’s not unlike other wars is that you tend to stick yourself in the moment.
Mel: Clare Wright wrote the women of the goldfields story and she’s moved on to the suffragettes in Your Daughters of Freedom, But to have these stories come alive for the rest of us and give us very strong heroines are with real problems too are must be must.
Darry: I’ve been glad to be able to do what does but with fiction. I think we both have books out about that particular era, in Ballarat and women on the goldfields. I think we tend to let it all slip by us that women put up with all this stuff because they had to not because they wanted to. A lot of them didn’t know any difference. And so it was just par for the course it has been the way it’s been for centuries and centuries but suddenly in the 1950s especially at Ballarat Goldfields women realised they could do a lot more. And that was very interesting to me.
Mel: I just completed a talk at the town’s storytelling tour here of Brisbane everyone where the beautiful Natalie Cowling role brings alive local history local Queensland history and she brought together 26 amazing women from our time these days. And when you listen to the talks we have scientists we have our first lawyer in Queensland we have the clergy or wives who are women strong women in their own right even though the governors and the men get all the name we all the glory I guess we have what we know as an is coming from late 19th century history everyone the Australian legend and they’re all masculine.
Mel: So in a way with your research you’d come across some very strong women you are very strong women.
Darry: I think that the general assumption is that as you say the men did all the work but let’s face facts there. There’s no men doing all this wonderful stuff without the women behind them. So it’s just assumed that we were there without our actually taking the spotlight if you like. They were amazing women on the gold fields and Chisum even in the gold fields. So. That male sorry excuse me I’m sorry about all this. I don’t know how to turn the sound that. So Alan Chisholm actually visited the gold fields prior to the Eureka Stockade and wrote letters on behalf of both men and women after the stockade avenged. But she she did a lot of what I would call social work in the day and yet died a pauper in back in the UK virtually unknown for what she’d done out here and there were a lot of women in her situation because they didn’t they didn’t have men to push them to the floor after they’d done their work. So there was no platform for women to get up and do what they wanted to do. And I think there’s a delightful saying. No shy retiring woman in history was ever taken any noticeable risk that effect so you don’t see people like Marie Antoinette and other people sitting back and talking rubbish now saying I have to cut that bit.
Mel: Moving backwards to your first novel, writing a story and how long it takes and gaining that confidence to to put your work out there, that was a huge step for you, wasn’t it? Putting that first manuscript out there when it was picked up. Daughter of the Murray was a journey for you, wasn’t it?
Darry: It certainly was. I started and finished my first draft if you like of that book in 1982 and of course All the Rivers Run had just hit the telly and it took off and because my book was about a young woman taking to the river on a red paddle steamer working around business and whatever it was too close to the River’s Run. So I put that aside for years and years and even if I kept writing in the closet if you like and then circumstances hit me and I thought I don’t have much time anymore to do the thing I want to do. You know when you’re in your 20s you have all the time ever when you’ve tracked down those little bit. So anyway I decided it’s now or never. So I pulled this manuscript out. I’ve been fiddling over the years, refining it. I put my big girl pants on and decided to go take it to a publisher at a conference in 2015 and in 2016 it was published on that same first draft. I was very lucky.
Mel: And now you’re launching very successfully your third strongly received novel, you’re being recognised a lot more.
Darry: Yes, that seems to be the case. I know I’m well known here on the island because there’s a lot of people who are well-known here on the island and that’s just I’d advise people not even straight up in the ship making some support. So there’s nothing unusual for me here when I go abroad. When I go onto the mainland you know I’m still in that regard totally unassuming so I’m quite delighted when somebody says oh I don’t know if I from somewhere or other and I’ve got to go by boat so you sort of I mean I just think that is totally absolutely delighted. But I never I have never and I hope my dream never ever presume that I will be well received wherever I go or that my books will be well received and that that actually keeps me on my toes well and truly on my toes.
Mel: You’ve got the third book published. It’s we’re doing a soft launch at the moment when you see official launch official launch.
Darry: Wednesday the 28th of November in Adelaide at gimmicks Rundle Mall and at six o’clock and that’s going to be very very lovely.
Mel: And as we know in the field of traditional publishing everyone your next book is now is with Harper Collins, is it?
Darry: I made my deadline by a couple of days and that’s with the publishers at the moment and that if that’s accepted which things first it will be it will be published next year. So that one will be what we think might be the last of the Murray books.
Mel: It’s interesting as because traditional publishing takes so much longer than indie publishing but your reputation grows with every book that you put out you have got a good Christmas look out at the moment as part of an anthology.
Darry: Yes that’s right. I was asked throughout the year whether or not I could write 30000 words on. A. Historical. Story for for Christmas show. I of course had to research center and I was so very quietly I’m a little bit of a Grinch around Christmas time but I do love the whole Shanter. Thing. Especially Australian Phantom. So I wanted to try and find something that would first of all my imagination. And when I found the two things I needed that a thousand words went quicker and I think I’ve ever written anything. And I so enjoyed that story. I’m a little bit in love with it myself and it almost feels like shit and his team that people in the story just sat alongside me at the campfire and took me away. So when you hear writers talk about the news and whatever sometimes it is just absolute magic that it comes to the right and centre centre. Was it as well known as we presume he might have been. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer wasn’t even around then he came about in the 1920s which I’m very glad I didn’t. I’m very glad I did do my research fellow said himself in the 1896 doing his research in that area.
Mel: So had lots of fun and fun. You get you get a CTV run of the deep love of history. Derry has and I’m sure we talked about that in some great detail in the last podcast so I won’t reference that so we don’t cover the same material. Now the book we’re talking about is called Our Country Christmas and it’s got some of our beautiful Walters’s Scott Derry Fiona Jacqui and down here we’ve had on the podcast page you which she been meaning to catch up for some time and I’ve got and it’s our country Christmas Day three stories called The driver comes home to Christmas and it’s got this beautiful painting is beautiful outback scene isn’t it.
Darry: Down among the gum trees I’m guessing with the campfire that painting is what triggered it isn’t it. If there’s a graphic artist in the 1960s here by the name of Jack War and I’m sure many many Australian people will remember the lovely Santa and the drover painting that was featured in the woman’s slightly at the time and also on the back of the arm spicket teams and I don’t remember as a kid sharing a painting and delighting in the absolute magic that leapt out.
Darry: If you ever get a look at it you can see in the background there the driver who horse looking at the reindeer and then there’s a little black Kelpie’s shaped.
Darry: It was just such an inspirational painting. So I decided that I would try to see whether or not Jack was family were still around. I found them. I contacted them and whilst I was too late to prepare acknowledgement in the book for them they are acknowledged on my website as being the family of objec or and and I’m quite sure his paintings have delighted other people of my vintage if you like. For a number of years but can’t. Remember who they sent in my story didn’t have his red suit on. He was very much fun to have in the story.
Darry: I’m very aware of copyright. I’ll left to put that photo up on the podcast image or review. I have it out there in the public and the family are more than happy to have their place work out there.
Mel: And I think that’s when the rewards of writing historical fiction and writing about early Australia which thank heavens everybody has come so much back into fashion with you guys doing these beautiful historical novels
Mel: You mentioned that you are writing more and more and you’ve got the little 30000 novella happening or it happened. Are you going to be doing more of those sort of side projects as well as your big novelty.
Darry: I’m hoping to. I think I’ve understood my own process. I hope that the publishers will ask me to do more. And in the mix with the the book HarperCollins book they will see thirty thousand words. I’ve also finished another historical that is being privately commissioned and then for the return of Ballarat I was asked to do a prequel and so that was 4000 words and then I was asked to another. 4000 word prequel so they keep me busy. I hope that’s going to be the case this year but it’s always a surprise to me what they come up with. So whilst I’m not waiting in the wings I do believe that there are other things out there working away.
Darry: I hit that road wafting in the wind maybe things will be working in the ME wafting on what I don’t know what to say but when I’ve been waking back and not putting everybody on the run I’d like to know about prequels.
Darry: For the Ballarat. It was decided to try something different especially as I’d established with the first two novels and that I had been really well we saved the prequel and I did have to clarify what I needed. I found it a bit difficult to separate myself from the actual story so I was given an outline if you like of what they required and it it really quite stumped me so I chose a character from the book who wasn’t the main character and I tried to give her. A three story. And a pretty story event that was sort of final readers towards the with or Ballarat so the widow herself. Her name is Nell and her friend is named Flora. So the sequel is from Flora’s point of view. It does give the reader. A couple of signposts about what might be happening but I had to be so careful I didn’t are giving away my book and also to keep it interesting but from Gloria’s point of view it was more about the rumblings on the goldfields before the actual battle and there were many many months building up to the actual battle itself. So it pretty well. It was it was good to do but I also had to be very careful not to overshadow what was in the main book. I don’t know if I got it right but it’s out there it’s called Hill of Gold.
Mel: These are stories to whet people’s appetites.
Darry: It’s a book only and they trace charge you know you could go to Amazon Dot Com you and Google my name and it will be there to download free of charge. And you couldn’t decide to read that first or not. It doesn’t sort of. Does it sort of changing as it added layer if you like. I believe there might be another one to come out later but they will somewhat choose not to publish at once and so if the projects have been ongoing. And hopefully it will it’ll help us.
Darry: This is just one way of them maintaining a presence on the e-book market with their top authors and giving something away for free in order to get people to buy the my novels. I’m not sure that they’ve always done it but I think they are having a look at that and they do know that when you offer something for free you can get quite good hits on it and I don’t tend to look at a lot of the stats on Amazon for instance although I did make up cake and when it first came out it was holding a sign in the top 10 Kindle for something or other. And so hopefully that’s paid interest in certainly this book.
Mel: I want to talk about what you’ve learned about the writing process and your overnight success that has taken many years. What Would you say about this whole overnight success thing and what it’s taken you to get where you were and what your journey ahead of you.
Darry: Ultimate success is really interesting and I haven’t got there yet but I really don’t think but when I do think back this last section of my little journey if you like I don’t knock them every time in December. So I haven’t even been out there for two years. As far as my books. Go so I I have a sense of things being buried we whirlwind but as far as the writing goes you you do learn a hell of a lot if you’re actually. Going to sound really funny present while you’re writing. Yes it comes straight from the head of the keyboard and away you go no rest of it but suddenly you write something and you need to be very present as to how that transcribes from you your thoughts to the keyboard. And I guess that’s what your first draft is all about which is usually actually rubbish.
Darry: For instance in the book that I have for 2020 I’m about 33000 legitimately. Let’s say just one third of the finished book and I’ve written the first paragraph at least 33 times so you virtually go. How. First of all about your own style. So you do have to be very present when you’re. Actually listening to that or watching that. And I do have very strong reader who tells me that I’ve gone off my own voice. Which is interesting or that I need to. Bring back the diary writing which I guess is the same thing. So I’m very aware that I have a style and that I need to be present when it’s when it’s doing its thing. I can’t describe it as a third party. It’s about the best way I can describe it. I mean we’re not when I’m chatting one down at a coffee shop or talking email or whatever I might be doing. I’m actually just me but when I’m writing I’m I’m actually I think there’s a third party in there somewhere.
Mel: I think spending a lot of time on your own I guess immersing yourself in your fiction.
Darry: Whether your present and focused and writing I guess to the depths that you need to do to write a really good character is another thing isn’t it is because you try to run the risk of my characters all sounding the same although I have a visual of them and I know perfectly well that they’re not the same. But you right about spending their time on your own and then when I do go to my little place of work Gin House when am I actually say to them I’ve been time travelling just give me a minute I need to be talking 21st century English again and so on. So it is quite amazing how quickly you can become immersed and it’s also a discipline if you’re training. So if if there were one thing I would say to people who were sitting out on the journey in particular is don’t underestimate how tough you have to be on yourself.
Mel: In a different sense here you have to be tough on yourself to enjoy it. Now anyone who follows Derry on her Facebook page there is an awful lot of a gin jokes and a bottle of gin.
Darry: There’s a boutique gin distillery here on Kangaroo Island. One of us will probably be first dedicated Australian gin distillery in the country about 12 years ago. But I work out there and we’re having our second little book launch out here this afternoon. And so I decided that because the Widow of Ballarat was in an era where alcohol or grog was just totally rife and Jean was around gin was imported. I thought that’s going to be interesting. All she can do there so there’s a little line in the book which refers to Mrs Lark’s gin and so we will be launching a new label and a new gin this afternoon called Mrs Lark’s Gin as featured in the widow of Ballarat and be on the label.
Darry: My writing room is a room in my house which has a day bed in it and lots of biking gear and all sorts of things. It’s very ordinary. There’s a painting behind me. So it’s very simple. In the house and I go out to the gym enjoy to get myself keep myself in the 21st century.
Mel: You’ve got all these beautiful old fashioned maps framed and hanging around the place.
Darry: I keep this space just for writing. As soon as I enter the door at the portal if you like and I am trying to keep myself engaged in what I do because at times you can sit here and all you want to do is get up and do the washing or whatever. So if the vibe if I’m entering a a space that is just writing it.
Darry: It does help to focus me here. And your subconscience plays an awful awful role in that and writing habits and all the rest of it going across or entering the portal ah is it trick that really works and then you see your maps and you see everything.
Mel: Why the late 19th century?
Darry: I honestly can’t give you a definitive except that it draws me although I was very much intrigued by the 50s and the 60s going through this particular book and the research. But the late 18th century 19th century is something that just draws me so I need to be able to pinpoint that if I may. Back in the back power fear that drives a whole show. Pointing to the back of my head and I think Stephen King called it the boys in the basement. Shall I call it back of house as a place the front of house.
Darry: I love my writing life I wouldn’t have it any other way I finally got here and I’m not letting it go so am I somebody asking the other day what will I be doing in five years five years will go so fast I intend to have been fully occupied at the keyboard and and hopefully calling myself the storyteller I hope I I can deliver on that and just chug away at it. I just love it so describing life.
Mel: Just very quickly how many hours a day you spending.
Darry: I’m in here on the dot of eight thirty and I’d probably probably finish properly by about four drag dragged out to five o’clock but. How productive that’s been is often a little bit fluid but generally speaking I think you could say a good five hour solids. Might get me two and a half three thousand words.
Mel: Are you willing to tell us the working titles of your 19 and 20 books or is it under wraps.
Darry: Well I think I have the greatest difficulty naming my book so they one out next year. It is definitely part of the Mongery series so to have Murray in the title but just what it will be I don’t know. But the one in 2020. Is my working title is either the accidental or not. Her name is Elsa goody the accidental bushranger or else goody. The incidental stranger but we haven’t quite worked out a 19th century word that would cover both those. Sort of things. And of course the Bushrangers were well and truly said and done. By the time poor old Ben Hall got done and he was or Micheli they were adding challenges.
Darry: Merry Christmas Derry. Thinking of you and all the best with all your gin distilling.
Darry: Thank you Mel and Merry Christmas to you and your girls. Thanks very much for having me.
Mel: Always a pleasure.