Leonie Kelsall is a Jill of all trades. When she’s not working as a professional counsellor or taking care of her rural property and family, she’s writing novels under the nom de plume Laney Kane. With the recent release of her debut rural romance novel, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, she can now add “rural romance author” to her ever-growing list of job titles.
In this interview, we discuss the inspiration behind her new novel, why rural romance is so popular and what she wants readers to take away from The Farm at Peppertree Crossing.
Congratulations on the release of your new book, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing. I really enjoyed it. What’s the reaction been like so far?
Thank you so much. The reaction has been brilliant, so much better than I could have dreamed, never mind anticipated!
You live on a property yourself. Was that something that inspired this story, and what usually inspires your writing?
The family property definitely inspired this story, not only in terms of physical descriptions, but because the solitude – which I find peaceful – caused me to wonder how isolated it must appear to someone from the city, and how they would deal with it.
My writing can be inspired by anything! A snippet of a song, a ruined building, an interaction with someone. Often, my books form around a single sentence. I’ll suddenly have (what I think is) a good line in my head and need to write a story to fit it.
You also had a career as a counsellor. What made you take the leap to writing?
It wasn’t actually a leap, as I’m still a Professional Counsellor. I’ve always written, penning my first books in dinosaur longhand. It’s more a case of, as I have my own practice, I can take out as much time for writing as I choose.
While this book is technically your first rural romance, it’s not actually your first published novel. As Laney Kaye, you’ve dabbled in everything from romantic suspense and outback noir to contemporary romance. Why did you decide to make the jump to rural romance?
Ha, yes, my genres are certainly diverse! The Farm at Peppertree Crossing wasn’t originally intended to be a rural romance – in fact, I had no idea the genre existed. I had gone for more of a Women’s Fiction slant – which is why the story may be a little darker than many rural romances. However, when I pitched it to Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch, my lovely publisher, Annette Barlow, wanted to discuss how committed I was to writing rural romance. Unsurprisingly, I was instantly fully committed!
What do you enjoy most about rural romance?
I love that it can, apparently, encompass quite a few genres, including Women’s Fiction and a smattering of romantic suspense. Because I’m so drawn to rural areas, I enjoy trying to share what it is that I find so magical about the Australian countryside.
Did your approach to writing change with this book when compared to your previously published novels?
Some of my other novels are an independently published series with a co-writer. As such, they had to be written within a specific (short) timeframe, whereas this book I was able to take more time to get to know the characters and their backstory and enjoy their journeys.
Can you talk me through your path to publication (both for this novel and your other work)?
Love to! I wrote my first manuscript many years ago, when the only path to publication was to send the physical copy of the work to publishers, most of whom were in the UK. Although I received several encouraging responses, the exercise was expensive and time consuming, so I put the notion aside while I had a family and a career (or several!).
In 2014, I stumbled across some Twitter writers’ groups, and discovered that pitching online was a ‘thing’. Problem was, there were now ‘literary agents’ in the mix, and pitching direct to most publishers was not permitted. So I set about capturing one of those elusive beasts, a literary agent. I was very lucky, because writers vastly outnumber agents, that I did, after about two years of courting, land a New York based agent. It then became her job to pitch my books to publishers so, while waiting on the rejections, I wrote more books.
By mid-2018 I had a two-book contract with a US-based publisher, and an offer on another two-book series. But at the same time, a close friend was doing it a bit tough with the endless cycle of rejection that is part of this journey. I suggested that co-write a book and independently publish it, so she could experience some forward-momentum with her career. We wrote a light sci-fi/fantasy shifter series, which did very well – and my friend was hooked on indie publishing. She is doing incredibly well and has a knack of writing ‘to market’ that I’ve never developed –instead, I tend to have a bit of a tantrum and go “but I want to write THIS!”
Whilst writing a number of titles in the fantasy genre as Laney Kaye, I also wrote what I thought was a Women’s Fiction, Liverwurst & Lamingtons. As my agent was having trouble placing my Australian-centric books (apparently, the US market has little appetite for Australian books) I figured I would also independently publish this book but, on a whim I sent it in to Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch. Within about four days, I had an email asking for the full manuscript, then a couple of weeks later, a call with the publisher. In a whirlwind move, only weeks from pitching, I had a signed contract in hand!
A lot of people are struggling at the moment, and it could be said that rural romance books are great forms of escapism at times like these. Why do you think so many people are returning to reading now?
I think reading possibly offers a gentler form of escapism – what makes a beautiful rural romance won’t necessarily translate to the screen, so the magic can only be found in the pages of a book. As well, reading allows for the imagination to run wild; we’re not moulded by what a producer wants us to see, instead we can read between the lines and invent our own world.
This book isn’t exactly what I would call a traditional rural romance. It’s a little more dramatic and deals with some rather heavy topics at times. Can you tell me a little more about why you decided to include those?
My natural tendency to write a little darker probably comes back to life experience and my career as a counsellor. While rural romance is escapism, I feel it also should have depth and realism, as it’s important to balance reality and fantasy. Also, it’s nice to play with light and dark, to give a sense of positivity, that there can be a happy ending even for someone who has suffered substantial trauma.
What do you want people to take away from reading The Farm at Peppertree Crossing?
I want readers to consider Marian’s words regarding the value of friendships: that to give you must also be able to receive, as accepting is actually a gift to the other person.
I also wanted to heighten an awareness of the importance of acceptance of others’ differences, whether they be sexual preference, upbringing or lifestyle, and communicate the joy that can be found in the intricacies of relationships, the breadth and tapestry of the human experience, and how the aspiration to be better/do better can change a person’s life.
As a professional counsellor, I wanted to reinforce the importance of being able to ask for and accept help.
The characters and their relationships in this book are quite complex. Do you have a favourite?
Can I have two? I love both Marian and Tracey equally, they’re kind of a Yin and Yang. Two vastly different women who have managed to find love despite the censorship—whether real or perceived—from those around them.
Do you think we’ll see them pop up in any future books?
Absolutely! Many of the characters from The Farm at Peppertree Crossing make cameos in The Wattle Seed Inn, out next year.
Fellow author Sandie Docker is your critique partner. Is she usually the first person to read your work?
Sandie is wonderful – and raps my knuckles when I get too dark. But my teenage daughter, Taylor, is generally my first reader and harshest critic, followed by my American critique partner, Marty Mayberry. However, because I’m a prolific writer, my latest book went straight to the publisher without any critiquing (risky, right?) as it feels unfair to have an expectation that others have the time to read multiple books a year from me.
Who are your idols, both professionally and personally?
This question is a little awkward to answer as I really don’t have idols: although I appreciate others’ contributions and may aspire to their achievements, I tend to look deeper, into the psychology of their character, the reason for their actions, and find…perhaps not flaws, but things that chip away at any pedestal I may have briefly placed them upon. So, whilst I certainly hold many people in admiration, I don’t idolise anyone.
What books did you read growing up that still resonate with you? Why those particular books?
Enid Blyton! She is always my go-to for this question, as I was brought up reading her stories. I’ve been reading since I was around three, when I escaped into her worlds of fairies and pixies and brownies.
When I graduated from Enid (I lie: I’ve never graduated. All my kids were raised on The Magic Faraway Tree) I moved straight to adult books. I’m not certain if the local library even had a section for teens – although YA probably wasn’t a thing ‘back then’ – but I was a prolific reader, borrowing ten books a week. I had no idea of genres, no particular favourites; I would read – quite literally – anything I could get my hands on, although I do clearly recall The Summer of My German Soldier as being the first book to make me cry (well, after crying over Aslan’s death in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe –but didn’t we all?).
As a result, even as an adult, I don’t have a favourite author or even genre. Sometimes I’ll be bingeing Wilbur Smith, other times I’ll pick up anything with a historical cover. I tend to read little – if anything – in the genre I’m writing in, simply because of the risk of transference: it’s far too easy to inadvertently adopt other writer’s little habits and quirks. At the moment I’m planning to make myself sound a little more highbrow by reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, recommended by one of my mentees, Syed Masood.
Do you have any writing rituals you like to follow?
Some days, I get dressed (laughs).
No, I don’t have rituals. Writing has to fit in around life (or vice versa!) I generally put on the computer in the lounge room as soon as I get up and if I don’t have clients I’ll spend a couple of hours there. Let’s be clear: these are not writing hours, they’re generally spent procrastinating on social media. Then I’ll take the dog for a walk, return to faff around for the rest of the day, occasionally ducking back to add a line to my WIP. Because I tend to write in snippets, I’ll often think of a line or phrase, scribble it on a Post-it (you should see my pin up board!) or in my phone, then later go back to write a scene around it.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Don’t get bogged down in trying to take on board all of the well-meaning ‘advice’ that is out there. A lot of it, particularly online, tends to be very adamant about what you ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do. As my very diverse mentees – with multiple publishing contracts between them – have proven, if you have a dash of talent and a fabulous idea, don’t get hung up on things like avoiding dangling modifiers (pun intended!). LUCK is the true common denominator in winning a publishing contract, and I have little time for anyone who tries to pretend they were published on ability alone.
Presumably a lot of your promotional events have been cancelled or postponed due to the current health crisis. How has this impacted you and the promotion of your book, if at all?
Yes, everything has been cancelled which is sad and impacts sales for signings. However, a lot of events are now online, which is fabulous… well, except for this one time, when I was assured the interview was for radio, although it was recorded with video. And then pictures were published. Fortunately, I HAD progressed beyond pyjamas that day – and I learned the Boy Scout motto!
Do you have any virtual events coming up that you’d like to mention?
I do have a number of virtual events booked in, which changes daily. The best way to find out what’s coming up – and to access podcasts of past events – is to check the events page on my website.
Particularly in these uncertain times, how important is it for you to maintain a strong social media presence and interact with your readers?
Because I’m also independently published, I have a strong social media presence. I don’t know that interaction with readers affects sales, but I love chatting. It’s such a thrill when someone messages to say they’ve read my book – I can generally be found dancing around the house yelling “He loved it. And I don’t even KNOW him!” at an inappropriate volume.
If you could invite three people from history (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and why?
I know I’m supposed to sound quite highbrow with an intelligent answer here, but the truth is I really don’t care who they are as long as one is a cook, one is a maid and one brings wine! I don’t care much for socialising (that whole writing-hermit thing), so I’m far more likely to chat over the phone or email.
Do you have another project on the go? What’s next for you?
I’ve just handed the second book in the Settlers Bridge series to my publisher, and I’m about (ugh, wish I hadn’t checked that word count!) an eighth of the way into the third. All of these books are set in the same area as The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, and see cameos from characters in Peppertree, but are stand-alones.
The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is published by Allen & Unwin. To find out more about this book, or others they publish, visit their website. Alternatively, you can connect with Leonie Kelsall via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
This interview is part of my “Spotlight on Australian Authors” series. To read other interviews or reviews in this series, click the below image.
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