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INTERVIEW: Lily Woodhouse, author of Jarulan by the River

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Today I welcome Lily Woodhouse, the author of Jarulan by the River, to the blog. 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Daydreaming is how books get written. I think it’s an active state, not a passive one.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
It came from two different sources. One was a story told to me years ago by an old man. It was about a young husband struggling during the Depression between the two world wars. He was offered a job by a wealthy widow on the condition that he also become her lover. His wife had to tolerate the arrangement if she wanted her family to survive. The exact same situation does not arise in Jarulan by the River, though it is similar. The second source was a period I spent living in the Northern Rivers district. It is one of the most beautiful, inspiring landscapes in the world. When I came to write the novel it seemed natural to set it there.

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
Not at all. Sometimes I get to a point where I must plan the last part of a book if I want to get out of it alive!

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I sometimes meet characters in dreams who then become characters in books.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Reading and learning about the experiences of Germans in Australia between the wars was very interesting. Also learning more about how it was for Maori in Australia during those years which included the years of the White Australia Policy. Maori were admitted because they were regarded as equals in New Zealand.

Where do you write, and when?
I am fortunate enough to have my own study, which is warm and sunny. I write there most days. My favourite time to write is first thing in the morning when I wake up.

What is your favourite part of writing?
The stages of writing a book are all so different that I enjoy them all. Perhaps I like the exciting roller-coaster stage of first draft the very best.

What do you do when you get blocked? 
Leave it for a while. There’s no point in hanging over a manuscript that isn’t shifting. I go for a walk, work on something else, hope the muse will return before too long.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

By regularly dipping in the bucket and seeing what comes up! Sometimes it’s pure, sparkling water, other times a frog.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
Is coffee a ritual if you drink four or five a day?

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Rosie Scott, Tim Winton, Emma Donoghue, Anne Kennedy, Charlotte Randell, Colum McCann, Sarah Waters, Louise Erdrich, Patricia Grace. And Kate Forsyth!

What do you consider to be good writing?  
I enjoy literary and popular fiction as the above list will testify. Some literary fiction will sacrifice story and character for style, which immediately makes the work tedious. It can remind me of an over-indulged child calling endlessly for attention while he pulls heinous faces or walks on top of a fence. The worst of popular fiction will have too rapidly unfolding story, melodramatic event and inconsistent character, written in stodgy dull language. I think good writing can be both literary and popular, with an addictive story, compelling characters and elegant, nuanced writing.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Read, read, read, read! Although I didn’t include any writers from previous centuries in my list, I think it’s important to read Thomas Hardy for instance, and Elizabeth Gaskell. Here in Australia Kylie Tennant, Ruth Park and Jean Devanny are worth reading to get a sense of how it was for women in the early-mid twentieth century.
What are you working on now? 
Another novel. Top secret. Can’t say too much. Might lose. You know the feeling.

BOOK REVIEW: Jarulan by the River by Lily Woodhouse

Friday, August 04, 2017

Jarulan by the River – Lily Woodhouse

The Blurb (from GoodReads):

A failing estate, a fractured family, a turn of fortune and a story of love stretching across generations and connecting a family from all corners of the globe. For readers of Elianne, The Thorn Birds and Oscar and Lucinda

Matthew Fenchurch, patriarch and landowner of the northern NSW property Jarulan, lives in a grand, decaying folly, invaded by ghosts and the local fauna. His wife is dead, one son has fallen on a battlefield in France, and another lives as a remittance man on a marae in New Zealand. With his daughters married and elsewhere, his only company is the farmhands and an old family servant.

When Matthew builds a memorial above the river for his brave lost son – and all the boys of the district who have died fighting for King and Country – his daughters and their families return for the unveiling. They bring with them someone who will change life at Jarulan forever, who will fight the ghosts of the past and the claimants of the present, and ensure a dynasty, though not as anyone expected.

Erotic, haunting, brimming with wildlife, love, beauty, babies, ill deeds, revenge and unions – illicit and condoned –JARULAN BY THE RIVER is an epic tale of passion and redemption.

My Thoughts:
The ‘Jarulan’ of the title is a grand house on a river in northern New South Wales. Once flourishing, it is now in decline. Matthew Fenchurch, a man in his late fifties, is grieving the deaths of his wife and his eldest son, who was a casualty of the First World War. Matthew decides to build a memorial to the fallen, and asks his housekeeper to write to his scattered children and ask them to return to the estate for its commemoration. There is his other son, the drifter Eddie, and his daughters Louise and Jean. Eddie fails to respond, but the two sisters obey. Their arrival sets in train a scandalous love affair that will change the future of Jarulan forever.

A sprawling and surprising tale of love, grief, loss and change that crosses generations and continents, Jarulan by the River is poised, challenging and, at times, poetic in its descriptions of the Australian landscape. I could feel the heat and dryness and hear the constant rasp of the cicadas. The narrative moves from multiple points-of-view – Matthew himself, Evie the Irish maid who dreams of love, Nan the old housekeeper who has seen the family fracture and fall apart, Rufina the German nanny, Eddie who has fallen on hard times, and his half-Maori son Irving. At the centre of the tale, however, is the house and the ghosts and memories it contains. 

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