Q&A With Jenn J McLeod Author of Season of Shadow and Light
Welcome all to my stop on the Season of Shadow and Light Blog Tour, which kicked off a little while ago and is stopping by a number of wonderful Australian book blogs. The purpose of the tour is to promote Australian author Jenn J McLeod's latest release Season of Shadow and Light which I read and reviewed recently. (Read my review here.) Anyway, as part of the tour today I am lucky enough to be interviewing Jenn J McLeod. I loved her answers to my (somewhat difficult) questions and I think that you will too ...
Hi Jenn! Thank you very much for stopping by. Although we have chatted many times on social media, this is your first visit to my blog. Congratulations on the publication of Season of Shadow and Light, which I found to be quite the page turner… Would you like to tell us a little about Season of Shadow and Light?
Ha, ha! Thanks for that intro, Kathryn! *wink*. Speaking of laughs . . .
Readers should prepare to laugh, to cry, and to cheer as Paige, her six year old daughter, Matilda, and Nana Alice, find themselves stranded amid rising floodwaters and detoured to the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully.
There’s a publican with an uncanny resemblance to Mr Magoo, a cranky cook battling a broken heart, and someone who knows that truth can wash away the darkest shadows, but the question is…
Are some secrets best kept for the sake of others?
Paige is a mother on a personal mission. Aiden, once a sought after executive chef, is now executive chip fryer at his uncle’s small town pub, and Alice is charged with a dead woman's secret and a promise to never tell—even when the truth might help the living.
This is story of betrayal, of tragedy, of family loyalty and of trust—the kind of trust that takes years to build but only seconds to wash away and what Paige discovers in Coolabah Tree Gully is that the greatest betrayal of all happened there twenty years earlier.
As I read Season of Shadow and Light I found myself drawn to Alice. She silently suffers throughout the course of the novel, but I found the way that she resolved the situation to be admirable. Was she a difficult character to write about?
Interesting you should feel that, Kathryn. I refer to Alice as my ‘hijack character’. She started out as a secondary character—the one who is supposed to lend a supporting role to the leading lady—only I found myself getting involved in Alice’s backstory and she would not be reined in. For this reason I found her incredibly easy to write. Perhaps it helped that there is so much of me in this book. When I say ‘me’ I mean things I am passionate about; often Alice was that voice. The more I dug down, peeling Alice’s tough layer away to discover a fragility (and the reasons behind it) I found myself wanting her to have her own character arc and growth with Paige, while opposing her daughter in every way. Alice put her trust in me to tell her very special love story.
The name ‘Alice’ holds a lot of significance and although the real life Alice has nothing in common with the fictional Alice, I still felt a strong connection, which helped me with some of the more emotional scenes. Perhaps that’s why you found yourself drawn to her character, Kathryn? And I’m glad you liked the way Alice resolved things. I believe she has the most devastating conflict: Is she obligated to protect the deceptions of the dead when the truth might somehow help the living?
What a great premise for a story! Are some secrets best buried forever? I loved this conundrum and because of it I think readers will have different views about Alice, about how the relationship she had with her parents shaped her life, and whether her reasons for keeping the secret are enough to warrant such deception.
So, yes, while Paige and Aiden (with their impossible relationship) are fabulous, I admit to Alice hijacking me along the way. But I enjoyed creating Aiden (love a damaged man) and I think Sharni is such an unexpected joy. Then, of course, there’s Rory . . . Talk about turning someone around. Rory needed help. I loved delivering on that.
How did the title for Season of Shadow and Light originate?
Firstly, I love the word shadow. I love that a single word can represent both the serene (like the soft early morning light and a dark) and the scary (like those ominous shapes that creep over the bedroom walls at night!); all depending on your perspective and your life experiences, of course.
Shadow and light immediately says contrast to me. Contrast creates conflict and all good fiction requires its share. So I purposely created two people who conflicted in different ways: in appearance, in attitude, in upbringing. And due to circumstances became “perfect opposites”. That allowed me to explore the nature vs. nurture concept that has always interested me. Are we a product of our environment or our genes? This was also a subject I could draw on from personal experience.
I grew up in a loving home in the affluent Sydney northern beaches. I was secure, happy, supported and encouraged—the halo effect in full force. In my early twenties (when I was pretty full of myself, my future set) I met someone who was the opposite of me.
In this novel I make references to yin and yang philosophies as ‘the perfect union of opposites’. My ‘perfect opposite’ changed my life in the most profound and lasting ways, with the experience providing me with ample “There but for the grace of God go I” moments early on in life. I used to ask myself: What if I’d been the one born into a working class family, having grown up in an old terrace where my backyard was the skinny street of a tough Sydney suburb in the sixties and seventies? How would I have coped with the loss of a mother before I turned thirty, an abusive stepfather, or being pulled from school early so I could get a job to pay the family bills (in doing so, giving up the training that would see my Olympic dream come true—just one year short of team selection)?
Alice has a line in Season of Shadow and Light that refers to yin-and-yang being the perfect union of opposites.
‘Yin-and-yang manifests itself physically all around us: fire and water, hot and cold, nightmare and dream, even life and death. Then there’s shadow and light.’ Alice paused before saying through her tears, ‘You know shadow does not exist without light.’
Not only do I love that last line, it is integral to the story. In many ways it’s about perspective. If we learn to view the world through others’ eyes, consider different viewpoints, greater understanding will follow and there’ll be less need to worry about nature versus nurture. In the end, we are who we are and love is love.
As a reader, I very much enjoyed your depictions of rural Australia. As a friend and follower of your Facebook page, I have also enjoyed following your adventures as you travel through Australia, battling everything from severe storms to cranky supermarket employees. What do you like most about rural Australia?
Oh, yes, give me a fierce storm any day! :-) But let me clarify for the record (as determined by my random Facebook poll that day, Kathryn) my cavalier carry basket behaviour in the supermarket checkout did perhaps contribute to Miss Cranky Pants’ extreme attitude. I think I needed to see life through her eyes before passing judgement.
Which is exactly why I want to travel. Besides running out of friends and family to ficitonalise I am keen to experience the extremes of rural life. Once we get into our travel groove we want to get involved and there are websites (like this one http://www.frontierservices.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer) that connects volunteers with families in regional areas who need help. Sometimes all that’s needed is a week away from the property to attend a medical appointment. Something I would not have thought about once. Talk about seeing life through different eyes!
Do you have any favourite or special small Australian towns?
Not yet! But discovering new places to inspire new small town stories is what life on the road in my caravan is all about. I did find inspiration for this novel in Boonah, one of the many towns scattered across an area called The Scenic Rim—a spectacular volcanic escarpment located in Queensland’s south-east region. The quaint country atmosphere of Boonah, and neighbouring Kalbar, belies the towns’ closeness to Brisbane and I plan on returning as I saw very little of the area when I was there overnight for a book launch a couple of years back. Only after leaving town did I found out there’s a Scenic Rim Historic Pub Trail. What’s not to love about that?
The pub you will read about in Season of Shadow and Light is based on the one I stayed in, crooked floors and all. If you ever find yourself in Boonah, visit The Story Tree—a beaut little bookshop. Why? Because it has books AND serves coffee!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
First I'd say writing for publication is not the same as writing for pleasure. Being a published author turns a hobby on its head, frustrates the family, and tests your patience. My advice is threefold …
- It's never too early to start thinking like a published author.
- Develop a head for business and learn to plan – sometimes the marketing, accounting and time management parts of this gig are more small business operator than writer.
- Give those closest to you the opportunity to share your journey. Don't assume they already know. Don't assume they don't want to understand. With involvement comes support – and you will need that in bucket-loads
|Outside the Port Broughton pub.|
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?
What a great question, Kathryn. The first thing I’d say is “See you soon!” because I can’t wait to make my way back. And when I say back . . . I love SA. As a child I enjoyed many family trips with all five of us in the Ford Falcon, the old Viscount caravan crawling along behind. I still have relatives scattered from the Adelaide Hills to Port Lincoln. There’s even a family plot in Payneham Cemetery. (Helps that my ancestor, John Monk—who sailed out on HMAS Buffalo in 1836—was the grave planner.)
|Passenger list for the HMS Buffalo|
My grandmother opted to be buried there, with her sisters, one of whom is Joy Richardson, founder of the SA Animal Welfare League. (Must be where I get my love of rescue animals.) So you see, I have more than a little bit of SA flowing through my veins (and often quite a nice drop of Barossa wine as well!)
Thank you for stopping by Jenn! Season of Shadow and Light is now available from all good bookstores and online retailers. You can find out more about Jenn J McLeod and Season of Shadow of Light at Simon and Schuster Australia's website and don't forget to stop by all of the other great blogs that are participating in the tour. (I've read all of their posts so far and every single one is brilliant. Kudos to Jenn and all of the bloggers who are taking part.)