I can’t remember learning to read, or picking up my first book. I have always read, and I have always loved books. I was born on a small farm some twenty-five miles out of Penola in South Australia. It was called Gundealga, ‘peaceful watering hole’, and its names, and its woods and deer, are remembered in The Axis Trilogy. The farm had no electricity, so I remember reading my first books by the gentle glow of kerosene lamps, hiding behind the living room couch so my parents would think me already in bed.
When I was about seven we moved to Adelaide, and somehow the household books bred in the process. Our house was stuffed with books — even the toilet lobby had bookcases, and I remember my father nonchalantly propping up a bucket to catch the drips from a leaking roof with seventeenth-century volumes that he said were so mouldy anyway they wouldn’t mind a bit of extra dampness (I was horrified. I rescued them and carefully dried them out and now they rest, splotched and blotched but still readable, on the mantelpiece above the fire in my writing room). I read night and day, anything I could get my hands on. I started writing as soon as I felt competent, about nine or ten, and produced a small novelette about the discovery of the eighth sea of the world which my teachers and parents regarded indulgently, looking over my head and nodding as if to say, “She’ll grow out of it”.
But I didn’t. I kept writing. When I was about fourteen I received second prize in a nation wide essay competition on the treatment of horses in circuses (I missed out on first, I am convinced, because my views were not politically correct). When I left school my writing ceased for some six to seven years as I got involved in the world of work during the day and, I hate to admit it, the flashing nights of discos at night. My first career was as a nurse, something my father thought fitting for a girl. I loathed it … but it took me many years to escape.
An escape finally presented itself when I applied to do a Bachelor of Arts at Adelaide University. Suddenly I found myself back in a world that encouraged creative thinking and processes. I was enthralled. I started writing again by keeping a detailed diary (great fat volumes that cover about six years and that I will burn before letting anyone else read them) and then by writing my first novel, The Judgement of Jerusalem. I was thrilled. So thrilled, I did it all wrong, sent it off cold to several publishers, and received polite rejection letters: “We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”
I wiped away my tears and resolved never to write again. And for another six or seven years that was it as far as my writing was concerned. In the meantime I found myself a new career as an academic, teaching medieval history at La Trobe University, Bendigo. This new job I found incredibly stressful, and so, just for myself, no-one else, I began to write in the evening and weekends. I loved it! Writing became for me the perfect way to relax and escape the stressful world of academia. I wrote and wrote and wrote-probably about eight or nine novels, some of which are truly awful. But I didn’t care. I was learning with each novel, and enjoying each one more. None of these are fantasy; they are adventure stories, thrillers, romances, horror. I did try to send several to Mills and Boon, but their initial rejection letters finally became stern letters imploring me to never contact them again as my writing was so ‘dark’. Well, that was no surprise, I have a very dark mind.
I never thought of writing fantasy until one day … one day when I just sat down and started writing BattleAxe. I knew almost immediately that this was going to be my best chance at getting published. I wrote virtually the entire trilogy, thought about it, and then sent BattleAxe off one day — this time to an agent, because I thought I would try to do it properly and I knew that I would have my best chance with an agent. I picked up the Melbourne Yellow Pages, and looked under agents. My face fell — there were modelling agencies, bloodstock agencies, agencies for toothbrush inventors … but where were the literary agencies? Aha! There! Just one — Australian Literary Management, picked because they had the magical word ‘literary’ in their name (and, as fate would have it, one of the only literary agencies in Australia who would even consent to read fantasy). And so off it went and here I am, all due to the intervention of a tiny iron axe that gave me the idea for BattleAxe and the help of the Melbourne Yellow Pages.