The secret to a family, a farm and a novel a year.

They say that you should write about what you know. So it’s quite comforting to look out of Australian “rural fiction” writer Fleur McDonald's window and not see high rise buildings. Or any other houses for that matter.

Instead, a rural scene is the backdrop: her 8,000 acre farm in the southeast corner of Western Australia. It has certainly provided plenty of inspiration for her novels to date, debuting with the extremely successful Red Dust back in 2009. Her fifth novel, Crimson Dawn, was published earlier this year, and we did the sums and worked out that’s around one new book every 12 months.

So what's her secret? How does she balance a family and a farm with knocking out a new novel every calendar year?

Finding the time

“To be truthful, there isn't much balance at all!” admits Fleur. “Basically the farm and family come first and if I can fit the writing in, I do. Obviously as I get closer to deadlines, I have to be a bit stricter on the writing, but it's all just a bit of a juggling act.”

Her day kicks into life around 5.30am, with a walk accompanied by her Jack Russell. Much like many homes, kids are then successfully shuffled off to school and she’ll grab a coffee and finally find the computer. The unholy trinity of email, Facebook and Twitter awaits, and Fleur will try and knock 'em all over in one hit. (“Facebook is the biggest time waster in the history of writing,” she laments.) By the time the washing machine is fed and other chores tackled, it's around 10 and if there is writing to be done, it begins then.

“Sometimes it's only for an hour or so, other times it might be until the kids get home from school,” explains Fleur. “When I start writing I often read back over the previous chapter, make any changes I want then get on with the next chapter. I try not to get too picky when reading the previous chapter because I might use up the small amount of writing time I have.”

In fact, she admits that she will often go for months without writing, but when she does she likes to write at least one chapter to completion (that's anything from 1800-2500 words).

Finding the desk

Fleur McDonald Desk

Fleur has two desks really. But only one of them is a real desk – the other being her Toyota ute, where she finds she spends a lot of her time writing (“it's dusty, but the views are fantastic!”). Back inside, as you'll see from the picture, it's a nice view – facing out over the front half of her property. They're on a hill so she can see quite a long way – certainly as far as the brown dusty paddocks and the animals relaxing in them.

As for what's on her desk; usually a lot of mess according to Fleur. “‘Creative minds have messy desks' is a saying I live by!” she reckons. “I have a photo of my family, a clay turtle that my son made on a school camp, a phone, loads of writing newsletters – which I rarely get to read, but it makes me feel like I'm trying to improve my craft by having them sit there – and a pile of books that I would like to read.”

As for what's sitting on her “publishing desk”, as it were, Fleur is currently working on her new book, Indigo Storm. She admits it was slow going at first, as it has involved a lot of research. (“The first chapter was all I'd written.”) But all that research and preparation will pay off … once she finds more of those elusive chunks of writing time.

Parting advice

Fleur McDonald has been successful by writing about things familiar to her. Her advice to aspiring authors is to do the same – and to look for something that makes your novel stand out.

“Write with an original voice, unique ideas and keep trying!”

If you'd like to hear more from Fleur McDonald and her views on the rural fiction genre, listen to our interview with her on Episode 2 of our top rating So you want to be a writer podcast.

Fleur McDonald is the author of Crimson Dawn, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, out now.

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