To celebrate the release of The Year of the Farmer, author Rosalie Ham’s new novel published by Pan Macmillan, I have a Q & A with Rosalie I would love to share with you all. It is true pleasure to welcome Rosalie to Mrs B’s Book Reviews for a Q & A session. This Q & A will follow a review of The Year of the Farmer.
About the author…
Rosalie Ham was born and raised in Jerilderie, a small country town in New South Wales. Returning to Australia after seeing the world, Rosalie ‘rushed to university because Gough Whitlam made it possible’, enrolling in Drama and Literature. But it was the story that ignited her flame and, having moved on to creative writing, Rosalie ‘skewed a few accumulated secrets’ and wrote her first novel, The Dressmaker (published in 2000). Summer at Mount Hope (2005), There Should be More Dancing (2011) and The Year of the Farmer (2018) followed, and her novels have now sold over 150,000 copies in Australia and internationally.
Described as a ‘gifted storyteller’ with ideas that are ‘fresh, unusual and entertaining,’ Rosalie’s stories are new, but recognisable beyond Australia. Using the stereotype to subvert the cliché, and always seeking to surprise the reader, she sheds new light on universal verities.
The Dressmaker has since been brought to life on screen, in the award winning film produced and directed by Sue Maslin and Jocelyn Moorhouse. It stars Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving along with a many other fine Australian performers including Sarah Snook, Sacha Horler and Rebecca Gibney.
Rosalie lives in Melbourne and, when she is not writing, teaches literature. She holds a BA in Education and a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
Hello Rosalie. It is my pleasure to welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I greatly appreciate the time you have provided to answer a few questions.
Hello Mrs B and thank you for the opportunity to write for your blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews.
Q. To begin, The Year of the Farmer, your latest novel for Pan Macmillan is released today. Can you give us an outline of what we can expect?
A. The Year of the Farmer is about survival, love and justice in a small rural community in the Riverina of NSW. Problems surrounding the issue of irrigation water fuel small fires between the characters over love, corruption, vermin and secrets. Employing satire and irony, The Year of the Farmer, focuses one primary producer, Mitchell Bishop, an irrigation farmer who is compromised on every front. He’s married to Mandy, who he doesn’t love, besieged by pests and wild dogs, the banks want money, he’s supporting debt on ancient, worn machinery and his crop has suffered because of dry seasons. To ease his dilemmas, Mitch can sell some of his water allocation but that will ruin his financial plan, but if he doesn’t sell, his financial crisis will ruin him anyway. Then the corrupt and Machiavellian irrigation authority announce they will seize water from the entire catchment area and this divides the community, pits the townies, farmers and river dwellers (the riparians) against each other. Into all of this comes Mitchell’s long lost love, Neralie, who returns to the town and buys the local pub. Neralie brings rain, and more ruin, but in the end, the town unites and a kind of justice is achieved.
Q. What came first in the creation of this novel – the title, the plot, the characters or the setting when you first set out to write The Year of the Farmer?
A. This novel is straight from the heart. I was born and raised in a small farming community in the southern Riverina. Irrigation and the issues to do with water are important to the people I grew up with, and so I’ve employed humour to convey some of the dilemmas facing farmers and to highlight the role of primary production. In The Year of the Farmer, the story dictates the setting and the characters dictate the story, but it’s the scarcity of water dictates how the locals behave.
Q. Let’s talk setting. What made you decide to base your new novel in country New South Wales?
A. As above, and the subject is dictated by a particular landscape. Writing about the irrigation plains gave me an opportunity to show that they’re beautiful, and the space and distance to the horizon provides a place for Mitch’s thought to reach for, to wonder and ponder. The Dethridge wheels, the sound of birds and wind and water flooding into an irrigation bay are sounds that evoke empathy. It’s a joy to write about a setting that features nature, and the characters are not diluted by a cluttered landscape and so are vivid. By putting Mitch and his friends and enemies in that landscape I was also able to convey that the rural landscape is a place of innovation and progress, experiment and achievement, and hugely productive. The people the small community in The Year of the Farmer are varied, resilient, cultured, tolerant and progressive in many ways. As in real life, there are all sorts of people running businesses and achieving and contributing to a community that depend on each other, all the while, conserving the landscape they farm while adapting to its vagaries.
Q. Where did the inspiration for the characters featured in The Year of the Farmer come from?
A. The characters are symbolic of what I wanted to say about loyalty and love, community and corruption, water and farming. And I try to create characters that are amusing and likeable vehicles to carry themes. They are all flawed, a little frustrating and larger than life, that is, dramatized to compliment a story that must convey certain agricultural facts.
Q. Is there a particular scene in The Year of the Farmer that you are proud of?
A. I quite like the scene where Neralie and Mitchell finally unite in Mitch’s tractor as he’s contemplating ploughing the entire crop in, just wiping all that effort away. Her arrival is timely. And the ‘Burdian’s Ass’ sub theme helped ground the story. Buridan’s ass is a paradox about free will, a hypothetical situation where a donkey is placed precisely midway between a bale of hay and a bucket of water. The paradox assumes the donkey will always go to whichever is closer, but the donkey can’t make a rational decision about which one to go to so it dies of hunger and thirst. It’s a metaphor for Mitch’s dilemma but in the end, he makes a rational decision because his instinct to survive surfaces. Mitch’s plight is paralleled by Kevin’s circumstance as well, but fate intervenes for Kevin whereas Mitch rejects his fate (to die, as did Captain Ahab in Moby Dick). Mitch arrives at his decision after Neralie acts to solve the problem of his heartbroken and grieving pet donkey.
Q. What does your book, The Year of the Farmer, have to say about Australian women, particularly those residing in our country based areas?
A. The Year of the Farmer says that rural women contribute 50% to farming. It says that Isobel is typical of a lot of rural women – capable, strong, and decisive, a successful businesswoman, a mother and a farmer, all at once. The Year of the Farmer points out that women are an important part of rural life and that they are seen to be so by their communities. Rural communities support each other, provide for and keep farming businesses viable. Jasey, Lana and Neralie hold key positions in the town and are awarded the respect they deserve by the men folk they encounter every day.
Neralie needs to remain neutral, which is hard thing to do amid the divisions over water, but she also takes matters into hand when it’s necessary for the health of the community.
Mandy symbolises how a powerful position can be destructive to people and their way of life, and poses questions around the need for unity to succeed.
Q. Can you envisage The Year of the Farmer being developed into a film, like your highly successful novel The Dressmaker?
A. Of course! It just needs Liam Hemsworth to play Mitch. That said, the subject of irrigation water and its accompanying issues might not fill a lot of cinemas, because cinema’s mostly situated in cities. There’s a huge divide between city and country and though a film of The Year of the Farmer would go some way to closing that gap, you’d first need to find that special gambler willing to invest millions into a rural story based around farming and water.
Q. Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
A. There’s always something vital that needs to be written, it’s finding the headspace to get the basics down, then build from that. My work space is a mess. I’d love someone to come in and tidy it up, but I’d have to tidy it first. I sit on a mezzanine level in my home in Brunswick and look out at treetops and corrugated iron roofs. If there weren’t so many roofs I could almost imagine being in the country. When I’ve done all the plotting and know where the story will go, when I have a second draft it’s important to focus, I take myself to perfect isolation and stay with the emotional and psychological development of my characters for days. I always go to the country.
Q. How has your writing evolved since your first published novel?
A. The Dressmaker was my first novel and a product of a writing course. It has flaws, but it is a ripping yarn and has great drama and evokes huge emotional response. In my subsequent three novels I’ve been working my way into the minds of my characters as well as honing my technical craft, things like syntax and point of view and distance from characters and building the story’s low and high points. All good for a ‘well constructed novel.’ But I’m a believer in reading for entertainment and enlightenment and so I try, always, to make it a good, meaty story.
Q. If you were not able to write what would be your chosen career?
A. When I’m not writing, I’m a teacher. It’s a vocation I love because I teach Literature, I show how reading is reflected in life, how everything is a story and how much we learn from stories, how clever they are and how they show us alternative ways and highlight what we are missing. Literature and stories invite us to ask why we don’t understand some stories, what is missing in our thinking that makes some things in life unfathomable.
Q. What is next on the horizon for Rosalie Ham? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
A. Writers always have projects, and I’m winding my way towards another novel but it’s far too early to say what it’ll be at this stage. Doubtless, it’ll be humorous and possibly darkly ironic because that’s just the way they come out.
Q. Finally, what 2018 book releases are you most excited to read?
A. I have a Michelle De Kretser novel next to my bed, Questions of Travel (2013). I’m reading William Trevor’s Last Stories, and Moreno Giovannoni’s The Fireflies of Autumn, and I’m researching a future book, so I’m reading all about Dior, Madame Vionnet and Balenciaga.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews Rosalie and congratulations on today’s publication of The Year of the Farmer.
Connect with Rosalie here:
If this Q & A enticed you to read The Year of the Farmer, here is the blurb:
In a quiet farming town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.
The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie Mackintosh’s fault. If she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.
So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order. But Mandy Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt. And Mandy and Neralie’s war may be just the chance she was looking for…
A darkly satirical novel of a small country town battling the elements and one another, from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker.
The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham is published on 25th September 2018 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.