It is a pleasure to welcome Leonie Kelsall to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a author interview series. To help celebrate the release of The Wattle Seed Inn we sat down for a chat. Thanks Leonie!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
A long black – though there is a story attached to that (surprise!!)
Most of my books have a ‘foodie’ element to them, and I insist on trial cooking every dish I mention. In The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, Roni was learning to bake sourdough, scones and lamingtons. Happily, the release of Peppertree coincided with the COVID lockdowns, so I threw myself into baking all of these with a passion. Unhappily, that led to a 10kg weight gain.
Happily, Gabrielle in The Wattle Seed Inn is rather more restrained, her interest lying in French savoury dishes…and Lucie in next year’s book is all about organics, so there have been a lot of chia tarts and kefir around here.
Unhappily, the book I’m currently working on is VERY heavily into CWA-style baking, so I’m dying to start churning out coffee kisses and jelly cakes and vanilla slices. But, until I start that, I’m trying to maintain a keto lifestyle, so only black coffee is allowed.
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
Ooh, short version or long?
The Wattle Seed Inn will be my sixteenth title (hang on, I’m just checking the covers hung on my walls to make sure of that count!) since 2018, and Allen & Unwin my third publisher.
I have a bunch (what is the collective noun for a load of titles?) of books published in the US as Laney Kaye, in a number of genres including feminist noir, contemporary steamy romance, light sci-fi, and alien erotic rom-com. Yes, that last IS a genre – and this is a hill I am willing to die upon!
How different was the experience of writing The Wattle Seed Inn compared to your previous release, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing?
When I wrote The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, I didn’t actually know what rural romance was, and had never read a book in the genre. So, with The Wattle Seed Inn, I had an advantage in that I at least knew the expectations! That said, I still wrote the story I wanted, and just had my fingers tightly crossed it would fly with my publisher – like The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, there are a couple of elements that I believe are not frequently explored in Ru-Ro.
The Wattle Seed Inn was possibly easier to write than Peppertree because it has three points of view, which means I’m writing in the voices of three different characters. Multiple (two to three) points of view is generally my preferred writing technique, and I find it much swifter because each character is eager to get their two cent’s worth on the page. However, writing multiples is also a little trickier, as it’s hard to work in a twist and keep secrets from the reader when they are privy to what is going on in each character’s mind.
What kick started the creation of your latest novel, The Wattle Seed Inn?
The idea for The Wattle Seed Inn was kind of instant, and most of the story came together fairly easily –as I’m a pantser, I only need a basic idea for a story, nutting out a few key points or character arcs, then I fly by the seat of my pants and see where the story takes me. My daughter (aka The Kid on my social media) and I were driving to the South Australian Riverland on a book signing tour for The Farm at Peppertree Crossing. We passed through a tiny town that consisted of a handful of houses, maybe a couple of dozen residents…and a two storey, rather rundown pub at the end of the street. We hadn’t travelled more than a hundred metres when I said something along the lines of “There’s a story in that pub.” So, we doubled back, took a load of photos, and then spent the rest of the trip brainstorming the basic outline of The Wattle Seed Inn.
Did you develop a strong connection to one of the characters featured in The Wattle Seed Inn?
I think one of the reasons I particularly love this story is because so many of the characters are real to me. All three main characters hold a very special place in my heart:
Ilse, because, at a hundred years old, she has such an interesting history. Also because she is headstrong and domineering, yet is broken by her regrets.
Gabrielle is fabulous because she’s the girl I’d love to hate, the woman who seems to have it all – yet she is so much more than her facade.
But Hayden, ah, Hayden. I’m a little in love with him still. As I fought the Black Wednesday bushfires with the CFS when I was a teenager, Hayden’s story is very close to my heart. And I do love a tortured hero.
However, one of the side characters, Sharna, is the one I feel the most for, as she struggles to come to grips with an issue she has been hiding for years.
Can you give us an insight into the setting base for The Wattle Seed Inn?
Like The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, The Wattle Seed Inn is set near the fictitious rural town of Settlers Bridge in South Australia, and features appearances from some of the characters in Peppertree. This time, though, instead of being set in the arid farming land, the story takes place in a dilapidated, unloved inn on the banks of the majestic Murray River.
What key ingredients are essential to crafting a rural fiction novel?
Chocolate. Wine. Coffee.
Oh, that’s not what you meant, is it?
For me, there are two things important to any work of fiction. One is the character arc. While the story can be dramatic, pretty, tear-jerking, humorous, exciting, or whatever the writer chooses, it is vital that the main character grows and learns something about themself during the course of the story.
Second is the onion. Very few people are intrinsically bad or good. Instead, we’re shades of grey, both in the employment of our moral values and the way we interact with one another. Therefore, to create a realistic story, it’s important that each character reveals flaws as well as strengths. To achieve this, a writer must carefully unwrap each character – peel back the layers of the onion – to discover why they act as they do, make the decisions they make. And then comes the tricky bit – a sense of the character’s motives has to make it to the page, to convey what the writer has learned about them.
For rural fiction in particular, crafting a sense of place, painting a picture of the scenery and setting the atmosphere are also essential.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing The Wattle Seed Inn?
Research takes writers down some very odd paths…I was side-tracked into researching the history of the founder of Velvet soap, John Kitchen. Though I planned only a single-line mention of him in The Wattle Seed Inn, I needed to be sure that the dates worked in my timeline. However, I lost an entire day to investigating this particular thread, eventually uncovering that in 1898 John Kitchen bought out a company in Ballarat… coincidentally known as Kelsall’s Soap Works!
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading The Wattle Seed Inn?
I’m hoping this story will leave readers with a book hangover – I know writing it left me with a terrible one, I had to make it to the second draft of the next novel before I could even start moving on from Ilse, Gabrielle and Hayden’s story! I want The Wattle Seed Inn to instil a sense of joy, and also an awareness that time is finite, and we shouldn’t waste it. If you love someone, tell them today.
How do you balance life with writing?
Because writing is a passion, it tends to take over my life. There isn’t a day that I don’t sit at the computer – which isn’t to say that I actually manage to write something each day! There’s a lot of time spent on social media, researching, or reading reviews, too.
Fortunately, I have a menagerie of animals to divert me (including Bear and Scritches from The Farm at Peppertree Crossing), and gardens at both my Adelaide Hills house and the Pallamana farm to take care of. Plus, three kids, a grandbaby – oh, and a job!
So I guess life simply inserts itself into writing, and I don’t need to find a balance.
What is the best part of being a published author?
When working toward being published, I found it really hard to justify—even to myself– the time spent at my computer instead of doing something ‘productive’— or, as my partner’s mother once said, pursuing ‘a useful hobby.’ For years, my writing and dreams of publication were a secret. This was for two reasons:
I didn’t want anyone to know that I was attempting something there was a statistically huge chance I’d fail at.
And I didn’t want people questioning whether I was ‘good enough’– I do enough of that myself!
So, a publishing contract is ‘proof’ that the way I spend my time is justified, and that—although luck plays a HUGE part in getting a contract—maybe, on the occasional day, I am ‘good enough’.
What book is next on your reading pile?
I’m torn between Karly Lane’s Take Me Home and Maya Linnell’s Wildflower Ridge – but to date I’ve only read two-and-a-half rural romances, and generally steer clear of the genre I’m writing in, so they will probably be put aside until I finish the book I’m working on. But I also have a Darry Fraser title calling to me, and The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan by Lisa Ireland, The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh, and…ugh, do I have to choose? I have a terrible habit of reading multiple books at once, delving into a chapter here and there.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
The third book based in Settlers Bridge, The Dandelion Cottage (working title) is with the publisher, so I’ll be working through edits on that very soon. And I’m about quarter of the way through writing my 2023 release, The Riverboat in the Willows (working title).
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Leonie. Congratulations on the release of your new book, The Wattle Seed Inn.
Thank you, Mrs B. I hope you enjoy the read! x
An entrancing new rural romance from the bestselling author of The Farm at Peppertree Crossing.’Warm, witty and brimming with big-hearted country characters, renovations and romance. A fabulous, feel-good rural read!’ Maya Linnell, bestselling author of Bottlebrush Creek.
Three aching hearts, a ramshackle country pub and a tangled web of secrets.
PR executive Gabrielle Moreau knows she has an easy life, but when her business partner claims she lacks career passion she takes ownership of a dilapidated pub in a tiny riverside settlement to prove she can be a success without falling back on her privilege.
Eighteen months ago, Settlers Bridge stonemason Hayden Paech had it all: a job he loved, good mates and a close family. All he needed was the right woman to come along and he was ready to settle down. But one poor choice stole that chance and he’ll never risk caring for anyone again.
Living at Wurruldi Hotel for … goodness, so many years, Ilse has seen more changes of ownership than she can recall. Clinging to her failing memories, she’s tired of trying to protect the property her grandparents built. With the arrival of the elegant Gabrielle Moreau, however, it seems that finally an owner may recognise the importance of recapturing the grace and dignity of Ilse’s past.
For Ilse to find peace, Hayden forgiveness and Gabrielle her true passion, three aching hearts must reveal their secrets.
The Wattle Seed Inn by Leonie Kelsall was published on 2nd July 2021 by Allen and Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Leonie here: