Kaye Dobbie on Sweet Wattle Creek: interview

Sweet Wattle Creek book review

It’s raining in Sydney as I write this, and tomorrow promises to be dreary and grey. However, if you’re suffering from SADD, which I promise you is a thing (how else to explain my moods recently), then Sweet Wattle Creek is what you need to read. It’s a ray of sunshine — and yes, I really did just use that line — because it really honestly does fit. Not to mention, it’s filled with promise for its characters.

Sweet Wattle Creek is three stories of interconnected women who exude strength in some tough times in their lives. And they’re all linked together by a wonderful wedding dress. I reviewed it earlier — and before I rehash the whole thing right here, go check out the link above.

And, the award-winning author, Kaye Dobbie, was kind enough to talk to me about why she loves writing historical romances, about the genre in Australia and most importantly, the women in Sweet Wattle Creek.

Kaye, what sort of reader are you?

I’m a fast reader, and if I don’t like a book I don’t finish it. Life is too short, I think, and there are so many books out there. I usually stick to my favourite authors but I also like to try new ones, especially if I’ve heard good things about them. As a writer I think you have to know what’s being read and talked about.

Describe the act of writing, for you, in three words?

Exciting, exhausting, fulfilling.

What is it about historical romance that first grabbed you as a writer? What would your readers be surprised to learn about you in that regard?

I wish it was possible to travel through time, but I know it isn’t — at least not yet — and writing about it seems to be the next best thing. And as a historical romance writer there are so many possibilities for settings and characters. I also think readers are more accepting of situations set in the past than in contemporary times. A knight in armour can ride off with his lady love and (after a certain time spent winning her heart) live happily ever after. Not sure if the boss can do that to his secretary without it being called kidnapping. I love Australian history and used to prefer writing in the convict era but as I’ve grown older I seem to be moving forward. Sweet Wattle Creek has a story set in 1931 as well as 1986.

And what would my readers be surprised to learn about me? That I was rejected by Mills & Boon for an early book they called dark and dismal and full of bad smells! It was set in Medieval Scotland with the sort of hero most women would run a mile from.

What is your opinion about the Australian historical romance genre-how has it grown/changed since you started writing?

I’m not sure some of the books I used to write would get published now. They were large and dense with detail, and I don’t know if readers want that now. They seem to prefer a story that moves along at a faster pace, and gets to the point a lot faster, too. I used to write pages of historical detail but I think my editor would put a red pen through them now — in fact she has! That’s not to say the books these days aren’t as good, they’re just different, times have changed. And it’s good to see that people are increasingly interested in stories from our past.

Is there anything you would like to see more of in the genre? Or less, as the case may be!

In my opinion people will write and read what they’re comfortable with. You can write a steamy Regency or a sweet Australian rural tale, and still find a readership. And with self publishing being so popular there’s just about a book for every taste out there.

Sweet Wattle Creek revolves around a wedding dress at the centre of each woman’s story — how did the idea for that story begin?

Kaye Dobbie Sweet Wattle CreekThe wedding dress idea was put to me many years ago by my agent. I thought about it, but the time wasn’t right to use it, and anyway I wasn’t sure how to make it work. And then there was a Wedding Dress exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery, and again the idea popped up, but again I put it aside. When I started to play around with ideas for Sweet Wattle Creek, the wedding dress was there again, and this time it all came together.

Martha, Belle and Sophie are the three different women, from three different eras in the book — was there anything in particular that drew you to the eras/years in which these ladies’ stories are set and what it meant to be female in those eras?

I hadn’t intended to write a book set in the 1930s, but it just seemed to happen, and then I became fascinated by the Depression years and how people coped. I was also interested in how the effects of the First World War lingered on, and so many women were affected by that. In fact my intention in the beginning was to write a First World War story, but it just seemed to me there were so many books coming out at that time about the war and I wanted mine to be different. Women were certainly tested during those times, and I wanted to show that. They kept the home going while the men were away, and during the Depression the men were often away, too, looking for work. With Sophie, whose story is set in 1986, I used some of my own experience, working in the courts in Brisbane. Again, I wanted to show a woman who was strong and tested by the times. I’ve tried to use a light touch, although Sophie’s situation is appalling, and I think it resonates with women throughout the ages.

What do you hope readers understand about these women and their stories by the book’s end?

Belle’s begins her story believing she knows who and what she is, and then learns that nothing is as it seems. She has to find her place in a world she barely recognises, and happiness where she least expects to find it. She has to step out of the shadows and take risks. Sophie’s story is about a woman who has been through a rough time, and has had to hide her true self to survive. As the book begins she is starting to feel a little safer, a little more secure, and eventually the point comes where she must make a decision. Continue to hide or reclaim her life, whatever the consequences. And I think Martha’s story shows that sometimes sacrifice is necessary to save those we love.

If you could give one piece of advice about writing in the historical romance genre –something you wish you’d been told — what would it be?

I think it would be the same as writing in any genre: practice. Learning to be a writer, getting published, takes lots and lots of practice. It’s not something others can teach you, not all of it anyway. You have to be alone and live through all your fears of not being good enough. Keep at it. And remember, although you have to enjoy what you’re doing and want to succeed, you have to please your readers too, because they are the ones who will buy your books.

What’s next for you in 2015?

Well, I’m currently working on my third book for Mira. I only ever expected to write one book for them, but then it was two, and now it’s four. Very exciting. So that’s my main focus for now, finishing book three, and then having a bit of a break before plunging into book four.       

Thank you, Kaye! Check out her website for more of her amazing titles and a true idea of the wealth of her amazing work! Books like Sweet Wattle Creek are little unexpected gems, I find — the kind that grab you with a simple story and emotional depth.  Will you give Sweet Wattle Creek a try? I hope so — I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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