Tales of women in agriculture inspire local author Fleur McDonald

Fleur McDonald © Photo by Rose Henderson

Author Fleur McDonald grew up in South Australia with an affinity for rural life. The author of more than 22 books with a country background, her latest book, Voices in the Dark, is a compelling read about a family and its older members.

Now farming in Esperance, Fleur says that when she was a child growing up in Orroroo, her family made a conscious decision to keep her grandparents at home. 

“I saw that in rural areas we don’t have the facilities or funding to do that easily and I wanted to highlight it,” she tells Have a Go News.

“The research was not necessarily my experience but my parents are getting to that age where you have to stop and think about what’s going to happen to them in time. My friends are in the same situation.

“I deliver Meals on Wheels and I see a lot of people trying to keep elderly people in their own home and have this type of quality, so I guess that is the type of research I have done.”

“I wrote Voices in the Dark in 2022. I write two books a year and they all have a rural background. I guess that is where I’m from and it’s easy to write about what you know. 

“I set a lot of my books in South Australia, but I have lived in Esperance for the past 30 years.”

Voices in the Dark tells the story of Sassi Stapleton who receives a middle-of-the-night phone call to tell her that her beloved grandmother is unwell. She quickly puts her job on hold, packs her ute and sets off on a long drive home, knowing her grandfather will need her.

Less than an hour away from Sassi’s hometown, Barker, she swerves to miss a roo, and her car rolls down an enbankment, By the time Sassi is found, her grandmother has passed away.

What ensues is a riveting story involving Sassi’s estranged mother, Amber, living in South Africa, who flies home to become involved with her family again. Tensions rise with the family together under one roof.

Fleur, who lives in Esperance with her son and daughter, farms 2000 acres east of the town and leases 2500 acres east of Perth.

“I’m a farmer and it’s an area I know very well,” Fleur says. “I had women coming to me saying how good it was to have their lives reflected on the pages. Before fellow author Rachel Treasure and I started writing there probably wasn’t much of that.

“So to be able to talk about farming and in particular women in farming is a special thing.

“Women in agriculture are special. Back in 1994, only three years after I left school, women legally were not able to call themselves farmers. I feel this is another reason to be writing these books and making sure people understand where we have come from and how we have got to where we are.”

Fleur says she hopes people gain entertainment from her books. “I find the world is such a terrible place at the moment that to be able to get lost in the pages of a good story is a very special thing.

“I need something to pique my interest and I can work with that, a granule of an idea. The idea for Voices in the Dark came when I was touring a station and had a ute pass me very quickly on the Hume Highway.

“Twenty metres up the road I came across the ute stopped with a woman with her head on the steering wheel. I wondered what had happened to her to take her from driving quickly and to be stopped and crying.

“What phone call had she had? So that was where the opening theme came from.”

Fleur, who spent a month late last year touring Queensland and NSW promoting her book, studied agribusiness and later became one of the first jillaroos in the south east of SA, taking on the blokes in a male dominated industry. She started farming in 1992.

When her children were still small, she discovered her passion for writing. She wrote snippets on pieces of paper in between late night feeds, shifting sheep in the ute, while on the tractor during harvest and in rare moments of peace during harvest, under a tree in a paddock.

To this day Fleur still prefers to write out in the backyard under a gum tree or in the bush sleeping in a swag.

Her debut novel, Red Dust, made her the highest selling debut author of 2009. Since then, she’s gone on to write 22 novels and two children’s books. 

Writing, says Fleur, is her full-time job. She has another book, Shock Waves, coming out in April and another she is currently writing, due for release late this year.

Voices in the Dark by Fleur McDonald ($32.99, Allen & Unwin), is on sale now at all good bookstores.