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Me and Kerrie Patterson - both gritty writers

Me and Kerrie Patterson – both gritty writers

Just recently, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I write, why I write, where I get inspiration from, and how it is I can keep going when the obvious rewards (publishing, money) are so minimal and rejection is so rife. All good questions and I’m not going to answer all of them here as I’d go on for pages and pages trying to cover it all.

However, I will answer the how I keep going part despite the negatives, because I think that’s an important subject for all writers – for anyone actually who is wanting to do anything and stick at it.

It all comes down to grit.

Aint Love GrandI always associate strongly with music, and there have been a few songs which have spoken to me a lot about the drive to keep going despite all the odds and the push backs and the rejections. I actually sang these last year at the Romance Writers of Australia, Ain’t Love Grand! conference last year. The weekend’s theme was a cabaret one, so it seemed to fit, especially with my background in performance, primarily in cabaret and theatre restaurants. I sang ‘Maybe this time’ from Cabaret, a song the editors at Harlequin Australia had asked me to sing at the cocktail party they sponsored after they found out about my performance background.  I was very happy to sing this song, as I play it to myself (and sing it to myself) a lot when I’m struggling a bit to find the oomph to keep going. It speaks to me about never giving up, always looking to what you want, even when you keep getting knocked to the ground over and over. I finished with ‘They just keep moving the line,’ from the TV musical, Smash, another favourite song to listen and sing to. It once again is about putting your head down and just keep marching forward, keep reaching for the goal, even when that goal is moved over and over again. It was an amazing pleasure to share these with my writing friends and compatriots at the conference and I know that those songs spoke to them as well.

Singing about grit

Singing about grit

But to go with these songs, I had to write a speech to go with them, to explain why there are important to me, what they give me, and why I think the meaning behind them can speak to others as well who are in this crazy writing journey as well. I closed the conference with this speech, and it went over well, but I didn’t really think much about it afterwards. However, given the conversations I’ve had lately with a number of people about how I do this, how I keep on keeping on, it seemed to me that the best thing to do is to share the speech I gave to RWA members last August and hope it speaks to others now as it did then.

GRIT – A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND

With this being our 25th year, and with the Olympics having just been on, it has made me think about what it is that drives people and organisations like ours to success. What made Lynne Wilding and her fellow romance authors think they could succeed in this industry all those years ago when they were stuck here in Australia, so far from the home of romance publishing OS and what made them think that they could start RWA and wish to succour and help other authors like them? What kept them going through the hard times? And for that matter, what makes any of us want to excel at something, to turn it from a hobby to something more, to exceed expectations, to overcome difficulties, stress, personal and physical struggles, to enhance our own abilities to the point of success and then do it all again?

Are we touched with madness? Are we delusional? Were the ladies who started RWA either of those things?IMG_1008

I don’t think so. I think it is something else that drives us – and them – to what others perceive of as madness.

Many people say, ‘Oh, I wish I could become a writer,’ or ‘I wish I had time to write,’ or ‘I know I could be a brilliant writer, if only…’ but it takes a certain kind of person to rise above those procrastinating sentences and to actually put the hard yards in to make the time, to learn to be brilliant, to take a wish and make it real. Lynne Wilding and her fellow authors who started RWA were that certain kind of people. And I think that none of you would be here today if you also weren’t that certain kind of person. But what is it in us that makes the difference between the ‘I wish’ and the ‘I do’? (and yes, that is the world’s worst pun for us and the HEAs we write!)

The one essence that rises above talent, or natural proclivity or drive, is GRIT. Yes, grit. Psychological research states that grit is as important in a person’s ability to succeed as talent or drive. What is grit, I hear you ask and why do I think you might like to hear about it? The reason I think you need to hear about it is that everyone here is dusted over with varying layers of grit – and you thought that was the tiredness of the long weekend you’ve just got through! No, you’re not tired and covered in dust – you’re just gritty.

Grit is the ability to keep driving through, no matter the obstacles, to pick yourself up and dust yourself down after knockbacks, to get on with the myriad, boring little activities and repetitive tasks that ensure expertise in something; the knuckling down when it seems hopeless and finding some way, any way, forward.

Eddie the Eagle movie poster

Eddie the Eagle movie poster

Have any of you seen or heard of Eddie The Eagle? He was a British man of no particular talent who decided that he wanted to go to the Olympics. However, he was only the 9th fastest skier in Britain at the time. And he’d tried many other sports before he’d hit on that one. When everything seemed to be ranged against him, he looked up, pressed on, and found a sport that nobody in Britain had pursued in a competitive way since 1929 – ski jumping. Despite having no sponsorship and many other obstacles in his way (including people telling him that he was demented), Eddie the Eagle found his way to the Winter Olympics in 1988 and won the heart of the spectators, media – and the world. He did it because he never gave up. He wasn’t good – just good enough to qualify. His jump was less than half that of the person who actually won. And he came roundly last. But that didn’t matter. He wanted to do it and he found a way. He didn’t give up. He had grit. And he succeeded in his dreams of participating in the Olympics.

I think RWA has had grit – despite hard times of almost bankruptcy – where a few, wonderful women knuckled down and wouldn’t give up because they didn’t want to lose what was so precious to them and others (see, grit). Despite the knocks our genre regularly gets from the media and literary types, our organisation has persevered, we’ve grown, we’ve got better, we hold onto what’s important and look to the sky, like Eddie the Eagle, wanting to fly. RWA has grit.

Lana and Daniel - more gritty writers

Me, Lana and Daniel – writers with grit

And as individuals, each and every person in this room has grit. You have to hold onto that grit no matter what, because this industry is ever changing. It can feel like you’re flying one moment only to hit the snow pack hard and feel bruised and broken because you’ve got a bad review, or not done well at a comp, or your critique partner doesn’t like what you’ve written, or your book didn’t sell and your publisher won’t publish the next book, or your self-published or traditionally published book is just floundering in a sea of other books. Feel sad – have that pity party for one, I’m not saying don’t. But then dig deep. Use that grit I know you have and raise your head back to the sky and forge on. Read, watch TV or the movies, go out with family or friends, play sport, go to the gym, sink into another hobby that brings you joy, do whatever you need to do to fill that well and make yourself feel better and then get stuck back in. Because nothing is truly worthwhile in this world when it’s too easy, when it’s handed to you on a silver platter. When you’re in the depths of despair, it can feel like that would be nice – I’d rather like someone to just float on by and tell me how brilliant I am out of the blue and give me everything I’ve ever dreamed of. But is that likely to happen? Nope. What is more likely is that the grit that’s inside me, the thing that makes me want this and hold onto that dream for grim death and never give in, will rise up with a little bit of coaxing from me and carry me forward.

RWA logoSo, going forward, I wish you all grit. I hope you have enough to cover yourself in it, to breathe in its gritty-grittiness, to feel the coarse-edginess of it on your skin, toughening you a little bit more, making you harder to knock down. And for this next year, while I am still president, I promise you that RWA will continue to have grit too, will continue to help you, work alongside you, be there for the good times and the bad, give you a helping hand to get back up, yell at you a bit when you stay in your pity party a bit too long (but nicely), and help give you the strength to make that grit truly mean something in the end.

 

Me and Alex Adsett - super agent

Me and Alex Adsett – super agent

I haven’t posted for a long time, and one of the reasons is after advice from my brilliant agent, Alex Adsett, I became a bit of a writing hermit (when I wasn’t doing family stuff, working or doing presidential things for Romance Writers of Australia!) and was concentrating on finishing the Witch-Were Chronicles so we could go out with them and try to get a publisher as interested in these stories as we are.

And guess what? After a year and a half of hard work, writing my writerly fingers to the bone and wearing out a computer (and frustrating my family when I wouldn’t answer them as I was too caught up in my characters and their problems 😉 ), the wonderful Kate Cuthbert at Harlequin Escape, proved to be just as interested as Alex and I are in this world of Were, Witches, Shifters, powers gone wrong, curses and a prophecy that could destroy them all.

I now have a 4 book contract with Harlequin Escape for the Witch-Were Chronicles – so, really, hard work and being a writing hermit truly does pay off!

You can see Alex’s post announcing this exciting news here:

The Witch-Were Chronicles sells to Harlequin Escape

Or simply read what she said about the sale here:

AAPS is excited to announce that the amazing Leisl Leighton has signed with Harlequin Escape to publish The Witch-Were Chronicles. This four-book series is paranormal romance at its best – brilliant world building, strong heroines, and sexy heroes, with ancient curses haunting the werewolf packs of modern Australia.

Leisl is the much-loved president of the Romance Writers of Australia, and has previously published two titles with Penguin Destiny.

Escape will publish all four books of The Witch-Were Chronicles later this year as a digital box set. This means that Leisl’s fans and new followers can binge-read the whole series in one go – no waiting.

Harlequin Escape is the digital-first imprint of Harlequin Australia, and this represents AAPS’ first official sale to the Escape imprint.

 

I am really excited that these books, tentatively titled, Witch, Healer, Blood and Ghost, will finally go out to readers later this year and hope that everyone will fall in love with my Witches, Weres and Shifters as much as Alex, Kate and I have.

Happy reading everyone and stay tuned for more news on the Witch-Were Chronicles – I will share publication dates, covers etc as they come to light.

NoPlaceLikeYouI am super delighted today to be able to feature on my blog one of my very good friends, Marnie St. Clair. She has her first novel, No Place Like You, out with Escape. It’s a lovely rural romance set in country Australia, with characters that will truly touch your hear. I loved it and I know you will too.

But, before you rush off to buy it, let me introduce you to Marnie and let her tell you a little bit about herself and her new novel.

Hi Marnie. Thanks for being a guest on my blog. It’s really exciting to have you here for the first time to celebrate your new release with Escape, No Place Like You.

MSC: Thanks for having me, Leisl!

LL: Can you tell us a little bit about your new novel?

MSC: No Place Like You is a contemporary romance set in a fictional country town a couple of hours west of Sydney. It was somewhat inspired by my mother-in-law. Much to her horror—I don’t think she pictures herself as a romance heroine. She spent most of the year in Sydney’s North Shore (weirdly, she boarded at PLC even though she lived in the same suburb), but every summer her family migrated to their property somewhere in the vicinity of Bathurst. This is pretty much the backstory of my heroine Lily, and by default, my hero Josh—the station manager’s son, who lived on the property year-round. The book is a little about class differences and a lot about forgiveness.

LL: Is this a standalone novel or are you planning a little bit of a series?

MSC: A second book is in the works, featuring Kate and Saxon, who now have to deal with the aftermath of their delightful interlude in No Place Like You.

LL: Authors are always being told it’s best to diversify in this ever changing publishing environment. Do you write only contemporary romances with a rural flavour, or do you also write in other genres too?

MSC: I adore crime and tend to gravitate towards adding just a dash of something mysterious. Or sometimes a bucket-load. See next question…

LL: What are you working on currently?

MSC: I am currently polishing up a fast-paced and fun mystery romance Blue Illusion, which pits a street-wise femme fatale against a charming rake of a PI in the hunt for a long-lost sapphire necklace. It’s planned as the first in a series of five featuring the detectives at de Crespigny Investigations.

LL: Sounds intriguing. Actually, I’m being coy, I know it’s good as I’ve read the first one! Can you share with us your ‘Call’ story?

20150513_123240MSC: Picture this. We’re in the deep dark depths of the summer holidays. I’m just back from taking my girls to a chocolate festival at the Immigration Museum (a fabulous tasty cultural experience). There’s an email from Kate Cuthbert from Escape in my inbox, saying she loved No Place Like You and was interested in acquiring it. Already high on choc-related sugar and caffeine, I add copious quantities of adrenaline and Aussie bubbles. Leisl, you know I struggle for calm at the best of times…

LL: LOL. That doesn’t sound like you at all! How long have you been writing for and what led you to being published?

MSC: I started playing around with writing after the birth of my younger daughter in 2007. Quickly realised I needed help and joined the RWA in 2008. Found my lovely and amazing writing group in 2009. Finally decided I did actually want to finish something and get published around 2012. Pitched something woefully underbaked at the RWA conference in 2013. Spent another year redrafting my manuscript and finally felt it was ready to resubmit at the end of 2014. Voila, No Place Like You.

LL: What do you think is the best advice you could give to a new writer with an aspiration to being published?

MSC: Hmm, tough one. Something like, have faith and push through. Honestly, everyone thinks their first draft is shit—first drafts are shit—but just keep pushing through to the end. Don’t worry if you get there and it’s a mess—your story is in there somewhere. Have faith and revel in the torture of redrafting.

LL : What inspires you to keep writing? Where do your writing ideas come from?

MSC: Reading, I would say. When you read a book that elicits a full-body visceral reaction, whether it’s fear or gleeful anticipation, lust or love, I’m like, I want to do that. Also, although I don’t think of myself as overly nurturing, I have a strong desire to comfort. Books can hold your hand through difficult times, and I feel compelled to offer something like that.

Writing ideas? Who knows? To (mis)quote Keith Richards: they’re all up there—stick your antennae up and wait.

LL: What are Marnie St Clair’s pet peeves? What are your favourite things?

MSC: Pet peeves. You know, I really hate smug. I thought this must be universal, but talking to a friend the other day, she didn’t get the smug thing at all—she hates self-pitying whingers. Wow. I’m totally fine with self-pitying whingers. In fact, most of the time… Wait, was she trying to tell me something?

Favourite things. Fragrant flowers. Baltic linen. Winter boots. Sand and stars. Mongolia, for some inexplicable reason.

LL: I’m with you on the flowers, winter boots and stars. Can take or leave the linen and sand. Mongolia – I think it would be fascinating.

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today, Marnie. It was fun finding out a little bit more about you and your writing.

NoPlaceLikeYouYou can buy Marnie’s novel, No Place Like You from:

http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9780857992581

Author bio:

I grew up in country NSW but now live in a lovely leafy suburb of Melbourne with my weather man husband and two gorgeous daughters. Apart from a deep and abiding love of all things romance, I have a wide array of unusual and embarrassing passions including playing Bridge, growing succulents, visiting deserts and getting down on the Zumba floor. No points for guessing which is the embarrassing one.

You can find out more about Marnie at: marniestclair.com

Destiny Promo PhotoTonight I have Bernadette Rowley here to chat about her new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid, newly out with Momentum. She also chats about her love of fantasy and world building. So get yourself a hot drink (hot chocolate with honey is my favourite on a cold night), settle in and enjoy finding out more about Bernadette and her work.

Hi Bernadette. Thanks for being a guest on my blog. It’s really exciting to have you here once again to tell us about your new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid.

Hi Leisl, it’s great to be back!

Can you tell us a little bit about your new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid?

The Lord and the Mermaid is basically my retelling of The Little Mermaid. Mermaid Merielle flees her people, hoping for a better life. She is determined to find a human man and make him fall in love with her, believing his love will make her human in turn. The man she happens across is Lord Nikolas Cosara, a hunky ship’s captain, who has exiled himself after a past tragedy. He is the last person who would ever love a mermaid but they experience an instant attraction and the story flows from there.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for you in the last year or so since your last novel was released, The Lady’s Choice – something I’m experiencing a bit myself at the moment. Can you tell us about it?

Princess Avenger and The Lady’s Choice were published in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Being a new imprint when I started with them, it took a couple of years to find its way and they eventually decided to stop publishing fantasy as a genre. That left me unwilling to part with my series and needing to find a new publisher for The Lord and the Mermaid. I didn’t know if someone else would wish to take me up but didn’t want to go out on my own. I pitched my mermaid story to Momentum’s Haylee Nash at conference and she offered me a two book deal. I got the rights back for Princess Avenger and The Lady’s Choice and have self-published them. I now have the best of both worlds!

0315 The Lord and The Mermaid_v8The Lord and the Mermaid is a novel related to your Princess Avenger series – how is it related? Are any of the characters the same?

Princess Avenger is set in Brightcastle, a city about four days ride west of Wildecoast where The Lord and the Mermaid is set. Both cities are in my fantasy world of Thorius. Readers were introduced to Thorius in Princess Avenger and to Wildecoast in The Lady’s Choice. Some of the minor characters are the same. You could say that the books that have gone before are prequels to The Lord and the Mermaid.

Is it a standalone novel, or is it going to be a part of a larger series? – I love a good series.

You know me, Leisl. If I’m writing a book it’s part of a series, the longer the better. Having said that, The Lord and the Mermaid can be read on its own. Merielle and Nik’s story is the first in the Wildecoast Saga with Momentum.

Where did the idea for this series come from?

It was perfect timing, really, I had a story set in the same world but a different city with new elements (being the increasing threat from the dark elves) and Momentum wanted to start from scratch with this book. So we created The Wildecoast Saga.

Princess Avenger Ebook coverWhat inspires you to keep writing in this world?

I love this world that I’ve created. I can make whatever rules I wish for and my characters have amazing abilities. Why wouldn’t you want to keep writing new love stories that take the secondary themes, of intrigue and war, forward?

You have recently self-published your first two novels after getting the rights back from your previous publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about this process and how you’ve found it? What have you learned from it that’s helping you with your writing in general? Would you self-publish other works in the future again?

Self-publishing was daunting at first but I started with Smashwords and they made it easy. I enlisted a cover designer and she also did the formatting. I was so excited when I saw my very own covers and think they are rather beautiful. I have two more to reveal when I release book 2 and 3 of the Princess Avenger trilogy. I also worked with Tracey O’Hara in editing Princess Avenger and learned quite a lot from that. Don’t we all wish we could go back and fix some of the weaknesses in our first book? I think you learn a little each time you publish a book, no matter how you do it and I definitely will be doing so again. I’m hoping to have part two of my trilogy out this year.

Are you planning any novels in the future that are set in a new fantasy world? Or have you got any aspirations to write in a different genre?

I have no new fantasy worlds planned but I do have the beginnings (first two books) of a space opera series. I also have two books in a junior fiction series written.

the-ladys-choice-cover-newYou’re a vet by day, as well as a mother. How do you find the time to write? Talk us through your process.

The first two days of the week are given over to vet work and then my five day writing week begins! I try to do some every day and when I’m writing draft I aim for one to two thousand words each day. All this year has been given over to editing but I’m currently working on a story that will be book three in the Wildecoast Saga.

I, of course have plenty of housework to take care of but usually write late morning and in the afternoon. I always try to be available to my sons who are 17, 19 and 21. They’ve been encouraged to follow their dreams no matter what.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of your writing career so far? What have you had the most difficulties with? What have you learned the most from?

I can’t believe how long the editing process is and that no matter how good your book is, there are always ways it can be improved. I’ve had the most difficulties with promoting my work – I’m not very good at talking about my books. I’ve learned heaps from each editor I’ve worked with and expect to continue to learn with each book.

Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today, Bernadette. It was fun finding out a little bit more about you and your writing.

Bernadette has very generously decided to give away a copy of her new novel, The Lord and the Mermaid. All you have to do is comment on what fantasy characters you like reading about? Mermaids, Shifters, Vampires, Elves, Dragons, Fairies… Bernadette will pick the winner from these. So, comment away and share what your favourite fantasy characters are…

You can buy Bernadette’s novels from:

The Lord and the Mermaid: http://momentumbooks.com.au/books/the-lord-and-the-mermaid/

Princess Avenger: FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/546489

The Lady’s Choice: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/546751

World of Thorius Boxed Set: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B010SDVQG0

Author bio:

Bernadette Rowley is an author of fantasy romance who grew up on rural properties on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. Her teenage years were spent training her beloved horses, reading the fantasy stories of Tolkien, Brooks and Eddings and dreaming of becoming a vet.
She graduated as a vet in 1987 and now works part time, allowing her five days a week for her passion- writing. Bernadette lives in Townsville with her husband of 27 years, their sons and Slippers the cat. Her other interests are reading (fantasy and romance), singing (a capella), cricket and music.

You can find out more about Bernadette at:

http://bernadetterowley.com

https://twitter.com/bt_rowley

http://www.facebook.com/bernadetterowleyfantasy

Daniel-de-Lorne PhotoI’m really pleased to have Daniel DeLorne back to guest here today. After working with Dan on the RWA committee (he is my VP and one of our Hearts Talk Editors) I have come to call him SuperDan. He can pretty much do anything I throw at him and do it better than I expected. I’m not quite certain why I keep being surprised – maybe I just like to be surprised.

Anyway, Dan is here to talk to us today about his new novel, Burning Blood, the sequel to his dark and tortured (and amazing) first novel, Beckoning Blood. Take it away Dan.

Burning Blood, Sisters and Sequels.

Thanks for having me as a guest again, Leisl.

For those of you who haven’t read the first book in the series, Beckoning Blood is a gruesome romantic horror that focuses on the lives of gay twin vampires, Olivier and Thierry, as they slash and burn their way through the centuries.

The sequel, however, was my chance to explore the other side of the d’Arjou family. After people read Beckoning Blood, I heard them say they wanted to know about Aurelia as she played an important part in the plot of the first book, without getting much air-time.

I always knew she’d have a big role in the overall story arc but when I began writing Burning Blood, Burning-Blood-Cover-600I didn’t realise how much was going on with her.

Initially I was trying to wrap everything up in the second book but as my first and second attempt at this story broke beneath the enormity of what I was trying to do (this is a good advertisement for plotting over pantsing), I realised I had to give her the space to tell her story. And that’s what Burning Blood is.

The book goes through the same three timeframes that Olivier and Thierry went through in the first book, that is, Carcassonne in the Middle Ages, Saxony in the late 1700s, and the present day. While the brothers make brief appearances, this isn’t their book. This might be a relief for some readers who want a break from the blood and violence of Beckoning Blood.

We watch Aurelia’s struggle through the centuries, her battle with Henri, the head of the d’Arjou family. We see her trauma and experience her attempt to find some happiness while under extreme pressure. Thankfully, she has a friend in Hame, a red-haired oracle who helps relieve some of the burdens she has to bear…until Carn enters the scene.

I don’t want to give too much a way but readers can expect an epic story where what we want and what we get aren’t always the same thing, and how family traumas leave deep scars. But as always, there’s hope for a better life.

To celebrate the launch of Burning Blood, Im running a giveaway where you can win a Wild Wood Tarot Deck and both of my books. Just visit my website to enter.

Beckoning Blood Cover 1000Burning Blood (Bonds of Blood: Book 2)

No one gets to choose who they spend eternity with.

Aurelia d’Arjou has vampires for brothers, but it is as a witch that she comes into her own power, keeping balance and control, using her strength to mitigate the death and pain that her brothers bring. When she is forced to take on the centuries long task of keeping the world safe from the brutal demon that wore her father’s skin, duty dominates her life. But rare happiness comes in the form of a beguiling, flame-haired oracle who makes the perfect companion…but for one thing.

Hame doesn’t want to be an oracle, but when a demon destroys the closest thing to a father he has, he has little choice but to aid Aurelia with his visions. Unable to love her as she would wish, their centuries-old friendship comes under attack when a handsome Welsh witch enters his life – and his heart.

As treachery and betrayal push Hame to choose between his closest friend and his lover, it becomes clear that when it comes to war, love doesn’t always conquer all, and happy endings are never guaranteed.

Read an excerpt or order now from Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Nook | GooglePlay.

Daniel de Lorne writes dark tales of ruin, romance and redemption. His debut novel, Beckoning Blood, came out in May 2014. You can find out more about him on his website (you can also get a free short story), Facebook and Twitter.

20150312_124815We woke up on our third day to mist over the Howqua and the air clearer than it had been for days. It hadn’t been as cold during the night as it was up near Craig’s Hut and we’d actually managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. The back burning smoke had blown over to the other side of the mountains and there was a light blue sky above. We were in for another lovely day.

After another hearty breakfast with hot water poured out of billy cans set over the fire for tea or instant coffee, we packed up our tent, fed and brushed the horses, saddled them and after walking them around to warm up their backs, we set off.

P1020758The riding over the last few days had been hard with lots of steep hills, but today we were promised mostly flats – so we thought that we were in for an easy day of it. How wrong we were. We were riding on an old cattle trail looking down at the Howqua. It was narrow and the ground rose on our left too steep to ride up, and fell away on our right down to the river. It wasn’t quite a cliff, but steep enough that if you and your horse went down, you wouldn’t be stopped by anything but the trees and bracken growing out of the rocky side of the mountain. It was beautiful country, but I found I really had to keep my wits about me and really had to work as a team with my horse, Chelsea.

Some of the path had been softened a lot by recent rain, and our trail leader, Shelley, was rather annoyed at how damaged portions of it were. They’d been assured, after having had an accident along that trail where one of their helpers had slipped off the trail with her horse and slid down the hillside a few months before (nobody was hurt, luckily), that the Parks had been through the trail and done work on it to make it safe for riders. There were sections that were decidedly not safe and we stopped a few times so she could take photos of various sections. Unfortunately, we couldn’t turn around, because the path was too narrow, so we just had to keep going forward.

20150314_153250

Our reaction to the trail

Our reaction to the trail

All of us rode carefully and with very little talking as the concentration levels were high. All you could hear was the sound of hooves on the dusty trail, the sound of the Howqua burbling away below us and the sound of birds in the trees, occasionally cut off by the distant sound of an electric saw in the distance as the back burning continued and the call that went down the line as we warned each other of dangerous sections of track.

About half an hour from the stockman’s hut we were heading toward for our first break of the day, we passed a very sandy section of track where the edge had broken away. We all went high on the track to try to avoid breaking away any more of the track, calling back to tell everyone to do the same. Then just as we all thought we were safely through that section, Uncle Richard’s call went from the usual volume to a loud shout as we heard the sound of scrabbling hooves and a desperate cry and then a kind of rumbling, snapping sound.

“Man down. Man down,” Uncle Richard cried out.

We stopped, hearts in our mouths, and heard more snapping, rumbling sounds and then “Oh fuck! Why me?” come from the back of the line.

It was so shocking, it was funny, and we all laughed, relieved that if Karen (who was the ‘man’ who’d gone down the side of the hill with her horse) was able to swear and say something in such a disgruntled, pissed off tone, it meant she was reasonably okay. P1020760

Shelley was amazing. She kept absolutely cool, slipped off her horse, got my sister to hold the reins and then scrambled back along the path to the back of the line. Uncle Richard said later when telling the story of what happened, that Karen’s horse – a newer, young acquisition that didn’t have enough trail sense not to try to prance along the dangerous track – had slipped on the soft, broken away bit of trail, it’s back legs going down. He’d heard Karen try to urge the horse forward and up, but the edge was too soft and they both went down. Thankfully, the bracken was so thick, it caught them and didn’t let them slip too far down. By the time Uncle Richard had managed to hop down and get behind his horse, it was to see Karen’s horse come back up over the edge, a little scratched and shaken, but incredibly nothing more. Uncle Richard managed to grab its reins and keep it calm and then Shelley arrived to see what had happened.

Safe on open ground at another stockman's hut

Safe on open ground at another stockman’s hut

In trying to get off the horse, Karen had gone a little further down. Shelley edged her way down to her and together, they managed, using the trees and plants, to pull themselves back over the side. Karen was a little scratched and bruised, swearing a blue streak and laughing that it was her again – she’d been the one who’d gone down on that other ride too, both times because she was the last in the line and the ground had been softened too much by the horses that had gone through before her. She was okay. IMG_0346

She didn’t want to get back on her horse though and not because she was ‘gun shy’. They couldn’t check out the horse properly and didn’t know if there was a more serious injury until we got on more stable ground, so she led her horse over the last section.

My admiration for her rose even higher at this point. The ground was rough and there were steep rises that were tough on the horses, but even tougher on a person on 2 legs. But she just kept going, her concern for her horse apparent.

Then we entered a clearing and all of us breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the stockman’s shack. We hopped off our horses, checked that Karen was truly okay, with her and Uncle Richard enjoying the retelling of the story while Shelley and Karen made sure her horse was okay. We rested for about twenty minutes, had a much needed snack (apples and snakes) and then headed off.

20150314_153338The next section of riding was much easier. We were now right on the Howqua and were riding a curling path that led us over it and back a dozen times. We were able to canter for small sections and got a little wet in others – which given the warm day, was quite welcome. We had lunch at a lovely spot and stopped for an afternoon break at another stockman’s hut – they are scattered throughout the mountains and all cut along similar lines, usually in a lovely clearing near water of some kind. Some of them are privately owned, some are kept up by Parks Victoria and all of them are still used in one way or another. And the isolation of every single one of them made me marvel at how tough and stubborn those early settlers and stockman must have been to ride the mountains and high plains like they did and building these huts in the middle of nowhere.

We had some fun in late afternoon cantering through a section of the river, true Man from Snowy River style and then cantered along the final section of flats to our camp – a quiet section of the river where someone has built a simple house overlooking the river just near Sheep Yard Flats. The man whose house it was came down to greet us as we set up camp, happy for the company. He had a gorgeous sheepdog, called Melbourne, who had speaking eyes and loved the attention he got from all of us. P1020764

IMG_0349When the horses were washed down, fed and settled in for the night, my sister and I set up our tent, I had another shower – glorious to get rid of the day’s trail dust – and we settled in for the night around the campfire, telling stories (well, we mostly listened to Uncle Richard tell his stories – he’s got lots and is really entertaining and had us all laughing), shared the story of Karen’s fall with the others who weren’t on the trail with us, laughed over her ‘Oh Fuck! Why me?’ comment and had another wonderful, home cooked meal from Kay.

Uncle Richard managed to talk me into singing for everyone and so I agreed to one song which ended up turning into half a dozen when they kept asking me for another – I was tired and struggling to remember the words of songs I normally know off by heart. Then we all turned in for the night, having had a very exciting, hard day of riding and feeling a little sad that the next day was going to be the last of this wonderful adventure.

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