Q and A with popular author Kerry McGinnes
Born in Adelaide, Bundaberg author Kerry McGinnis was 12 when she started droving with her father and four siblings. They travelled in the Northern Territory and Queensland before settling on a Gulf Country station. She has had an amazing upbringing and it was a medical condition that led to her writing novels. Kerry lives in Bundaberg. Her books are available at Dymocks in Bourbong Street. Here we pose a series of questions to Kerry who is writing her latest novel.
When and why did you start writing?
At nine I started contributing to The Picaninny Pages in the old Woman’s Mirror (circa 1954). They paid in postal notes – one shilling, or one and sixpence. Because I’d experienced rheumatic fever, I wasn’t allowed physical exercise so I was limited to reading and writing. When you run out of stories you write your own.
What was the name of your first book?
Pieces of Blue. An autobiography about my childhood – from age 6 to 16
What made you decide on the outback/mystery genre?
I’ve lived in the bush from age 12 to 60 – it’s all I know.
How long does it take to write a book?
About 12 months which includes editing which means rewrites of sections.
Do you write only from home and what is home life like when you are working?
I work at home where I’m at the computer six days a week allowing interruptions for shopping, housework, gardening and socialising. Not so much of the latter now. I like my job so it’s no biggie (as vocabulary challenged people say.)
Where does your story inspiration come from?
I have no idea. I think of a character or a place (or a hair colour sometimes) and it just evolves from that perspective. You cast that person around a problem and before you know it, you’re away and the ideas just keep rolling in.
How are your books published and by whom?
Penguin has published all of my outback/mystery books (it’s Penguin Random House now). I also have written two of a trilogy of fantasy books. One “The Farseeker” was put out by Pegasus in the UK, the second “The Burning Mountain” I self-published. (Ad alert! Both are available online) and the third “The Crow Road” which I’m currently writing.
Who are your favourite authors?
Oh, many and varied. Shakespeare, Kate Morton, Terry Pratchett (the man was brilliant) Robin Hobb, Reginald Hill – anything that’s well written in whatever genre.
What genre do you like reading?
I’m willing to try anything except horror or romance.
What is the worst book you have read?
There have been a few forgettable ones, mainly because I give up before the silly plot, awful writing, stupid protagonist or plain wrong descriptions of country, which all bring me to not remembering the title or author. I’m not fond of books about cattle stations because so many writers get it wrong. Droving is another hazard. Books about droving generally remind me of Baz Lehman’s idiotic film “Australia” where simply everything was wrong, including the history. Surely you can get the history right! It’s all written down after all.
How many books have you written and in what countries are they sold?
I have just signed a contract for my 14th book, 12 of them with Penguin. They’re sold in Australia and New Zealand and also on the Internet.
What is the greatest thing you have learnt from writing?
That storytelling is a great gift and one which I am very thankful to possess. Good books are treasures, allowing the reader to live multiple lives and hopefully fostering understanding of others’ points of view. From this perspective, one should derive tolerance, probably the greatest virtue that, were there enough of it, would contribute greatly to world peace. How’s that for a lofty sentiment?
What do you think of your book reviews?
I enjoy book reviews. Some reviewers just regurgitate the storyline, others often have quite insightful observations to make and can be helpful in providing a different point of view. I once saw a review written in Finnish which of course I couldn’t read.
Besides writing, what other careers have you undertaken?
I’ve cooked in stockcamps, droving camps and station kitchens. I’ve kept bees in a (small commercial sense), grown the station veggie supplies, been a shepherd, done stockwork – there are hundreds of odd jobs on stations that you get to add to your resume. I’ve run a homestead stay business and a craft room with morning teas for tourists. My scones and rosella jam were quite famous among the Grey Nomads.
What is one goal you'd like to achieve?
Do you know I don’t really think I have one.
What are your values?
Just be a decent human being, I think that golden rule about covers it - do unto others…
What is your greatest achievement and regret?
My greatest achievement? Probably getting a short story published in Meanjin. It was actually a chapter from “Pieces of Blue” which hadn’t yet been published. Regret? Stuff I could’ve learned and didn’t, words I said and shouldn’t have. Nothing major.
What has been the greatest day of your life?
When I learned that “Pieces of Blue” would be published. I’d freelanced for years and never really thought that I’d write a successful book. I stood in a rainbow that day, literally. I didn’t think that was possible, but it was a stormy day and there was a rainbow. I noticed I was standing right where it touched the ground because the air around me was coloured indigo and green and orange.
Challenges are part of life. Name one stand-out in yours and how did you overcome it?
The BTEC years in the cattle industry (Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign where every beast you owned had to be tested for both diseases and the results be clear before you could move them off property). Overnight the bottom dropped out of the cattle market and stayed that way for a decade. It cost more to freight-sale cattle to the sale yards than they subsequently were sold. In the north we were particularly vulnerable due to the distance involved. But we battled through it – hard work and no money makes one awfully self-reliant and inventive.
What are you most proud of?
Always finishing things, something my father taught me. The world’s full of “gunna do’s”, he used to say. Don’t be one of them.
How old where you when your mother died?
My mother died when I was six, as did her baby in a childbirth gone wrong. It left my father with five children, all under the age of nine, so it was very hard on him. I expect it made us more self-reliant and capable of caring for ourselves as he obviously had to work.
Who inspires you?
My family – my father, sister and brothers were and are all hard working, self-reliant, achievers.
You could be in the running to win an autographed copy of Kerry's latest book Croc Country. Go to our competiton pages to enter.