Guest Blog: Anne McCullagh Rennie on her new book Under Southern Skies…


From Anne McCullagh Rennie, one of Australia’s leading popular fiction writers comes a big, warm-hearted outback coming-of-age saga in Under Southern Skies.


I am delighted to be invited as a guest author on your blog to celebrate the launch of my fifth novel Under Southern Skies, an uplifting story of a young woman determined to make a life for herself in the sweeping Australian Outback, released February 2012 by Penguin, Australia.     The graphic designers at Penguin have done a magnificent job and I can honestly say this is my favourite book jacket so far.  I love the vibrant colours and satiny feel. 

 Under Southern Skies by Anne McCullagh Rennie

‘Cate Perry’s future couldn’t look brighter.  She’s learning about life on the land, and has just completed her first solo flight over the vast Northern Territory cattle station she calls home.  And she’s falling in love with handsome, gentle Alf. Then a freak accident changes Cate’s life forever.


Inspiration for Under Southern Skies

I have learned piano violin and singing since I was a child and studied in London and Vienna as well as attending many summer schools in Austria and Germany. I was Concert Manager to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and have performed both in orchestras and on stage as a soloist and worked behind scenes in musical productions.  While I drew on my classical music experience for my second novel Song of the Bellbirds, set against the wheat fields of Queensland and the opera houses of Europe and America, (sold over half a million copies),  for Under Southern Skies, told against a backdrop of the vibrant world of Australian Country Music and the dramatic beauty and terror of the Outback, I was inspired by Australian Country music singers including Slim Dusty, Kasey Chambers, Sara Storer, Troy Cassar Daley, Lee Kernegan and John Williamson, the energy and excitement of the Tamworth Music Festival and the Golden Guitar Awards.


My heroine Cate’s name was inspired by the talented and beautiful Cate Blanchett.



Where Ideas come from:

Because of the vast distances in Australia, it is normal for a family in the Outback to own a light aircraft, usually a Cessna.  It seemed natural to make my heroine Cate passionate about learning to fly.  But how to write accurately about all this?


My husband Jim and I are glider pilots.   We have flown in gliding competitions in New South Wales and gone wave soaring in USA and Europe.  In 1996 I took my first solo flight.  On the second solo launch the cable broke and I had to do an emergency landing.  In 1998 we won the NSW State Two seater gliding competition flying long distances in our own two-seater glider.  So you see I know how Cate felt on her first solo flight, when she flew over the Green bore, and checked for kangaroos on the strip and how as she did her circuit and checks before she came into land at Twin Peaks, because I’ve done it myself and with Jim in many sites in Australia and overseas including Minden USA where we flew over Lake Tahoe to a height of 23,000 feet above sea level and watched the local commercial jets flying below us!



Outback anecdotes

When Jim landed in a paddock in the Outback.

Jim was flying in a competition and had almost completed his 300 kilometre flight before he ran out of lift (rising hot air) not far from Trangie in NSW and had to land in a paddock.  I got the phone call back at the motel where we were staying, just before sunset: please hitch up the glider trailer and come and fetch him. ‘I’m lucky I managed to reach you,’ Jim greeted me when I arrived two hours later, his white single seater glider a faint glow in the darkness amongst the wheat stubble.


Jim explained how he had tried to phone as soon as he landed but the call kept dropping out almost immediately.  After several failed attempts he had walked through the stubble, climbed onto the nearby fence, held his arm as high as possible, shouted at the mobile phone and hoped.  Amazingly it worked.  The things we take for granted!  The other memorable part of the evening for me as we derigged and packed the glider into its trailer, was the teaming wildlife!   I have never experienced so many moths and insects in my life.  Attracted by torchlight they flew into my face, my eyes, my ears, up my nose and even through the tiny holes in my straw hat!  Ah! life in the Outback!


I fulfil a dream.  I had heard ‘you can fry an egg on a rock on a hot day in the outback.’  When Jim and I were gliding near Gunnedah one year I put it to the test by whipping up a meringue between flights and left it sitting on a rock baking in the sun.  It took a while to cook and had a few extra bugs on it and the lizards looked interested, but we ate it that night!


Nature gives you clues….Once airborne in our glider we would keep a look out for eagles soaring above us.  Circling in the hot air, they showed us where the thermals were and we would fly over and climb with these majestic birds.  So on one side of the circle would be the eagle and on the other us in our two seater glider.  One day a large eagle mistook us for another bird.  He swooped towards us close enough to see his talons ready to strike.  Nearly hitting the front of our perspex canopy, at the last minute he realised we were bigger than him and swerved away.  Amazing!




We put our house on the market!  So there I was with a deadline to get the final edits to my publisher at the same time facing the daunting task of packing up the contents of our house collected over 30 years and finding somewhere to live.  I went into overwhelm!


‘You need three piles Mum,’ insisted my elder daughter Patsy:  ‘KEEP! CHUCK! and DON’T KNOW!’  It got me started. As I lurched from dithering to dropping off unwanted clothes to the Smith Family to ensuring Cate’s actions were logical and believable as she faced her latest challenge in this life I was inventing, there were moments when I had to remind myself which was reality!  At one point I had to unpack boxes to find an earlier draft…..  And on top of everything my computer kept on crashing.  Luckily I am obsessive about saving every time I take my fingers off the keyboard and I make countless backups on my memory stick.  Somehow it all came together with the gentle encouragement and understanding of my publisher and agent, but I had several scary moments.



Five Outback experiences I recommend you do before you die.

  1. Go Camel riding at Uluru see the vibrant colours and feel the peacefulness of the Outback
  2. Fly over Kakadu in a light aircraft and see the Jin Jin falls.
  3. Watch the Sunset over the sea at Darwin Markets
  4. Feed Macaws, parrots and other brightly coloured tropical birds as they sit on your shoulders, head and arm
  5. Sail hobbycats with the turtles near Dunk Island QLD


Five things I discovered when visiting Outback Sheep Stations

  1. The galvanised tin shearers’ shed shower is freezing in the early mornings!
  2. Watch out for frogs that croak at you from the toilet bowl – I luckily saw no redback spiders on the toilet seat
  3. The friendliness of the sheep station owners, managers and rouseabouts
  4. How soft and pristine creamy white wool is if you part the fleece on the rams’ backs
  5. The heat mirage on Outback roads that stretch to the horizon.


Anne McCullagh Rennie, author of Under Southern Skies

Anne McCullagh Rennie, author of Under Southern Skies


Summing Up:

I was born and raised in England, but moved to Australia shortly after I got married and fell in love with Australia, its people and its culture.  I have always loved to curl up with a good book and escape into that world.  I discovered that was what I wanted to write.  My writing blends both my English and Australian backgrounds.


My mother, a biology teacher, college lecturer and lover of Nature, taught me to appreciate the beauty of the Australian Bush.  My mother-in-law told me tales of growing up in Walgett and Lightning Ridge in northern NSW, of kangaroos and wallabies blinking at her at dawn, milking the goats and her sheepshearer dad and brothers catching wild pigs and rabbits for the dinner table.  There was no refrigerator so the fresh meat was kept in a meat-safe hung in the breeze to keep it from going off in the outback heat.  Aged twelve it was her job each week to drive the family truck a half a day round trip, to collect water.


Our Australian multicultural existence inspired me to create Alf Cristelli, and his loving Italian family and Brendan Perry’s quirky Chinese station cook Old Olive, amongst others.


Under Southern Skies is:  ‘Lyrical, passionate, heart-warming and uplifting… From the dusty cattle stations of the Northern Territory to the vibrant Tamworth music scene, this lively engaging novel perfectly captures the spirit of the land.’


Thank you for inviting me onto your blog to share my excitement over my latest novel.


I hope you enjoy reading Under Southern Skies.


Anne McCullagh Rennie


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