Guest blog: Reach for the Dream

I love nothing more than sitting down with a good book and escaping from reality. Not that reality is bad, but a break from it leaves you refreshed and ready to tackle whatever life throws at you next.

As you would probably guess, I love reading Rural Lit books – not that I read as many or as much as I used to, as I don’t want other authors to influence my writing, but I still love Rural Lit with a passion.

Anne McCullagh Rennie is one of the authors within the Rural Lit genre and I enjoy her work very much. She has just released a new book, (Published in Feb) called Reach for the Dream – what an inspiring title!

Here she is, talking about her new book:

Dear Fleur,

Thank you for inviting me onto your excellent blog.  I have always loved curling up and escaping into a good book and I enjoy reading stories behind the story.  So I would like to share with you and your readers some brief tales behind my new novel Reach for the Dream.  (Publ Penguin. Out Feb 28th 2014).

After reading Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice and Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds and watching the movie and TV mini series, I was inspired to write my own Australian Outback Saga.

Reach for the Dream is  ‘a classic Australia tale told against the harsh compelling beauty of the Outback and the rolling hills of England’.   It is an uplifting tale of courage, determination and enduring love, set in the black soil plains of New South Wales, England’s charming Cotswolds and Cambridge University.

‘In the summer of 1952 eight year old Alice Ferguson’s idyllic childhood is brought to an abrupt end by a savage bushfire. Her father takes her and younger brother Ben to live with his sister’s family in the tiny town of Billabrin, …and then walks out of their lives for ever. Lost and lonely, Alice finds comfort with the animals and in the beauty of the land she loves and dreams of one day breeding the best wool in Australia….’

This scenario posed two major problems for me:

  • I was born and raised in England, the daughter of a Cambridge University Don.
  • I knew nothing about running an Outback sheep station or breeding sheep for wool!

My redeeming qualities are….

  •  I am married to an Australian and have lived all my married life in Australia.
  • My husband’s parents were both born and raised in country Australia, (Yass,  Lightning Ridge and Walgett), giving me access to first hand knowledge about living on the land.
  • As a wife and mother living in Australia I had by then fallen in love with the country, its culture and its people and collected some of my own experiences.

I started asking questions and was amazed at the willingness of people to help.

Help from my inlaws:

Much of the scenery and activities of young Alice Ferguson, were inspired by conversations with my mother-in-law Nola Rennie.  At home in Lightning Ridge and later in Walgett, it was young Nola’s job to milk the goats and look after them.  The windmill Alice climbed was described to me by Nola.  My father-in-law Wal Rennie, described living on the land around Yass and Goulburn, including how they kept a flat copper bottom dinghy in a dry paddock near the house, in case of floods.  I experienced the thick sticky mud of the black soil plains.

Merino Stud Rams

While researching, I was invited to stay at Webegong, a property near Warren NSW where the owners generously took me through the running of an Australian sheep station and arranged for me to visit Haddon Rigg, the famous Merino Stud.  After explain much of the work that went on at Haddon Rigg, the Manager insisted on bringing six of his prize rams up from the paddock where they were grazing, to show me.

I will never forget watching him gently herd those magnificent animals up into their smart shed or him parting the fleece on the finest ram’s back to reveal brilliant thick white wool strands and explain the meaning of the crinkles.  On that day, the grand stud ram Emperor (included in Part Three of Reach for the Dream) was born in my imagination.

Cambridge University May Ball

Attending a Cambridge May Ball is a glamorous, romantic, sought after affair. It is a formal ball held in June at the end of the academic year and attended by University undergraduates, other members of the college, girlfriends and partners. I was invited to several May Balls.   The ladies wore flowing evening gowns, the men dressed in dashing ‘white tie and tails’.  We dined beforehand and arrived at the college at around ten pm where big marquees had been erected on the college lawns.  Music from the bands was already spilling out, the pathways strewn with coloured lights.   It was a fairytale night where we drank champagne, danced in the balmy summer air until dawn and the brave ones ended up punting down the river Cam to Granchester Meadows to enjoy a cooked breakfast at the local pub.

I longed to share this experience with my Australian husband.  So when our children were twelve and eight, we took the family back to UK and Jim and I attended a May Ball with my brother and sister-in-law and friends.  The scene in PART TWO of Reach for the Dream was inspired by that summer holiday in England.

Reach for the Dream took me three years to write. I am happy that, without formally planning, I brought together the world of my childhood and the new country that had become my home.  However I was always concerned about accuracy.  So when I finally completed my manuscript I asked several friends to read Reach for the Dream.  To my relief, they found little to change.  I hope you find the same.

My aim is always to write stories that readers curl up with and can’t put down until the very end.  I want you to laugh and cry and feel uplifted as you race along with plucky Alice Ferguson as she struggles to reach her dream…and as you close the final page of Reach for the Dream with a satisfied sigh, you wipe away a tear and say: ‘Well I enjoyed that, where’s the next one?’

That is my dream.

I wish you all Happy Reading.

Very best wishes

Anne McCullagh Rennie

Reach for the Dream is published in paperback and ebook by Penguin Australia, Weltbild German, Random House Germany.  It has gone into Australian and German Bestseller lists.




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