Joy Rhoades is the author of The Woolgrower’s Companion which was published by Vintage on 8 June 2018.
Joy kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Woolgrower’s Companion
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the story of one young woman’s fight to save her farm, set against the backdrop of the end of WWII on the home front on a remote sheep station in Australia. Although Kate, the protagonist, fights ageism and sexism through the pages, hers is ultimately a story of hope and love.
2. What inspired the book?
The Woolgrower’s Companion was inspired by stories from the life of my grandmother. She lived through the second world war on her family’s sheep station in northern NSW, and Italian prisoners of war were assigned there as labourers, just as they are in my novel. And while it’s not her story, it is full of her stories. Her recollections of life on the land, of the impact of the war, the circumstances of the Aboriginal Australian people: all these things evoked a sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible place which I wanted to recreate, and to wrap them in a really good story.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I like to plan carefully, but then I see where the story takes me. I’m all about story, about being gripped by a character or characters: what happens to them and then what they make of that. And as I write I always find myself in unexpected places. I’m definitely a ‘plantser’: not a pure plotter, and not a someone who writes by the seat of her pants, but a hybrid.
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I don’t think I will ever get tired of walking under the Penguin to go in for meetings ! That never gets old. But that wonderful experience aside, it has been an education around how a book goes from inside my imagination to be on bookshelves in wonderful bookshops and airports! It takes a village, and The Woolgrower’s Companion has been shephereded by such wonderful people along its path to those bookshelves. I’m so grateful to those journos, bloggers and booksellers –and then the readers–who got behind the book and helped it succeed. I’ll always be grateful.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I like to run, jog really. I always have, even when I was at school. It helps clear my head and solve plot problems. I get to be outside, usually in a park, so I take in the trees and the squirrels and occasionally a fox. It’s something I love to do. The wonderful Australian writer Anita Heiss posted recently that she runs with audio books. I’m going to try that next. I like to run to music—in fact, I’m hopeless and I can’t really run without music. Pavlov jogs? But I love podcasts so I’m going to do-an-Anita soon.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
My goodness. Such a great and scary question, one that really struck terror. Imagine being stuck with just-one-book?! My favourite books ae probably Middlemarch and The Great Gatsby. But neither of those would sustain me for a lifetime, I don’t think. I wonder if I can’t cheat a little and say my next book. Because working on a novel is all-consuming. As I write and then read aloud, and re-write, it takes me to wonderful places, places that I really hope I can evoke for my readers. The sequel to The Woolgrower’s Companion which Penguin Australia has just commissioned, is taking me to those wonderful places now, as I work on it.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
No one’s ever asked me the meaning of life! Joking aside, I think it’s a question that writers grapple with every day, in every sentence. For me, it’s our connections with people, both loved ones and others, and our connections with the natural world, that nourish and sustain me. And my readers often comment on how real the landscapes and the emotions appear to them, jumping off the pages of The Woolgrower’s Companion. That makes me very happy: that readers feel connected to people and to nature through my words.
About the book
Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family’s sprawling sheep station but, with her father’s health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.
Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.
Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.
Read more on the Penguin website.
About the author
Joy Rhoades was born in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, often climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth-generation grazier and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.
At 13, Joy left for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over the world as a lawyer. It was in New York that she completed a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the New School University, and the people, the history, and the landscape of her childhood led her to start writing The Woolgrower’s Companion.
She now lives in London with her French husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.