Like the characters she writes about in Coolibah Creek, author Kelsey Neilson knows exactly what it's like to confront the devastating impact of drought.
Bec Roberts and her husband Andy adore each other. They're also passionate about their beloved station, Coolibah Creek. But as a savage drought ravages their property, the bank threatens to foreclose the estate and the pair are left devastated at the prospect.
Bec is also worried about her best friend and neighbour, Maggie O'Donnell. Married to a difficult, hard-drinking man who's away for long periods of time, Maggie finds herself increasingly drawn to a stockman who works for the family.
When tragedy strikes, Bec is pushed to the very limits. How will her family and Coolibah endure the challenges they're facing?
Bec must muster all her strength and determination in the face of adversity, and take faith in the power of love…
Kelsey Neilson lives on a remote cattle station in the western Queensland Shire of Boulia. Along with her husband and two sons, she has experienced great joy on the land, as well as the devastating despair that comes with a decade long drought. But regardless of the seasons, she would never want to live anywhere else! Kelsey is a passionate advocate of the keepers of the bush, the resilient – dedicated people who make the outback their home and their heritage. As Deputy Mayor of the Boulia Shire Council Kelsey leads a busy life and is a strong believer that anything is achievable if you want it bad enough.'
Allen and Unwin
Author: Kelsey Neilson
Question: Where did the idea for Coolibah Creek come from?
Kelsey Neilson: My first novel started with a short story about a home invasion by a deadly king brown snake. My sister liked it so much that she suggested that it would make a great opening chapter for a novel. At first, the thought of writing a novel was a bit overwhelming but I decided to just try it and take it one chapter at a time. I developed the characters as I went along and once I 'knew" them well, bouncing them off each other and bringing them together was exciting and interesting and the novel simply flowed.
Question: Why was it important for you to write about the impact of drought?
Kelsey Neilson: Dry spells are common where I live but extended droughts, like the current and previous ones, are devastating for rural communities, businesses and most importantly families. Families on the land are bound together by their love for and commitment to the country they make a living from. When the land is suffering, everyone suffers with it. People become inexorably attached to country and somehow become part of it, feeling in a very tangible and real way all of the highs and lows of seasonal fluctuations, not as a detached observer but as a woven in element of their place. This current drought is so severe that there is an imminent risk of the loss of generational land managers and their sons and daughters from the role of guardians of the bush. Australians have been so generous and caring in their support for farmers as this drought goes on, even though it is difficult for them to understand it. I hope that readers will get a greater understanding of the impact of drought on people who live in the bush not just financially but emotionally.
Question: Was it difficult to relive aspects of your life through the characters?
Kelsey Neilson: Yes it was. There were many times when the tears flowed as I was writing whilst taking the characters through various events. But there were also moments when my heart sang and tears of happiness filled my eyes. I feel I am writing at my best when I am so deeply connected to the characters.
Question: What was the best part of creating the character of Bec Roberts?
Kelsey Neilson: The best part was being able to create the characters and then go on a journey with them through a fictional world, a place where boundaries are widened and imagination can flourish when considering how challenges and triumphs may be experienced.
Question: What's next for you?
Kelsey Neilson: My family and I are still very much in the fight with this seemingly never ending drought. It is financially, physically and emotionally draining but we would never walk away! So I will be battling the seasons with my family in the knowledge that the rain, when it comes, will bring absolute joy and we will rejoice and be reborn with the land. We will endure until that day comes. As life continues, I will find time to finish my second novel, which is a sequel to Coolibah Creek and a manuscript about which I am really excited.
Interview by Brooke Hunter