-It was a wild, impossible dream, especially in such a male dominated world as the Australian sheep farming industry, where traditional roles of men and women went deep and to cross the line into the male domain brought tight lipped disapproval and obstruction from both sexes. But as Alice gazed out across the great expanse of land it was though her spirit were released.'
From Anne McCullagh Rennie, one of Australia's leading popular fiction writers comes a sweeping saga, Reach For The Dream.
In the summer of 1952 eight year old Alice Ferguson's idyllic childhood is brought to an abrupt end by a savage bushfire. Alice's father takes her and younger brother Ben to live with his sister's family in the tiny town of Billabrin, in the Black Soil Plains of New South Wales…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 the country.
Spurred on by an indomitable spirit, she steps into the elite world of Cambridge University, far from the life she knew. Only the belief that she can reach her dream sustains her through further heartbreak and disaster…but nothing can prepare her for the treachery of her jealous cousin or the betrayal of the only man she ever loved.
Reach For the Dream is a classic Australian tale told against the harsh compelling beauty of the Outback and the rolling hills of England, it is an uplifting saga of courage, determination and enduring love from one of Australia's leading storytellers.
Anne McCullagh Rennie has written six novels, including Ride With the Wind, Song of the Bellbirds and When Snow Gums Dance, all of which were bestsellers in Europe. Born in England, Anne studied music in London and Vienna and was concert manager with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London, and BBC Training Orchestra, Bristol. She married and moved to Sydney, Australia where she now lives with her Australian husband and two daughters.
Reach for the Dream
Penguin Group Australia
Author: Anne McCullagh Rennie
Question: What inspired the story of Reach for the Dream?
Anne McCullagh Rennie: Sometimes life takes you on a journey you never expected….-Reach for the Dream' is about Alice Ferguson, a passionate young woman who was born and raised in the Australian Outback. At the age of eight Alice survives a savage bushfire that destroys her home and tears her family apart. But she never loses sight of her dream to breed the best wool in Australia, nor the courage to face the consequences of that dream.
I have always loved to curl up with a good book that makes you laugh and cry and then close it at the end with a satisfied sigh. After reading Colleen McCullough's -The Thornbirds' and Neville Shute's -A town like Alice' I was inspired to write my own Australian Outback family saga. When I admitted this to my husband, in true Aussie style he replied: -Give it a go!' So I did! I hope readers enjoy the result.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
Anne McCullagh Rennie: I write outback family sagas. I am married to an Australian and live in Australia, but I was born and raised in England and my English accent is still strong. I quickly realised that a vital part of the success of -Reach for the Dream' or any other of my outback tales, lay in making sure the background was accurate and that my characters behaved like real Australians. I started talking to people from the outback and reading their stories.
My mother in law was born and raised in Lightning Ridge and Walgett and gave me first hand tales of living in the outback. She described looking after the goats and the windmill Alice goes to on the outback property. My father–in-law talked to me about raising sheep around Yass. My husband and I almost got bogged down in the legendary mud of the black soil plains. I was invited to stay with the owners of -Webegong', a sheep property near Warren in NSW and visited Hadden Rig, renowned for producing top rams for wool, where the manager proudly took me to the ramsheds and explained the breeding program. These are examples of the many memorable places and wonderful people that inspired me write this tale.
Question: Did you use your own experience of living in England and now in Sydney in the book?
Anne McCullagh Rennie: I didn't consciously set out to use my English background in my novels. It just happened naturally and I found doing so made me happy. After I married and moved to Australia I was shocked to realise I no longer had a history. I would talk about my time at English boarding school and the Royal College of Music in London or attending festivals and summer schools in Europe and got blank stares. There were no little -D'you remember...?' moments with girlfriends. I also learned that while English is spoken here, the language as well as the countryside, is very different. But I could bring my memories back to life in my stories.
I loved writing about the Cambridge May Ball that my heroine, Alice attends in Part Two of Reach for the Dream. As a young woman I was invited to attend several of these coveted events. Through my writing, I could transport myself back to the glamour and romance of those nights dancing under the stars until dawn. Now, I have my own authentic Australian history and experiences, but I still like to include parts of my English life in my stories.
Question: What is the best thing about creating a character like Alice?
Anne McCullagh Rennie: Alice Ferguson is uplifting and she's a try-er. Despite everything she goes through…tragedy, triumph, treachery, betrayal of the only man she ever truly loved….you just want her to win through as she picks herself up and gives life another go. My challenge was to make my readers come away feeling inspired and motivate by Alice's actions as I had been by other fictional heroines. Regardless of how I felt, as I sat down to write, I had to create that determination and courage as Alice faced her next challenge. The great bonus, was that having battled alongside my heroine one more time, I would walk away from my daily writing feeling better.
Question: Are you currently working on another title? Can you share any information with us?
Anne McCullagh Rennie: I am currently working on my seventh novel -Beyond the Setting Sun'. The backdrops are Sydney's Blue Mountains and Europe. My heroine is heiress to a group of luxury boutique hotels and is a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service. When speaking with other authors I challenge them to describe their books in two sentences. Here is my description of -Beyond the Setting Sun': Bushfires, a body in the undergrowth, a young woman in crisis and a man who seems perfect for her. What is he hiding or is he just after her money?
Interview by Brooke Hunter