CHANGE on the land is inevitable, and writing about the reshaping of the bush, both commercially and socially, was the challenge author Jane Carter set herself for her third published novel.
Mrs Carter has recognised there has been enormous adjustment in the fortunes of farming families during the past 20 years and she brings those experiences to bear in her latest novel Prodigal Daughter.
Naturally she writes with precision from the female perspective, and in this finely tuned novel, the author has turned to all the current issues that farmers struggle to deal with, and in so doing highlights the difficulties so many women face, and often in isolation.
There is certainly enough tension on each page to make the reader turn them quickly to keep abreast of the unfolding drama.
Reading Prodigal Daughter, we come hard up against drought, death, and love and realise it has not at all been easy for women supporting their menfolk working the land during the past two decades.
The protagonist, Diana has been away from the family for 20 years living in London, raising a family and forging a successful career as a potter.
When she suddenly and inexplicably finds herself a young widow, she reaches out to her family for support even though she had cut herself off from them, determined to make her own way in the world.
But Diana has not been back to the family farm for 10 years, and a lot has changed irrevocably in that time.
“In dealing with her grief she finds everything is not quite how she remembered it,” Mrs Carter explains by way of introduction to the story. “Everything has changed in 20 years and I try to cover that change, which has been a part of my life.”
Living and working on a sheep breeding property with her husband Richard, Mrs Carter said she was hearing lots of stories about farming families coming to terms with the huge issue in forming successful farm succession plans.
“It is the biggest thing farmers seem to have because they care so much about their land, they are so passionate about it and basically who is going to take it over is a very big problem for them all,” she said.
“Everybody’s succession story is different and I was surrounded by them.
There are four generations of Australian women who are all leading such hugely different lives and yet each plays such an important role in our rural worldJane Carter
“So for me it was definitely something I wanted to explore and the other thing of course is the inter-familial relationships.”
In this story, Mrs Carter features women, strong and resilient and determined to make a successful life on the land and influence the perspective of each succeeding member as well as make an impressive contribution to their community.
“You’ve got the great-grandmother, the grandmother, the young mother and you have the child,” she said. “There are four generations of Australian women who are all leading such hugely different lives and yet each plays such an important role in our rural world.
“I found that absolutely fascinating, because it is not often you will find four generations living together.”
Mrs Carter said she never knew her great grandmother and barely knew her grandmother, and wonders if her grandchildren will ever know their great grandmother because couples are marrying later.
In her latest novel, Mrs Carter portrays the Crawford family coming to grips with who is going to take over the farm with a very interesting situation developing between the two sisters Diana and Rosie.
“They love each other, but there is no doubt about it, sisters have issues with one another and that is always the same and you can’t ignore them,” Mrs Carter said.
“You can’t easily solve them and I found that a very interesting part of my story.”
“And then there is Diana and her mother, with things in the past to be worked out and forgiven, stepped over sometimes, and I found this a very interesting relationship as well.”
When asked about the importance of given names for her characters, Mrs Carter said it was a very difficult question for her.
“The character eventually gets embedded in the name, but for a long time the name is almost immaterial,” she said.
“The character is the important thing and I sometimes change the names of the characters as I go along.”
Mrs Carter wrote the draft of her latest novel after her first was published in 2009, but she put the manuscript to one side because it didn’t fit the romance genre popular at the time.
“I bought it out again the year before last, did a lot of work on it and changed it from trying to be a romance to be a work of fiction, which is what it wanted to be,” she said.
“This book was never happy being a romance novel.”
There are a million stories in the bush, and we need folklore, says Mrs Carter.
“We need to have it so we understand the kind of people we are and the kind of life our parents and grandparents lived,” she said.
“We need to absorb it all into our bones and it doesn't mean you have to know dates, general’s names and the things you learn in history.
“That is not what I am talking about: it is absorbing our roots and our characters until they are a part of who we are.”
Mrs Carter doesn’t think there was enough of that experience around when she started writing after her fifth child had left home.