Beneath Southern Stars
Having newly arrived in Sydney, Australia in November, 1988, it was an exciting time. Feeling, not quite as its first settlers, though perhaps just a tad, in the sense of apprehension, coupled with a little amount of fear at having taken the huge step of emigrating to the other side of the world to begin a new life.
Though those first pioneers were mostly unwilling new settlers, sent there by order of the crown’s magistrates; it seemed to me, even some two hundred years later, there was still that sensation of trepidation running through my mind as possibly would have been in theirs.
However, having made the decision to begin anew in New South Wales, it only seemed fitting that I should do my utmost to make a go of it. Although initially, living in the heart of the city, travelling to work proved delightful enough, as distance to and from the office wasn’t too tedious; but this was to change dramatically.
When I lived in the UK, I never once rented an apartment, having lived at home until I married, and then owned property afterwards. So, to find myself renting a home was a new experience, but at least it was only a temporary arrangement, as I was determined to buy a property in Sydney. This however, proved to be harder than I had imagined, and was forced to look further afield.
Travelling north, about an hour from Sydney is a delightful area known as the Central Coast; and it was here, on its southernmost border that my spouse and I commissioned a house to be built for us on land we had purchased. Of course, what we hadn’t taken into account, until it was too late, that we still had our jobs in Sydney. In my case, southern Sydney – Redfern to be precise.
We moved into the new house in August 1989, and so began a new phase of our life in the Land Down Under. . .
Travelling to and from work was long and tiring – close on three hours each way: using buses and trains to reach work and then back again. But every cloud has a silver lining, and it did give me a lot of time to read, as well as make new friends along the way amongst my fellow commuters. As I enjoy nothing more than a good fiction novel, and at times a non-fiction depending on the subject, travel time just flew as I immersed myself within the pages of those tomes.
One particular day, one of my new found friends was sitting beside me reading a magazine – I think it was Woman’s Own. I happened to glance at the page she was reading, and I spotted they were running a writing competition in conjunction with Random House. I remarked something about it, and my friend very kindly cut the page out and gave it to me. The entry for the competition was to submit a never before published fiction novel of not exceeding 80,000 words. The closing date was only eight months away, but I decided to rise to the challenge.
Until now, I had only been writing poetry and short stories, since my teenage years. I never had the courage to tackle any serious work, such as a novel. However, my love of reading, and appreciation of English literature as a whole, inspired me to give it a try.
The first, and perhaps, most important question I had to ask myself was: what to write?
It is too long ago (early 1990s) to remember why I chose to write what I did, but I expect it seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps my own feelings of being newly arrived in Australia had a lot to do with it, and having begun a life on the Central Coast, also had a direct impact as to choosing the early development of the settlement (now a city) of Newcastle as part of the story’s setting.
It still amazes me to this day, how a writer can create a book of intricate detail that encompasses a main plot and numerous side plots, with endless characters touching the lives of its two principal characters (or in the case of the story I ended up writing – three principal ones). There is also the need to create lives and personalities for them, including their families, friends, their jobs (if any), the list is endless. And, of course, whatever you choose to write, but particularly anything historical, you need to conduct an immense amount of research to make the story authentic. The reader has to be drawn into the writing as though a voyeur peeking through a secret window watching the events unfold before his/her eyes.
Getting back to the competition – the problem I faced however, was the lack of time. Whatever possessed me to choose a historical romance I’ll never know and, I certainly can’t remember why, except that I did.
I wrote each chapter in long hand (no laptops in those days) and then typed it out, ensuring there was a carbon copy, on my typewriter. At work, I photocopied it a couple of times, and then gave them to two of my fellow travellers to read and obtain their opinions (in the same way as we authors currently use Beta Readers). Looking back, I suppose, I was taking a huge risk at their honesty, as either one of them could have quite easily stolen my work – but I was lucky that they never did.
I submitted my story, which I named “Under Southern Stars” and then crossed my fingers.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised that I didn’t win, nor even get any feedback. However, not to be totally undone by the disappointment, I sent it to the National Book Council who provided a manuscript assessment service. Needlesstosay, the reviewer tore it to shreds! To say I was heartbroken would have been an understatement. However, it was an important lesson learned. Research was the key to turn out a credible story.
For this story however, it meant being filed away for another time, whilst I moved on with life in general and to writing new stories.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I found my old manuscript in a drawer and decided to rewrite it, at least now it would be stored into a computer and backed up in an external hard drive. It was time to use all my gained experience, and dedicate endless hours to research to produce a work worthy of publication.
Two years later though, after several rejections, but following the advice of some fellow writers, whom I got to know when I joined a local group known as “Hawkesbury River Writers”, that I self-published the book with the new title of “Beneath Southern Stars” on Smashwords:
It is 1799 and six ships make ready to sail from the southern English town of Portsmouth to the newly founded penal colony of New South Wales. Aboard His Majesty’s ship, Osprey is Marine, John Radford. At the age of eighteen, John an accomplished artist, is broken-hearted at having been rejected by his intended when she learns of his new posting.
Also, on the ship is Sarah Lock, a seventeen-year-old, who having been falsely convicted of prostitution, is to be transported. Her only crime had been a friendship with her landlord’s youngest son, Peter. He, in turn, is forced to join the navy to prevent him from searching Sarah out.
Unbeknown to all concerned, due to a series of cruel twists of fate, all their lives will be turned upside down . . .
With it published, I moved on with my writing career by becoming a member of Romance Writers of Australia, as well as with the Australian Society of Authors. Thanks to their support, conferences, and seminars, I felt my writing capabilities improve dramatically, encouraging me to tackle larger challenges, such as a historical saga set in Spain during the 17th century. Taking two years to write, due to the immense amount of research required, “The Sword and the Rose” was published in 2014 by Secret Cravings Publishing (SCP). A year later, unfortunately, SCP closed their doors, and reverted my publishing rights of my saga.
It was a shame, as I had just completed a wartime novella “Letter from a Stranger”, and I now found myself with two books needing to be published.
Having had a taste of third-party publishing, I was reluctant to self-publish these two books. Instead, receiving a recommendation for an author friend, I submitted my wartime romance to a UK company: Luminosity Publishing.
A contract was offered and accepted, and “Letter from a Stranger” was released in June 2015. It was the start of a wonderful association.
Since that date, Luminosity have published a total of eight of my books, and I have been immensely grateful to them for their professionalism and support of my work.
In the end, the only book that wasn’t published by them was my first novel, and I accordingly wanted to put that to right.
Having approached them at the end of 2020 asking if they would consider accepting “Beneath Southern Stars”, and subsequently receiving a contract for it, I removed the novel from Smashwords.
I am now pleased to announce that on 26th January – Australia Day – this year, a totally revised version of “Beneath Southern Stars” is to be released by Luminosity Publishing:
It will be available in both digital and print formats on Luminosity Publishing’s site, as well as at Amazon, and other major book distributors.
If you get a chance, I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.