Today I'm chatting with the extremely talented, Jenn McLeod, about her new release, Simmering Season.
No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.
Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction—life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.
Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, her debut novel—House for all Seasons—was released March 1, 2013 to rave reviews. Book 2 in the Seasons Collection—Simmering Season—follows April 1, 2014, with books 3 and 4 contracted and scheduled for release April 2015 and 2016.
It’s great to be back with a new book – Simmering Season. When I last visited you (12 months ago) I was talking about House for all Seasons and my writing journey and I confessed then to being torn about which keyboard was my greatest passion – the piano or the computer?
Well, by composing a song for my latest book I’ve managed to combine both. Readers of House for all Seasons might even recognise the song’s title. I’ve used Amber’s story in Part Three – Amber Leaves.
While Simmering Season is predominantly about a small town school reunion that brings home more than memories for local publican, Maggie Lindeman, another thread runs through the story, shining a spotlight on reality TV – talent shows in particular.
It was Susan ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ Boyle and her 2009 Britain, You’ve Got Talent audition that prompted me to write the original Simmering Season plotline. Listening to her sing that night filled me with mixed emotions. I knew at the time I was relating to the song and to her story; I, too, was not getting any younger and dreamed of someone discovering I had talent – writing, not singing!
Once the You Tube clip went viral overnight, the media frenzy began and, inevitably, the woman’s public meltdown. I remember thinking at the time: With the show over, who was looking out for this woman? Vultures wanted to exploit her, social media trolls were horrible, and the press hounded. Despite the do-gooders attempts to groom and change her (not withstanding her incredible talent) Susan Boyle was never going to fit the mould or the industry's crushing standards: how to look, act, speak.
So I wondered … How does an ordinary and vulnerable person cope in such a situation? How do you prepare yourself? And the question that has prompted thousands of plots … “What if ?”
My original manuscript focused on a fictional reality TV show that misused and manipulated, giving people a taste of celebrity and getting their hopes up, only to discard them once the show ended. But as you’d know, Mandy, draft manuscripts can morph into something else all by themselves.
Enter Simmering Season’s lead character – nicknamed Magpie – bold and protective: a devoted mother, daughter and wife grappling with her responsibilities, as well as being the reluctant town publican and community event organiser for the town’s centenary and school reunion. Maggie’s so busy keeping those balls in the air (and like most women our age believing she can do it all) Maggie has no idea the perfect storm is headed her way in the form of school crush, Dan Ireland, now a work-weary Police crash investigator who married her best friend, and an unexpected houseguest for the summer.
It’s Maggie’s husband, Brian, who is drawn into the reality TV world. He’s the kind of man so desperate for his is fifteen minutes of fame he’s prepared to forget his wife and son, leaving Maggie to cope on her own until she can sell the pub and return to Sydney. Only trouble is, Maggie is falling in love – in love with life, her dad’s old pub, and the idea of a second chance for her family in Calingarry Crossing
Even though the reality TV theme became secondary in the final version, I still managed to keep my song. I’d penned Amber Leaves – the song – back in 2011. (Although I suspect another, more suitable, word for ‘penned’ might be procrastinated!) The manuscript’s words weren’t flowing at the time; the song did. Jodi Picoult had just released her novel, Sing You Home, which included music. While I was no Jodi Picoult (at that time I didn’t even have a publisher, much less one prepared to entertain such self-indulgence in a no-name author) I thought, What the heck?
Well, I did get a publisher – Simon and Schuster’s Head of Publishing – and I got to keep my song.
Since then, Simmering Season has grown, draft after draft, bringing new Calingarry Crossing characters to life.
Bringing my song to life has been a great experience, too. First I had to convey the lyrics and the melody with no musical instruments at hand. So I emailed a recording of me singing to a long-time family friend – Minsky’s Piano Man for the last 30 years – John Watson. When John returned his arrangement and I heard him singing my words I cried – kind of like the first time you see your book in print.
Any readers in Sydney who frequent Minsky’s wine bar (Cremorne/Hayden Cinema complex) on the weekend, please head on over to The Piano Man (late session) and request Amber Leaves! Music and lyrics by Jenn J McLeod. Arrangement by The Piano man himself – Mr John Watson. I’m in the process of getting a studio recording of the song and would love to pop back here when I have it, Mandy.
In the meantime find out more about my books and other trivia on my website
Connect with me
It's been such a pleasure having you pop in today, Jenn. Thanks for sharing the inspiration behind Simmering Season. I can't wait to read it!
Until next time, keep smiling and dreaming!