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This week I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing a woman I admire not only for her beautiful writing, but also for her generous spirit and the fact that above all else she is a devoted wife and mother. To me Fleur McDonald proves that old adage that women really can do anything. She inspires me with her stunning words, her blog is a place of reflection and calm and she does the hardest job in the world and takes it all in her stride and with a smile on her face. Fleur really is one of my heroes and I know many who read her interview, her books, or her blog will agree with me.

1. Firstly can u give us a little background information about yourself?

Well, I grew up in a small country town in SA, called Orroroo. I spent heaps of time as a child, running free, going to my grandparent’s station, north of there, playing sport and camping. At twelve I was hoisted off down to Adelaide, to boarding school – which I really didn’t like! I spent five years there and hot-footed it back to the country, as soon as I had finished year twelve.

I spent a year Jillaroo-ing down the SE of SA, at a place called Meningie, and then came to WA where I met my now-husband. We own around 8,000 acres, on which we run a prime lamb production, some cattle, a bit of cropping and whatever else fits in around that!

2. You write beautiful novels set in the Australian Outback do you draw on a lot of personal experiences for your books ?

Oh, thank you! Well, I guess the most experience I draw on is the setting – living where I do, makes it easy for me. Thankfully we’ve never been hit up by thieves, nor have I had an unexpected relative come out of the closet!

3.  You write a blog about your experiences on the farm how do you find the writing you do for your blog differs to writing novels?

I find it a bit of a warm up. When I first started my blog, I didn’t think I would have anything to write about, but as time has gone by and I’ve had feedback from people, I’ve found that things we, as farmers, find mundane, people who aren’t involved, actually find interesting. I blog about most things, now.

In a way, it helps me to write the descriptive scenes in my novels. I have to look at everything so closely, find the small things in the environment – that’s what I believe makes writing believable, it’s the small details.

4. Do you read reviews of your writing and if so do you let it affect you ?

I have read reviews, but I really try not to now.

I remember I had one exceptionally bad review and the lady that wrote the it actually contacted me and told me that I obviously hadn’t lived in the areas I was writing about (I think from memory, they were Melbourne and Canberra) and I was talking about things I knew nothing about. She really gave me a hard time and I felt sick for days. Then I got to thinking, ‘hey I didn’t even write about those places, so what was she going on about?!’

I think every author reads reviews to begin with and then gets that really bad one that makes you feel terrible, sad and plays on your mind for ages. That’s when you stop reading them (unless they’re good!)
5. Every writer finds their characters in different ways, how do find inspiration for yours?

I just pretend they’re my friends, or people who I know. I obviously never actually use people who I know, but I have coffee with the characters, talk to them (I’m sure when I’m first planning a book I could be put into a mental asylum!) I’ve also been known to dress up as my characters when I go to town and see how they would react in different situations. The blokes where we buy our farm merchandise from often ask me who I am, the day I go in!

6. You live on a farm with your family how is life in the Outback for a mother of two ?

It’s busy, especially with my husband’s mum being ill and my family in SA. I don’t have baby sitters at the drop of hat or people to help out. Sometimes it’s tiring and sometimes it’s just so much fun!

The kids love helping on the farm and they’re expected to. In saying that, I’m not sure either of them want to be farmers.

I think the most exciting bit about my life, is that I never know what’s going to happen next. We very rarely do the same thing twice over a week. I could be sitting writing and I’ll get a phone call, asking for help to get in cattle.  It’s different and stimulating.

7. Your son was recently diagnosed with Autism how has that changed your life ?

It hasn’t really. We’ve always know that Hayden was a bit different. The most frustrating thing was trying to find out what was wrong, so we could put the right strategies for him, in place. For so long, we’ve just been treating the ‘symptoms’, like his speech problem. Now the school should be able to get access to funding for him, for help at school. He is high-functioning, so once he starts to get all the help he needs, he should be able to live a pretty normal life.

8. Will you write a character that has been through that experience do you think ?

You know, I thought about that, a long time ago, when things were really bad. I thought it might be a sort of therapy thing for me. I’m not so sure now. I’m still thinking about it!
9. Is there something that you would like people to know about your family’s experience with Autism ?

Hmm. That’s a really difficult question. When Hayden was little, I really felt like my world was crumbling – he would scream all the time and neither of the kids slept until they went to school, so I was beyond tired – I don’t think I had a coherent conversation with anyone until Hayden went to Kindy. Everyone kept saying that was what it was like to be a mum and basically to get used to it.

During this time, I suffered very badly from Post-natal depression.

When we finally realized something else wasn’t quite right and we went to our GP, he sent us straight to the WA leading Autism doctor, John Wray. He knew there was something wrong, but they couldn’t put their finger on what it was – ‘Hayden’s a very interesting case study,’ was what he used to say. Great!

If he had been diagnosed earlier, we would have access to a lot of early intervention programs that we didn’t have which may have made some difference, but as it was, I employed private therapists to help, until we could access other places
10. And finally is there anything you can let us in on that we don’t already know about you ?

I wanted to be a lawyer, when I was in high school, but I realized that I wasn’t clever enough!

I want to take the time to personally thank Fleur for her honesty and unflinching responses to my questions. I asked some pretty personal questions and I am so thankful for her frankness. Autism is a topic close to me heart as well and I hope that anyone who reads this takes some strength from Fleur’s answers.

I enjoyed this interview so much. And I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it as much as me.