Hi Annie, and thanks very much for having me on your wonderful blog. The romance writing community is a tight-knit one. I recall very well when we met at an RWA conference, seated together at a book-signing. You told me your inspirational story of going from teacher to tale-teller. I’m also a late starter to this writing game, so we have a lot in common.Including it seems, romance in exotic locations!
My upcoming release, Turtle Reef, is somewhat of a departure for me in terms of setting. My earlier novels are stories of inland Australia: The Victorian high country, The Bunya Mountains, New South Wales’ glorious northern riverlands. Turtle Reef is set at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, on Queensland’s spectacular coral coast. It’s still a rural romance. My hero, Quinn, is a fifth generation cane farmer. But Zoe, my heroine, is a marine zoologist, and plenty of action takes place out on the reef itself. I needed to remind myself where my characters lived, both the human and animal ones.
I believe in first-hand research, if at all possible. Google is great, but it will only take you so far. I’ve always been an amateur naturalist, and there are some wonderful books out there about the Barrier Reef. The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman comes to mind. But no amount of reading can beat time spent in a real setting. Reference books can’t buy you drinks at the bar and tell you stories. Statistics can’t paint pictures of a coral gardens. When I travelled to the heart of my story, maps turned into breathtaking scenery, anecdotes turned into colourful characters and the reef became a living, breathing example of how all life is connected.
I based my research trip at Bargara, home of Mon Repos turtle rookery. This is the most significant nesting site for the endangered Loggerhead in the South Pacific. Fascinating days followed - exploring cane country, talking to locals, observing local flora and fauna. I discovered Bundaberg’s wealth of historic buildings, and took a boat up the Burnett River. I whale-watched at Hervey Bay and wandered historic Urangan Pier, which stretches almost a kilometre into the ocean. I spent hours at Reefworld - a small, family-run aquarium which does a great job rehabilitating marine turtles. It’s one of the few in the world to use sand-filtered sea water and natural sunlight. The seaquarium in Turtle Reef is based on this design.
Oh, and I went island hopping. Talk about romantic! Turtle Reef’s Lady Elizabeth Island is a combination of the two most southerly cays of the Barrier Reef - Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave. Dolphins surf the waves. White coral sands chime with each footstep. Rare pisonia forests abound with black noddies and shearwaters - all surrounded by the sheer beauty of pristine, coral lagoons. I want to go back, right now! Researching Turtle Reef ranks as one of the absolute highlights of my writing life.
Y0u can find Turtle Reef in the stores and online here.