Name of book: The Shearing Gun
Date Published: 19th September 2014
Available in: ebook / print / audio
Other forms coming: Italian in 2016
When did you start writing this book? September 2013
What gave you the inspiration for the story? I conceived the idea for The Shearing Gun about two weeks after I received a contract for Loving Jay. I was SO excited. One of the things I love about reading is being taken to foreign countries. It’s rather like a holiday. I wanted to introduce readers to my country. I think I’d just finished reading a cowboy book, and I thought of doing a story set in the Outback, revolving around cattle mustering Aussie style. But I didn’t have the knowledge. I grew up around sheep.
Then I thought, “Why not sheep? Imagine what a gay shearer would be like?” And the idea was born. I enjoyed the thought of being unique and original – and being the only author to write about shearers.
(I’m not – but I thought it at the time).
What was the working title? This one was ALWAYS titled The Shearing Gun. It just fitted.
Where did the title of the book come from? **sigh** It comes from a very personal, very challenging story of mine. My nephew, Henry, was killed in a farm accident when he was 16 months old. His father and mother are both shearers, and his two older brothers are too.
When Henry was about 11 months old, his brother posted a photo on Facebook of Henry being a cheeky monkey. He titled the photo, “He’s going to be a shearing gun like his dad and brothers.”
I often look back on that photo and think about the could-have-beens. Would he have been a shearing gun if his life hadn’t been cut short? I named my main character “Hank” after my nephew, and imagine a wonderful, fulfilling, happy and successful life for my nephew if the world had just been a little different that day.
What challenges did you face with writing this? Making sheep romantic, but realistic. LOL.
Farming is tough. It’s hard, dirty, heart-aching, bone-breaking, tedious physical work. I wanted to portray the land and Hank’s life as realistic, but at the same time, I had to explain the land in a way the unfamiliar reader would understand.
Hank has dreams, but they’re not the intellectual dreams that someone like Elliot has. Hank’s got his feet firmly on the ground, and his hands buried in the dirt. The fact that he’s good-looking (and a little bit up himself about this) just came from the first scene. What else could be more fun than a hunky country boy?
Tell us about MC2 – where did the inspiration come for him? I liked the idea of a new guy in town who was completely out of his depths with the farming stuff. But he needed to be strong on his own. I needed him to have a reason to come to town and be willing to uproot himself. I liked the idea of a doctor. Someone valuable to the community, with specialist skills of his own, but nothing to do with farming or shearing.
I don’t think I modelled Elliot on anyone I know. He just grew as the story demanded.
Is there anything special that happens in the story that you think readers would like to know about? Lilly the sheep was real.
She’s a sheep that we used to have when I was a teen. A lovely animal with a wonderful fleece, and she threw twins every year. For the first 2 days after her twins were born, she wouldn’t have milk for them. It happens in humans, and obviously in animals too. We observed her twins not being able to feed that first year she lambed, so we (my mother, sister and me) captured the three of them, penned them in the hay shed, and bottle fed the lambs until we could see that her milk had come in. (Those twins I named Stew and Casserole. They were boys. It was their destiny.)
The following year she again birthed twins (Flora and Fauna I called them) and we saw once again she didn’t have milk. The lambs would attempt to feed, but nothing was coming, so we brought her in, locked her in the hay shed, and bottle fed until we saw she had milk.
The third year she had twins (Romeo and Juliet), we awoke in the morning to find she’d lambed overnight, and she was standing outside the hay shed with them, waiting for us to come. A sheep doesn’t like being away from the flock (as it is too dangerous with predators), so for her to separate herself and the twins was amazing. I’ve always imagined her waiting and thinking, “Come on. My babies are hungry. Hurry up and feed them for me.”
The Melanian sheep in the story were also true. My mother has an obsession with coloured wool, so Dad bred her a small flock of sheep for hand spinning. Each sheep was named and their blood line kept. We would marvel at the patterns on them. We had one called Batman, because he had a band of brown across his eyes like a mask. One we called Stripey because she had stripes like a tiger. We tried to name them using themes from their names. One line of sheep were all named after comic strip characters, another line all had names of black singers.
What is the best thing that has happened about this story, post-publication? I know people have been a little apprehensive about picking up this story. (A story about SHEEP?) But I can’t believe how people have embraced the book with joy and gusto. The fact that my readers adore this book is just magic to me.
Do you plan a follow up story? Yes. People asked me about a story for Mickey Ryan (the shearing gun who shook Hank’s hand for a little too long at the pub…) so my 2016 push is to write his story.