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Friday, August 1, 2014

From Horse Mad child to Rural Romance writer - Cathryn Hein (and giveaway)

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Cathryn Hein to my tea table today. Cathryn at one stage was an almost-neighbour but has now moved to a more northerly state, forsaking the cool of a Melbourne winter.
However we are both Australian Rules Football tragics and participate vocally in a Romance Writers Footy Tipping contest every winter. We do not support the same team...

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.
Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.
Cathryn currently lives at the base of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s far west with her partner of many years, Jim. When she’s not writing, she plays golf (ineptly), cooks (well), and in football season barracks (rowdily) for her beloved Sydney Swans AFL team.

Cathryn, we have agreed not to discuss the football so let’s talk about food instead. You have a wonderful foodie blog but it’s my turn today. George, my trusty general factotum, is standing poised with his notebook and pencil for your favourite cake recipe… to accompany our cup of tea which in the tradition of all Australian rural writers, is of course, billy tea (George has been practicing the swing).

Nice swing, George! And thanks, Alison, for inviting me on your blog. Are you sure we 
can’t discuss football? It’s not every season that I find my darling Sydney Swans sitting atop the AFL ladder, and they really do look very pretty perched there...

As for cake, how about a Hummingbird Cake, moist and beautifully loaded with the sweet, fruity goodness of pineapple, passionfruit, banana and cinnamon? Dead easy to make too!
(AS:  George... get baking... and for the rest of you, Cathryn's recipe is at the end of this post! I shall be trying it out this weekend)

As we brush the crumbs away, tell me a little bit about your childhood in country South Australia?

Oh, it was lovely! Really quite idyllic, when I look back. I was born and bred in Mt Gambier, in South Australia’s rural south east, and other than school, piano and violin lessons, hockey and some rather unsuccessful ballet tuition, my childhood was dominated by beach holidays and horse mania.

Mysty and CH age 10
I know my first word wasn’t ‘horse’ but it should have been. I was born besotted with the creatures. As a child my shelves were lined with model horses and I was a prolific reader of horse stories (Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series was my favourite). I’d stop to pat any horse I came across and would spend the rest of the day sniffing my hand for more of that lovely horsey smell. Actually, that’s something I still do. I’m not embarrassed to admit it either!

At age ten, heaven arrived in the form of a sweet bay horse with a star in the middle of her forehead. Blissfully unaware that every second pony had the same name, I called her Mysty, thinking it was the most romantic name in existence. I even spelled it quirkily, just to add to the mystique.

Cathryn and Mysty at the family holiday house
Mysty was the funniest horse. I adored her and would have let her sleep on the floor of my bedroom if I’d been allowed. She’d drink coffee, eat cheese sandwiches, and loved attention. But she was only 14.2 hands, so not much bigger than a pony, and eventually I had to get a bigger horse. That was Dinks and he was a lovely thing, too. There were more - mainly ex-racehorses - but Mysty and Dinks were my darlings. We had a ball together.

Cathyrn and her belove Dinks cutting a fine dash!...

I was a horse mad child but the closest I ever came to owning one, was the imaginary horse I had stabled in the far corner of my parents suburban backyard. You were an accomplished horsewoman in your youth. Do you still ride and what was the influence of horses in your growing up?

Sadly, I no longer have the opportunity to ride but give me half a chance and I’d be on a horse in a flash! I still dream about riding and get gooey whenever I see a horse. It’s a tad pathetic but I can’t help it. They’re in my soul.

Like owning any pet, I think having horses gave me a sense of responsibility. They take a lot of work and care, and can’t fill their own feed bins and water troughs. I also think that competing taught me that you don’t get anywhere without hard work and practice, and that drive and determination can take you a long way. Horses also taught me about patience and love. Plus I made wonderful friends during my horsey years, both human and equine.

Your partner is in a profession that requires you to move around a fair bit… even internationally. What are the biggest challenges in such a gypsy lifestyle?

Besides the obvious hassle of moving house, the hardest part is finding reliable new service providers like a doctor, dentist, hairdresser, beautician. After 20 plus years of moving around I usually know someone in the area who can give a recommendation, but there’s a certain sense of adventure in trial and error. Often I end up muddling through myself, just for the fun of it. I’ve had some interesting experiences over the years!
In the last few years we have seen the rise of “Rural Romance” (or RuRo) within Australian romance fiction. It’s been phenomenally successful in Australia but what is its appeal to international readers?

I suspect international readers see Australia as “exotic”. Certainly that has been the case in markets like Germany, where rural romance has probably had the most international success. The US has a long history of cowboy romances, and readers who love those but are looking for something different might find our rurals appealing. I’m not sure about elsewhere. I don’t think anyone has really broken through yet. Give it time!

You have had four successful Rural Romances published by Penguin Books Australia, but I have read your next book, THE FRENCH PRIZE (coming in September) will be a departure for your readers. Can you tell me a little about the premise for this book?

I am ridiculously excited about this book! It’s such fun. There’s romance, adventure, mystery, danger and some glorious Provencal countryside. And food. We mustn’t forget that.

An ancient riddle, a broken vow – a modern-day quest for a medieval treasure.
Australian-born Dr. Olivia Walker is an Oxford academic with a reputation as one of the world’s leading Crusade historians and she’s risked everything on finding one of the most famous swords in history – Durendal. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the sword is fabled to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court, and Olivia is determined to prove to her detractors that the legend is real. Her dream is almost within reach when she discovers the long-lost key to its location in Provence, but her benefactor – Raimund Blancard – has other ideas.
For more than a millennium, the Blancard family have protected the sword. When his brother is tortured and killed by a man who believes he is Roland’s rightful heir, Raimund vows to end the bloodshed forever. He will find Durendal and destroy it, but to do that he needs Olivia's help.
Now Olivia is torn between finding the treasure for which she has hunted all her life and helping the man she has fallen in love with destroy her dream. And all the while, Raimund's murderous nemesis is on their trail, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.

The French Prize will be available for pre-order veeeery soon. Check my website for links or sign up to my newsletter on my Home page.

Your most recent book, ROCKING HORSE HILL, which came out in April, is being acclaimed as your best book yet. What, or who, inspired this story?

Wow. Thanks for that compliment! It was certainly the book that took the most out of me during writing so it’s nice to know readers are enjoying the fruits of that effort.

The initial inspiration was from a newspaper article about women who fall in love with long-term prison inmates. It stuck in my mind for some reason and the day after I read it I was riding the exercise bike when Bang! in popped this idea into my head. The idea was for a thriller so I simply jotted the premise down and set it aside as one of those “maybe in the future books”. But it kept nagging. I couldn’t get the setting out of my head - a property at the bottom of a volcano in south-east SA. Then the heroine wouldn’t leave me alone. Other characters began forming. When I realised this was something that wasn’t going to let go I played around with that initial idea until it became a rural romance.

Who do you trust when a stranger threatens to tear your family apart?

Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em's life has happened there. And even though Em's brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.
When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em's life and given her a chance for redemption.
But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em's closest friends question where Felicity's motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy sets in motion a chain of events that will change the family forever.
Rocking Horse Hill is a moving family drama and passionate love story from the author of Heartland. 

Buy links for Rocking Horse Hill:
My links:

4 medium sized bananas, mashed
1/2 cup passionfruit pulp
450g tin crushed pineapple in syrup
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly whisked
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3 cups plain flour
1 1/4 teaspoons bi-carb soda
Preheat oven to 170C
Grease and line with baking paper a 23cm round springform cake tin. Plonk all the ingredients into a large bowl and stir until well mixed. Pour into tin. Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean (timing will depend on the oven - try 1 1/4 hours then check). Cool in the tin on a rack. Ice with passionfruit or lemon cream cheese icing. Or simply eat plain!

I’m always on the hunt for fun horse names. So for your chance to win a signed copy of my Hunter Valley set rural romance, Heart of the Valley, tell me the most romantic  or cleverest name you can think of for a horse and Alison will pop you into the draw!
Australian postal addresses only.

(AS:  A legacy of my horse mad childhood are the horses that appear in my stories as characters in their own right... I have Pharaoh, Amber and Hector to my credit and a few other horsey characters, my current favourite being Mr. Carrots the school trap pony in my - yet to be published - Harriet Gordon stories)