Interview: Jennifer Scoullar

I’m very excited today to have the opportunity to interview Jennifer Scoullar whose most recent book in the Tasmanian Tales series, The Memory Tree has just been released. It is a current Beauty and Lace book club title.

Q. I believe you were a lawyer before changing direction and becoming an author, what prompted the change?

A. Ever since I was a little I wanted to tell stories. Even when I became a successful lawyer, I could always hear an annoying little voice ‒ the voice of me as a child ‒ reminding me that I was supposed to be a writer. In his wonderful essay Why I Write, George Orwell says, “If a writer escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write” I’m very grateful for that nagging little voice. I’m also grateful for my wonderful readers, who allow me to write full time.

the memory tree

Q. Through Beauty and Lace Book Club we’ve had the opportunity to read the three books you’ve written in the Tasmanian Tales series which I would class as falling into the Historical Fiction genre, but I’m aware you have written books in a couple of other genres.  Would you like to tell us a bit about those other works of yours?

A. I intend to write more historical novels ‒ a series set on Tasmania’s west coast this time  ‒ but I also write contemporary rural fiction. I love setting stories in different landscapes. My Wild Australia series has books set in the Riverlands, the Darling Downs, the Victorian high country, the Barrier Reef ‒ Australia has so many marvellous places to explore with my fiction.

The theme that connects all my books though, is my love for our land, people and wildlife. 

Q. Your most recent book in the Tasmanian Tales series, The Memory Tree has a more contemporary feel to it, dealing with changes in logging practices that occurred in Tasmania as well as the scourge of Devil Facial Tumour Disease in the Tassie Devil.  Why are these issues so close to your heart?

A. I’m an amateur naturalist at heart, and have always been intrigued by the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine. It was the greatest marsupial predator since Thylacoleo Carnifex, the mighty marsupial lion, vanished forty-five thousand years earlier.

The thylacine lived in Australia for twenty-five million years, yet went extinct within living memory. Tasmanian devils are the largest remaining marsupial carnivores in the world. If we let devils go extinct on our watch it will be unforgiveable.  

Q. The Lost Valley which features in each of the Tasmanian Tales series sounds like a wonderful place.  Do you wish that such a place really existed?

A. Of course! I dream of it!

Q. The Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine is believed to have been extinct for many years now.  Yet in each of your books the Thylacine makes an appearance, albeit in almost a ghost like manner in The Memory Tree.  Do you think the Thylacine may still exist in an unexplored part of Tassie, or is it just wishful thinking?

A. Just wishful thinking, I’m afraid Marcia. Tasmania is a small island, and when Thylacines did exist, they were relatively easy to find. After almost one hundred years without a verified sighting or even a pawprint, I’m certain that they are extinct. It’s a terrible shame.

Q. I notice that the copy of Fortune’s Son that I own was published by Penguin Random House, but The Lost Valley and The Memory Tree have been published by Pilyara Press which I understand is an independent publishing collective in which you are involved.  Can you tell us a little about how this came about and what your hopes are for its future?

A. In 2018 a trail-blazing group of authors left behind the Goliath world of publishing to form an independent publishing collective ‒ Pilyara Press. We have all been traditionally-published before with major houses such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Text. But we wanted to embrace the opportunities offered by the digital age and strike out in a pioneering new direction. 

Pilyara Press allows us to maintain a greater degree of creative control, while maintaining excellence in publishing. Each year Pilyara Press will release a select range of books by Australian authors. We are a member of the Australian Publishers Association, and plan to expand the number of titles published in the future.

Q. On a lighter note, Tea, Coffee or Wine?

A. Wine … no, tea. No, wine!

Q. You currently live with your family on a farm in the Southern Victorian Ranges.  Would you consider living in Tassie? And if so what area?

A. I love my beautiful property in the mountains too much to live anywhere else. However if I did ever move to Tasmania, it would be to the west coast. Strahan is one of my favourite places on earth ‒ the gateway to the Gordon River and close to the Tarkine wilderness. 

Q. Given that The Memory Tree is written in contemporary times does that mean that it is the last book in the Tasmanian Tales series, and if so, how will you continue to promote the plight of the Tassie Devil?

A. I always intended for The Memory Tree to be the conclusion of a trilogy, but now I’m not so sure. Readers have been asking me for a book starring Drake, charismatic son of the Tasmanian Premier. Whether it be devils, tiger or whales, there will always be an environmental theme to my books, because that’s where my passion lies.  

Q. And finally, what would be the one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring author?

A. Finish your story. I think it was Somerset Maugham who said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. But unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” When you’re writing a first draft, you have to forget strict notions of theright way, and just get it down on paper in the best way to suit you. The most important thing is to finish it. Then let the rewriting begin. Nobody can edit an empty page. 

Many thanks Jennifer for your time in answering these questions, I’m sure the Beauty and Lace readers will be fascinated to read your answers.

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