Anna Daniels at Brisbane's Southbank.
Anna Daniels at Brisbane's Southbank. Glenn Hunt Photo

Country girl brings hometown characters to life in debut novel

THE city or the bush? It's an age old question in which country kids look to the bright lights while their counterparts from the big smoke wonder about the rural life, away from the hustle and bustle.

Yet first-time author Anna Daniels is finding you don't have to be in Sydney to compete on a national stage.

With Girl In Between having been published by Allen & Unwin, a feature scheduled for ABC TV's Landline program in October and early talk with a production company, the radio and television presenter/producer from Rockhampton in central Queensland has every reason to feel optimistic.

The question of city or country is also the basis of the book. Sydney, Melbourne, London or a town in regional Australia - just where does your heart and career lead you?

I first met Anna Daniels on the Roma Street Railway Station, as part of a journey on the Spirit of the Outback to Longreach.

There she was, someone right at home presenting on ABC Radio or with Ten's television program The Project. Yet she had a natural connection with country people.

That's when she told me about her Rocky upbringing and intentions to write a book.

Anna was at the rewrite stage of the her short romantic comedy, Rocky Road.

About her own life?

"Well, bits of it are in there,” she admits

"Girl In Between follows the adventures of Lucy Crichton ... someone who wears Rocky like a best-loved T-shirt. Yet she wonders if that's all there is to life.”

ABC TV's Landline program in October is about her pathway from regional radio to author.

Girl In Between is the result of a frantic year of rewriting for Anna.

Rocky Road, which was shortlisted for the prestigious 2016 Vogel Literary Award, needed to go from 38,000 words to 80,000.

Louise Thurtell from Allen & Unwin recognised that it had the makings of a novel.

Anna admits that while it initially sounded like a daunting task, it was one she quickly warmed to.

For most of the year it was simply writing, writing, writing.

"It was a real challenge, but one that I suppose I've always wanted to have.

"It's filled with colloquial language - settings, landscapes, way of life.

"Very relatable for anyone in regional Australia, yet it is resonating with those in cities. There are some pretty funny retired parent characters.

"And I found myself reading out loud. It's all about the timing, the cadence, what you are saying and not saying.”

Having grown up in the country Anna has a wonderful rapport with people - an understanding of values, of what's important.

Little wonder she can listen to their stories.

It's a skill that encompasses all ages. She is as comfortable playing with a niece or nephew as she is with sitting and chatting to an elder in the community.

As a journalist, Anna has written, presented and produced content for some of Australia and the UK's highest rating programs.

From presenting on The Project and Queensland Weekender, to producing Red Symons' Breakfast program on ABC Radio Melbourne, Anna's skills cross radio, TV and online.

"Follow the fun,” Symons told her

And those words of advice from the former Skyhooks guitarist turned radio presenter have stuck with her. In life, as well as writing her book.

"Writing a book is a dream come true ... something I've wanted since I was five years old,” she said.

"I wanted to make my book fun, something I would like to read.”

Anna is right at home in Rocky, whether to address her former high school at its academic awards evening or argue in a debate that "life on the land is full of romance and desire”.

That was alongside ABC TV's Lawrence Mooney, at Rockhampton's Beef Week Great Debate.

But a romantic comedy that has Australia's beef capital as its setting?

"As a first-time author, you write what you know, but one of my messages is that you don't have to live in a big city to live a big life,” she said.

"It's always a worry - should I be down in the big city lights?

"I wanted to represent regional Australia in an affectionate light.

"I hope the story gels with people in any small town in Australia. I wanted to capture that larrikinism, but make the themes universal.

"I think country readers and baby boomers can relate to the adventures, as well as those finding their way in the big city.”

Anna said ru-ro books (rural romance) were proving incredibly popular.

"Not your lust in the dust type books,” she said.

"They are easy to read, and right from the cover you know what's in store.

"Louise from Allen & Unwin has the Friday Pitch, where they invite authors anywhere in Australia to submit to publishers.

"It's riding on the success of authors such as Fleur McDonald and Karly Lane ... they have huge followings.

"Rachael Treasure started the movement, from then its gone from strength to strength.

"City people have a fascination with life unlike theirs ... such as McLeod's Daughters. I suppose it's a fascination with the unfamiliar.

"The great point of difference is I've tried to put small-town Australia on the map.”

Anna was one of five children and there was always a lot of laughter, chaos.

"You needed a good sense of humour to grow up in a family like that,” she said.

"I love spreading the message. It just developed from there.

"My parents and grandma had great senses of humour.

"Eileen Shotker and her husband Fred started a pharmacy in Rocky more than 70 years ago.

"Eileen was always at the counter talking with customers, and with such a mischievous sense of humour.

"She worked into her 90s and had a real twinkle in her eye ... she always saw the positive, always.”

Anna says it is wonderful to go back home to Rocky, to show young writers you can achieve big dreams despite being in a regional area.

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