Leonie Kelsall is a South Australian author with a string of successful books under the pen name Laney Kaye; The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is the first novel published as Leonie Kelsall and I hope to see much more from her.

HI Leonie, welcome to Mic Loves Books and thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

What made you want to pursue a writing career?
Hi, Michelle!
Growing up in the country without a TV (I have brave parents!), I learned to read at a very early age, and books were my first love – and will probably be my last!

I think it’s probably a natural extension from loving reading, to wanting to craft stories.

When my family moved to the Murraylands, I was introduced to the wonders of the Murray Bridge Public Library. Until then, I don’t think I had actually realised that libraries were a real ‘thing’ – in the books I read, a library seemed to refer to the father-figure’s study. To find an enormous room stacked with more books than I could ever have imagined existed – and to then discover that, thanks to a lovely librarian, I could read as many as I wanted – is still one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I’d borrow a dozen a week and crawl under the bedcovers with a torch well after ‘lights out’. When Mum caught me, I’d simply close the book and then lie there imagining how the next chapter would play out.

As I got older, imagining the chapter took the form of actually ‘writing’ it, word-by-word, in my head. Even as an adult, I continued to do that – but minus the hiding under the covers bit!

I never set out to have an actual ‘career’ as a writer, though, it seemed far too unattainable. Instead, I’ve worked in the Education Department, the South Australian History Trust, forged horseshoes, cleaned pig pens, delivered mail on rural runs hundreds of kilometres long, built and sold model aircraft – oh, and I’m a qualified counsellor. So writing is an added bonus to a full life!

You also work as a counsellor, how does that help with your writing?

 I guess a combination of life experience and counselling makes my writing a little darker than is typical in the rural romance genre. Whilst The Farm at Peppertree Crossing has plenty of humorous moments and offers an escape from reality with all the core elements of rural romance, it is a mixture of light and dark. I tend to steer away from purely ‘fluffy’ stories, instead writing with added depth, representing real-world issues.

My understanding of conscious and unconscious behaviour enables me to add greater nuance to characters: as in life, my characters are neither good nor bad, but are three-dimensional, portrayed in shades of grey. Even if it’s not on the page, each character must have a valid psychological reason for acting in the manner they do, and for making the decisions that impact their lives.

The new release is The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, can you tell us a little about the book?

Sure! The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is the story of Roni, who, fostered from birth, has had a tough run in life. Traumatised by her past, she is defensive and abrasive, allowing herself to love only her rescued street cat. Discovering she has inherited a farm in the sheep and wheat belt of South Australia seems it could be the answer to all of her problems – until she discovers it is no simple inheritance, she must first complete a series of tasks. Complicating these tasks is the reappearance of her birth-mother, her dead aunt’s life-partner’s determination to befriend her…and a reluctant attraction to the farm manager, Matt.

The farm is described with such detail and love, is it a real farm?

Yes! Well, Peppertree Crossing is a romanticised version of my family property… because no one really wants to know about the sheep dags and three-corner jacks.

If you happened to catch my socials you will know I spotted a local bakery mentioned and it really brightened my night. I guessed that you’re a customer, which is your favourite product on their menu?

Hands-down, the savoury slice in a buttered horseshoe roll, no sauce. (Pro-tip: don’t order this in the city. Savoury slices are unique to the Murraylands, and the order gets lost in translation if you try elsewhere!) And, for the sweet-tooth, their Napoleon cake is unbeatable.

The other question that gem prompted is where is the book set, it’s clearly within the McCues Bakery delivery route?

 Yes, McCues is delivering baked goods to Sam’s shop in Settlers Bridge… so, without pinpointing it too much, Settler’s Bridge is about twenty minutes from Murray Bridge.

Is Settler’s Bridge based on a real town?

No, it’s an amalgamation of towns. Before moving to the Murraylands, I lived in a tiny town with an R-7 school enrolment of only eleven kids. Settlers Bridge is a merger of this and other gorgeous country South Australia towns… think Karoonda, but in a location more similar to Murray Bridge.

What inspired the story?

As a teenager, I was in love with our share farmer.

Oops. Did that slip out?

Actually the story started out as a title (What, doesn’t everyone work that way?) My teen and I were out at the family property and, as usual, I was failing in my motherly duties and hadn’t fed her for at least ten minutes. She said “I want Liverwurst. No, lamingtons. Wait, Liverwurst & Lamingtons would be a great name for a book!”

Obviously, my love of alliteration has rubbed off on her. So, we headed off into the scrub and sat and brainstormed a book to fit the title (both liverwurst and lamingtons feature, but Allen & Unwin wouldn’t let me keep the title!) The book changed HUGELY from the initial idea, but that was the actual moment the first word was put on paper.

How did you create your characters?

My characters initially start out quite one-dimensional, almost caricatures. For example, Roni would have been ‘30yo. Lower socio-economic, tough life.’

Then as the story develops, I discover more about them, their reasoning and their backstory. For Roni, a large part of her character and arc became her need to find the courage to allow herself to risk the pain that love could bring.

This part of the process involves loads of deleting and rewriting, because the character will quite often not be the person I thought they were, and then every word they’ve spoken, everything they have done, needs to reassessed against what I’ve discovered about their personality. And sometimes side-characters take over… like Tracey, Marian’s life partner, whom I adore.

Marian was different, though; she came fully formed and determined to be on the page just as she was. Her sections received very little editing!

Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?

Yes! I’ve signed a contract with Allen & Unwin for another book set near Settlers Bridge, The Wattle Seed Inn, which I am crazy in-love with. While it follows the journey of another couple, there are cameos from quite a few Peppertree Crossing characters. And I’m working on a third book, tentatively titled The Herbalist by the River… however, the title changes by the week and I’m not loving it, so I’m open to suggestions!

You have a launch coming up at the Mt Barker Library, can you share with us what the audience can expect?

I’m in the process of booking in a number of events, now that COVID restrictions have eased. In the immediate future there are events at Mt Barker, Murray Bridge and Unley Libraries. And Mt Gambier Library is sponsoring a tour of the Limestone Coast at the end of this month, so that’s super exciting!

Depending on the number attending, Mt Barker Library will be an ‘intimate chat’ -come along, there will be plenty of time for questions and I might just be persuaded to dish the dirt on that real-life share farmer! Plus, there’s a lucky door/seat prize and book signing.

Thanks for your time Leonie and good luck with the launch, I hope you have a fabulous evening.
Thank you so much Michelle, it would be lovely to see you at one of my events!