Author Q & A - Fiona McArthur

Fiona McArthur lives with her husband in Northern New South Wales. She is a clinical midwifery educator, mentor for midwifery students and involved with obstetric emergency education for midwives and doctors all over Australia.

We had the pleasure to chat with the wonderful Fiona McArthur to learn about the story behind her books and her writing. In her novels Fiona shares her love for working with women, families, and health professionals. Her book ‘The Farmer’s Friend’ is a best seller in rural sociology and has us hooked from the beginning to the end. This uplifting Australian drama shows what it really means to be a part of a community and the importance of friendship. 

Fiona’s love for writing has seen her success in selling over 2 million books. She has been awarded the NSW Excellence in Midwifery Award in 2015 and the Australian Ruby Award for Contemporary Romantic Fiction in 2020.

Now that you know a bit more about Fiona and her accomplishments, here’s our Q & A:

How much research did you undertake to write ‘The Farmer’s Friend’?

The research part of The ‘Farmer’s Friend’ was mostly from the Rural Fire Service information – things like the size of the fire trucks, how many people they carried, what they could do, the way communication was carried out and who was in charge. All facts that my character, Nell, had to learn about since she was a city girl.

A friend’s husband had been in the RFS for around thirty years, so he was my source and was happy with the sections pertaining to the RFS – which he read before my editor was given the book.

There were backgrounds on other people and towns affected by fires through newspapers and interviews to help give the reader an insight into the stark emotions of people in peril. I found their stories poignant, powerful, and uplifting.

The small-town rural produce store ‘The Farmer’s Friend’ was easy to research as my son and daughter-in-law bought into one so that too, was new and interesting for me. The midwifery parts are from my own knowledge and experience as a retired midwife/midwifery educator, the best job in Australia working closely with women, and I do seem to have that baby every book.

The story is based on several small towns around the North Coast of New South Wales hinterland mostly it’s the small town of Willawarrin in the Macleay Valley which suffered terrible bush fires in 2019. The Farmer’s Friend is a hug and an insight into small town heroes and the way a community can pull together.

Tell me about the characters in ‘Heart Of The Sky’.

‘Heart of the Sky’ was inspired by a newspaper article on Breast Care Nurses travelling in tandem with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Western NSW for outback women. I’d already written a book on the RFDS and had a fictional homestead called Blue Hills out past Mica Ridge (Broken Hill) – with people I could introduce Tess to when she took over her new job caring for outback women recovering from breast cancer. Tess moved from the Coffs Coast to the outback, had not long lost her husband, and was venturing into a new position among people she didn’t know.

So, a fish out of water story. Tess needed warm, female companionship to heal and find caring and support from other women and I loved spending more time with my characters from ‘The Homestead Girls’. If I was down and hurting like Tess was, I’d head for station owner Soretta, the delightful octogenarian Lorna, teenage Mia and her mum, and let them nurture me. 

‘The Homestead Girls’ and ‘Heart of The Sky’ are both a warm and wonderful hug of friendship – if you haven’t read them then read in that order. But each book is stand alone.

The most challenging and possibly the most rewarding book was my Non-Fiction anthology ‘Aussie Midwives’. The true stories of nineteen Australian midwives from all the different avenues a midwife can follow in Australia. The challenge being that I so admired these women I desperately wanted them to be happy with my portrayal of their stories.

There was a lot of back and forward and putting myself out there to ask people to be involved and making sure they were happy. But I still receive letters from young and not-so-young women and men who tell me they’ve always wanted to be a midwife and this book made them begin that journey. A common goal everyone featured in the book was hoping for. How cool is that! So, if you know someone thinking about becoming a midwife, steer them to ‘Aussie Midwives’. I’m both very proud and very humble about that book.

Where do the storylines come from?

Ideas for books are like rainbows, they appear and thrill you when you least expect them. A newspaper article about an interesting and extraordinary woman – as in Breast cancer nurses, an event like the 2019 fires, a visit to somewhere fascinating like Lightning Ridge which is where my next book for Penguin Australia is set. ‘The Opal Miner’s Daughter’ (out Sept 2022) is such fun and I loved it so much that I’m writing the second book set there shortly.

Settings in remote and rural areas are where my heart lies because I was a country midwife for more than thirty years and small-town hospitals have different resources to those in the city.

Resilience and being prepared are big factors in providing emergency care and I admire our remote health workers so much – like the lone nurse in ‘The Bush Telegraph’, I find that’s the world I love to write about. I live those situations in my mind as I’m writing.

As for the settings of outback Australia – the glory of a Winton messa in ‘The Bush Telegraph’, the magnificence of Uluru in ‘The Desert Midwife’– (Winner 2020 Romantic Book Of The Year in RWAustralia) and the Riverina in ‘Mother’s Day’ – these places are all really rounded characters in the book. Setting gives so much to a novel and all those letters from readers about feeling ‘they were there’ give me hope that I’m creating the experience I want for my readers.

I love the drama and life challenges of writing medical scenes (Outback ER), but I guarantee a happy ending because I believe we all deserve one.

Basically, I’m constantly thinking up ideas and finding new imaginary friends to hang with so if you’d like to ask a question or have a suggestion, you can contact me anytime.

Thanks for inviting me to share my passion for sharing ordinary, but extraordinary Australians and Australia in my books to readers all over the world.

We’d like to thank Fiona for taking time of out her busy schedule to share her knowledge and in-depth responses for our Q & A. We really enjoyed learning about her process and research behind these books and how their storylines are developed. If you’d like to talk further with Fiona or check out her books, click here!