INTERWEAVING CULTURES WITH NICOLE ALEXANDER
Written by Jackie Smith
Upon the release of her fifth book, The Great Plains, Australian author Nicole Alexander remains humble despite her success.
Leaving behind a highflying, international career in marketing, Nicole Alexander returned to her family’s property in country New South Wales in the 1990s and quickly found herself immersed in running the family business.
As a fourth generation grazier living on land her ancestors selected in the 1880s, it is little wonder Alexander has become known for the authenticity of rural life that features so strongly in her novels. Her work has been likened to that of Bryce Courtenay; yet such praise does not come without effort.
From the wild west of Oklahoma to outback Australia in the depression, The Great Plains is the tale of Philomena Wade and her descendants as they struggle to overcome adversity in a time when racial discrimination is rife, and ultimately find a place in the world. Such is a theme that features strongly in not only this novel, but also in Alexander’s previous work.
Her first novel, The Bark Cutters, was an eight-year slog as she waded through a Masters in Creative Writing and Literature. Such a feat is not something to be approached lightly yet Alexander maintains that she cannot credit her writing ability to university. ‘That didn’t teach me how to write, it taught me how to be disciplined,’ she says. ‘The only person who can teach you how to write is you yourself.’
Now on a book a year contract with Random House, Alexander juggles the writing life with the responsibilities of living on a rural property and maintaining a cattle and sheep trade. It is here that her experiences with discipline kicks in, as with touring and farming commitments, she has approximately eight months in which to provide a book. Such a tight schedule was never as challenging as when she started to write The Great Plains.
A stickler for research, Alexander embarked on a whirlwind tour to Oklahoma, so she could study the geography of the land where some of her story takes place. But how does Oklahoma fit in with rural Australia? At the heart of The Great Plains is a story of displacement and a yearning to belong, as everyone experiences at some point in their life. ‘Taking [those] American characters and placing them in the beauty and harshness of our bush, and having them interact with distinct Australian bush personalities, allowed me to compare backgrounds and behaviour. Ultimately, it let me tell a story of the countries that we come from and the lands that we love.’
Nicole Alexander’s latest book, The Great Plains, is available from all bookstores.