With competitive jam makers, a variety of jam, The Ghan rail travel, the Australian outback, the Barossa Valley, Maggie Beer, four generations of women, IVF, grief and new beginnings… The Jam Queens covers quite a bit of territory. Here’s an introduction to some of the inspiration behind these elements.
Deciding which food to pursue is never an easy task for me as there is an endless supply of wonderful foods to explore. I always research my foods as much as I can and I practise making them from scratch (e.g. tea, chocolate, cheese, cakes, jam), with the exception of coffee (in The Gift of Life), which requires a lot of specialised equipment (though I certainly watched talented craftspeople doing it).
I have to love the food in my story as it’s ‘the hero’. In order to write about it with enthusiasm, I need to pick a food I enjoy and and am fascinated with. (For all the wine lovers out there, I’m sorry to say I haven’t yet found enough enthusiasm for wine to take it on.) It was actually my husband who suggested jam and after initially thinking it was too limited, I began to wonder about the whole competitive jam making scene and its place in our modern world and that caught my attention. I taught myself to make jam from the internet and realised I would have to enter shows to truly understand the process. I entered the Royal Brisbane Show in 2019 with my strawberry jam and was delighted (and shocked!) to win first place in the novice category. It was a lot of fun and I got a little bit ‘hooked’ 🙂 I then entered my gluten free Persian Love Cake into the Noosa Show and won second place, and another cake into the Eumundi Show (which one first place) and if Covid hadn’t cancelled everything in 2020 I would definitely have gone back for more. (As an aside, the recipe for the Persian Love Cake is included in the back of The Cake Maker’s Wish.) There’s a lot to be said for country shows and their cookery competitions and there is still more I’d like to explore there in the future.
My foodie themed novels always come together from ‘the outside in’ and my setting is usually the first thing I decide on. I’m a strong world builder so I want to really know that world well, and that usually involves a research trip. For The Jam Queens, I travelled to the Barossa Valley in South Australia with my husband and young son back in 2017. I wasn’t certain about my food theme at that stage but I was interested in fruit and especially apples. (I’ve had an ‘apple book’ floating around me for years now that just hasn’t quite settled yet… One day I’ll get to it.) While in the Barossa, I was lucky enough to be invited to tour the Trevallie orchard with Sheralee Menz, who took me around the apples, pears and apricot trees on a freezing, windy and grey day. My poor sub-tropical Queensland hide was shaking incessantly but Sheralee charged on with enthusiasm and effortless grit. The highlight was seeing a tree there that was over one hundred years old, majestic and magnetic.
The idea of journeying on The Ghan came to me while I was driving the two hours home from a day trip to Brisbane, when it simply popped into my head. I think it must have swum up from the depths of my sub-conscious because my beloved Uncle Anthony had frequently mentioned his hope of taking the trip and it must have settled into me somewhere as a great bucket list item.
I mentioned it to my husband, who enthusiastically agreed and declared it done (he’s fabulous like that), and told me to take my sister. I have been lucky enough to take Amanda with me on nearly all of my research trips, including to the Cotswolds and to Italy, and she is the best travelling mate. We have a ball. Somewhere on that trip, we found our alter egos in Myrtle and Dolce and those two characters became the ones you find in the book. I adore Myrtle and Dolce and wish them a lifetime of wonderful journeys to come (and hopefully a book of their own!).
The teenage pregnancy
The character of Aggie is a forty-five-year old woman who had her first child when she was seventeen. The origins of that backstory came about because while I was promoting The Gift of Life, a friend came to see me speak and the bookseller mistakenly believed she was my mother. My friend has a great sense of humour and we had a good laugh while she mused what sort of teenage mum she would have been. I was in the early stages of playing around with the character of Aggie and I was inspired to explore this idea of teenage pregnancies. I watched many episodes of the reality TV show 16 and Pregnant and was rather horrified at how dreadful so many of the family members behaved towards the pregnant teen and how, in every episode, the pregnant teen was actually the one holding it all together while people all around her fell apart. From that, I knew Aggie would have been a good and capable mum, especially if she got the right support. I also knew it could be a cause of serious separation between her and her mum (Valeria).
The IVF journey
Early on in The Jam Queens we discover that Aggie has been through IVF and now finds herself at a crossroads in that journey, along with her ex partner, Gideon. That particular storyline was specifically inspired by a Mamamia podcast called The Quicky, which provides daily news updates followed by a ‘deep dive’ into a particular issue. In this case, the issue focused on the unique position couples find themselves in when they have ‘leftover’ embryos and must decide what to do with them. I was really captivated by this, not having ever considered it before and wondering what I would do in that situation. I was especially interested to consider how a couple would work it out if they were no longer together.
These are some of the themes and issues The Jam Queens explores. Keep an eye out for my forthcoming post on Maggie Beer and how she made it into the novel too!
The Jam Queens is out 13 April 2021 and you can preorder now from all good books stores and online retailers.