Kelly Cameron hated the boy in year nine at their school in Tasmania. “I would never marry someone like that,” she told a friend. One day, the boy, whose name was Matt, set off the school fire alarm so he wouldn’t have to do an English test. He got into trouble for his naughtiness, but for Kelly, it was the making of her.
Later, Kelly’s English teacher called her over. The story she wrote in that fateful class steered her towards a career as a writer. “My teacher told me that my marks for that story were in the top 10 per cent in Australia,” she says.
Today, Kelly and Matt are married, the proud parents of two youngsters Maverick and Kohan, live on a near 3000-ha property just outside Yass and Kelly has just published her first book; a rural romance called Dancing With Dandelions.
The book is the culmination of a lifetime of experiences for the writer, 30, who although originally from the Hunter Valley in NSW, has travelled Australia working as a teacher’s aide, a youth worker with Indigenous communities, in aged care, employment services and as a governess “in the middle of nowhere”.
“I got the job as governess out at Burtundy Station near Ivanhoe,” Kelly says. “It was really in the middle of nowhere, 300 km from the nearest town. I was teaching a boy in year five through the ‘School of the Air’… it was just amazing,” she says.
“I think of it now as one of the best experiences of my life. It was completely different to what I was used to. The schoolroom was in a demountable. Before school, I’d go over and have coffee in the homestead, teach, then go back for lunch and then I’d help out on the farm with whatever needed to be done. We did mustering, I’d go out on bull runs, going out to check the water troughs.
“We were like a station family on that place. I didn’t really know what a governess did till I went out there,” she laughs.
It was experiences like this that led Kelly to writing her book. They all play a part in Dancing With Dandelions, which tells the story of sisters Arabella and Grace Peterson who have been running the family farm since the death of their parents. After a horse riding accident, Arabella finds herself in hospital and comes under the spell of a doctor. The meeting forces them both to deal with their troubled pasts.
The romantic read, which was published last month, is drawing particular interest in the Yass Valley. Not just because Kelly and her family live there, but because she includes many of the region’s villages and towns and well-known places of interest. It’s a treat for locals who rarely come across books that mention places like Tarago or Murrumbateman, Yass Hospital or wineries and churches that they can identify with, literally – and even the Brindabella Nature Park with its touch of poetic licence. She writes about the familiarity of her home, with “cockatoos screeching and raising their crests”.
Kelly says she is overwhelmed by the support received from Yass locals since the book was published. Yass’ new book store, which has recently moved into the old Liberty Theatre in the main street, is already on its second order of the book.
Do you have to be a romantic to write a romance novel?
“I used to to be a romantic before I married a farmer,” Kelly jokes. “Our romantic times these days are watching the sunset from the back of the ute – with the kids.”
She says her husband Matt isn’t much of a reader. “He is very supportive,” she says. “But he hasn’t read my book yet, I talk to him a lot about the plot and he gives me great feedback and I always run the farm stuff by him.”
Kelly is already well into writing her second novel, a sequel to Dandelions but featuring new characters. It’s quite a feat for this woman when you consider how many hours she has left in her day after farm and family, including home-schooling her children and an off-farm business helping job-seekers.
“Most days I try to do a couple of hours writing, but it depends on the day. But you have to feel inspired to write – there’s no point otherwise,” she says.
Dancing With Dandelions is available from Kelly Cameron’s website.