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Monday, May 30, 2011

GUEST AUTHOR: Mary Hawkins

Today I'd like to welcome a lovely lady I met several years ago at a Romance Writers of Australia conference.

With well over 800,000 books in print, Mary Hawkins has been a prominent figure in the Christian fiction world. Mary’s dream of becoming a published novelist became true in 1993 with the release of her first book.

Since then 19 titles have sold world-wide with AUSTRALIA, a collection of contemporary Christian romance novels becoming a best-seller.

Mary and her husband Ray, also now a published author of devotional books, have been in pastoral ministries in New South Wales, Queensland and England. They now live in Australia’s island state, Tasmania.

Mary's published with Harlequin Mills & Boon (Medical romance line), Barbour Publishing Inc (inspirational romance line) and Ark House Press.

Please give a warm welcome to Mary Hawkins. 

Mary, I know we both share a country life background, tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I'm a Queensland farmer’s daughter from the Darling Downs, then a registered nurse, I met my husband, Ray, at a Bible College in Sydney where I too had become a student.

Since my graduation there, for over 45 years we have enjoyed a wonderful romance of our own as we shared in church ministries in New South Wales and Queensland. We have a daughter and two sons who have added to our family two beautiful (inside and out) daughters-in-law and now grandchildren.

Tamar River, Tasmania, Australia
During more recent years we went with teams on three short term mission trips to Kenya, Zambia and Ghana. After Ray officially retired we ministered with a church in England for two years before returning to settle in Australia’s beautiful island state, Tasmania.

Over the years I became the author of five Harlequin Mills & Boon medical romances before I had to decide whether to keep writing them or my inspirational romance category novels which were being received very well also.

One of my volumes of four contemporary inspirational novels, AUSTRALIA, became an international best-seller. With my nineteenth title just released there is still that “next book” to write –  when I make myself stop reading books by favourite authors, of course!

Wow, congratulations and here's to the twentieth making it onto the bookshelves!

When did you start to write and how long did it take you to be published?
In hindsight I realise that I have always been a “writer.” Like many authors, I became a bookworm first and began to enjoy writing my own stories way back in primary school.

However, when I was fourteen I followed my father’s example and started keeping a diary. After we had been married a couple of years Ray read them and simply said, “You are a writer. What are you going to do about it?” I was absolutely dumb-founded.

These were the days long before even home computers, and of course the marvellous internet. I had no contact with other writers and no idea where to start until I enrolled to do the Famous Writers Course by correspondence.

As well as basic fiction writing skills, I was encouraged to “write what you enjoy reading the most yourself.” That was fiction and especially romance novels. A short story from one of their assignments was published in Woman’s Day (an Australian monthly magazine) and gave me more confidence that perhaps I could write well enough to be paid to do so. However, it took thirteen years of rewrites and thirteen rejections before I signed my first book contract.

It has only been because of my darling husband’s encouragement through all the ups and downs every writer experiences, his help with the children (and now grandchildren) and the housework still today at crucial times, that I am multi-published today.

I was so thrilled when Ray too had his first non-fiction articles included a few years ago in books from a major US publisher, Harvest House, and now his two own devotional books released to shops this same month as my own new book, JUSTICE AT BARAULA.

Thirteen years to receive your first contract is certainly dedication and perseverance!

Inspirational romance is huge over in the USA. So, what do you think it is about your genre that readers find fascinating?
Basically, as well as the emotional read of course, the spiritual elements interwoven through the story.

Sometimes writers discuss “deep point of view” that can really engage the reader in wanting to know – and care - “what happens next” to characters in our novels.

For me one important element of that is not only my characters’ deepest goals, motives, emotions, thoughts etc, but how their inner spiritual life influences those and is shown by their outward behaviour and responses to life.

Even a character who professes to be an atheist or a believer for whom “the church” is irrelevant is still proclaiming his “kind” of inner spiritual life.

The one thing readers dislike – and of course, editors first of all – are inspirational romance novels that are “preachy.” I do believe though, that what I may not see as preachy other readers may. This perception may also depend on the reader’s own experiences with spiritual matters.

While the hero and heroine’s romance still has to take the prominent role in inspirational romance novels the same as any other romance sub-genre, it is essential that the spiritual aspects of their lives are “shown” and not just “told” and be interwoven in the Goal, Motivation and Conflict of their story.

Perhaps being a preacher’s wife has made this even more difficult for me to do adequately so that my readers never feel they are being preached at! There have been times I certainly do heaps of revisions to try and address that.

You have a new book coming out shortly, can you tell us about it?
Bradley Hunter has fufilled his ambition to be the policeman stationed at Baragula. He longs to prove himself worthy to serve the community that rescued the abused, underprivileged boy he had been. Years before, Brad even risked his relationship with his teenage sweetheart, Madeline Honeysuckle, to leave the area for his essential training and experience. Now he realises she has changed so drastically from the happy girl she had been, his hopes of reviving their relationship seems hopeless.
Not long after Brad insisted he had to leave without her, Maddie’s life had collapsed around her. Her mother’s death was only another catalyst that forced her to believe she was unlovable. Even God no longer answered her prayers because of the woman she has become. Danger from the past begins to stalk and traumatise Madeline again. She is forced to turn to Brad the policeman for protection and his expertise to bring to justice the criminal who again threatens her and those she loves.
Can two young people with scars from their past discover a way back to love, not only for each other but for God whose ways may sometimes be hard to understand, but does exercise His justice, truth and love when and how He wills.

JUSTICE AT BARAGULA is a single title novel but the third in my Baragula series.

Baragula is a fictitious, small rural town set in the Hunter Valley, north-west of Sydney. Despite having now written three series, the only books I actually planned from the start to be a series were my Great Southland historicals.

As with my first novel in the contemporary Search series, there were minor characters in that first Baragula book, RETURN TO BARAGULA, that simply had to have their own stories written. This included the young policeman stationed at Baragula who has to help protect the main characters in Book One and also appears in the second book out in western New South Wales.

Then of course, there was the sister of the hero in Book Two, OUTBACK FROM BARAGULA, who from the very first book obviously (to me anyway!) had “past history” with that policeman. Maddie has never dealt properly with secret trauma from years before that has made her lose faith and become bitter and hard. When her old enemy threatens her and her family again, she needs Brad to protect them all and bring that criminal to justice.

The blurb on the front cover shows the basic theme: While seeking truth and justice, two people scarred by the past need to find forgiveness and real love to have any chance of a future together.

Having grown up near the Hunter Valley where the Baragula series is set and now living in a place that has a one man police station, I've just got to ask this next question.
Can you share a few fun facts about the geographic locations where your novels takes place?
Mmm...you mean for the first book something like ringing the Cessnock airport and asking questions of a bemused helicopter pilot how long it would take to fly one between two country towns? Then I had two people talking in a helicopter when my brother pointed out they would need microphones and ear sets etc, etc.

I knew absolutely nothing about police at a one officer station in rural New South Wales. I did wonder at the time if anyone would check out the person surfing through so much of the NSW Police website!

However, a retired detective friend from the Hunter Valley Command answered a page of questions and then kindly read the manuscript and assured me it was “okay” although he unfortunately never did meet a beautiful girl like my hero did!

As a large part of the setting is in the Barrington Mountains for this last book, my son who had worked in Forestry there had to read the manuscript and set his Mum right on several things she thought she had known.

Then there was the dairy farm. Having worked on my family’s dairy farm all those years ago I am glad – after thinking I knew stuff I didn’t about those mountains and forests – I checked out some facts with a dairy farmer from that general area. How that industry has changed since I was a teenager!

What was the easiest and hardest parts about writing this book?
The easiest was already knowing characters from the other two books and being able to delve deep into these two characters who had teased my imagination for a long time.

The hardest part was trying to deal with the broken heart of Maddie and forgiveness – what one of my characters in the book calls “God’s Impossible Mission.” Do readers think a writer is “weird” who sheds tears for her broken-hearted heroine?

I was about to do the final edits on the manuscript when I heard a talk by a woman involved with an organisation that seeks to provide help and mentorship for women who suffered as my heroine had.

Horrors! I had not given my heroine time to heal! So that meant revision and an Author’s Note at the end of the book directing hurting women to where they too could find support and help.

One brave lady...
You've travelled to some unique countries, what's the most unusual place you have visited?
There have been several in Africa. Living in a pastor’s hut in a small village in northern Zambia for several days and realising how generous those dear people were with the little they had to share.

A sacred crocodile pond in Northern Ghana near the Burkina Faso border – and holding (nervously!) the tale of a crocodile there.

Last question - do you have any advice/handy tips/craft skills you'd like to share with unpublished authors?
You mean something authors have not heard before? I doubt it!

However, after all those years of rejections and writing with virtually no face to face contact with other writers, the one thing I try to encourage writers who are serious about trying to become published is if at all possible to join a local writers’ group.

There is nothing as tremendous as the “iron sharpening iron” principle. While the internet fellowship we can share now is wonderful and I value it greatly, if at all possible there is nothing as awesome and important as face to face interaction with other writers – and even more awesome if they are trying to write similar kind of books that you want to.

Even if distance only allows a once a year face-to-face time like writer conferences, seminars, workshop etc, it is still very important to keep informed, learn, learn, learn – and then go home and try to put it into practice of course!

Even after over eighteen years since my first book contract, the one thing I do know is that writers should never stop learning about the current publishing industry, and must important of all, how to write a better manuscript – next time!

Mary, thank you so much for spending time with me today answering my questions. It's been lovely chatting and learning more about you.

Now, Mary has generously offered a give-away of one of her Baragula series books to one lucky reader. Leave a comment by 12 noon, Thursday 2nd June 2011 (Aussie EST) and you'll be put into the draw!

Some of Mary's books: (to see her entire backlist, click here)

Baragula series
Because he has seen what happened to his mother and father's marriage as well as others,  Steve Honeysuckle has vowed never to marry a non-Christian. When he realises his attraction to Jillian Davidson, he tries to avoid her but finds himself very involved in her life when her twin brother is injured by cattle thieves on their large outback property.

Since her older sister's death and her brother Matthew's new faith,  Jillian, while being challenged about spiritual issues, is bitterly hurt by thinking the "religious" Steve considers her not good enough for him to love. Their different lifestyles also remain major hurdles. She loves the wide plains of the west while Steve loves his home in the mountains.

As danger threatens, how will they be able to not only overcome murderous men with the help of an odd outback character and friends from Baragula, but find the spiritual differences between them are really obstacles that can be overcome?
RETURN TO BARAGULA (finalist in the 2010 CALEB Award for Christian Fiction)
Emily Parker's actions as a teenager not only impacted her own life but the lives of many others.

Now, six years later, she returns reluctantly to her home town of Baragula only to discover the man at the heart of those actions, Matthew Davidson, is the community's respected doctor.

While Emily's faith is now severely weakened by all that has happened, Matthew's life has completely turned around since he committed his life to Christ. His personal relationship with God is tested when he discovers how his behaviour when a non-believer hurt so many, especially Emily, and feels responsible for her hardness of heart towards the Lord.

Disease attacks the community while danger from another source threatens Emily and her family. Through it all, will Matthew and Emily's faith be strong enough to forgive each other and put the past behind them?

You can learn more about Mary on her website, or follow her blog.
She's also a regular contributor on the International Christian Fiction Writers blog.


  1. Hi Mary. Hello Kylie,

    It was lovely reading about you, Mary and your books sound interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks for bringing us yet another author, Kylie!

  2. Thank you, Nas, and Kylie does a wonderful job bringing authors to our attention and I thank you for inviting me to share too.

  3. Hi Mary

    I've seen your name from time to time on the ROMAUS loop and it's lovely to put a face to the name and find a bit more out about you. You are obviously a very successful author. It's gratifying to know in this day of gratuitous sex, violence and all the other vices we are constantly bombarded with, there is still a part of the world that embraces God and good old fashioned values.

  4. Hi Chris! You're going to have such a great time at the RWA conference in Melbourne meeting all these people you've been able to put names to faces with.

    Unfortunately though, I don't think Mary will be there this year otherwise I'm sure she'd love to meet you.

  5. Just had a final peep here before closing down computer and heading off to Melbourne for the book launch there next Saturday!
    Thank you for your comments, Chris and Kylie. It was a very hard decision I had to make that two trips to Melbourne and a trip booked to The Brisbane Word Writers Festival in November, where both my husband and are are involved with workshops, mentoring etc, were just too much for our time as well as finances this year. It is a very special RWA anniversary conference also and will be wonderful! They have always richly blessed me.

  6. Great post ladies:)
    I must admit I haven't read any christian based books but these definitely sound good.

  7. Okay, Mary here and this is about my hundredth attempt to leave a comment using my daughter's laptop. No idea what I do but it suddenly goes back to the sign in blogger page and I have to start all over again!Thanks Cath for your comment. Like all romance sub-genres these books vary quite a log. In fact, I've been told my single titles are more "edgy" than many more conservative overseas inspirationals. You need to try different authors as we all do to find ones you can enjoy the most. Naturally, I hope I might be one of them!