Renowned midwife and bestselling author Fiona McArthur on delivering babies, being a 'pantser' and reading on a river.
Where did the idea for The Desert Midwife come from?
This idea came from my Penguin Random House book, Aussie Midwives – a non-fiction book of the heart that collated true stories from incredible midwives from all over Australia. It was full of great ideas for the kind of stories I love to write. One of the midwives in the book was a desert midwife and I loved the concept of her travelling a thousand kilometers, Monday to Friday, connecting with women in remote communities and stations between Alice Springs and Katherine. Sometimes, she even made it to be there with them in labour! A lot of my book ideas spring from travelling as well and I’m truly awestruck each time I visit Uluru, so I loved setting The Desert Midwife there.
Why did you become a midwife?
I trained as a nurse and wanted to be able to work away from the city in midwifery. What I really loved was the concept that a rural midwife could share antenatal classes with excited parents, be there when they came into labour, and wave them goodbye after three days of learning to be a new parent. When I began my rural midwifery it happened for more than three decades and was as rewarding an experience as I thought it would be.
Have you ever had a baby named after you?
Not really, I might have a couple of middle names after me though. I was more of a boy baby magnet. My claim to fame is I was looking after someone in birthing on the day I sold my first book and she stopped pushing to tell me to open the letter. That makes me laugh every time I think of it. She was quite forcefuI. I remember her baby’s birthday every year.
How much did you draw from your own experiences as a rural midwife for this book?
Lots. And lots. All of the birth scenes, my admiration for Indigenous women in my own town, my love of Uluru and the desert country is my own, and the advice Ava gives women in the book I’ve certainly given to others. So, most of it is me. My husband said when he read my first book, ‘Imagine if I’d died and hadn’t read your books. I would never have known you.’ It’s me in there.
Describe your writing process.
I’m a 'pantser', with very little plotting, but a first scene is always clear in my head. Then every day I try to go forward with the story, I find out more about the people as I go along. I write at least 500 words every day (hopefully more) but that’s enough to get a book in 6 months and find the story. When the first draft is done I polish and take time to do some extra painting of setting and emotion, as it’s usually short on words and a pacey read. By then I’m ready for my editor to have her input.
What is the first story you remember writing?
Mum’s Joy Of Soccer. It was short. I had four boys under five and my first son was playing soccer when the train went past on the hill. The whole game stopped as both teams turned to watch it. It was so funny to watch that I wrote the story, my first ever short story, or submission as an adult, and I sold it to Women’s Weekly. They even paid me $150.
How do you keep up with current midwifery trends and research?
I’m a member of the Australian Midwives Association, their magazine is amazing, it has fabulous articles and conference information, and there’s online education to keep your CPD up to date. Plus, I have lots of contact with midwives and mums.
What’s your favourite word and why?
This made me smile. They change all the time. Last week it was ‘odd.’ This week it’s ‘gnarly.’ I subscribe to a daily email from ‘M-W word of the day’ and sometimes something catchy pops up.
Where is your favourite writing spot?
I sit in my lounge chair in front of the window facing the hills. Every morning as the light creeps over the paddocks (I get up at 5 am) I see the cows and the mist and the mountains in the distance. Lots of birds and kangaroos and sometimes dingoes walk past if I look up. I’m always posting photos of mist or sunrises on my Facebook page. Sometimes I don’t look up for an hour though because I’m far away in another place.
Who has been your favourite character to write?
Of course, I love them all and now it’s Ava from The Desert Midwife – but it was Sienna, the bad girl doctor from The Baby Doctor. The title doesn’t do her justice, she had such a character arc to becoming a caring person.
Where is the strangest place you’ve read a book?
Ha! I did read Outlander while paddling down the Macleay River. I’d have to put the book down and paddle like mad to catch up with the rest of the kayakers and then when the boat was moving again with the current I’d pick up the book and read a bit more. Talk about riveted on the river.
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