Best of both worlds

Fiona McArthurTHE birth of a baby might not be a typical plot development in a romance novel, but that doesn’t bother Kempsey midwife and best-selling author Fiona McArthur.

“I’ve written 32 books and every single one has a birth, whether they’re a medical romance or not,” McArthur says, laughing.

“The funny thing is that when I started to try and write for Mills & Boon, which was in the 1990s, I actually didn’t sell one until I started to write about midwifery.

“I tried the secretary stories, but you know what? I’ve never been a secretary and I couldn’t make it work. It was a lot easier to get into the head of my heroines when they were midwives.”

McArthur has been a midwife for 29 years and has observed the joy of birth, but also the devastation when things go wrong. Her experiences at Kempsey Hospital, where she is now an educator in advance life support obstetrics, inform her fiction. The impact of the death of a baby is a recurring theme in her new novel, which also has its share of romance to balance the heartbreak.

Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur

In the book, Red Sand Sunrise, her first with Penguin imprint Michael Joseph, the three key characters, sisters Eve, Sienna and Callie, are all health professionals who end up in the small fictional outback town, Red Sand, after the death of their father. Eve and Sienna were estranged from him and both react differently to news of his death (Callie is their half-sister). A new hospital funded by the wealthy matriarch and landowner, Blanche McKay, cements their connection to the dusty town and each other.

McArthur visited central west Queensland to complete research for the novel.

“I went out and saw the red sandhills outside Windorah and just had to use it for a setting,” she says. “I brought home some of the red sand; it’s so amazing. I also did the outback mail run west of Quilpie and spent eight hours with the mailman, who is an absolute card.

“You visit all these outback stations and realise that these people are two hours from their neighbour.

“They’ve got little kids and a helicopter poking out of the back shed. It was Durack country; it was Kings In Grass Castles. I was really inspired.”

It was a longing for adventure and financial independence that prompted McArthur to explore a writing career alongside midwifery. While raising five sons and working part-time at Kempsey Hospital, she seized whatever spare time she could to focus on writing. Her husband worked long hours with the ambulance service so she became a very early riser – and remains so.

“I guess I was searching for something that would give me another world, as well as the world, and I’ve certainly got that,” she explains. “I’ve certainly got two worlds.”

Medical romance, a sub-genre within romance, enables McArthur to combine her two passions and her knack for capturing the intensity of a medical setting clearly appeals to readers: she has sold more than two million books.

“If you start with a decent doctor and decent medical staff, you’ve got heroes already,” she says. “That’s a really nice place to start and then you’ve got drama – a snake bite, a car accident . . .”

McArthur is preparing for her next research trip, this time to Broken Hill and beyond where she will seek out locals and “soak in” the landscape. One 10-day trip can inspire as many as three books and given that romance is one of the highest-selling genres, McArthur is well placed to meet demand.

The appeal of the genre is easy to understand, says McArthur.

“People want to smile when they put the book down, that’s what I want to deliver. There will never be a Fiona McArthur book that has a sad ending because as a reader, I need to be uplifted at the end.”