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14 February, 2022

Local author inspired by central west towns

If you pick up the Woodlea series by Allissa Callen you’d be forgiven for not recognising the town of Woodlea that gives the six-book-series its title.

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The set- ting is fictional, but as you carry on reading, you’ll pick up hints that it is inspired by, and indebted to, the cen- tral west and its history.

Woodlea is known as the ‘town of Windmills’. Ms Callen is candid in admitting the local sources of her creative inspiration: “of course Gilgandra is called the town of windmills and I poached that.” Likewise, the historical thread of the series’ third book harking back to WWII aviation she said, “comes straight from Narromine Aviation Museum”. The four years she spent as a teacher in Nyngan, hearing the little children talk- ing about wild goats, also finds its way into her prose. Ms Callen has for the past 28-years lived in western NSW, and currently resides on a small farm in Dubbo. However, the experience of the pandemic has led her to use her writing to escape elsewhere when physical trav- el itself was impossible. “I packed my writing bags and went somewhere I wanted to be,” Ms Callen says of her decision to set her latest series in the Snowy Mountains.

The first book in the series, Snowy Mountains Daughter, released last year, is about a girl who’s always lived in the high country in a small country town and never left. The main male character is someone who was forced to leave the mountains and go into the city. “And it’s about what happens when he comes back and how he fits back into his past life and all the changes,” she said.

The second book in the series, Snowy Mountains Cattleman, due to be released this week, is about two protagonists grappling with grief. One a cattleman who moonlights as a stonemason, the heroine an interior stylist rebuilding a bluestone mansion as well as her life. Ms Callen says her books always feature character arcs, which start out at a point in the character’s life they need change, and to work through the emotional bag- gage over the course of the book.

Ms Callen says she is interested in the genre of romance and “how people connect because I was a counsellor in a previous life.”

However, for the local author it’s always the setting that comes first and the characters who follow. Indeed,

Win a signed copy of the new book by local author Alissa Callen ‘Snowy Mountains Cattleman. See below.

the power of the rural setting is so strong for Ms Callen she says in all her books it “becomes a character itself.” And while the characters she says are always fictional, the atmospheric drama of the landscape itself is drawn from her own experiences.

“We had a mini tornado on the outside of Dubbo, so that was in my first book. My second was about the floods.”

The latest series is inspired by her lifelong affinity with the snowy mountains, and her love of the Rocky Mountains as an exchange student in a small town called Estes Park in Colorado.

By the end of her books Ms Callen always aims to show that “despite what the rural world throws at you, there is always hope”.

She knows life itself doesn’t always deliver that ‘happily ever after’.

However, when she thought about what kind of books she wanted to write, her answer was “feel good books. Those books where if people needed a respite from real life, it takes them away”.

“Real life will still be there, but a safe emotional space they can go into and come out and be a little bit recharged.” 

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