Introducing team partner Jennifer Scoullar

Pilyara Press – Our Self-Publishing Adventure


It’s time to introduce my partners in this venture.


First up is Jennifer Scoullar, who’d been thinking for some years about self-publishing. After an initial run at it, which resulted in WASP SEASON, she got her first book contract with Penguin, who published her rural romance, BRUMBY’S RUN. She went on to publish four more such novels, each with a strong environmental theme. Her last novel with them, FORTUNE’S SON, is historical fiction set in Tasmania and South Africa. Traditional publishing involves constraints as to themes and content. Jenny wants to use more animal point of view, and so when Penguin let her go, she decided to go with self-publishing and the freedom it offers.


I’d like to see her write fiction that’s all about animals, something she can do with Piilyara Press. Jenny has a connection with the natural world of a deeper and richer sort than any I have ever seen. She can bring an animal character to life in one sentence, and this life is of an unparalleled kind. It’s as if she reaches beyond the regular three dimensions into something bigger and more vital. For now, though, she wants to work on The Tasmanian Tiger Tales, which she started with FORTUNE’S SON. Her first publication with Pilyara Press will be THE LOST VALLEY, book two in the series.


Piilyara is the name of her farm, which inhabits a corner of rural Victoria between Pakenham and Gembrook. It was her brother Rod’s idea to self-publish her fiction under an imprint named after her farm. Rod died suddenly and unexpectedly two years ago, and so this venture is dedicated to his memory.


I first met Jenny at a dinner party held by a mutual friend. She was this blonde woman in a black suit of indeterminate vintage and probably sourced from an op-shop. Although she was sitting right next to me, I felt she wasn’t quite there. In spirit, she seemed to be somewhere else, somewhere that held the core of her attention.


She said, “I’m conventional on the outside and eccentric on the inside.”


I had only recently discovered that there were conventional people in the world. To me, everybody was (and is) eccentric. No matter how tame they try to appear, their wild individuality, their outright oddness pops out all over the place. However, I noted Jenny’s self-declaration because, by my observation, most people think they’re normal and Jenny showed rare insight in coming right out and saying she’s not.


Jenny has two ways of walking. The first is mere locomotion. She walks this way whenever she’s indoors, in the city and at events like Rod’s funeral, author panels and dinner parties. Her other way of walking is the real Jenny. If a tree could move from place to place, it would do so the way Jenny does when she’s on the land. It’s as if she and the earth under her feet are one. Each time she raises her foot, it’s as if that bit of the earth stretches with her and subsides when her foot lands. There is a totter in her step, which is not about precarious balance but as if she carries a spreading canopy wherever she goes.


She’s uneasy in large gatherings of people. There’s a tension and a suppressed fidgeting about her that makes me think her inner child, a girl of about eight in jeans and a checked shirt, has lost her favourite book, the one about brumbies, and is worried about what misfortune might have befallen it. Has it died in a fire? Drowned in the dam on Pilyara? Has it been torn limb from limb? This inner child wants more than anything to go and search for the cherished book but has to sit on an author panel instead, or celebrate a friend’s publishing success. Once she’s in the country, her inner child knows exactly where her favourite book is. It’s safe on the shelf in her room.


Jenny is an animal activist and an environmentalist. Her farm is home to three dogs, Teddy, Rex, and the darling of my life, Princess Puppy. A tribe of cats lives in Jenny’s youngest son’s bedroom, coming and going through a hole in the floor. There are sheep, ponies and horses. Her second son rescued a racehorse from the slaughter yard a couple of years ago. The horse, Lofty, had suffered an injury in a race, and rather than send him to the vet, his owner threw him away like a used tissue. The first time I heard Lofty call from one of the paddocks on Pilyara, I thought there vibrated in his voice a strong awareness that he had been reprieved.


Duck shooting season started in March this year. A few days before it opened, ducks began arriving on Jenny’s farm. Before long, the dam and creek were crowded with refugees, with no room to paddle. As she feeds the horses, ducks follow her about, gobbling up the oats as they fall. When I first heard this story, I imagined mother ducks in the area warning their ducklings, “When the arc of the sun shortens and the water in the creek chills, the time of the Slaughter of the Innocents is drawing near. You must flee to Pilyara. You’ll be safe there until winter and the humans with their fire sticks go away.”


For Jenny, family is the most important human network. We used to go and stay with Rod on Phillip Island, where he was the Uniting Church minister. Jenny and I are godless people, which rankled a little with Rod, though only enough to make him defend his beliefs, not enough that he tried to convert us. I used to listen with quiet amazement as they talked politics, environment, animals, geology, and family business. Their conversations amazed me because in my family there was a vast silence, and because I had read about but never actually met a family whose members talked this way. After Rod died, his younger daughter bought a house in Ballarat with her share of the inheritance money. Once a month, Jenny goes to stay with her for a few days to keep that family connection a living thing.


It seems remarkable to me that Jenny and I are friends. She loves family and I left my family many years ago. She follows politics with avid interest and I’m a political dummy. She reveres the written word and I am more interested in original thought. She’s a scientist to her bones and I’m a psychologist by nature. We both love animals but though I’m a dog magnet, that connection pales next to her passionate identification with everything that lives in the natural world. But somehow, we are friends. I like her stability and the way she never tries to make me feel inferior. I admire her ability to keep friendships alive for decades. She’s got friends she met in school. I love that steadiness.


Anyway, Jenny is our researcher. She has discovered two businesses that sell book covers at affordable prices. The first is Covers by Design, the other Go On Write. She and Kath have worked out the logo, an eagle in flighted against a sky containing the letters PP. We’ll have our novels formatted with PressBooks. Jenny has also decided on where to have digital copies and where to have hard copies produced. I can’t remember where – I’m the team daydreamer. If you want to know more, you’ll have to wait until she starts posting and blogging about our adventure.


Next time: Kathryn Ledson.


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