Epic Historical Fiction Set in the Australian Outback
Set in the middle of the twentieth century, “Escape” is the third in the “Dreaming Billabong” book series, about several generations of the Fife family in the remote town of Fife Springs, in the Australian outback. Fife Springs was home to patriarch Alan Fife, a rich cattle baron with a checkered past filled with tragedy and many secrets. The little town of Fife Springs has seen its share of tragedy too…it has experienced crime, love, strife, racism, and is home to a haunted lagoon. Legend has it that the ghost of Alan Fife’s mistress, murdered in 1882, haunts the local billabong (lagoon) and that the sad apparition will give advice and share secrets with any visitor who asks.
Featured in all of the books are Emily and Jarrah. Emily is a member of the Fife clan, while Jarrah is the descendant of the aboriginal Woggan-Wandong people who have lived in this part of Australia for thousands of years. We meet them here as children, she 7, he 11. In the company of Emily’s uncle Iain, they flee Sydney’s criminal/grifter underground and return to Fife Springs seeking safety. They find, however, that the little town is not the haven they had hoped for. This book, perhaps more than any of the other “Dreaming Billabong” novels, is full of rich details that make the Australia of the 1950s come alive. In a time of great social and political upheaval, we see the changing face of Australia through the eyes of 2 scared and confused children. Like all of the novels in the series, this one is beautifully, almost poetically written. Each scene feels cinematic and, indeed it is easy to imagine this novel transformed into an epic movie, in the vein of “Giant” or “Raintree County” or 2008’s “Australia.” Shell is a masterful storyteller who has a particular talent for imbuing her characters with humanity and for creating a picture of a particular place and time.
“Dreaming Billabong” is a series of interconnected books by author and artist Ryn Shell. Though each novel centers on the town of Fife Springs and involves many of the same colorful characters, the books are stand-alone and do not need to be read in sequence.
The eBook version on Amazon contains the first 3 chapters of the next in the series, “Flood” as well as original artwork by Kathy Shell. (click for slideshow)
“The lagoon named Dreaming Billabong reflects every colour of the Rainbow Serpent that rests in its depth. When the serpent sleeps, even life-hardened swagmen swear they hear the ghost. Harry heard the ghost. She told him how to gain his mother’s love and become the cattle king.”
About the Author
Ryn Shell is a prolific author and artist who has been writing for 60 years. As Ryn Shell, she wrote the 7 books in the “Dreaming Billabong” series. As Kathy Shell, she writes books on art instruction and designs eBook covers, including for the “Dreaming Billabong” series. As Gray Nomad, she writes nature, travel and lifestyle non-fiction as well as instruction books on plot plans for almost every writing genre: epic, romance, young adult, mystery and more.
Shell’s own life has been as fascinating as the lives of the characters in “Flood”. Indeed, the character of Emily in the “Dreaming Billabong” series is based on Shell herself. Shell says that she felt she needed to wait 50 years until she felt safe enough to tell the stories contained in the books.
Like Emily, Ryn Shell was born into a wealthy family, to parents whose talents included the criminal. As a young child, her father, on the run from the authorities, abandoned the family. More loss followed when her mother, who was left in near poverty, became incapacitated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In reaction to the losses and loneliness of her childhood, young Ryn created an imaginary friend, Charlotte, as does the fictional character Harry in Dreaming Billabong. Ryn modelled Emily after herself, having her draw strength from nature and the place she lives.
Shell’s lifetime of experiences and her ability to become a stronger, more resilient person because of them are evident in the characters she creates in her fiction. Multi-faceted, with depth and sensitivity and keen powers of observation, Emily is a heroine that readers will instantly identify and empathize with. She, like Ryn Shell, gets fortitude from her connection to nature and to Australia itself.