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REAL-LIFE MUMS / May ‘2018

Workaholic Turned Author: How One Woman Changed Her Life With a Pen

REAL-LIFE MUMS / MAY ‘2018

Workaholic Turned Author: How One Woman Changed Her Life With a Pen

Former engineer and Perth mother-of-four, Loretta Hill, has found a new career penning best-selling novels about life and love on the mines. She chats to Zoe Deleuil about how she combines writing and motherhood.  

Words ZOE DELEUIL

Mine sites in the Pilbara aren’t generally considered the most romantic of settings, but for Perth author and mother-of-four, Loretta Hill, they’ve provided the inspiration and characters for two successful romance novels, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots and The Girl in the Hard Hat, which was published in January.  

Although she always loved writing, publishing her first short story in The West Australian at the age of 11, Hill followed her father’s advice to pursue a ‘sensible career’ and completed degrees in both engineering and commerce at UWA. Upon graduation she was offered a scholarship and a job with a West Australian engineering company and went straight to work in outback Queensland and the Pilbara. But, after three-and-a-half years, she’d had enough. 

"In the mining industry, I worked twelve hour shifts for five weeks straight, and at the end of that you’re so zonked, it takes you half your week off to recover."

“I felt like a workaholic, and I never saw my friends and family,” she says. “In the mining industry, I worked twelve hour shifts for five weeks straight, and at the end of that you’re so zonked, it takes you half your week off to recover.” 

She found another job in Perth as a design engineer, meeting her husband and starting a family soon afterwards. Throughout those years of work interspersed with maternity leave she continued writing. She’d completed her first novel, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, when she’d returned from the Pilbara and her experiences were still fresh in her mind.  

“But real characters kept walking onto the page, so I left it for awhile and then I had my first child, Luke. I was so sleep deprived that I decided to focus on editing rather than writing, and I ended up spending about three years revising it.” 

The next step was finding a publisher. “I’ve been very lucky,” she says modestly. “In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested. Normally you need an agent to send your work to publishing houses, but by pitching it directly I managed to skip that step.” 

  

"I was so sleep deprived that I decided to focus on editing rather than writing, and I ended up spending about three years revising it."

The next step was finding a publisher. “I’ve been very lucky,” she says modestly. “In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested. Normally you need an agent to send your work to publishing houses, but by pitching it directly I managed to skip that step.” 

While waiting for news, Loretta found a literary agent, which was easier with a publisher already interested. Eventually the original publisher rejected her novel, but her agent sold it to Random House soon afterwards. It was published in January 2012 and became an immediate bestseller, enabling Loretta to employ a part-time nanny with the royalties while she began work on a second book.  

“I had Beth, my third child, in January 2012. Random House wanted another book within nine months, so that was a busy time,” she says. “Mum helped out a lot and my husband gave me all day Sunday to write. I got the second book done but didn’t have much family time, which was hard. Luckily my editor said the quality was still good, otherwise she would have pushed it back.” 

"I’ve been very lucky. In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested."

Loretta now has four children, Luke, 5, James, 4, Beth, 2, and Michael, 7 months. Writing is squeezed in between the demands of raising a family, with the two worlds sometimes colliding in unexpected ways, such as having to bribe her children with Freddo Frogs to return the missing ‘f’ key of her laptop, which had become a little loose and then vanished after creating a particularly foul-mouthed character in her second novel.  

“I have a nanny on Fridays and my mum does a half day once a week. Anything else I can snatch is a bonus. Sometimes my husband gives me a couple of hours on the weekend, but generally we try to reserve those for family time. I suppose I love writing too much to not do it. When I’m looking after my kids, my stories are always playing in the background. I can’t seem to escape my alternate reality.” 

"I had Beth, my third child, in January 2012. Random House wanted another book within nine months, so that was a busy time."

The novels are page-turning romances that capture the tensions and intensity of living day-in, day-out with the same faces, the rough humour, the harshness and physical beauty of the desert landscape. Hill has drawn heavily on her own experience of working on a port construction site where men outnumbered women 350 to five.  

Online reviews enthuse about the characters, the confident storytelling and the detailed picture Loretta builds of life as a FIFO worker – something that, for all the wealth it generates, remains mysterious to many Australians.  

The novels are page-turning romances that capture the tensions and intensity of living day-in, day-out with the same faces, the rough humour, the harshness and physical beauty of the desert landscape.

The success of her novels, after years of work, hasn’t stopped Hill, who is already hard at work on another FIFO novel, The Girl in the Yellow Vest, this time set in Queensland. “I get a lot of fan mail from women in the industry, as well as FIFO wives who want to find out more about life in the mining industry. It’s a gruelling way to make a living, hard on relationships, and I think people who know that life enjoy my books. Other readers are simply curious about life in outback Australia.”  

ZOE DELEUIL

Zoe is mother to Tilo, two, and has another one due in October. She says that writing for Offspring is ideal for a novice parent as it involves learning more about many aspects of parenting, from choosing the right school to essential buys for newborns.