Today I am so pleased to welcome L.J. Hayward to Joyfully Jay. L.J. has come to talk to us about her upcoming release, When the Smoke Clears, a charitable anthology by a number of Australian and New Zealand authors. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
At the end of 2019, as large parts of Australia burned uncontrollably, Aussie author Meg Bawden wondered what she could do to help the selfless efforts of the brave people on the front line. An idea was born—an anthology of MM romance authors with all the proceeds going to the Country Fire Authority (Victoria) (https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/home) and Wildlife Victoria (https://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/).
Very quickly 10 Australian and New Zealand authors signed up and on the 2nd of March, you will be able to read 11 stories of love and heroism in all its forms against a backdrop of the Australian bushfires.
“High Alert” by Becca Seymour
One librarian who refuses to panic. One volunteer firie who goes above and beyond. And two friends who keep missing their chance to tell each other how they feel. When the stakes are high and emotions are running wild, sometimes you just have to show your hand and go all in.
Inspiration: Living rurally and on a property, I acutely feel the reality of the extremes we face as Australians. My story came from the desire to recognise how everyday men and women live their best lives while also selflessly putting themselves in the path of danger. They do this for the good of their communities. These everyday heroes deserve all our respect and gratitude. This story is for them.
“Cinders” by Zoe Piper
Kiwi firefighter, Paul ‘Chalky’ White, doesn’t hesitate to volunteer when fires decimate the Australian bush. He expects to find heartache and devastation. What he doesn’t expect to find it a tiny abandoned kitten and a sexy vet in the middle of nowhere. Dr Hayden Wheeler only has a few minutes with the soot-stained firefighter, and is left with the memory of piercing blue eyes and regret for not getting his number. A chance encounter in Auckland months later has the two men reuniting. Will they be able to build something on the embers of their first meeting or will it all turn to ash? “Cinders” is a 10,000 word short story set in the Kiwi Guys world.
Inspiration: Inspiration came from the number of countries that volunteered their services to help out in Australia.
“After the Blaze” by Louisa Masters
Charlie’s loved Archie for years, but he’s not willing to risk their friendship by making a move. Then bushfires sweep the region, and CFA volunteer Archie is called out to battle the blaze . . . and as Gippsland burns, Charlie realises that some things are worth the risk.
Inspiration: This story is inspired by our CFA volunteers, who are such an essential part of every rural community. It’s easy to think of the people in fire-resistant yellow suits as being faceless and nameless, but they are people with lives and families who endanger themselves for the safety of the community.
“New Year’s Day” by Lisa Henry
Two boys. A horse. The fire.
Inspiration: Of all the photographs from the fires, I think those from Mallacoota were the most striking, and the most horrifying. One that I kept coming back was this one of the horse amongst the people who had evacuated to the beach on New Year’s Day. I started thinking about the logistics of having a horse during an emergency like that, and suddenly I was building a story around a horse. I wasn’t planning on writing a YA story, but once Elliott and Sam and Pirate the horse were in my head, I knew theirs was the story I needed to write.
“Wild Heat” by Naomi Aoki
With his family’s Wildlife Park under threat by bushfire, Lyam took a chance and kissed the man he’d been pining after for years, the Park’s veterinarian, Jordan.
Inspiration: I got my inspiration for this story after hearing of the efforts the staff at Mogo Zoo had gone to and were willing to go in order to protect the park and its animals.
“A Little Bit Like Love” by Ann Grech
A politician who’s determined to save the forest. A property developer who wants to cut it down. Two men, a grudge and the bushland standing between them. The unstoppable inferno in the distance draws closer, threatening their piece of paradise. As it razes everything in its path, will these two enemies survive the night? Can they find something a little bit like love in the midst of disaster?
Inspiration: This story is set in a fictitious town, but it’s based on a very real place—just outside of Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast in northern Queensland. The blazes were burning there in September 2019. My brother lives there. His family were evacuated when the fires reached less than a kilometre away (just over half a mile), but he stayed. He helped build new fire breaks and reinforce existing ones. My story is for him. He’s my hero.
“Every Picture Tells a Story” by LJ Harris
It had been eight months since the first spark of the Australian bushfires had been lit, cutting a relentless path through millions of hectares of land. Seven days since firefighter Jack Sweeney had been able to return to his family home on the south coast of New South Wales to rest his weary bones. Exactly two hours, eight minutes and sixteen seconds since he’d met a man named Hunter.
Inspiration: I have friends who live in Malua Bay, and once I was able to contact them again (the fires meant they had no power, phone or internet), she told me of the horrors they experienced. I knew I had to do something to make sense of it, so this friend happily allowed me to weave some of her experiences through the story.
“When Sparks Fly” by TA Bellmond
Dace Daniels is Australia’s favourite evening news reported. His newest assignment is to seek out and interview bushfire victims. When Dace comes across a man sobbing amid his fire-devastated property, his immediate instinct it to comfort rather than interview.
The haven Brodie created when he escaped from his past has been incinerated. When his identity is discovered by a reporter, he fears things may go from bad to worse. But the reporter is beautiful and kind and offers Brodie a safe place to stay. Brodie accepts the man’s kindness, but will it come with a price?
Inspiration: Watching the devastation of the bushfires on the east coast of Australia from afar was heart-breaking and frustrating. While I donated what I could, I had a sense of helplessness and wanted to do more. The call for an anthology came while I was watching ABC coverage of the fires and a certain reporter’s empathic interviews with bushfire victims caught my attention. This inspired my Dace. It struck me that it would be a difficult task to speak to traumatised people in these circumstances, so I gave him a sweet but terribly traumatised Brodie to care for and let the sparks fly.
“Facing the Heat” by Nic Starr
Trent Masterton is no stranger to loss but it now looks as if his dreams are coming true. Callum, a man he thought was out of reach, takes a starring role in his life and suddenly the future looks bright. But a raging bushfire has other ideas, and once again, Trent is faced with losing everything he holds dear—his home, his business, his new-found love. In the devastation that follows the fire, Callum hold Trent together, giving him the strength and determination to rebuild his life. However, it looks like the fire might have the last say and be the thing that tears them apart.
Inspiration: I was moved by the stories of everyday people facing loss. The photos of the devastation broke my heart—homes destroyed, businesses burned to the ground, entire communities torn apart. But I also heard stories of bravery and resilience, news articles about communities coming together and helping each other, and people determined to move beyond the tragedy. I was particularly in awe of all the volunteers who made so many sacrifices to save others. These volunteers were the inspiration for my Callum, a man who wants to volunteer for the Rural Fire Service so if something like this disaster ever happens again, he’ll be read and able to help.
“Flying Embers” by L.J. Hayward
Helicopter tour pilot, Logan Star, has flown over the Blue Mountains thousands of times. He’s seen them in sunshine and rain, in vibrant colour and drought. He’s never seen them burn like this before, though. As fire engulfs the land, Logan must race to rescue the man he loves—and lost—from the danger of flying embers.
Inspiration: I was hooked by the water-bombing aircraft scooping up loads of water and then dropping it on the fires. They worked so tirelessly they emptied out entire dams. I was also caught by the stories of brave, everyday people doing everything they could to save trapped and injured wildlife. Those heroes are why I wrote a story about a pilot determined to save a rural vet who’s determined to save everything he loves.
“Smoke and Ash” by Meg Bawden
Cameron hates the smell of smoke, it reminds him of summer and the days his husband comes home after fighting a bushfire as a RFS volunteer. There’s never been bushfires like this though and Cameron’s anxiety of losing Graham is worse than ever. He’d never stop Graham from doing what he does best, but staying at home and wondering if his husband will return to him at the end of the day will never get any easier. When Australia’s worst fires rage and threatens their own home, it’s Graham’s turn to worry. Can Cam get out in time?
Inspiration: I was inspired by a story I read a few years ago on Facebook. A woman talked about how difficult it was to be the wife of a RFS volunteer and how her husband was called out at all times of the night. She’d wake up the next morning to find his jacket slung over the veranda rail and it’d smell of smoke. She also said she hated the smell, but she handled it because her husband did what he needed to in order to protect homes and lives. That story never left my mind and every time I see the news about bushfires, I’d think about it.
For more details about the anthology and authors, please head over to http://www.ljhayward.com/wtsc.html.