Joy Rhoades: From the Australian bush to the wilds of Wall Street

Joy Rhoades: From the Australian bush to the wilds of Wall Street

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As a lawyer in the banking community, at one stage she brushed shoulders with the elite of Wall Street.

But despite her affluent surroundings, she considers the most valuable piece of baggage she carried with her were memories of growing up in the Australian bush.

Now, after 10 years in the pipeline, Joy has launched her debut novel The Woolgrower’s Companion, a story of one woman’s efforts to save a debt-ridden, isolated sheep farm in Australia after her husband leaves to fight in the second world war.

And as he encounters battles abroad, she faces barriers much closer to home in the form of sexism, racism, scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and nature itself.

Released first in her homeland back in February, Penguin has confirmed The Woolgrower’s Companion to be the best-selling fiction debut in Australia this year.

Joy RhoadesPH

Joy Rhoades: From the Australian bush to the wilds of Wall Street

When I was young I always read about these amazing places and decided one day I wanted to live in them

Joy Rhoades

Now Joy, who lives in London with her husband and two children, is hoping for an equally good response when the book hits the shelves over here next month.

The inspiration for the book is her grandmother Gladys Wyndham Chateau, who owned a sheep farm in rural New South Wales.

“It was where my father grew up,” she says. 

“Granny was a fifth generation grazier, a lover of history, and a great and gentle teller of stories.

“She was what many would see as a typical countrywoman. She was very kind with an incredibly dry sense of humour.

Joy RhoadesPH

Joy at a book signing in Australia

“I remember her as a person of remarkable gentility, but with a backbone of steel. She even used to do her gardening in her heels! 

"It was her opinion that you maintained your appearance whatever you were doing.

“When she eventually passed away at the age of 103 we had a gathering of the clans and everyone was able to swap stories about her life.”

Joy had always wanted to write but it was her mother who persuaded her to follow a more practical course.

She moved to a boarding school in Brisbane at the age of 13 and went on to study law and literature at University, which enabled her to travel.

Joy RhoadesPH

Up a tree with sisters and her dad - Joy is next to her father

“When I was young I always read about these amazing places and decided one day I wanted to live in them,” says Joy. “Law gave me that opportunity.”

It was while in New York that she rekindled her love of stories, joining a creative writing class in the West Village where she made friends with a fellow student who later achieved remarkable success herself.

Kathryn Stockett wrote the best-selling novel The Help, which was later turned into an Oscar-winning Hollywood movie starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis.

“I took a different path at that point, getting married and having my babies,” says Joy. 

“We moved to London and my husband and I were so busy with work and bringing up the children that the novel went into cold storage for EIGHT YEARS.

“Kathryn remained in touch through all that time, though, and kept asking me, ‘Where is it? Where is it? Where is it?’

Joy RhoadesPH

The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades

“The fact I couldn’t concentrate on finishing the book was driving me nuts! In the end, we bit the bullet and I gave up work to look after my children and complete the book.”

As well as the stories of her grandmother, Joy can still draw on her own experiences of being brought up in a small bush town in Queensland.

“I recall the feel of walking into a dam and the silt and mud gathering around your feet and the sense of excitement when it rained. That meant everything," she says.

“The seasons dictated your livelihood. If it rained it meant things would be OK. 

"If it was planting season you could plant, if it was growing season things would grow. 

"What sort of future we could expect was decided by the Gods.”

Joy RhoadesPH

Joy dressed for success on Wall Street

In fact, one of Joy’s strongest memories came flooding back the other day. 

“My mother always used to say to us ‘look where you are putting your feet’. I was in a garden in Kent a short while ago when I stood on a snake.

“I screamed, threw the things I was carrying in the air and ran. Then it dawned on me it was just a piece of pipe! 

"In Australia you grow up with snakes and you are aware most of them won’t attack unless they are cornered or feel they are being threatened. 

"That experience has remained with me to this day.”

The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades is published by Chatto & Windus on Thursday, June 8, in hardback, priced £12.99

It is available to buy on Amazon and at Waterstones.

Nick Rippington is author of UK gangland thriller Crossing The Whitewash.

His second novel in the Boxer Boys Series, Spark Out, is due to be released next month