At the heart of it

My guest today is Cathryn Hein, a fellow Penguin Australia author, who has the delicious Friday Feast blog which is on my ‘never miss list.’

Her second novel, HEART OF THE VALLEY, has just been released and I’m looking forward to curling up with it soon. Please welcome Cathryn.

Hi Helene, and thanks so much for inviting me on your blog. There are always so many interesting things going on here!

I’m also thrilled to talk about what inspired me to write my latest rural romance, HEART OF THE VALLEY. To tell you the truth, this book is a bit of a love letter…

A Story from the Heart

The Hunter Valley. Even the name sounds romantic. And it is a romantic place, with gorgeous vineyards, spectacular hills, luxurious thoroughbred studs, bucolic dairy farms and a river that courses like a vein through the landscape, bringing fertility and life.

But my first experience of the Hunter was far from romantic. I’d been living in Melbourne, having moved there after I finished my agriculture degree to work for a pasture and turf seed company. Then I met Jim and fell in love and all was going wonderfully until we found out he was being transferred to New South Wales. I had to make a decision – stay or leave. Well, I wasn’t about to let that man slip through my fingers and an offer of employment from another pasture seed company simply sealed it: I was heading to the Hunter.

The day we left Melbourne in our little two-car convoy happened to coincide with raging fires breaking out around the Hunter, Blue Mountains and Sydney. All along the Hume Highway we heard reports of road closures and devastation. By the time we reached Picton, the F3 – the major artery connecting Sydney with Newcastle and north – was closed and unlikely to open anytime soon. We camped for the night, along with many other stranded travellers, in a tired-looking motel, wondering how the hell we were going to make it to our destination and hoping like crazy the road would open.

Morning came. The freeway and Putty Road remained closed. With no choice left but to make the long journey inland and around, we took off in the stinking January heat, eventually connecting with some obscure gravel road that took us over the mountains and to the very top of the Valley, finally descending onto the vineyard lined flats around Sandy Hollow.

As we headed down the Valley I didn’t notice the gorgeous scenery, the beautiful properties and fat livestock. I was exhausted after the nerve-wracking drive, the stress of leaving the familiar, of being far from my family and a land I knew and loved. All I saw was the filthy, churning dark sky, which worsened the closer we came to Newcastle’s then heavy industrial landscape. Everything inside me screamed to turn around and go home.

But I didn’t. I stayed and I was lucky enough to enjoy a job that enabled me to spend a lot of time in the Valley, driving around to the rural stores, visiting properties, talking to the warm, hard-working people that provide this region with so much of its character. And I fell in love again. Not with a person this time, but a place. An enchanting place that digs into your heart and lodges there, never to be removed.

So it’s no wonder I wrote about it. My new release, Heart of the Valley, is more than my characters’ love story. It’s my dedication to the Hunter. A place of true romance.

How wonderful, Cathryn, to have such a strong connection with a place. When we first moved to Cairns it was going to be for two years at the max. Somehow it burrowed its way deep into our hearts and I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

So over to you, my friends. We’d love to hear if you have a special place that snuck up on you and is now very dear to you. Leave a comment to go into the running for a signed copy of HEART OF THE VALLEY (open to Australian residents only). We’ll announce the winner Monday 14th May.


Brooke Kingston is smart, capable and strongwilled – some might even say stubborn – and lives in thebeautiful Hunter Valley on her family property. More at home on horseback than in heels, her life revolves around her beloved ‘boys’ – showjumpers Poddy, Oddy and Sod.

Then a tragic accident leaves Brooke a mess. Newcomer Lachie Cambridge is hired to manage the farm, and Brooke finds herself out of a job and out of luck. But she won’t go without a fight.

What she doesn’t expect is Lachie himself – a handsome, gentle giant with a will to match her own. But with every day that Lachie stays, Brooke’s future on the farm is more uncertain. Will she be forced to choose between her home and the man she’s falling for?

A vivid, moving and passionate story of love and redemption from the author of Promises.

If you would like to learn more about Cathryn and her love of rural romance, as well as more about her debut novel, PROMISES, please visit her website.

You can also connect via her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

And don’t just take my word on how wonderfully Cathryn writes. Check out these great reviews!

The Australian Bookshelf.

“The Heart of the Valley is quite a moving love story about passionate, strong characters who are vulnerable in their own ways. A lovely addition to the rural romance genre in Australia. I will definitely be checking out Cathryn Hein’s first novel, Promises.”

“The tenderness, the horror, the love, the underlying emotions not discussed, the beautiful scenery. It all comes together beautifully…”
The West Magazine
“…there’s something wonderfully absorbing about a rough and ready country yarn heavy with heartache, which weaves in complex family relationships, our gorgeous environment and a bit of raunchy rainstorm sex. Yee ha!”

40 thoughts on “At the heart of it

  1. And the lucky winner of Heart of the Valley???

    Keziah Hill, come on down!! I know you’ll enjoy the story and thanks for being a guest of the blog!

    Thanks again to Cathryn for being a wonderful guest and for bringing us her Friday Feast 🙂

  2. Not sure about tenacity, Margaret, more a case of not much choice. Well, there’s always a choice, but I’d moved there for love and I wasn’t about to give up on it!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  3. Awesome Helene and Cathryn…feel free to pick 😉 I’d love to meet you when you get down this way Cathryn…and I’d certainly love to catch up with you again Helene 🙂

  4. You’re kidding me, Brenda. How amazing is that!

    You’re dead right about the six degrees of separation phenomenon, Helene. I’m still smiling at this coincidence. It’s quite incredible.

    Brenda, I’m also planning a Hunter and mid-north library tour later in the year. I, too, may have to pick your brains about the best places to contact.

  5. Brenda, I’m constantly amazed by ‘six degrees of separation’ in the world and even more so in the writing world!

    I’ll email you to pick your brains about the best library to contact down your way – it would be lovely to catch up again 🙂

  6. Helene, I hope you can manage a visit to our neck of the woods sometime in the near future. Let me know if/when you’re coming, I’ll see if I can organise the library…but if you’re too busy for that, maybe we could just have coffee and a catch up 🙂

  7. Cathryn, oh my goodness!!! Mount Gambier is my home town too!!! Small world. I moved there when I was 7 and left with my now husband, whom I met there, when I was 26, to move up to the Hunter area! How amazing!!!

    I hope you can manage to move back here, Melbourne is much colder than the Hunter 😉

  8. Cathryn, I grew up at Currumbin Beach and I can’t drive near there without being overwhelmed by the memories. Some places lodge in our hearts and become part of the fabric of our souls.

  9. Nothing wrong with good old Melbourne-town, Bree. I’m currently a resident of this fine city, although I miss Newcastle a lot and hope to get back there. Melbourne has a great buzz, I reckon, and being an AFL girl (the mighty Sydney Swans) I revel in the footy hype. it’s such fun!

    I drove over to my home town of Mt Gambier on Saturday, passing through all the countryside I grew up with and have always loved, and certainly felt the ping in my heart about being ‘home’. Funny how that sense still lingers, even when you’ve been away for years.

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving your great comment.

  10. Sounds like home for you will always be where your heart is, Bree! Melbourne is a beautiful city with so much within easy reach. I’m looking forward to visiting Gippsland in July since I’ve never been there before. And thanks for dropping by 🙂

  11. Giovanna, fires are such a part of the Australian landscape aren’t they. My next book Burning Lies was prompted by being cut off in Jervis Bay while we were staying with friends for Christmas. Driving back from there to Sydney through the national parks to the south were so distressing – mile after mile of blackened land…

  12. Hi Helene and Cathryn,

    My story is the reverse of yours Cathryn… I lived in Newcastle for uni and absolutely loved it. The beaches, the gateway to the Hunter Valley, the Barrington Tops nearby and then I ended up with a man who lived in Melb. I had to make the decision as his job wasn’t transferable so I handed in my NSW card and became a Victorian. And to my surprise I slowly came to love it! We live just on the outskirts of Melb but where there’s still some rural feel – it’s the best of both worlds. And even though NSW is still my ‘home’ in my heart, I’ve adopted my new one quite happily!

  13. Hi Cathryn,(and Helene) I remember those fires. Australia had a fair share of them during the last few years. I’m so looking forward to reading “Heart of the Valley”. Giovanna

  14. Hi Raelene, thanks for visiting the blog. Maybe next time you can meet your family half way in the Hunter! I really do think it and Newcastle and it’s gorgeous beaches are some of the best kept secrets in Australia!

  15. Alexa, thanks for dropping by! Scotland is gorgeous. I lived in the Lake District for three years so had several trips up to Scotland and adored the rugged scenery and the stunning quiet calm of the Lochs. I’d love to go back in autumn to see the colours change.

  16. Cathryn, just the name ‘the Barrington Tops’ sounds romantic and wild and mysterious. I’ve flown over them a few times but haven’t had the pleasure of walking them. May just have to work on GW to convince him we need to stock up early with wine for Christmas so I have an excuse to explore some more!

  17. Rachel, you’re right, Cathryn does write so evocatively. I haven’t done more than read a couple of opening pages from Heart of the Valley yet (it and Morgan’s Run are going to be my reward for finishing my current WIP on time!!) but if it’s anything like Promises then the countryside will be a character all of its own!

  18. Keziah, that sounds like a win win – always good to weave in a side-trip around work and somewhere as beautiful as the Hunter would have been too tempting to ignore!

  19. Lol, Brenda, a visit is soooo overdue and I’m working on it! Sounds like you love living in the Hunter and having family so close must be very special.

  20. Hi Raelene! The area around Scone is indeed beautiful, especially all the manicured horse studs. If you visit in the spring you can see all the little foals frolicking about. It’s the sweetest sight but I’m a sucker for anything horsey.

    Maybe next time you’ll stay a little longer and explore more. There’s so much to see…and eat and drink!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  21. Alexa, thanks so much for coming by and leaving a comment. You’ve made me want to visit Glenfinnan just for the name! It’s one of those wonderfully Scottish names that instantly conjures images of lochs, heather, misty mountains and toasty fire with a comfy armchair in which to sip a nice glass of scotch.

    Actually, just went and googled it and what do I see? Exactly that. No wonder you fell in love and wrote about it. Glenfinnan is BEAUTIFUL!

    Want to go on holiday now…

  22. I visited the Hunter Valley last year for the first time, when on my way to visit family in Scone. What a gorgeous place. Just wish I’d had more time.

  23. Hello! Congratulations to Cathryn on the book!

    I too have a soft spot in my heart for a place. Mine is Glenfinnan, Scotland. I visited there for the 1st time in 1997 and I fell in love with the scenery and peaceful feeling I received while there. I loved it so much it became the inspiration for the setting of my 1st published book.

    I know I’m not eligible for the contest (since I’m in the US), but that’s okay. I just wanted to share my “happy place” with you.

  24. We’ll have to do something about your lack of Hunter experience, Rach. Maybe we could organise ourselves a girly writers’ weekend. All business of course. Except for the bits where we go silly indulging ourselves.

    Come on, you know you want to…

  25. Smart move, Keziah. If you’re going to be in an area with such delights on offer you have to make the most of them!

    If anyone is looking for a restaurant and winery to try I’m a huge fan of Margan Family Wines at Broke. Their Barbera (red wine) makes my mouth water just thinking about it, and the food is sensational. Simple, seasonal dishes made with top quality ingredients, many sourced from their own garden. A must try if you’re in the region.

  26. Hi Brenda, how great to see a comment from a local! I’m with you, Newcastle’s beaches are magnificent. That was another thing I didn’t expect when I arrived in the Hunter – all those beautiful, pristine beaches. People don’t believe you when you tell them how awesome the area is but everyone who visits is soon a convert.

    We moved to Melbourne in January and I find I really miss the Hunter. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get back there. I honestly adore the place.

    And yes, Helene, methinks you are due for a return visit. I know some excellent wineries and restaurants to tempt you…

  27. Hi Annie. Yep, some of that country behind Sandy Hollow is spectacular although I’ve only ever driven through. I remember a very hairy trip down those hills one stormy night when I was trying to make it home before the causeways flooded. Have never been so relieved to see Sandy Hollow!

    We used to bushwalk up the Barrington Tops, which is another magic part of the Hunter.

  28. Like Annie, I’m glad you fell in love with the Hunter Valley because you write about it SO well!!! I’ve never been, but I feel like I have after reading your book 🙂

  29. I used to have a job that took me to Cessnock, Maitland and Muswellbrook fairly regularly. I always tried to time it with a weekend so I could dip into the wineries. Gorgeous country.

  30. And I forgot to say, what a delight it was to read Cathryn’s post ‘A Story from the Heart’…I remember those bushfires, we were fortunate enough to travel on the F3 back from Canberra the day before the roads were all closed. It was a horrendous time! Glad you made it safely Cathryn 🙂

  31. I’m lucky enough that I have lived in the Hunter Valley for almost 20 years. We love it here, our son found his beautiful wife here, and we now have 3 gorgeous grandchildren.
    We have travelled to visit different places within the Hunter, when we can, with a few days at Gloucester, Dungog, The Barrington Tops, and many other delightful little towns over the years.
    Newcastle’s beaches are a sight to behold, the coffee shops are many 😀
    All in all, why wouldn’t you either live here, or visit (Helene??)…..

  32. Janni, I think the ‘love at first sip’ would be totally appropriate 🙂

    Day Spa heaven sounds like I need to move it further up my list of places to revisit!! Thanks for dropping by.

  33. Hello my fellow early risers! Bushwalking in that area would be lovely, Annie. Sadly I’ve only had one proper visit to the Hunter and it’s on the list to do again!

  34. I adore the Hunter Valley. It didn’t sneak up on me. It was love at first sight (or should that be sip?). It’s my favourite holiday spot. Gorgeous country, great wine, even better food and lots of Day Spas. Mate, I’m in heaven. Can’t wait to go back.

  35. Hi Helene and Cathryn,

    I’m glad you stayed to fall in love with the Hunter Valley, Cathryn. Some of it is just gorgeous. I used to go bush walking in the hills beyond Sandy Hollow years ago – some lovely countryside there.

    Your latest book sounds like a real treat. I’m looking forward to it.

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