Writer, engineer, and mother-of-three Loretta Hill has just released her debut novel, The Girl in Steel Capped Boots, about Lena, a city girl who is sent to the harsh environment of the Pilbara region to make an impact on a massive engineering project. And make an impact she certainly does. The story is an impressive combination of hard-headed engineering and romantic optimism, set against the rugged beauty of the Pilbara. So when given the chance to ask Loretta a few questions, we had to find out how she managed to make this recipe work.
Diane: It was clear from the level of detail in the book that you have some experience in engineering – do you think your talents as an writer complement or conflict with your skills as an engineer?
Loretta: I think having good writing/communication skills is valuable in any profession. I don\’t think being a writer has harmed my engineering. In fact, I think those skills may even have helped it. The same could be said for the reverse. Engineering has pushed me hard both mentally and physically. It has also taken me places I would never have thought to go on a whim such as the Pilbara.Â I think these experiences and challenges have really enriched my writing by providing both inspiration and realism.
Diane: Engineering might not be traditionally considered a resource for fiction but it’s clear it has its own share of drama. Did you have trouble convincing anyone to agree that this would be a good backdrop for Lena’s story?
Loretta: Surprisingly, I didn\’t. Most people I pitched the story to were enthusiastic about the setting and the topic. There are hardly any fictional books out there, particularly ones written purely for entertainment about the driving force behind our economy.Â I wish there were more, considering it\’s such a big part of our culture. Everyone I spoke to thought that as well. I didn\’t write this book to send a message though. It\’s supposed be to funny and light hearted and romantic and I think that really appeals to people too.
Diane: How did you come to choose an engineering project in the Pilbara as a setting for your first novel?
Loretta: Choosing the setting was easy because like my heroine, this was where I had one of my first jobs. For that reason it was easy to capture her shock, her horror and her self doubt because they were very similar to my own.Â I also had a lot of notes on this setting. When I was there, I used to write an email home to my family every day about what was happening on site. When I returned home, my mother had printed all my emails and put them in a file. She gave them back to me and said I had to turn them into a novel.
Diane: What else do you find inspires you?
Loretta: Australia inspires me. Particularly Western Australia, my beautiful home state. I hope to write many more books set here, both engineering and non-engineering stories.
Diane: Some of the characters in The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots are pretty unbelievable – like Carl (and his language!) – do you think the environment attracts a certain type of person, or that it’s more a case of, it could bring out just about anything from just about anyone?
Loretta: Big jobs like that certainly breed good characters. When you\’re constantlyÂ in each other\’s company it is hard not to get to know people really, really well. I think everybody has their quirks and idiosyncrasies, swearing just happens to be Carl\’s.Â He was such a fun character to write. I loved every scene he was in. I don\’t think this sort of environment brings out the worst in people, it just makes them more honest with who they are.
Diane: Do you have a favourite character in the book?
Loretta: Lena, is of course my favourite character. I wrote the book because I wanted to tell her story. But my other favourites were Carl and Radar who were both heaps of fun to play with.
Diane: What do we have to look forward to next?
Loretta: At the moment I\’m writing the sequel to The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots featuring a new heroine. Lena and Dan will still be minor characters in the story.
In case you missed it, check out our book review here.
Available now: Random House RRP$32.95