“A magic carpet ride” is how Courtney Collins describes her experience as a debut novelist. The Untold was published two days ago in the U.S. (Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books) after being published to great acclaim and award-winning attention in Australia last year, and Collins says, “I do understand that that’s not true for the typical first novel.” That sentiment is likely to be echoed by the two other new novelists, Celeste Ng and Yelena Akhtiorskaya, whom she joins later this morning (11:15 a.m., Room 1E16) for the panel “My First Novel: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Writing, Publishing, and Promoting a Book.”

What Collins has found surprising is that “even if you call a book fiction, readers take it to be true. They enter the world [of the story] and they believe it to be so, which is delightful—it’s wonderful.” It was during her book tour in Australia that this proved to be so. She recalls that after a book talk she was cornered in the parking lot by, as she describes, “ a bunch of women—older women—all from the same book club, who said to me, ‘Why did you kill the baby?’ It reminded me that you have to take full responsibility for this fiction that you’ve created. You have to stand by it.”

The fiction she’s created was inspired by Jesse Hickman, a legendary Australian woman outlaw who was a trick rider, a horse rustler, and a wild woman—both hero and villain—who survived the unforgiving bush of the continent’s vast landscape. The influences Collins cites for this epic tale from down under are largely from America, writers such as Carson McCullers, Zora Neale Hurston, and Cormac McCarthy, as well as the mythology of the Wild West. Recalling the tradition of westerns, she says, “We kind of grew up on them here. The Sunday movie on the telly was always the western.”

While growing up “in country,” as she describes it, Collins herself rode horses, but it is the relationship to landscape that is crucial for her. The commonality between Aussie outlaws, often Irish immigrants in conflict with English authority, and American cowboys is that “these fringe characters get solace from the landscape,” she points out. “Each character has a different relationship with the landscape, which is not always benevolent and is changeable. It is the sensuality of the landscape that sustains them,” she explains. “Inner lives of characters are revealed through landscape.”