On finishing

Hallelujah, I’ve finished the first draft of my latest book.

The book, renamed in Australia Lighthouse Bay (not sure what other territories will go with), is just under 120 000 words long. And every single one of the words stung to get out.

What happens now? Well, I go away and finish off some bits of research on the Sunshine Coast to plug a few holes, fix up some bits and pieces, and get it off to my publishers in February. They will send me a big editorial report, so there will be more rewrites; then they’ll edit it line-by-line (this never takes long with me); then I’ll proofread it, and finally in September it will be published.

In really exciting news, one of the places it will be published is the UK. I recently secured a two-book deal in the UK, for this one and Wildflower Hill. So this book that has tortured me for a year will now go on to be read all over the world. Hopefully it won’t torture anyone else :).

On “Isabella’s Gift”

It’s a very strange thing, selling a book before it’s finished. Now that Australia, Germany, and the US have bought “Isabella’s Gift”, I need to finish it. I’ve written about 70 000 words so far, but have paused for a few weeks while I catch up on some research.

The main part of the story is set in 1901. Isabella Winterbourne survives a shipwreck off the coast of Queensland, Australia, and sees it as a chance to escape her husband’s oppressive family. But the only trinket she has by which to remember her infant son is tied up with a Winterbourne family treasure that they are not so keen to let go of. Isabella takes refuge with the lighthouse keeper at isolated Daybreak Point, but increasingly finds it difficult to know whom to trust. Intertwined with this story is the story of Libby, one-hundred and ten years later, who returns to her childhood home of Daybreak Point to repair a lifetime’s strained relationship with her sister, who runs a struggling tea-house business in a town that is changing and developing fast. I’d love to tell you more about this aspect of the plot, but that’s where I’m up to at the moment. There are a few too many complications in the present-day plot, so I’m looking at culling them. I’ll be thinking about that while I research the telegraph service in Queensland in 1901.

Of course the best part of the research involved in this book is the time I have to spend at the Sunshine Coast. It’s a two-hour drive from where I live, and spectacularly beautiful. I took the photograph above at Peregian Beach in April (Australian autumn) on a balmy evening when the water was still warm after the sun went down. These are the few lines I wrote in my notebook that evening, that have made their way into the story. The rest of it should be published in about a year. I’d best get cracking.

Libby floated on her back for a while, letting the waves carry her. Salt water on her lips, hair streaming behind her. Then she waded back out onto the beach and sat on the sand to dry by air. The sweet bruise of dusk in the sky. Brazen pinks and golds gave way to subtle purple and pewter. She was wrapped in velvet: the soft sand, the sea mist over the headland, the temperate breeze, and her own human softness, her own flesh and muscle and aching heart.

On mountains and books

Mount Coot-tha at dawn

I walk up a mountain three or four times a week. It sounds much more hard-core than it actually is. I live in the foothills of the mountain, Mount Coot-tha, and it’s technically not actually a mountain at just a whisker under three-hundred feet (Brisbane, where I live, is pretty flat). But nonetheless, it is covered in fantastic bush tracks and can take you from its foothills to its summit, surrounded by the tangy scent of Australian flora and the sounds of birds calling and water running. I do it on different days and at different times. I like it best when my dear friend Mary-Rose walks up the mountain with me late in the afternoon: we use the walks as informal therapy sessions and it always seems to go quicker in company (the whole walk, up and down, takes about an hour).

There is a difficult point, just past halfway on the walk, where the path takes a steep and rapid ascent: one set of very deep stairs that make my heart pound and always make me pause to catch a breath. It would be easy to give up at this point, because after it the walk gets hard. The incline is more marked but the summit is now visible. Up and up and up. I often think, as I do this walk, how very like writing a book walking up the mountain is. I start out energised and full of certainty. I make my way through the gentle inclines then, as I hit the middle of the book, it starts to get hard. A point passes of acute difficulty: getting the middle written in such a way that the story is pulling together logically and moving in the right direction towards the end. But the effort it has taken to get that far temporarily cripples me. I want to stop. I want to start a new book instead and blow off all my deadlines. But I have to keep going, and pushing until everything starts to ache. Then I’m on the last piece of the track, and the summit is just there, and I know if I just push a little harder I’ll get there and I’ll be able to celebrate (cue Rocky music).

I’m at the steep stairs at the moment in my new novel, Isabella’s Gift, which I’m delighted to announce has just been bought by Touchstone, my publishers for Wildflower Hill in the United States. I have held it together through the middle, and everything is set up and ready to go to write the rest of the book, but it seems so very difficult right now. So I’m standing there, puffing and panting and aching in my big muscles, gathering my energy for the next few months. I’ve glimpsed the summit, but I’m not close enough yet to be inspired by it: only daunted.

But I’m not going to stop. If there’s anything walking up mountains teaches a girl, it’s to keep going. The view from the top is marvellous. Wish me luck.