On Lighthouse Bay

Lighthouse bay full imageI’m thrilled to announce Lighthouse Bay is being released in the US in April.  This is very exciting news as the novel is set on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of Queensland, and it always feels great to share amazing Australian locations with my US readership.

Even though Australia is a large continent it can sometimes be forgotten by the rest of the world; and few people realise how beautiful, diverse and extraordinary this country really is.

And just so you know I’m not joking here is the gorgeous beach where the fictional seaside town of Lighthouse Bay is set. Yeah. For realsies!Image: goaccommodation.com.au

On book launches

The Australian edition of Lighthouse Bay has now been launched into the wild (US readers have to wait until April) and is selling well, even making it on to the Neilsen Bookscan bestseller charts. I’ve been so busy with promoting the book, that I’ve not had time to sit here and blog. So here I am.

I had the launch in early September at Annie’s Bookshop in Peregian Beach, on Queensland’s glorious sunshine coast.

Kimberley, saying her thankyous at the Lighthouse Bay launch.
It was a beautiful evening. The sun was setting over the mountains in the west as the blue moon was rising over the water. Annie’s is just across the road from a huge park that backs onto the beach. A warm sea breeze blew, and there was the smell of barbecue and salty ocean on it. I was surrounded by friends and readers and a few curious locals. More than 50 people turned up, so we spilled out onto the footpath to drink wine and eat nibblies. My children were there, being loud and sweet and proud all at once. Old school friends came and afterwards a big group of us went over the road to the local pizza place, and had a long overdue catch-up. It was a beautiful, affirming, unforgettable night.

But now it’s back to the hard work, as I conceptualise and start planning the new book. Watch this space.

On travelling without children

I recently made a 6-week research trip through the UK without my children. Here’s a post I wrote before I left, which originally appeared at Mamamia.

I have an amazing job. Amaaaazing. In a couple of weeks, they are sending me overseas for six weeks to advance a project I’m working on. I will be travelling through Scotland and England, spending my days researching and writing on things I’m passionate about. Dream come true?

Well, not exactly. You see, I have two primary-school-aged children who can’t come with me. They will be back here in Australia with their dad and his partner, safe and loved and in their routines as much as possible. I will see them on Skype, daily I hope. Back when I planned the trip, six weeks felt like it would be a cinch. I even wondered if I should have gone for two months. But now, looking down the barrel at the airport goodbye, I just feel sick.

The airport reunion. They hit my embrace so hard they nearly knocked me over.

The warring impulses inside me keep me awake at night. First, of course, is the guilt. Blinding guilt. What am I doing, leaving my babies? I can feel their umbilical cords again, pulling on my insides. Should I change to a less fulfilling project that requires no overseas travel, even if it harms my career? Should I take a less exciting job while they are at school? How selfish of me to want to advance my career, expand my mind, actualise my self. But then there’s the other impulse: the airy joy that I will be free and out in the world, growing and blossoming and feeling the value of my work. I love work. I always have. Good work seems to me one of the most important experiences a human can have. Travelling and working on this project makes me want to cry with excitement.

I haven’t asked the children what they want. Deciding on the future of my career is way too much responsibility to place on a child, and I know what they’d say anyway: a big, long “no” like the ones I get when I try to send them to school on rainy days or make them eat cauliflower. Instead, I’ve said that we will be apart, that we will miss each other and be sad, but that we will survive it and be back together soon enough.

The opinions of others also hold their sway, and I’ve heard them all. From “half your luck ” to “it’s work, you have to go” to “can’t you shorten the trip a little?” to the muttered “I suppose, if you must” (usually delivered with faint disapproving frown). I have also felt these opinions myself, sometimes all of them in the space of a few minutes.

The problem is, there are too few role models to call on. We understand that men go away for business; I saw my own father go away for work numerous times. But I’m desperate to meet women who have to go away for business. Desperate for a mother to tell me what to expect, what a reasonable time away might be, how my children might react, how to deal with the haters.

Sometimes, when I’m churning through all this at three in the morning (great preparation for the jet lag that awaits me at the other end), I have a fantasy. In it, my daughter is a grown woman with children of her own. She is offered a six-week opportunity overseas for work; it is exciting, career building, but she knows her children will miss her terribly.

And then I imagine she doesn’t even ask for my advice. Because she already knows it’s okay.

On sneak previews

I’m editing Isabella’s Gift/Lighthouse Bay/Not sure yet what it will be called in various territories, but it will be out in Australia and the US in September. Here’s a sneak preview from a scene, set in 1901 in a lighthouse on the Queensland coast.

The kettle boils and Matthew wordlessly makes the tea. Isabella sits and waits, wishing for something she cannot articulate. She had been feeling fine and light, just half an hour ago. Now the dark network of memories is closing around her again, just as the dark clouds outside are pressing out all the light.

But the tea helps. Hot and sweet.

“Tell me about your sister,” he says gently. “Are you close?

Isabella smiles, thinking of Victoria: as dark as she is fair. “We were terribly close as children. We grew up on the north Cornish coast. Father was a jeweller. Oh, he was quite mad. He’d work late late in the night, with his hair all stuck up…” She gestured to her own hair. “He had the strangest clients: barons and so on from European towns I’d never even heard of. He was terribly popular. All his jewels were made with cold connections. Every clasp bent and wrapped into shape by hand. His hands were so strong he could crush a tea tin with his fingertips. After Mama died, he let us run wild. We’d spend all day down at the beach collecting shells and stones, then come home and make brooches and bracelets.” Isabella drops her eyes, thinking of Arthur. Once in her life, she’d mistakenly thought that Arthur and she would have so much in common. But Arthur never took joy in making jewels, not the way Papa did. Everything Arthur did was without passion. Bloodless.

“Do you not think it strange,” she asks, after a few silent sips, “that I haven’t missed my husband at all?”

“No. I presume you left him because he didn’t treat you well, and that you were prepared to miss him.”

“Sometimes I worry that there is something wrong with my heart.”

Matthew doesn’t answer. He seems comfortable simply to sit and wait for her to continue.

“Perhaps it is broken,” she says. “Not a broken heart in the usual sense, not a simple crack down the middle. But broken like a clock that has been taken down from the mantel, disassembled by a rough hand, then left in pieces on the floor. Broken so it cannot work right again.” She checks herself. She is talking too much about nonsense. If Arthur were here, he’d admonish her for drawing attention to herself with her wild ideas.

But Arthur isn’t here, he’s dead at the bottom of the sea.

“My husband is dead, Matthew,” she says softly.

“Then what have you run away from?”

“His family.”

He nods, seems about to say something, then thinks better of it. “You don’t have to tell me anything. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.”

She tries to be bright. “Then you shall think me too mysterious. A secret-keeper. Perhaps even a liar.”

He holds her gaze in his a moment, another moment, time winding out. The sense of his masculine presence, the oil and sea smell of the place, the darkness of his eyes.

“I couldn’t think ill of you,” he says at last. “Put it out of your mind.”

Something flares into life inside her, something she has never felt properly before so at first it puzzles her. A warmth, down low. A tide of longing to press her whole length against his. This is desire. She desires Matthew, the lighthouse keeper. It surprises her, but not unhappily. She doesn’t know what to do, so she stays where she is. It’s unlikely he feels the same, and he would not think it proper for her to express her feelings. She finishes her tea. The rain has eased. It is time to go.

On the big wheel

*this blog post originally appeared at http://www.mamamia.com.au*

My daughter is excited about starting school. She has been counting sleeps, insisting on wearing her school uniform everywhere, and greeting everybody with, “Hello, I’m going to school soon!” When asked if she is worried or sad at all, she says no. But her behaviour shows otherwise. She throws monster tantrums almost hourly. She clings to me like a limpet: she’s even taken to lying on the bathmat waiting for me while I’m in the shower. And she’s insisting on endless games of big-sister-little-sister, a fun (read: excruciating) game where I have to talk in a baby voice and pretend to know nothing while she smiles patronisingly and puts me straight.

I know what’s wrong with her. She can feel the big wheel turning. And I know that, because it’s also what’s wrong with me. What else could make a grown woman with a PhD get teary when buying a Tinkerbell lunchbox from Coles?

The big wheel turns whether we like it or not, rolling us from one stage of life to another. For my daughter, it’s the transition from the private world to the public world. Even preschool, that cocoon where the teachers only have first names and little beds are laid out in the afternoon, is a private place. Starting school is their first step into the public world. They are no longer considered so little that they require shelter and gentle handling. We stop using words like “care” and “love” quite so much when kids go to school. “Numeracy” and “literacy” become more important terms.

For me, it’s the transition between being the mother of a baby and what comes next (I don’t know what comes next, but I guess I find out this year). I didn’t feel the wheel turn when my son started school four years ago, because I had a one-year-old to occupy me. I’ve known a few women who, faced with this transition, have another baby just so they can hold the wheel back a little longer. And that’s fine. But for me, this is the end of my childbearing years. No more babies for me. No more toddlers to vex and delight me. No more tiny sticky hands up my nose or new shiny teeth popping up in gums; no more lying down with a warm little body for a daytime nap while the public world—full of postmen and trucks and telephones—goes on outside.

This is it. Life has resumed. It has been nearly ten years since I first fell pregnant and I’m now outside the age where I have reliable eggs or, frankly, any energy left for babies. Like my daughter, I’m excited about where this turn of the wheel will take me. My career, which I’ve kept bubbling with part-time work and carefully spaced contracts, may blossom. Perhaps I’ll finally learn to meditate and achieve spiritual peace. But, like my daughter, I’m also full of unvoiced fears. Maybe I’ll fall into despondence, feeling the sting of the end of my biological usefulness. I really don’t know. On good days, I’m cautiously optimistic. On bad days, I want to drink gin until menopause is over.

So when my daughter chucks one of her wobblies, I try to go gently with her. When she clings, I hug her harder. And I’ll continue to play the part of little sister with gusto, as long as she needs me to. We all go into the unknown with hope in our hearts and doubts in our minds. Right now I understand her better than anyone.



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 digging up the past

I have had the most wonderful day, doing some research for my next book in the John Oxley Library here in Brisbane (see right). Just about all my other books, under both names, have been set in other (more exotic) places. But this one is about a shipwreck off the Queensland coast, so I’ve been poking around in Sunshine Coast history (I can’t tell you how exciting it was when I realised there were PADDLESTEAMERS!!!) and, because a few scenes are set in Brisbane, my home town, in 1901, I have been challenged for the first time with researching local history.

Yes, local history for local people. It sounds so mundane, but it’s not. On the one hand, it’s heaps easier than researching, say, the history of the tsars (for my Kim Wilkins’s novel The Veil of Gold. If I want to know what Brisbane looked like in 1901, I just stand in the Queen Street Mall and look up. But in other ways it has its challenges. Brisbane’s history has not been widely written about or represented, so sometimes my imagination ends up in a blank cul de sac. I know there’s a window in here somewhere, but did it face north or south. So, today I went up to the John Oxley library, because it is a repository for Brisbane historical stuff and things. I have a key scene, an important social function, set in the Bellevue Hotel, which was built in the nineteenth century but demolished in 1979. I had a little bit of an idea what the outside looked like, but no idea about what view there was from the verandahs, or what the fittings and furnishings looked like. The wonderful librarian gave me a box of photos and a folder of newspaper clippings, and away I went. I found a photo of a woman in 1903 sitting on the verandah (see above) with a clear view of Old Parliament House and the gardens, and a list of auctioned antique items such as cedar folding card tables and dressers with wing mirrors. I found a long description of the entrance and courtyard of the Hotel from 1898 and building notes and ownership logs. The scene, which had been floating around in a brownish space (I knew there must be chandeliers, but didn’t realise they’d be gaslight), began to take shape.

I still have so much research to do, but the book is nudging 90 000 words so it’s about three quarters done. I’m on the home stretch with a little help from a library. Aren’t they the best places on earth (and check out the view from the reading room; not bad, eh)?

On nostalgia

Nostalgia was named and identified as a medical condition in the 17th century by a doctor who saw a lot of Swiss soldiers grow ill and melancholy from being so long away from their childhood regions (he called it “Swiss illness”). Now it’s generally understood to mean a longing for the past, a longing to be back somewhere that is idealised and has passed away forever.

I have been feeling nostalgic this week, out of nowhere: it’s not something I often feel. But this week marked the passing away of something very simple and very significant. My daughter finished kindergarten on Wednesday, and so Thursday and Friday this week were our last mummy-daughter days before she goes to school next year. Yes, we have holidays now for six weeks, but her brother will be here too. Those special precious times where it was just my baby and me are over forever. I saved all my running-about-town chores for Thursdays and Fridays, because she loved so much coming shopping with me, and going to Medicare, and the physiotherapist, and so on. She loved just being one of the girls with me. This is not to say we can’t have those fun times with my son about: of course we can. But it’s a different dynamic. This really was the last week of her babyhood. She’s five now. Old enough to draw pictures like the one above of us, in matching purple dress, that she gave me after we had a fight this evening (she stole a forbidden biscuit then smooshed it into the ground rather than putting it back in the biscuit box).

The strange thing about this week, though, is that it has aroused all these feelings and memories in me from my own childhood. I remember being in Astrid’s position. I loved to go to the bank on the bus with my mum, on those special days when it was just her and me while my older brother was at school. I can remember so clearly the string bag she had for her shopping, how she would ask the bus driver for “one and a half” fares, i remember being so excited if she let me pull the bell ringer before our stop. These memories are flowing back to me in rolling waves and filing me with beautiful, achey nostalgia. I’m gorging on it even though it’s making me sick.

I don’t know how my little girl will remember her early childhood, but I hope that one day she will remember walking to the postbox with me and remember it fondly. Because I will remember it fondly. Her soft little hand in mine, her happy chatter, her rosy cheeks and tiny teeth. I will never forget it.

On the beach

I’ve just got back from a research trip to the Sunshine Coast, where my new book (working title “Isabella’s Gift” but watch this space) is set. Unfortunately, I spent a great deal of the trip flat on my back with my leg on a pillow. A couple of weeks ago I sprained my ankle on one of my mountain walks, and if that wasn’t bad enough, last week I had an unexpected and violent reaction to the sports tape the physio used to strap me up. My ankle and foot blew up to twice their size, and were all scabrous and red and vile and blistery. It looked like a Frankenstein foot. No, really. I would put a picture here, only people would never come back to the blog again. So instead here is a picture of me looking grumpy with my lot, on Marcus Beach at Noosa. It’s very hard to look this grumpy in paradise. I took the photo at 6am. Look at the sky! Can you believe how beautiful dawn looks in Queensland?

Anyway, I had better get on with finishing this book, hadn’t I. With my left leg out of action, I really have no excuse. I’m working in bed now, and this will have to be my office until I’m up and about again.

On what makes books special

Wildflower Hill fleetingly (yet triumphantly, I like to think), made the USA Today bestseller list last week. I have never had a real, live bestseller in another country before, and so I spent the day I found out stopping in front of mirrors and introducing myself: “Hello, I’m Kimberley Freeman, international bestseller.” I was disappointed to note I didn’t look any different.

Once you’ve had a bestseller, the publishers can emblazon that fact on subsequent publications. I’ve always wondered about that, about whether people really do buy books simply because the author has sold a lot of books to other people. I know I have read a few books for that reason, but some of the more compelling reasons I buy books include:
* I read the back cover and it sounds SO EXCITING I MIGHT DIE
* Somebody whose opinion I respect tells me I will love it
* A review somewhere says it has the most incredible and unexpected ending that you just don’t see coming, and I take that as a personal challenge
* It looks pretty

In the case of the book pictured, though, I bought it (or rather got my mother to buy it for me) because it had a history that intrigued me. I found it in a secondhand book store as a child, and the inscription in the front, from 30 years beforehand (and as a child, 30 years is forever!!) caught my imagination. I took it home and wrote my own name in it in my closest impersonation of the original handwriting. I also wrote the pseudonym I was considering at the time: I’m sure my publishers are very glad I didn’t stick with Misty Moonshine.

I still have this book because it’s special to me (you can read a blog post about it on my other blog here), and it still gives me a lovely frisson to think of eight-year-old Annette also reading the book, then releasing it into the world for me to find 30 years later. We are connected, Annette and I. We are time travellers who shared a story, 30 years apart. And I’m all for the digital future, but that’s something you don’t see so much of anymore.