Last month I wrote about injuries and how, as writers, we need to ensure authenticity. How often have you read a scene in a book that left you thinking no way? I’m guilty of this. It’s because of our normal daily routines that we read to escape. Some of my friends would say my life was anything but boring. I go on trips around this beautiful country called Australia, but my days are like everyone else’s when I’m home. A typical day for me is: Up at 6 a.m., feed the dogs, go the gym, pick up groceries if needed, head home for breakfast and hit my office to write. During the day, the dogs draw me from my office. They let me know when it’s time for a run in the garden or a walk through the park. Then it’s preparing dinner and watching TV before settling down with a good book. You get my gist, it’s just a typical day, and most of you can relate to, but you’ll have your own pattern.
Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, pushing everything out of kilter. This happened to us Sunday a week ago. My husband, Peter, and I were getting ready for a trip to Adelaide to drop my books into Dymocks (one of the few book shops in the city). I was sitting in my office clearing emails while waiting for Peter—believe it or not, he takes longer to get ready than I do. Anyway, suddenly I hear this almighty scream. I jumped up, wondering what Rupert Bear had done now. Rupert is an eight-month-old Bearded Collie and lives life to the full. Yep, you got it, a typical young pup.
I headed toward the noise. Peter was hunched over Rupert, who was screaming. They were on the bottom step leading to our bedroom. He held Rupert in a tight embrace to stop him from moving. I didn’t understand what was happening until Peter explained that Rupert had his paw stuck in the wrought iron scroll at the end of the handrail. I tried to look, but if you know the Bearded Collie breed, you understand they have lots of fur.
How he did this will go with him to his grave. We think he heard Peter go to our bedroom. He was downstairs in the living room and did a quick turn to climb the stairs to the bedroom. His left back foot must have kicked out during the turn and went through a gap in the ironwork; it slid into the tiny part of the scroll. Peter remained calm, but I was anything but. Rupert’s screams were something I never wanted to hear again.
Peter’s right arm crossed the dog’s side and held onto the trapped foot. Rupert wanted freedom and kept yanking; every time he yanked, he screamed. We knew one thing: If Peter let go, Rupert would continue to yank and leave his foot behind.
What to do? I wasn’t strong enough to change places with Peter, plus the manoeuvre could end in disaster. My sister and her husband were staying with us, so I went to get David. While I searched the garage for a handsaw, David assessed the situation. He got pliers and prized open the scroll. Rupert was in shock—we were all in shock. Rupert lay down, and that was when I saw the blood.
Blood, that substance I so often write about. But it’s not until you see copious amounts that you realize how easy it would be to understate a scene. Initially, I thought the blood came from Rupert because he was covered in it, but after a thorough examination and finding the dog miraculously unscathed, I realized it came from Peter.
In his panic to free himself, Rupert had bitten Peter’s hand, but the amazing thing was that Peter never once made a sound. Nobody had any idea he was suffering. His concern was for Rupert. What’s that old saying: where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling! Animals will go to extraordinary lengths to free themselves. I hate to think what would have happened had I been home alone, or he’d been alone. While Rupert recovered at home, I took Peter to the local Emergency hospital. He had five bites, but the one to the little finger was the worst. The broken nail bed was a mess, which meant a plastic surgeon needed to check it. We got him into an appointment the next day. Rupert was quiet for a few days but is now back to his usual happy self. Peter had a minor operation under local anaesthetic and is doing well.
You’d probably laugh out loud if you read a situation in a book similar to our situation where the hero didn’t make a sound while having a limb chewed off. I probably would. But it just goes to show you that freak accidents can happen. If you’ve read my books, you’ll realize I love drama and putting my characters into life-threatening situations. So, enjoy stories for the adventure they take you on and remember that: Truth is stranger than fiction.
Until next time
Due to unforeseen circumstances, my September newsletter is a few days late. It all came about because I tripped, landing on my knee and fracturing my kneecap (patella). After an emergency hospital visit and follow-up with an orthopaedic surgeon, it got me thinking about how, as a writer, we deal with injuries in our stories.
We want our stories to be as authentic as possible. Still, it is not until experiencing a damaged kneecap that you appreciate the tasks, we expect our heroes to perform with, say, broken bones. In Racing Dream, James McKenzie breaks his leg. My critique partners of that time thought it would be difficult for him to make love in the way I portrayed. The cast would hamper movement. I did not think about that. I had thought about it from his perspective: Where there is a will, there is a way. Anyway, I was howled down and changed the scene by putting Annabel Martin in charge. It made for a far more exciting love scene.
In book one of my West Series, Destiny. There is a scene where a bear attacks my hero, Dan West. The setting is in the wilds of British Columbia, and there is no nearby hospital or town. They are fifteen minutes away from the Bear Lodge, on a boat in an estuary looking for bears. Initially, I wrote that Dan is in the water, and when the bear attacks, Ellie throws the rifle to him. He shoots the bear but is badly mauled. Ellie gets him ashore, and half carries him to a cabin where she builds a fire and keeps him alive through the night until help arrives in the morning. Ellie is a doctor. I considered she was qualified and up to the task. But those dreaded critique partners (I do not know what I would do without them) pulled the scene apart. So, I rewrote it, placing the responsibility of shooting the bear into Ellie’s hands, giving the scene far more tension. She needs to act fast and get Dan out of the water, so she drags him onto the riverbank, and returns to the boat for the first aid kit and calls the Bear Lodge for assistance. She goes back to the shore and triages our hero. I researched how a critically injured person is dealt with in such circumstances. Emergency services send a chopper with paramedics to stabilise the patient before transporting to a hospital. The scene felt real and worked.
I have always felt personal experience matters when writing some of these scenes. My knowledge of horses and the Outback comes through in the Racing Series. I like to set my stories in places I have visited, but there is nothing like touching the ground, breathing in the air, and absorbing everything around you. Setting is crucial if you want to immerse your reader in place, as does managing the reality of an injury.
Until next time
Have you ever seen something that, if you had not, you would never have believed? That old expression seeing is believing is spot on in cases like these. Many years ago, I was in Paris with my husband. We had rented a bedsit in the Latin Quarter that overlooked the river Seine. The view from the window was fabulous. On the opposite bank, the magnificent Notre Dame towered to the right of us, cafés and museums surrounded us, and nowhere was too far to walk. We believe you never truly see a place unless you walk it.
If you love bridges, then Paris has many to admire. Closest to us was the Pont Saint-Michel. One day I was looking out of the window checking out the embankment beneath the bridge when a hole appeared, and out stepped a man. I closed my eyes and opened them, not believing what I had seen. The embankment appears to be solid, or so I had thought. The man fumbled with some makeshift door that looked flimsy at best, and the hole disappeared. He climbed down and walked away. My imagination was piqued, and I started down the research tunnel to find out what, why, and how!
There are over two hundred miles (320 km) of tunnels beneath Paris. You get a small taste at the Catacombs. The tunnels reach as far as the Seine, and homeless people live in the habitable ones.
Seeing that man come out of the tunnel provided ideas for the next story in my West Series, so book 2, Providence, was born: Where we travel to Paris with Joe West, who follows his girlfriend, Isabella Rogers. She left him behind and running will not solve their problems. Isabella has a job and refuses to leave; Joe will not leave without her. He moves in with an old friend of his father’s and accepts a job to occupy his time until he convinces Isabella to marry him. Terrorism, murdered homeless people, and a bombing in the tunnels are just a few problems Joe faces that could see him in prison for life if caught. Providence is due for release in December 2022.
Until next time
To escape the Southern Hemisphere winter here in Adelaide, South Australia, we decided to join friends for a week in Broome. Broome is a town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It sits 1,680km (1,000 miles) north of Perth and is known for the exploits of people who developed the pearling industry, from harvesting oysters for mother of pearl in the 1880s to the large present-day cultured pearl farming enterprises.
The weather in Broome is hot and, in the summer, very humid. We traveled in the dry, and although it was in the low thirties C for our stay, the humidity was low enough that we could walk the famous Cable Beach and enjoy what Broome has to offer.
Our first visit was to the local museum. A story drew me instantly: In March 1942, three Japanese Zeroes attacked a DC3 plane carrying refugees from Java (Indonesia). The pilot put the severely damaged plane down, but many passengers were injured. A passenger threw a brown paper package at the pilot. Little did the survivors know there was a fortune in diamonds inside. When a rescue team arrived at the crash site, many survivors had perished from their injuries and thirst. In the confusion, the package was forgotten—or was it?
The story, of course, did not end there, and for me, it opened a heap of possibilities. A new series was already taking shape in my mind. I could visualize the heroine and hero, their occupations, backgrounds, and personality types.
Walking the streets of Broome, chatting with locals, dining out, and going to the local outdoor cinema – Sun Pictures - which alone has a remarkable history—all help a writer with authenticity. I like to be drawn into place when I read, and, in turn, I set place when I write.
One of our memorable tours was with Kimberley Air. We flew north and over the Horizontal Falls, described by Sir Richard Attenborough as “the 8th Natural Wonder of the World”. Landing at Ardyaloon (One Arm Point), where the Bardi Ardyaloon hatchery has successfully produced trochus shells. For years buttons were made from the trochus shell and still are but to a lesser degree today because of plastic. Our next stop was the red dust airstrip at Cygnet Bay for lunch and a tour of the pearling operations, followed by a boat trip into the bay to feel the power of the world’s largest tropical tides, up to twelve metres (40 feet,) moving through giant whirlpools and standing tidal waves.
Back in Broome, we watched the staircase to the moon. It is a phenomenon seen between March and October each year when conditions are exactly right. It is best seen from Roebuck Bay when the full moon rises over the exposed mudflats at shallow tide, creating a beautiful optical illusion of stairs reaching the moon.
While in Broome, one cannot resist checking out the cultured pearls on offer. The history of pearling in Broome is not pleasant reading. Indigenous people, mainly women and girls were first forced to dive for pearls. In 1871 and 1875, legislation prohibited this practice, and the Japanese took over. The industry thrived and prospered, and each year Broome celebrates the fusion of diverse cultures brought about by the pearling industry.
If you are ever in Australia and looking for somewhere different to visit, I recommend Broome.
Until next time
June 1st – our first official day of Winter down here in the Southern Hemisphere – and there is already a light dusting of snow in the Alpine regions of Victoria and New South Wales.
When people think about Australia, they think of it as a vast desert country where its people live along the coastline, which is true. But there is a lot more to Australia than the desert. So, I thought I would touch on some things that always surprise people when they visit.
I cannot help but wax lyrical when I start writing about Australia. I often talk about how travel and place inspire a story. The snowfields are a wonderful place to get the creative juices flowing. Skiing through a white landscape surrounded by green eucalypt trees is quite uplifting—it is such a fantastic contrast to the burnt yellow colors of summer.
The names of our ski fields also have a real Aussie feel to them 😊 – like Dinner Plain, Falls Creek, Charlotte Pass, Mt Baw Baw, Perisher etc – not to be out done, we have runs like Wombat’s Ramble, Ruined Castle, Fanny’s Finish etc.
So, it does not matter where you go or what you do as a writer; something always presents itself which can turn into a story. I have yet to write a story set in the snowfields, although there is a chapter in Return to El Alto that takes you to Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. It is lovely to write from experience. Those chapters show my hero William Landon, suffering from depression, using the ski slopes to blur his pain. Check out El Alto and Return to El Alto if you want a feel for Australia and Peru. So many experiences inspired those two books. Check them out on your local Amazon site.
Until next time
Last month on April 25th was the Anzac Day of national remembrance. It is one of Australia’s most important national occasions as it marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures today. The Gallipoli campaign took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey from February 1915 to January 1916. Nearly eight thousand troops lost their lives with eighteen thousand casualties. For a country of less than five million people at the time, the numbers of dead were staggering.
In Australia it has become a rite of passage for many Aussies to journey to Gallipoli to attend a dawn service at the Anzac Cove site. We have never managed to get to a service on Anzac Day but a few years ago we booked a Mediterranean cruise and decided to do a side trip to Turkey to visit Gallipoli.
We arrived in Istanbul late in the evening and had to be up at 4 a.m. the next morning to join our tour. We did not sleep a wink as our body clocks were on Aussie time. Two bleary eyed Aussie’s fronted up in reception where we met our tour guide. Gallipoli is about four hours drive from Istanbul.
The Anzac Cove terrain was inhospitable. It was characterised by rocky ground with little vegetation, hilly land, and steep ravines. It is not until you walk the area that you understand how things went badly for the Aussie and New Zealand troops. To walk the trenches and see how close the opposing sides were to each other was staggering. Apparently, they talked to each other. Shared a smoke. Many were young men whose lives were cut short—such a waste of life.
Stories abounded but one that I never forgot was a story of a man and a donkey. By now you know of my love of animals. Private John Simpson was a stretcher-bearer in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance and was killed less than three weeks after arriving. But during his time, he transported wounded men on a donkey from the fighting in Monash Valley to the first-aid station at Anzac Cove. A legend grew up around Simpson, that he saved seriously wounded men. However, it was later disputed that life-threatening head, chest or stomach wounds could not be transported on a donkey. Who knows the truth of it, but it leads to an interesting premise for story.
The wealth of history in Turkey opened a pandora’s box of ideas for story. When we returned to Istanbul, we hired a guide who spent a couple of days showing us the sites. It was not long before I placed him as a future hero in one of my books. He was courteous, gracious, fun, and charming. I love colour and remember one day dressing in multi coloured—lots of orange—trousers and top. I asked our guide if I would be okay dressed this way. He said yes of course, why would you not be? From memory I think my husband was worried I stood out like a sore thumb. I do remember thinking the blue head scarf I wore at the Blue Mosque clashed, but nobody batted an eyelid. Turkey was a surprise. I do not know what I expected but I got much more.
Until next time
In this newsletter I want to touch on how animals can inspire a story. Back in 2007, we lost our beloved Bearded Collie called Gromit (as in the Wallace and Gromit TV series 😊) He was our second Beardie, and from the moment he came into our lives bringing us much joy. He believed his sole purpose was to please us, which made him a joy. We were heartbroken when he crossed the rainbow bridge. Then Paddington Bear came into our lives that same year and life was never the same.
As an eight-week-old bundle of joy he flew into Adelaide airport from a breeder of champion herders in New South Wales (Australia). He caused us a few anxious moments in his first months. The vet treated a joint problem and recommended complete rest. I laughed aloud at that—how would it be possible to keep a young pup still? We were due to travel through the South Australian Outback, so Paddington came with us. He sat on the back seat of the 4x4, harnessed in, and watched the world go by. We were on the road for about three weeks. The joint healed and never caused him another day’s bother. I am sure he is the only Beardie to have travelled deep into the Outback, sleeping in a swag (with me), enjoying his meals around the campfire, and smuggled into hotels. And so, Paddington’s stories were born. We lost Paddington nearly two years ago. When his nephew became available, we could not say no. Rupert Bear arrived three weeks ago. He is nothing like Paddington other than in looks, and I did not expect him to be, but he is already proving to be quite a character.
Back to Paddington, he was a great thinker. His thoughts spoke loudly, as did his expressions. He went through puppy school and advanced courses like all our dogs and excelled in the classroom environment. Unlike Gromit, Paddington proved to be stubborn and strong-willed. He often knew best and was not frightened to let us know. He had an extraordinary mind, and because he projected his thoughts and strong personality on us, I started writing a series about his life. I wrote it from his point of view because I could read him like a book. I do not think I did him a disservice. If he were here, he would have a thing or two to say about why I am not filling this newsletter with all his achievements.
“But Paddington, the whole idea is to show how animals can get the creative writing juices flowing. No, Paddington, it is not time for a biscuit. It is not time for a walk either. I have to work. Are you yawning—”
See what I mean; Paddington is still in my head. The story had quite a following, and I had many requests to continue the series. Although I removed it from my website, I will put it back up for those who might want to take a closer look at a fabulous dog.
One piece of trivia that Paddington would like me to pass on:
A famous Australian sculptor, Silvio Apponyi, asked if he could use Paddington as a model, as he was commissioned to produce a statue of a dog called Bob the Railway Dog. Bob was born in 1883 and travelled the Outback railways from 1884. He became quite an Outback personality. A bronze statue now sits in Peterborough’s (South Australia) main street.
I still miss Paddington; I am not sure there will ever be another dog like him. We love our two girls, Elsa and Kuura, but I am pleased to have another male from Paddington’s line. It will be interesting to see if Rupert inspires me to write his story. He is now twelve weeks old and a star at puppy classes. I have included some pictures. Who cannot resist a puppy? Not me that is for sure.
Until next time
In February we went on a road trip heading through the iconic South Australian Coonawarra wine region. Of course, we visited a cellar door or two for a spot of tasting. It was a lovely start to our holiday, and by the time we were ready to move on, we were relaxed and ready for the next part of our journey along the Victorian Great Ocean Road.
It has been nearly fifty years since I first travelled the Great Ocean Road, and back then, the coastal towns scattered along its length were small with holiday shacks and caravan parks. Now, of course, large homes have replaced the shacks, fancy hotels, B&B’s and no end of accommodation lure Australian and overseas tourists to sample what the rugged coastline has to offer. And trust me, there is a wealth of history to be found along the 240-kilometre (150 mile) stretch of road.
The road was built between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War 1. It is the world’s largest war memorial which winds through rainforest and along the rugged coastline, providing access to several prominent landmarks, including the Twelve Apostles (limestone stack formations), which are now eight due to wave erosion.
I had driven the road many times in my youth but had never stopped to learn its history. So, it was not long before my writing brain was ticking over upon learning of the hundreds of wrecks scattered along its length.
The iron clipper ship, Loch Ard departed Gravesend, England on the 1st of March 1878 bound for Melbourne Australia to become a story of survival surrounding its sinking on 1st June just days out of Melbourne. Becoming probably the best-known of all the shipwrecks along the Victoria coast. The ship ran into a rocky reef at the base of Mutton Bird Island, near Port Campbell. Only two people survived: an apprentice, Tom Pearce, and Eva Carmichael, passenger. She, unfortunately, lost her family in the tragedy. The two were washed up and eventually rescued at what is now known as Loch Ard Gorge, named after the shipwreck.
When I read about the Loch Ard shipwreck, a few elements jumped out at me:
We have action and drama with the ship sinking, and the elements are in place to build a relationship between the remaining two survivors. I found myself writing that scene in my head as I read about the Loch Ard. Now all I have to do is write the book. So, for a writer, it is never just a road trip or holiday overseas. It is about discovering the next story. The Loch Ard story is just one of many shipwreck stories along that coastline, and now, I have another action-packed adventure series waiting to be written because of that trip.
Until next time
Book eight of my West series is now well underway. Initially, there was not going to be a book eight, but as it happens, a secondary character made his presence known. Hank Johnson is one such person. He pops up through the stories in a minor way until making himself heard in book six, Deliverance. When a character screams at me for his story to be told, I cannot ignore it.
But let us not jump ahead of ourselves. This month it is about publishing book one in the West Series, Destiny.
The West series is a family saga. We meet Dan West and Ellie Clifford, who have raised their families and have been getting on with their lives until a chance meeting at a bear lodge in British Columbia brings them together. Ellie is English and Dan American both love to travel. Ellie has two daughters, and Dan has four sons and two daughters. Dan is a self-made millionaire, and Ellie is a doctor, surgeon, and teacher. Ellie is fiercely independent, and Dan is a man who knows who he is and what he wants. It is a rocky journey to happiness and the West’s experience more situations than most.
Coober Pedy – outback South Australia - features throughout the books. The name is derived from the Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means ‘whitefellas’ hole’. Dan made his fortune mining opal in Coober Pedy as a young man, and his mines still bring in big dollars. Book seven, Tempest, is set entirely in Coober Pedy, because of its importance in the West and Clifford family’s history.
Coober Pedy is situated 850 km (530 miles) north of Adelaide. The town is referred to as the ‘opal capital of the world’ because of the precious opals mined there. It supplies most of the world’s opal. It is hot in the summer and the driest, dustiest place I have ever visited. Most people live below ground and with good reason. Daytime temperatures can reach into the forties—that is Celsius, 105 F. The dwellings are called dugouts. It is the most sensible way to live as they are cool and protect you from the daytime heat.
The desert around the town is dotted with thousands of mounds. At last count there were more than 250,000 mine shafts in the area. Because the mineshafts sit alongside the mounds, it is easy to kill yourself falling into one. Many warning signs are dotted around the landscape, but few people take heed. It is a death trap for the uninitiated, and people disappear, as it is almost impossible to find bodies because of the number of shafts. From a writing perspective, it is a great place to set a story.
The population of Coober Pedy sits at around two thousand five hundred. Of those people, there are around forty-five nationalities represented and amongst those are some of the Outback’s most fascinating personalities. If you need to vanish, it is the perfect place. Nobody asks questions or cares. There is only one thing that keeps them there. Opal!
Many movies have been filmed in the desert around Coober Pedy. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, are two that come to mind. If you ever get the chance to visit Coober Pedy, stay at one of the underground hotels. You will get to experience underground living in style. Another attraction is an underground church, and in fact, there is a lot to do and see. It is a must place to visit.
I have talked about setting stories in believable places in the past, and from what I know of Coober Pedy, it is almost unbelievable. Living there is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a place that draws me back.
Destiny was released on February 1 2022 on your local Amazon site. Book two, Providence, will be out later in 2022. We follow Joe West and Isabella Rogers as they bite off more than they chew when they become enmeshed in murder and a terrorist plot to blow up Paris tunnels.
Until next time
I recently caught up with Mike Hudson—an Oakbank Racing authority. Mike is planning a museum at the Oakbank racecourse and wanted to include copies of my Racing series (Racing Dream, Racing Time, and Racing Fate). I was thrilled he had reached out.
For me visiting Oakbank is a trip down memory lane. The racecourse is home to the Oakbank Racing Club (ORC), and since 1876 the historic club has conducted a world-renowned Racing Carnival over the Easter weekend. I have fond memories of attending these meetings with friends as a young racehorse enthusiast. When I started writing Racing Dream, Oakbank became the obvious choice of setting. It was easy for me to draw on my memories, capturing Annabel Martin’s dream to become a jockey starts at this iconic country course. I wonder how many jockeys have ridden past the winning post at Oakbank and left the track with stars in their eyes?
I wanted to tell you of my experiences as a young woman at this racecourse. My Easter racing days started with a hearty breakfast and Mimosa or Bucks Fizz. Next, I would pick up a form guide and head to the stables to check out the horses. I would highlight the ones I considered had a chance of winning, followed by a healthy discussion about my choices with my companions. Before each race, I’d check out the horses in the parade ring. They always look different, saddled and prancing on the end of the rein. That’s when I might change my mind-never a good idea, because the rule of thumb is the horse you initially selected will win—then it’s off to the bookmakers to check the odds, place a bet and head into the stands to urge my choice past the winning post. They’d be a break for lunch when everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and a glass or two of bubbles. The highlight is queueing to collect my meagre winnings. Yes, it happened occasionally.
If you want to get a feel for riding the course, read Annabel Martin’s first experience and the adrenalin rush she experienced when riding at Oakbank. Annabel’s journey continues to the Melbourne Cup. Every jockey has to start somewhere. Annabel got her big break at Oakbank.
Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022.
Until next time
Contemporary adventure with