I’ve been invited to take part in a “blog tag” called The Next Big Thing. This means I write about my upcoming novel POISON BAY this week, answering a set of questions. At the end of this post, I will also “tag” several other writers who will write about their own books.
I was “tagged” by Marianne Wheelaghan, a Scottish writer who I met on Twitter, where she is often encouraging other writers. Marianne blogged last week about her new book, FOOD OF GHOSTS, which features a Scottish detective investigating a tragic death on Kiribati, in the Pacific. It’s an intriguing location, and I love an intriguing location! Marianne’s book is just out, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Marianne also runs online writing classes.
I haven’t really talked on this blog about my own recently-completed novel, and I guess it’s about time I did! So here we go.
What is the title of your new book?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I did some day hikes while touring the south island of New Zealand some years ago, and was astonished by the Fiordland mountains.
My cardio-vascular system was equally astonished. Man, are those mountains steep. And gorgeous. So gorgeous.
I heard stories from other hikers about summer blizzards obscuring the route with near-death results, having to be airlifted out with broken bones after being blown bodily off the track by the sheer force of the wind, and rain of apocalyptic proportions that could cause “tree avalanches”, stripping a whole section of the mountain right down to the bone.
I’m not sure what you might be thinking in the face of such stories, but at the time I was a former journalist and a developing mystery writer, so this is what I thought: This landscape would make a good murder weapon. (Yes, I know, I know. And you thought I was a nice person. 😉 )
I’d recently read Agatha Christie’s And then there were none. In that book, ten people are lured to a remote island where their past errors catch up with them in a very final and messy way.
And so a story started to fester in my mind that involved this beautiful-deadly landscape, and a group of old friends with a shared secret that was going to catch up with them in messy ways once they were thoroughly cut off from the outside world.
Then I saw the location name “Poison Bay” on a remote corner of the Fiordland map, and that settled it. I mean, how could I not write a book after that?
What genre does your book fall under?
People who have read it have called it psychological thriller, literary thriller, and mystery thriller. My genre title for it is “wilderness thriller”. I remain open to further offers. 😉
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Aha. I refuse to answer this one, on grounds that I like my readers to be able to form their own mental picture of the characters, rather than be controlled by the faces I see in my mind. 🙂
I will give you a little word picture, however.
Callie Brown is a television journalist, late 20s, very tall, struggles with her weight, has curly red hair that frustrates her, and is prettier than she thinks. She is creative and good with people, but sometimes a bit snarky.
Jack Metcalf is a newspaper journalist, also late 20s, and “not very tall, not very good looking, not very anything”. He is often too blunt for his own good, but has strength of character and compassion for others. He also likes dogs. What’s not to like about a man who loves dogs?
It’s a character driven book, so there’s several others in the cast, but I’ll leave it at the top two for now. 🙂
Will your book be self published or do you have an agent/publisher?
POISON BAY was awarded a Varuna Publisher Fellowship for manuscript development, as a result of which it is currently in the hands of a major publisher, but with no guarantees. If they opt not to publish, I have other possibilities to explore. [UPDATE: I decided not to pursue traditional publishing, and the book is out now! You can read all about it here.]
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
When are we counting from? 😉
It was one page long for a decade.
That was because I struggled with the thought that I probably should write something more Worthy, such as some more of the biblical meditations I’ve been writing for the past 14 years. A novel seemed such an indulgence. A waste of time.
But I’ve always wanted to write a novel.
And then a few years back I thought: Hang it, I might as well get it written. I’m a journalist at heart, so I have to do Research. I went back to NZ, and hiked the four day Milford Track to get a proper feel for those mountains, talk to wilderness guides, and take a zillion photos of terrain, vegetation and so on. (My knees are still frightened when they remember the steep descent from Mackinnon Pass.)
I then spent ten days in Te Anau (population 3000) doing old-fashioned research in the library, plus interviewing Search And Rescue leaders, local police, conservation workers, trawler operators down on Milford Sound (let’s just say I needed to know what might happen to “something” that fell in the ocean…), and eating the most excellent venison pies while trying to tell myself I was not eating Bambi’s mother.
I also flew over Fiordland in a plane smaller than my first car, despite my fear of heights. Such is my dedication to Research.
Thermal updrafts rise from mountains, especially steep mountains. Do you know what thermals do to the wings of planes? They lift them. At odd moments. In odd directions. My hand almost needed to be surgically removed from the handle beside my seat at the conclusion of this ordeal.
Fortunately the camera I had aboard for my research photos can be operated with one hand, even if that hand is shaking like a leaf in a cyclone, and so I had more photos to refer to while I was writing about the landscape.
Everyone I interviewed or bought coffee from asked if I was a famous author, from which developed the joke that I was “world famous in Te Anau” (er, population 3000). Kiwis enjoy teasing, especially teasing Aussies. 😉
My one-page novel grew to 11,000 words during that time in Te Anau.
And then the day before I was due to fly home, I got a phone call to say that my father had fallen ill. During the hectic months of hospitals and rehab that followed, POISON BAY had to take a back seat. There were times when I wondered if I’d ever finish it, or even want to look at it again.
Then, in 2010, I decided to start entering the manuscript in writing competitions. This motivated me to keep writing, and growing that wordcount. I kept entering. And getting depressed when I didn’t get shortlisted. And picking myself up and trying again.
In early 2011 I learned that POISON BAY had been shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Fellowship and I jumped all over the room. (In the right light, you can still see the dents in the walls.) (Just kidding.) When I was awarded a fellowship a month or two later, I just about went insane with delight.
The fellowship included a week at the historic Varuna writers’ house at Katoomba in Australia’s Blue Mountains. Think: winter winds whistling in the chimney, fireside chats with other writers, writing writing writing all day long.
It also included several sessions with a manuscript consultant at different stages of my progress, both during the Katoomba week and later, when I completed the first draft and then when I responded to her suggestions.
And the fellowship included Deadlines. Finally, I had to finish the book; the deadline said so. Ever since my days as a journalist, deadlines have had that power over me!
I also had three volunteer “beta readers” to test drive the manuscript for me, as I went through a huge rewriting and editing phase.
And so, about 17 years after the idea first plopped into my mind, POISON BAY is finished (at least until a publisher asks for Yet More Edits!) [UPDATE: It’s now really finished, and available. You can find links to all the main stockists here.]
What other books would you compare your book to within the genre?
As a person who works in publishing, I know I should have a quick answer for this. But I don’t. (Don’t tell anyone.)
It’s a mixture. I’ve tried to write the kind of book that I like to read on a long-haul plane flight :-). I admire the character development achieved by mystery writers like PD James and Elizabeth George, but the challenge is not to let it slow down the plot too much. As a kid, I read my way through a whole collection of old-fashioned thrillers by Alistair MacLean, and I loved the way his heroes faced natural elements and villains with the same determination.
So my book is character driven, with psycho villains and wild weather. It is in the “traditional mystery” category, which means it avoids excessive violence and explicit sex.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I seem to have inadvertently answered this already. 😉 (Note to self: Read all the questions before commencing.)
The cover design you see on this site is just my “working cover design”. It may not ever be published with that cover!
I read a book that said creating a dummy cover might help inspire me to keep writing. And as a true professional *cough* I spent a lot of time on my dummy cover.
I am the Procrastination Queen![UDPATE: No, it wasn’t published with that cover. You can see the final version here, and over on my publishing blog, you can read about how the final cover design came into existence. It was a long and tortuous path! A bit like the trail to Poison Bay… 😉 ]
And now… tag, you’re it!
I have three writers to introduce you to today. They will each blog about one of their own books in the next week or two.
Dr Ernest Crocker is an author, speaker, physician and photographer living in Sydney Australia. His first book, NINE MINUTES PAST MIDNIGHT was released in Sep 2011, but still counts as a Next Big Thing because the totally reworked US edition is coming soon! I worked with Ern on the developmental edit of his original book, and it’s a powerful read that comes from his heart. It tells the story of an experience he had as a young doctor that challenged his assumptions about God’s role in the healing process, and then his exploration over many years of the experiences of other medical professionals. Ern is also a photographer, and has been to Antarctica, which I struggle not to ENVY!! 😀 (I think I really must set a future novel there…)
Karin Cox lives in the same city as I do (Brisbane, Australia), and works in publishing like I do, but we met on Twitter! As well as being an excellent editor, Karin is the author of more than 28 books, mostly traditionally published, but she’s branching out into self-publishing for some projects. She is currently working on a paranormal romance (Cruxim), a romance novel (From Memory), a young adult post-apocalyptic novel (Float), and the three-part young adult fantasy series Day of the Danae Shee. Karin is also the founder of the Indie Review Tracker website, a site that helps self-published authors easily find free or affordable promotional opportunities.
Jo Swinney is a British writer, speaker, novice gardener, avid reader, ex-traveller, food lover on a long-term diet, asker of probing questions and a strict observer of bedtime. She edits me 🙂 (and quite a few other people of course!) in the CLOSER series of Bible meditations. Her bookThrough the Dark Woods is a personal account of what it is like being a depressed Christian, and I am reliably informed that it is even humorous! I have my own copy now and am looking forward to reading it. (My reading schedule has “gone to the dogs” since my mother’s pooch had pups, but I’ll tell you more about that next time!) Cheerful Madness deals with love and marriage and what happens to turn one into the other. God Hunting is a down to earth look at spiritual disciplines. Keeping Faith: being family when belief is in question is a book she co-authored with Katharine Hill. You can also find her on Twitter.