Hi Belinda, welcome to Café Cala,
Thanks Maggie! Lovely to be here.
I’m delighted to have you visit Café Cala. I’m intrigued that you’ve written two quite different books in the past two years. I’ve been making macadamia and chocolate cookies this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?
Tea please, with milk and no sugar. (I’m sweet enough. *cough* )
1 You’ve written two very different books in the past two years. What was the inspiration for each of them?
POISON BAY is the first in my Wild Crimes series, and it was the novel that hovered at the edge of my imagination for 20 years. It’s about a group of old friends who meet for the strangest of reunions to hike Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. By the time they realise they are hopelessly lost, old secrets are baring their claws. The idea developed in 1995 after a New Zealand holiday during which (thankfully) no one was murdered. 😉 I’d been reading Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, and it struck me that the combination of Fiordland’s dramatic landscape and extreme weather would make an excellent murder weapon!
DOGGED OPTIMISM: LESSONS IN JOY FROM A DISASTER-PRONE DOG is an utterly different book. It’s a light memoir of the many years I spent with my feisty, fiercely optimistic terrier. It began as a collection of funny anecdotes, but then I discovered I couldn’t tell the dog’s story without telling a little of my own.
So I had to venture into some of the most difficult moments of my life, while still keeping the overall tone upbeat. I found it quite confronting to be so vulnerable on paper, and yet it was also incredibly satisfying to write.
2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?
Connecting with readers and other writers. I’ve met so many wonderful people since I got serious about creative writing. We create worlds with our words, and I love visiting the worlds of others, and inviting them into my own. When a reader “gets” you, it’s a very special feeling. I also love connecting with other writers as we encourage one another to be brave about wearing our hearts on our pages – whether that be revealing our lives in memoir, or our imaginations in fiction.
3 How did you start writing?
My first novel was a romance that I wrote for a school assignment when I was about 8 years old. My teacher must have been startled. I don’t recall much of it now except that somebody caught a plane. Air travel was the height of glamour to me at 8! Come to think of it, there’s air travel in both my Wild Crimes novels…
4 What would you say has helped you most?
I have worked with words my entire career, first as a journalist and later as a book editor and writer of meditations. I secretly longed to write fiction, but I was waiting for someone to give me “permission”. Entering writing contests finally gave me the impetus to get writing: it took my mind off the “permission” thing, and gave me a deadline, which the old journalist in me rose to meet. I also embarked on a research trip for POISON BAY, hiking New Zealand’s Milford Track. That also gave me a target, and got the idea outside of myself. Talking about the book as something that would actually happen – in the process of interviewing people for my research – made it real.
5 What are you working on at the moment?
I’m soon to launch the German edition of POISON BAY, and unbelievably excited to see my words in another language. I’m also a third of the way into VENOM REEF, the second in the Wild Crimes series. This time my two journalists are heading to a remote tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef, but when ground-breaking medical research collides with greed and terrorism… well, let’s just say it’s not the best holiday they’ve ever had!
6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
If, like I was, you are waiting for someone to give you permission to write: I hereby give you permission to write! Go do it. Have fun. Stop worrying so much about whether you’ll be good enough, or whether your family expects their own hobbies to come first. There are plenty of less useful, more expensive hobbies you could have. And it might just turn out to be one of the most inspiring and rewarding things you will ever do.
7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?
Ooh, so many. I often read Jane Austen before bed – a little bonnet-trimming and civilised conversation calms me after the stresses of modern life. On long-haul flights, I enjoy mysteries by PD James or Elizabeth George. Bill Bryson dominates the travel writing section of my bookcase (I skip over the occasional coarse language as that’s not really my thing). I also enjoy quirky memoirs.
Excerpt from Poison Bay – Chapter 1
Callie Brown was first to see the shotgun and the fragile hands that held it, framed in the viewfinder of her ancient second-hand film camera.
The gang had gathered to celebrate the end of high school with one last pool party, on a Brisbane night so humid it felt like February instead of November.
Tomorrow, they would scatter to universities and apprenticeships. Tonight, they seized one final opportunity for the boisterous to bomb-dive, the beautiful to preen near-naked, and the diffident to camouflage the physical consequences of too much junk food and too little exercise.
Callie gave a self-conscious tweak to her faded sarong, straightened to her full considerable height, and tried to look like a photojournalist, not a stalker. She lined up a shot of Jack and Kain attempting to be pleasant to each other. Jack slouched, his butt propped against the armrest of the leather sofa.
Kain stood straight, arms crossed, lord of his square meter of floor.
Tonight she would finally tell him how she felt. What did she have to lose?
The shout went up, “Pizza’s here!” and both guys looked towards the voice, changing the composition of the shot. Nice. She snapped the shutter, advanced the film and waited, eye to viewfinder, for them to turn back.
Someone jolted her arm. When Callie’s left hand rotated to refocus the lens, she saw it. Crystal clear, yet impossible. Instinctively, she pressed the shutter.
And lowered the camera and stared.
Jack must have been next to see. “Liana, what are you doing?” His voice was sharp over the laughter. Others jostled for pizza, oblivious to the girl with the gun.
The room became still, as each noticed others staring.
Pizza slices dangled from limp hands.
A mosquito buzzed its way up the wall.
Liana said, “No, keep eating. I wouldn’t want to keep you from anything important.”
Callie’s stomach squirmed like it was full of spiders. Was this another of Liana’s games? It wasn’t funny.
“Liana, put that down at once.” The voice sounded so strangled Callie had to glance aside to be sure who’d said it. Bryan, Liana’s boyfriend.
“I don’t take orders from you anymore.” Liana’s lips barely moved.
Bryan took a step towards her. Across the room Kain moved too, wearing a look so desperate it told Callie more than she could bear to know. Liana raised the weapon and pointed it from one to the other. Both hesitated, then fell back.
Callie tried to speak clearly around a tongue suddenly thick. “What’s wrong, Liana? Let’s talk about it.” She found herself looking down the double barrels of the gun, and into eyes alight with fury.
“Oh, you’ve got time to talk now, have you Callie? Well, I haven’t.”
She turned the weapon towards herself.
Nine years, eleven months and two weeks later
Callie tried to ignore the feeling that something was not quite right.
The squeak of her hiking boots on the tiles at Christchurch International unnerved her. Her usual soundtrack on an airport concourse was the click-clack of the high heels she hated but had learned to endure. The plastic “beauty” required for television work was a curse to a closet tomboy, and yet it seemed this was going to be one of those moments when she couldn’t bear to be without it. My version of Stockholm syndrome, she thought.
Her big wheeled suitcase was also absent. As instructed, she had only a cabin bag containing a few items of kit, and her camera gear. Bryan would supply everything else.
She felt ill-equipped to meet a bunch of people she’d avoided ever since that awful funeral a decade ago.
When the invitation arrived, it had seemed like a solution—something dramatic to talk about with the ruthless gossips at work, taking the focus off William Green’s holiday to Italy. The whole newsroom knew he’d booked that holiday with Callie, but taken a cute little blonde instead. While she’d been indulging the fantasy of a lifetime of jokes about a couple named Green & Brown, he’d been making other plans.
Well, anyone could go to Italy. To rouse the curiosity of a bunch of hardened hacks, trek Middle Earth instead.
She’d discovered years ago that drawing attention to herself was the best way to hide, and the scheme had certainly eased her passage through the past six weeks. But today she faced the ominous reality. Ten days in remote New Zealand, far from phone signals and baristas. A deranged place for a high school reunion. Why can’t Bryan organize a dinner party like normal people?
“Callie!” Advancing towards her, arms wide, was the only bright spot in her gathering gloom. Rachel Carpenter had been her best friend since they were pig-tailed six year olds.
After a hug, Rachel stood back and looked her up and down. “That’s a nice look for our glamorous television reporter.”
Callie wore trousers that zipped off into shorts, but they were only the beginning of the horror. “Wait till you see my rain jacket. It’s fluorescent orange.”
“You’re not serious.”
“At forty percent off, how could I resist? Besides, it matches my hair.”
As they linked arms and walked, Rachel said, “I’m still in shock that you decided to come. Even Mum was laughing at the thought of Callie Brown having to carry her own bag any further than the nearest taxi.”
“I’m not that lazy.” They exchanged a glance. “Oh, all right, I am. But on the plus side, I’ve got an excuse to look a mess for days on end.”
“I see you made an effort this morning though. I wonder why?” Rachel’s mouth curved into an impish smile.
Callie had risen uncomfortably early to straighten her frizzy strawberry curls into a glossy curtain, and even applied a touch of makeup, but found it best to answer: “How’s your Mum?”
Rachel grimaced. “She’s fine, but I hated leaving her. It’s my first time away since Dad died.”
Before Callie could think of a comforting reply, they reached the food-court, where people were standing from a table, moving towards them.
Her glance skittered across faces she hadn’t seen since high school. Too many, all at once. She didn’t know whether to offer a handshake or a hug or a hula dance.
The two blonde women were first to approach. Dumpy, kind Sharon alongside the slender and petite Erica, who had always made Callie feel like a lurching giant. She exchanged a warm hug with Sharon and a less-sincere embrace with Erica.
Next, the men. Kain was as gorgeous and self-assured as she remembered, although his smile seemed, if possible, a little whiter. She fumbled in her portfolio of facial expressions for one that might say Pleased To See You, But Not To Any Foolish Extent. His quick, relaxed hug left an after-image of hard chest and expensive cologne.
Finally, there was Jack. Good old Jack. Not very tall, not very good-looking, not very anything. They’d studied journalism together, long ago and far away. He tripped on someone’s bag, and his hug became a collision. “Nice to bump into you again,” she said, and he laughed, his face red.
She had just worked out who was missing when she saw Adam walking towards the table, obviously just arrived on a separate flight. His lanky frame looked at home in the hiking paraphernalia.
“Hey team!” he bellowed, grinning. He made a boisterous round of greetings, collapsed into a chair, and launched into the tale of the beautiful “Scottish lassie” who ran hunting safaris in the Northern Territory with him—and the engagement ring that had two payments to go. The previous awkwardness round the table dissipated as he blathered.
Callie returned with coffee just in time to hear Adam ask Jack, “So what are you reporting on these days, Scoop?”
Kain said, “He isn’t reporting on anything. He’s at Bible college, studying how to be better than us. We’re calling him the Reverend now.”
Callie was stunned. So, Jack hasn’t grown out of the religion thing. Adam hooted with laughter, but unlike Kain’s his teasing showed no malice. He shoved Jack’s shoulder. “Ripper, mate! You can be Team Chaplain.” He pointed at Kain. “Team Lawyer, if we need to sue each other, or Team Lifeguard if we fall in the drink. Erica: Team Nurse, for when we scrape our knees. Sharon: Team Hairdresser, to keep us gorgeous. Callie: Team Reporter, because we’re superstars.” He paused at Rachel, losing traction. “Rachel…?”
She said, “I doubt we’ll need a scientist.”
Callie said, “What about you, Adam?”
Kain answered for him. “Team Navigator, if Attila gets us lost in the mountains.” Needless to say, their old nickname for Bryan was not one they used to his face.
Sharon said, “Don’t you think it’s amazing that every last one of us came?” She beamed.
People smiled, but Callie noticed that no one said anything. Most of us are not hiking fanatics, so why are we here?
To find Belinda and her books:
Poison Bay: Wild Crimes #1, Winner: Varuna Fellowship, IPPY Silver Medal
http://www.belindapollard.com/poison-bay (links to all stores)
Dogged Optimism: Lessons in Joy from a Disaster-Prone Dog, Winner: Foreword Reviews Awards – Bronze, Next Gen Indie Finalist
http://www.belindapollard.com/dogged-optimism (links to all stores)