by Maggie Bolitho
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GENRE: Contemporary Fiction
Six years ago, the Balfours lost their son Cadel to a hit-and-run driver.
A few months ago, Ros discovered Grady’s affair.
With their marriage fast disintegrating, they decide to take a three-month camping trip into the heart of Australia to try and mend deep wounds and rekindle the fire that once fused them close. This trip will decide the fate of their relationship: do they have enough strength and enough love left to accept what life has put them both through?
But trust and forgiveness don’t come easily, and Ros and Grady have to navigate not only the wilderness of the Outback and the challenges of other travellers, but also the chasm of grief and bitterness they have sunk into over the last six years. Their only hope for survival lies in facing the secrets they have both tried to keep buried …
The trouble began six years ago, so I had to admit that Penelope wasn’t the cause of the rift in my marriage. She was simply another symptom, like joyless holidays and forgotten anniversaries.
Grady and I never discussed what went on with the India-born, US and UK educated siren, because to have spoken about it out loud would have made it irrevocably real. I’d only met Penelope once, at an office function. I’d known of her long before that, ever since Grady first arrived home smelling of her citrus perfume. The distress of that discovery had paralysed me. Everything I learned about her, about them, from that day forward was locked away in a mental strongbox.
As long as Grady and I pretended nothing had changed, there was still a fallback position – the lie that it had never happened. Besides, it blew over eventually and I assumed the worst was behind us.
Then, after I’d done my best to forget the whole vile business, Grady joined me in the garden one Saturday morning. He leaned against the kwila carver chair in the shade beside the house. ‘I’ve got something important to talk about. Wanna go for a hike? Garigal?’
My heart turned to water and poured into my stomach. I sat back on my heels and glanced up at my tall, solidly built husband, searching his blue eyes for a hint of what he wanted to discuss. He flashed a smile, all straight white teeth and winsome dimples, which revealed nothing. I stabbed a branch of ivy and dragged it out of the patch of mauve Brachyscome flowers. The moment my mother predicted years ago had finally arrived. She always said that I would fail as a parent and as a wife.
‘Our kind aren’t cut out to fill a nest with babies or stand by some man while he gets up to no amount of stupidity,’ she’d repeated as long as I could remember.
No point in avoiding the inevitable, I decided. I ducked my head and peeled off my gloves. ‘I’ll get changed.’
Numbness settled over me as I walked beside him into the neutral territory of Garigal National Park. We’d been planning a hike there ever since we moved to the
Northern Beaches. Like a lot of plans based on good intentions rather than remote likelihood, we’d never made it. We hadn’t hiked anywhere since that last day with our son, Cadel.
I wondered if Grady was planning many new experiences and what my life would be like without him.
The pungent smell of eucalyptus trees hung in the morning air as we climbed a long, steep hill. Below us, thousands of acres of rolling green forest stretched down to the sea as if untouched by the passing centuries. We stopped for a break and I looked at the sandstone shelf at our feet, to an engraving that I’d been told we would find here. I tried to study the simple outline of a kangaroo, but I couldn’t concentrate because Grady’s shiny new hiking boots kept catching my eye. They were featherlight, waterproof, and cost more than three hundred Yankee dollars, bought in New York when he worked there only a few months before. New York City. Where he and Penelope spearheaded a major corporate merger.
When I met her at the drinks night in Grady’s Sydney office, the gold tips in her dark hair danced under the boardroom lights. Her caramel skin glowed with youthful good health and she greeted me with perfunctory courtesy. For a moment, I thought I was mistaken. How could someone who was sleeping with my husband treat me with such disinterest?
‘So Ros,’ Grady said, and sat on a rock ledge. His broad-brimmed hat shaded his face and his long muscular legs stretched out towards me. Scar lines etched his skin like an errant frost. ‘I’ve been thinking.’
Shadows fluttered over us as dozens of sulphur-crested cockatoos tore through the sky, scolding and drowning every sound for miles. When the birds passed and we could hear again, Grady sat up, scratched his ankle, and coughed. ‘You know what we should do.’ His words sounded rehearsed.
Unbidden, the rich, smoky caress of Penelope’s voice whispered in my ear, ‘How do you do.’ All very how’s-your-father friendly, like she wasn’t fucking my husband. Her high cheekbones and dark brown eyes loomed in front of me and I could smell, almost taste, her perfume. Now she was back and he was going to dump me. I tried to stay alert, but not too tense, in case I did something pathetic like collapse in a heap when he uttered the word divorce.
‘We should take a sabbatical and head into the outback. Our own private walkabout. You know – do that trip I’ve always wanted to do.’
His dream. Not mine. I quickly corrected myself. He’s inviting me, not Penelope. A chilly tremor of surprise ran over me. I laughed out loud.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘I dunno.’ I laughed again, relieved and a little bit resentful. ‘Where did this idea come from?’
He removed his battered hat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
‘I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of weeks as the days have been getting shorter. Let’s give winter a miss. It’s always warm and sunny in the red centre. You and me’ve had some nightmare years. Maybe if we get away from everything we’ll find that old black magic again.’
‘Maybe we will.’ I nodded and the kink in my neck clicked free. ‘That’s a lot to unpack on short notice.’
How long had I been marooned on my desert island? I stood and brushed the dust off my dark brown shorts, untied the blouse from around my waist and pulled it over my exposed shoulders. The sun was hotter than ever and I hoped it wouldn’t burn.
Grady unfolded his tanned legs and sprang to his feet beside me. He tried to kiss me but I stepped away and started down the track to Bantry Bay and the old Explosives Magazine. It was my way of saying maybe, and a spiteful part of me gladdened at the hurt disappointment in his eyes. That’s the problem with being a victim – pain turns you into a tormentor.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Maggie Bolitho, author of Outback Promise.
Hi Maggie, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
What were you like at school?
Most of my friends were a year older and a grade ahead of me, which turned me into a bit of a loner. All through school, I did as little as possible and cruised along with a C+ to B average. My report cards usually said I could do much better if I tried but no one was reading them, which was just fine with me.
Were you good at English?
Not until Grade Nine when I had a teacher who opened the magic of language and literature for me. I loved understanding how grammar worked and reading analytically. After one term with Peter Seale at Central Junior High, my marks in English shot higher than they’d ever been before.
For the rest of my academic life I was able to maintain good marks in English with very little effort. Still, I lacked the confidence to try creative writing for many years. When I did, I had the fundamentals of sound grammar, a good vocabulary and solid reading habits. Decades of incubation came into play.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Become a better writer. Keep publishing. Stay connected with my writing community. There are a lot of generous writers out there who give of themselves unselfishly. I hope I can give something back like they do.
Which writers inspire you?
Recently I’ve been blown away by the perseverance of Marlon James whose first book, John Crow’s Devil was rejected 78 times before it was published in 2005. This year he won the Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings. Imagine if he’d taken all those rejections to heart and stopped writing!
Give us an insight into your main character. What does Ros do that is special?
The most impressive thing about Ros in Outback Promise isn’t so much what she does but what she doesn’t do. When she is dying inside with grief after the death of her son, she doesn’t find a friend to help her. She doesn’t go to a counsellor. She holds it all in. She makes herself be strong for Grady who has suffered terrible injuries and faces two months in hospital.
Years later when she discovers Grady’s infidelity, she doesn’t confront him. She doesn’t confide in a girlfriend. She doesn’t change the locks on the house. She doesn’t see a lawyer. She suppresses her pain and waits for his next move.
She and I are polar opposites.
What are you currently working on ?
I’m superstitious and prefer not to talk about work in progress. I’m not being precious. What is brewing in my Petri dish isn’t well formed enough to set free.
JK Rowling said it best, “I find that discussing an idea out loud is often the way to kill it stone dead.”
Which actress would you like to see playing the Ros from Outback Promise?
Cate Blanchett would make a stunning Ros. Well a stunning anyone really, but she could deliver the nuances that define Ros.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing?
It was easier than ignoring the voices in my head.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Writing is difficult enough without trying to force myself into a straightjacket of when, where and how much. So I keep it fluid. But I set deadlines as to where I want to be at the end of the day, week etc.
Staying adaptable paid off this year when I was in Australia and editing Outback Promise for HarperCollins while on the road. My writing process changed every day as we moved from place to place. In the end I sent Outback Promise in its final form to HarperCollins from Perth in Western Australia. I had started the final edits in Adelaide, 3,000 kms and a month earlier.
Where do your ideas come from?
From my head. From the world around me. With every breath I take.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Both. I’m a hybrid.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Writing. One word after another, even when the muse has checked out to a tropical island for an extended holiday.
Do you read much and who are your favorite authors?.
I read constantly, but not quickly. I aim for a book and at least one short story a week. I love a wide range of authors. Also, I’m moody so my choices are sometimes influenced by the day of the week, the phase of the moon, and my mood. Whose books have I read the most? Hm. Jane Austen, Alice Munro, Neil Gaiman, Alyssa Brugman, Bill Bryson, PD James. Last week I finished The Husband’s Secret, the second Lianne Moriarty in a few weeks. Love her books too. But I’m a promiscuous reader. Next month I could be in bed with someone new.
For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I read ebooks and print books. I love the way I can carry a whole library on my phone and always have something to read with me. In print books I prefer trade paperbacks.
What books are you reading now?
Currently I’m at the end of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and about midway through Hyperbole and a Half (Allie Brosh). Next in the queue is Love at First Flight (Tess Woods).
Who designed your book cover?
The wonderful artist, Michelle Payne, at HarperCollins Australia designed my cover. For me it was love at first sight. The dry grasses in the foreground, bright sun in the distance, framed by the silhouette of two people holding hands, depict the story beautifully.
Do you intend to create a trailer for your book?
Yes. I just need to identify the right person for this job.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
If the goal is to develop readers for current and future works, yes. It’s especially productive if the recipients like the book and leave a favourable review.
How do you relax?
Reading, movies, plays and lots of long walks on beaches and in forests.
What is your favorite quote?
Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. (Thomas Edison)
What is your favorite movie?
There’s a question with about twenty possible answers. One movie I’ve watched more than any other would be Doctor Zhivago. It has survived the test of time. In the past twelve months? I loved The Last Cab to Darwin.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
They can visit my website (www.maggiebolitho.com) where I post new blogs every two to four weeks.
Any final words?
Thank you so much for hosting this interview!
Maggie Bolitho grew up in Victoria BC Canada, where she spent her childhood flying under the radar, constructing alternate universes, and wishing to be somewhere over the rainbow. Shortly after her 17th birthday she set out to see the world. Eventually, she moved on to Australia.
While living Down Under and exploring the outback, Maggie started writing fiction. Her adult short stories have been published in various anthologies in Australia, the US, and Canada. She has written for Quills Canadian Poetry magazine, her YA novel LOCKDOWN was published in 2014, and in 2015 she published OUTBACK PROMISE.
Maggie will be awarding an eCopy of Outback Promise to three randomly drawn winners via Rafflecopter during the tour.