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Cover Reveal — The Keepsake

The moment when your editor sends you a visual for your next book’s cover has to be one of the most fun parts of a writer’s job. And here it is, the stunning artwork for my next novel The Keepsake.

Saturday: Pot-au-feu for luncheon. Father willed away inheritance. Betrayed by Edward.

The Keepsake

1832. The morning after her father’s funeral, Prudence Merryfield wakes to the liberating thought that this is the first day of her new life. At thirty-five and unmarried, she is now mistress of her own fate. But a cruel revelation at the reading of her father’s will forces Prudence to realise that taking only the most drastic action will set her free. 

Present day. Eliza is gifted a family heirloom by her aunt – a Georgian pocket book, belonging to her ancestor, Prudence Merryfield, whose existence reverberates through the lives of generations of Eliza’s family, the Ambroses. Intrigued by what she reads inside, Eliza is drawn more and more into the infamous ‘Merryfield Mystery’. What happened to Prudence who so bravely dared to defy convention two hundred years ago – then disappeared?

Ebook and Audio available 29 September 2022.Hardback and trade paperback available January 2023. Pre-order now using the link below.

http://smarturl.it/TKJB

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The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay

Two women set sail bound by a terrible truth but only one will arrive.

My latest novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay is a darkly gripping, dual-time novel, with a wealth of twists, turns and secrets.

England, 1919:

Rose and ivy board a ship for Australia. One is travelling there to marry a man she has never met. One is destined never to arrive.

Australia, 2016:

Amongst her late grandmother’s possessions, Molly uncovers a photograph of two girls dressed in First World War nurses’ uniforms, labelled ‘Rose and Ivy 1917’, and a letter from her grandmother asking her to find out what happened to her own mother Rose, who disappeared in the 1960s.

Compelled to carry out her grandmother’s last wish, Molly embarks on a journey to England to unravel the mystery of the two girls whose photograph promised they’d be ‘together forever’…

Out now in ebook, audiobook and print.

Praise for The secrets of bridgewater bay

I thoroughly enjoyed this immersive story which spans both generations and continents. The evocative details and impeccable research make for a delightful reading experience and I can pay it no greater compliment other than to say, I wish I’d written it‘ KATHRYN HUGHES

‘A sweeping tale of family secrets, betrayal, jealousy, ambition and forbidden romance . . . Fans of The Thorn Birds and Downton Abbey will love the epic scope of this novel’ ALI MERCER

‘This is an epic dual-time novel which draws the reader in right from the start and keeps you in thrall until the very last page. The writing is superb, the descriptions detailed, lush and evocative’ CHRISTINA COURTENAY

‘A gripping story full of family secrets: the price of love and loss within two generations . . . convincing and poignant’ LEAH FLEMING

‘Rich in evocative detail – the complex mystery kept me guessing right up to the last page’ MUNA SHEHADI

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Writing Historical Fiction

People often ask how authors motivate themselves when working so much alone, particularly if they have no looming deadline. As a writer of historical fiction, one of my tactics is to read myself into motivation. In the early stages of a new book idea I don’t have the impetus of lots of words already written to get me going, so I turn to other authors’ words (usually nonfiction) to inspire my creativity. Prod it along, so to speak. Inevitably an idea strikes. In other words, for me reading = writing.

For me, reading = writing

Here is a stack of books I turned to when writing my latest novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay. Perhaps the titles will give you a few clues as to its setting. If you sense that the book covers quite a bit of territory, you’d be right. Set in the early twentieth century, it moves from a grand country house in Devon, England, to a homestead in rural Australia. Life in the English Country House and Historic Homesteads are both excellent pictorial references that helped me envisage these settings. And Servants was an excellent resource to understand the relationship between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ at that time.

Along the way, the characters travel by ship through the Suez Canal, sailing via Colombo, Sri Lanka, before reaching Australia. Two Happy Years in Ceylon is a reprinted travelogue from the late nineteenth-century, and a treasure trove of description about Sri Lanka at that time from an English traveller’s perspective.

And although the novel isn’t set on the battlefields of World War One, the characters’ lives are impacted by these events. Hence, Vera Brittain’s must-read Testament of Youth, Juliet Nicholson’s The Great Silence and several wonderful and moving collections of letters and diaries by Australian soldiers, which helped give an authentic voice to some of the passages in the novel.

There were many more books, of course, plus a myriad of online sources. But these were a few that really helped me through some rough patches in the writing process.

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Picture This

Two WW1 VAD nurses

Rose & Ivy 1917


Sometimes serendipity lends a hand and a writer stumbles upon an image that jumpstarts the story.

During early research for my new novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay I stumbled across this photograph of two World War One, British Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses. I had already decided that two of the main characters in the story would join the VAD and this photograph became a springboard to developing those characters. If you read the novel I think you will realise why.

There was so much strength in those linked arms. The girls didn’t know it then but there was a century of massive change coming. Yet together they looked like they could face whatever the world had in store. 

The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay

Not only was the photograph influential in character development, it also became the perfect clue for the contemporary protagonist to discover. The inscription on the rear ‘Rose and Ivy 1917 – Together forever’ sets her on a journey of discovery into the past that changes her life.

Photographs and maps have always been integral to my storytelling. They suggest, provoke, and flesh out the story. Without them I think I might be lost!

Roadtrip Three

A day trip to remind me of Wye River, one of the locales for my novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay, became fraught with danger when the locals attacked.

Wye River is a small bay on the southwest coast of Victoria. What it lacks in size it makes up for with its panoramic views, its great surf and its popular pub. (I was lucky enough to see a breaching whale from the pub’s veranda one lazy Sunday afternoon.)

Last year, in a brief hiatus from lockdown, my partner and I took a drive down to Wye River to take some photographs of the beach where one of my characters experiences a life altering event. The river flows gently into the sea here, or at least it does most of the time. Sometimes the water pools behind the sand. The beach is cradled at both points of the bay by tidal rock pools. And while the sea looks gentle in these photographs there are rips that can drag the unwary swimmer far out to sea.

But back to the animals. We made a lunch stop at Lorne on the way down, where the local cockatoos got up close and personal with my lunch. My crime? Eating a sausage roll uninvited. Before I knew it, my lunch was gone. And so were the cockatoos.

Road Trip Two

Strange encounters of the feathered kind…

In a previous post I alluded to the feral goats I encountered on a road trip to North Devon, while researching my novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay. A further trip to south west Victoria, a region I have visited often in the past, brought a strange encounter with a very large, feathered opportunist.

As parts of the novel are set on a farming property in this volcanic region I wanted to refresh my memory of the countryside. The volcanic soils make it perfect for farming and it is famed for its wool, dairy and wheat. The old cones of dormant volcanoes speckle the rich farmlands, many of them with lake-filled craters. For example, Lake Purrumbete, near Camperdown, is one of the world’s largest crater lakes at 2.8 kilometres across.

The basalt rocks that once spewed from these volcanoes are ubiquitous as building materials throughout the area. Dry stone fences, woolsheds and homesteads are all constructed of this dark blue/grey stone, including the fictional homestead ‘Wuurnong’ of my novel. As a young woman I lived for a year on a 5000-acre sheep and wheat property in this region and I remember its magnificent bluestone woolshed. I think I was more impressed by the woolshed than the grand bluestone homestead.

The dogs escorted Brian and Molly across the paddocks to inspect the bluestone woolshed in all its utilitarian grandeur, barking at a couple of wood ducks on the dam

The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay

Anyway, a refresher trip was called for and a pitstop on that journey was one of my favourite picnic and walking spots near Warrnambool — Tower Hill. Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve sits in a volcanic crater at the heart of a cone shaped hill, partly filled by a lake. It is part of the Aboriginal cultural landscape and visitors can join a walk through the reserve with a guide from the local Worn Gundidj people. Another interesting fact about Tower Hill is that the land was degraded by pastoral activities but in the 1960s volunteer groups began replanting the crater using a 1855 painting by colonial painter Eugene von Gerard as a guide.

Looking at the Tower Hill crater from the rim of the cone

Tower Hill is renowned for its wildlife, with 150 species of birds, grey kangaroos, koalas and… emus. I had encountered the emus of Tower Hill before. One tried to steal an ice cream from my son on a previous trip. (At a winery picnic an emu stole one of those hard umbrella-shaped lollies on a stick from a friend’s child and we watched in horror the lollie’s progress down that poor emu’s very, very long neck).

This time my husband and I looked on fascinated as the emu in the photograph strode over to a tradie taking time out to eat lunch in his ute with the window open. As the emu approached, the sensible man quickly closed his window. Then we all watched in amusement as it knocked on the window with its beak for about a minute before walking away in disgust when the man refused to wind down the window and offer it his sandwich.

The rangers ask that you don’t feed the animals. But I think they forgot to tell the emus.

Road Trip One

The furred and feathered friends you make are the highlight of any road trip.

One of the best aspects of research has to be the road trip. In researching The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay I made several road trips. I dragged my partner around south west Victoria a couple of times (posts to follow) but exploring North Devon on a trip to the UK was most exciting for this Australian author.

The rugged coastline is wild and reminded me a great deal of the Victorian coast. The biggest difference between the two is that North Devon is so green and lush, whereas the south west coast of Victoria is sheer rock with windblown coastal scrub. The Devon coast is known for its smugglers and wreckers in centuries past, while this region of Victoria is known as the Shipwreck Coast. Both are highly dramatic and make for wonderful scenery.

She noticed the headlands jutting out into the Bristol Channel, like giant paws clawing a tenuous hold from the sea

The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay

Our road trip around North Devon included getting lost on Exmoor in a fog because I thought I knew better than the satellite navigation. I still say it deliberately led me astray! We had a few close calls on those narrow one-lane country roads too until we got the hang of the lay-bys.

We were charmed by Ilfracombe, Lynton and Lee Bay but it was Valley of the Rocks where we had our most surprising encounter. I’d read about the feral goats living in the area and was scanning the rock formations searching for them, quite excited to spot a few in the distance, when I turned around and discovered these fellas walking along the top of a stone wall. Of course I had to include them in the book.

Feral goats at Valley of the Rocks

Nan’s Cottage

When I decided to set the first chapter of The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay in a Victorian coastal town, Port Fairy came to mind immediately. It’s a popular holiday town but also one of the oldest European settlements in Victoria. On the banks of the Moyne River, adjacent to a small historic island that is home to a colony of shearwaters and with a great surf beach, Port Fairy has plenty of atmosphere. It’s also a fishing port and its streets are lined with early colonial architecture.

She listened to the water lapping at the pylons and fancied it beckoning softly to all those who would venture out into unknown seas.

The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay

The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay is a dual-time novel and my contemporary protagonist’s family hail from this region of Australia. I decided I needed to find her grandmother a suitable house in Port Fairy. The house where she discovers that first clue to the disappearance of her great-grandmother Rose.

There are numerous simple stone cottages in Port Fairy, mostly built in the first half of the nineteenth century. Many are built from the local basalt, a volcanic rock found throughout the area. South-west Victoria is pockmarked with 400 volcanoes, now long dormant, but they have left behind craters filled with lakes. More of that in another post.

For the moment, imagine my character Molly sifting through the contents of her dead grandmother’s home and wandering along the boardwalk by the river, haunted by the ghosts of her own past.

The boardwalk along the Moyne River, Port Fairy

Revision

Revision…

Some writers hate revising but it’s my favourite part of the writing process. It means I’ve done the hardest part – conquered the blank page.

So here I am, at my final draft before I submit the manuscript for my next book to my editor, and I’m working with hard copy again. This time I’ve printed the manuscript on green paper to trick me into seeing it with fresh eyes. And it has caused me to rethink my first page completely. Actually, it has caused me to rethink the entire first chapter.

It has also prompted me to cut swathes of writing that I previously thought quite brilliant. I thought I’d already done a structural edit and a line edit so the story was dressed and ready to walk out the door. But no…

Re-reading in hard copy (aloud until my throat began protesting) can give the writer an entirely new perspective so that you see things you didn’t notice on the screen. I suspect that’s because it’s closer to the experience of reading a finished book. This is especially so if you don’t fiddle with the little things on that reading. Just consider the story’s pace and flow and mood.

And do put the manuscript aside for a couple of weeks before you begin the process.

Welcome

Welcome to the Julie Brooks website! I’m so excited to be launching The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay with Headline Review (UK) in 2021. I love reading historical fiction and I love a mystery so am doubly pleased to bring you both in this new story.

a darkly-gripping dual-time novel

Described as a ‘darkly-gripping dual-time novel’, The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay is inspired by my love of the stunning coastline of south-west Victoria, and the similarly wild coastline of North Devon. Set largely in these two regions in the early twentieth century and one hundred years later, it’s a story of betrayal, redemption and family secrets. I hope you like it.

The coastline of North Devon