Sometimes I can’t believe my luck that I get to do this unbelievable job and have people read my stories.
Creating the story world
There are no wizards or warriors in my novels, but I do get to create my own worlds. They are as true to history as I can make them, yet still very much a product of my imagination. Like a bower bird, I pick and choose my favourite pieces to construct the story world. Sometimes the tiniest details tell the story more precisely than pages of description. In The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay, it is middle-aged Rose’s twinset and stockings and child Rose’s enormous collar flapping at her shoulders that tell us when the story is set as much as any date. Plus, I can call my main characters after my grandmothers if I feel like it. After all, I am the boss of my story world.
Researching the facts
Research is so addictive that it can be difficult knowing when to stop. For The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay, I immersed myself in books about life in the trenches of World War One, the Voluntary Aid Detachment, grand country houses, passenger ships and early twentieth-century Sri Lanka. But not every fact needs to go into the novel. (Actually, readers will be relieved that ninety-nine percent wasn’t included.) Do my readers need to know everything about life in the trenches? Probably not. But knowing that the men were shipped about ‘like livestock in horseboxes labelled “40 hommes, 8 cheveux”’, and spent ‘half their day hunting lice from their clothes and the other half chasing rats’ gives them a pretty good idea.
Planning the puzzle
Every novel is a puzzle. Somewhere near the beginning, the writer poses a central story question that the reader will want answered. In The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay that question is ‘What happened to Rose?’. So how to create the puzzle the reader must solve to answer that question? It’s all part of the fun.
Engaging the reader
Speaking of puzzles, I’m not a writer who wants the answer to come as a total shock. Actually, when I read a novel where the person who ‘dunnit’ hardly features in the story I feel cheated. I love that writer and reader go on a journey together where the writer plants the clues and the reader finds them. Maybe they’ll guess the answer then a later clue will leave them doubting that guess, often several times over. It’s the twists that matter.
Holding the book in my hands
Oh, that moment when the box of author copies arrives and I hold my amazing new book in my hands for the first time. I can’t resist sniffing the pages, running my hands over the jacket and turning the book this way and that so the light catches the pretty colours. And then I think about all the people involved in creating this lovely thing and all the people who will read it and I feel privileged to be a writer.
A vista of images is more inspiring than a blank wall for this writer.
As a writer of historical fiction I am always collecting images as part of my research. Maps, plans, photographs, drawings and paintings, all form part of my collection. I file some in topic folders with other clippings and print-outs of reference material, but others I blu-tack to the the wall my desk faces as a constant reference and source of inspiration.
If you look closely at the photographs on this page you’ll see a central image of two WW1 nurses that was an early source of inspiration for The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay. In a way, this photograph set the mood for the entire novel. And around it I added other images that became integral to the story.
Some are photographs I took myself, of locations that appear in the novel. Others are historical photographs of people, places and objects from the early years of the 20th century when the novel is set. Clothing, cars, houses, ships, even a doll’s house that caught my attention and demanded to be included in the story. Of particular inspiration to the mood of the novel were the historical photographs of Colombo in Sri Lanka and Port Said, Egypt. Whenever I felt lost, uncertain where the story needed to go next, or not feeling very inspired, my wall of images lured me back.
As I write, I am about to begin a wall for a new story. Be prepared for Sussex cottages, Regency dresses and the mighty Brisbane River.
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.
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 to the Julie Brooks website! I’m so excited to be launching The Secrets of Bridgewater Baywith 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.