It has been a bit over five years since it all started in earnest: me sitting down each day to write, discovering characters, gradually shaping a story. I knew the thirteenth-century context, and I knew my starting point was an anchoress — a woman choosing to be enclosed in a stone cell, helped in her daily life by two maids, and visited each week by a confessor. That was all. How on earth was I going to develop a plot?
Slowly it happened. I asked why she was there and what had happened in her life to bring her to that point. In my mind I sat where she sat, wondered what would happen to her body, her mind, her heart, and imagined all that would go on outside her four stone walls that she must surely hear and smell and wonder about.
It was always risky, but by that point I was committed.
That was five years ago, and only a few days ago, the book was officially launched in Adelaide. It was so exciting to have all those years, months, days and hours of work finally gathered together into one small package of words — so much neater and more organised than the dozens of Word files of drafts on my computer; the notebooks of ideas, questions, points to remember; the loose pages of plot diagrams, lists of daily prayer routines, church festivals, village rituals and the yearly agricultural cycle. My desk and my study have been covered with it all for so long and somehow, bit by bit, I have hewn it all back into a tidy book of words. But, even though the book is tidy, I hope the words fly out again when the pages are turned.
So, the launch. It was such a fabulous night. My family, and especially my youngest daughter, Demelza, helped to organise all the little necessary things like music, wine, invitations, and even decorations — lines of cream cloth swallows flying above us. The staff at Dymocks were so friendly and keen to help, and finally sent me off to have a G-and-T to calm my nerves. People arrived: lots of friends and friends of friends who were genuinely excited for me and smiled almost as much as me. My editor, Catherine Milne, flew down from Sydney especially for the night, and spoke briefly, telling everyone that after she had read the first paragraph, she had emailed my agent to say how excited she was. Then my good friend Lorna Hallahan gave an intense and moving account of the novel. For me, it was wonderful to hear my novel given back to me through someone else’s eyes.
I spoke — mostly about bungee jumping — as you do… Each stage of the novel its own staring void into which I had to jump, trusting to just a harness and a bit of stretchy rope — words, my own commitment, my story, and the faith of those around me. And each time, they held true.
It’s wonderful to have my novel received so warmly, and it’s more than I could have dreamed up. But it’s not all about the book itself. The excitement and warm wishes for me —from family, friends and people I don’t even know — have been enormously affirming, so that I see my place in the world differently now. And that’s how your life changes — because of people.