It's cloudy today, the sky all low and swollen: grey, silver and green. I grew up in the mountains where thick, moist, rainforest cloaks the village and clouds roll through the main street, and although I'll swear black and blue that my favourite climate is northern hemisphere autumn, the older I get the more certain I am that the subtropical moisture of my childhood made its way beneath my skin. There's something about such settings that makes me feel positive, creative, grounded. I can still touch the memory of being a small person at school: the smell of wet hair, damp fleece, and muddy shoes; lights on in the daytime; the thrill of wet weather policy (inside play! silent reading! art instead of sport!).
I've been thinking about place a lot lately. In particular, the way people and places become tied. The recent floods, I'm sure, have something to do with it. I was away on tour during the end of 2010 (an amazing couple of months about which I was determined to keep you updated. . . next time I will do better!) and soon after I got home Queensland suffered through a major flood event. Farms, towns, great sweeping plains: all were drenched. The capital city of Brisbane wasn't spared either, as the great muddy river that flows slowly through the sprawling suburbs broke her banks, spilling thick brown water over streets and through the centre of people's homes.
Water isn't supposed to flow through houses. It's strange and disconcerting, even uncanny. And this was a different type of flooding. Flash floods come from above, this flood came from below. Water that had nowhere else to go pushed up through the street grates and kept on rising. It took forty-eight hours to reach its peak and once it started there was nothing to be done but watch and wait. You can tell a lot about your feelings for a place (or person) when it is hurting, and seeing my current home town drowning in mud brought out feelings of affection and loyalty I hadn't known were there.
Much was written about the flood and many incredible pictures were published. This is one of the best articles I saw. The Queensland Writers Centre has launched an initiative called Writers on Rafts to raise money for flood victims all over Queensland. If you're so inclined, please feel free to check it out. I'll be taking part in a High Tea which sounds very fancy and rather fun.
It's raining now. Light but steady onto the already sodden ground. I can see a mighty red gum from my window, always beautiful but somehow startling in this light.
And now, it's been a long time since I've answered questions and the mailbox is overflowing so I'm going to devote the rest of this journal entry to playing catch-up.
Q: I've just started to read The Distant Hours and can't bear to put it down. Where can I read further about the 'Mudman'? Is it British folklore or did you invent? Loving the story.
Thanks, Linda Z
The Mud Man is an invention. The title of Raymond Blythe's book, The True History of The Mud Man, was one of the first figments of story I had when I started writing The Distant Hours. The precise nature of the tale took a little longer though, and I was well into writing the novel before I realised who and what the Mud Man was.
The portion of Raymond's Blythe's rather spooky story came to me in a flash, on a cold, wet winter's evening. I was alone in a cabin in the forest, mist had rolled up the mountain, and I was sitting by the window watching night fall. All of a sudden I was struck by an image of a young girl perched upon a bookcase at the top of a castle tower. She was looking over a dark landscape, dreaming about her future, when down below her, deep in the muddy moat, something began to stir.
I raced to my computer and wrote the prologue in a single sitting. All the other pieces of the puzzle slotted into place once I found my Mud Man.
Q: I am trying to find out the name of the artist and/or title of the picture in front of the book, The Forgotten Garden. It is the one with the three fairies. I would so appreciate an answer.
Thank you, Katie.
The divine illustration on the endpapers of the US edition of The Forgotten Garden is by Arthur Rackham. For non-US readers, this is the illustration in question. Isn't it purty?
Q: I note from both House at Riverton and the Forgotten Garden (and the preview of The Distant Hours) that there appears to be a theme of one of the main characters not getting on with their mother but of excellent relationshiips with grandchildren. Is this an intentional feature? I can't remember when I read two books I have simply loved and felt genuine sadness when they ended. Long may your writing career continue.
Hmm . . . you are correct, and no, it's not an intentional feature. I'm not sure why I'm so unkind to the mothers in my stories. My own mother is a delight and I love her very much. I like to write about families and secrets and generational relationships, and perhaps these become more interesting when direct relationships are compromised? I also like elderly people. Growing up, some of my closest friends were decades older than I was, and I find relationships between the young and the old very rewarding to write.
Q: I love your books. In fact I can't decide which is my favorite. When can I expect another? I hope it's soon, but if not could you recommend an author with a similar style of writing? The way you tell the story is remarkable. Thank you for writing.
I'm right at the very beginning of a new story so I'm afraid it will be a little while before it's published. I'm not the fastest writer in the world, but I put a lot of love into my books. It would be breaking trust, I think, to do otherwise.
In the meantime, you could track down the novels by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell's nom de plume). They're family mystery stories with past and present threads that weave together. A Dark-Adapted Eye and The Brimstone Wedding are two of my favourites, and The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, too; Asta's Book. . . they're all great reads. I think she's awesome.
Q: The 'girls' in my family (mid 20s and above!) have been trading your first two books around since a blissful trip to the beach over the summer. My mom gave me a copy of The Distant Hours for Christmas as a gift that was expected to be given back when I was finished. :) We are considered to be 'bookies' in our family and are SO excited to have found you and the worlds you bring to life. Congrats on another fantastic book that doese not cease to twist and tangle the imagination of this very appreciative 'bookie'! Please say there will be more books to come! Do you have any books that you love to further inspire the girls?
~ Sara Clarke
Thanks, Sara. I'm very happy to be traded between the 'bookies'. The Barbara Vine books are great, as mentioned above, and I can't not recommend Daphne du Maurier's books, in particular Rebecca. I haven't yet read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, but my husband tells me it's every bit as good as people say, so it's next on my list.
Q: Hi there, I just finished The Forgotten Garden, my first novel by Kate Morton and I'm now addicted . . . it was AMAZING!! Loved it. I heard there is a sequel to that book? Could you please let me know the title so that I can get it on order? Thanks! Keep 'em coming!!
There's no sequel to The Forgotten Garden. Perhaps you're thinking of The Distant Hours, my third book? It's a book about secrets and family and the present and the past, but it's unrelated to Forgotten Garden.
All right. It's really pouring now. Teeming, even. As I've been typing, the bucket beneath my window has acquired two inches of water. I'm going to sit outside for a while and watch it fall.