by Maggie Bolitho
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.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
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 is a member of my local writing group, VIRA (Vancouver Island Romance Authors), and I’m happy to have her on the blog today!
- What do you write?
I write everything from a daily journal to short stories, letters to the editor (rarely sent), and novels. I like trying different things. My latest novel, Outback Promise, is contemporary fiction that examines a relationship shaken by tragedy.
- What genre do you favor?
I’m omnivorous as a writer and a reader. I like to read books that capture my imagination and to write anything that challenges me. I have a lot of ‘for personal consumption only’ work in different genres.
- When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
From the moment I could print the alphabet I liked playing with words. As for being a ‘writer’ as in officially trying to get people to read my work, that started over a dozen years ago, with very short, very rough stories. In 2008, I began submitting novels to publishers. That was way too soon, before I’d taken my first writing course. Oops.
- What do you think is the best way to publish these days?
That depends entirely on a person’s technical skills. Some people can self-publish with little effort. It may be the easiest part of the writing process for them.
Me? It thrilled me when Great Plains Teen Fiction picked up my YA novel Lockdown (print novel) and I was ecstatic when HarperCollins Australia wanted Outback Promise (ebook.) My preferences are shaped by my skills.
- What are your favorite genres to read? Why?
I’ll read anything that is well written with strong characters and a good pace. What I’m reading filters into my writing so I look for books that will improve my process in leading by example.
- Do your characters talk to you?
They talk through me, not so much to me. There are always half a dozen conversations going on in my head. When they get so loud I can’t ignore them, I get to work or pull out a notebook
- How do you approach starting a new book?
The only consistent element is a brand new folder on my laptop named with the working title. This will quickly be filled with many drafts and other folders (such as research, pictures, images etc.) I also keep a physical notebook for each novel. I collect pictures of characters or events that might inform my story and stick them in there. A physical notebook is also handy for when the computer is shut down.
- What is your writing process?
First and foremost I have to overcome all the avoidance behavior like checking twitter, Facebook, looking at new writing blogs, or laughing at cat and dog videos. I’m a keen animal lover.
Next I try to carve out time also for exercises like free writing, copy typing and reading craft books.
Some days the narrative pulls me straight to the keyboard and all those good intentions go out the window. Each day I work on a document I save it under a new name with the metric date at the end of it so it has a unique title that is easily identified. eg: Working Title 15-10-27.
This year I spent five months in Australia and did my editing for HarperCollins while travelling. My working process changed every day as we moved from place to place. In the end I sent Outback Promise in its final form back to Harper Collins from Perth in Western Australia. I had started work on the edits in Adelaide, a month and 3,000 kilometers earlier.
- What are the best writing books or blogs you’ve ever read?
Far too many to name. Every day it seems like I find new good ones. I have a shelf of writing books. Love them all for different reasons.
- What are your non-writing hobbies, or what do you do to relax?
Mostly I favour long walks, preferably in forests or on beaches where I can be close to nature. I also like reading, movies, plays, Mah Jong and trying to teach myself a few basic tunes on an electronic keyboard.
I’m the volunteer treasurer of the Lynn Valley Literary Society (North Vancouver) which involves a fair bit of behind the scenes administrative work. That’s not relaxing but it feels like an important thing to do because the LVLS hosts the Young Writers’ Club. The YWC offers workshops for youths from aged 11 to 18 who are interested in writing.
- What was your best date ever?
Give me the simple life – my favourite dates are with my husband in places where there are few other people. I like a beach, a mountain, or a forest with a picnic and time away from bustling cities.
I have to pick just one? Okay, the first date with my husband when we went out for dinner in Vancouver’s West End and walked along the beach afterward, holding hands. It was a warm spring night and we seemed to be the only people out there. From our first kiss, I knew that we were kindred spirits.
- Navy SEAL or cowboy?
Be one or have one? I met my husband scuba diving so we are both water lovers, familiar with the sea from above and below.
We’ve spent a lot of time together riding horses and I loved that part of our lives too. Both then!
- Chocolate or chips?
Chocolate, but blue chips are a close second.
- If you could have a superpower what would it be? Why?
Invisibility. An excellent quality for a writer.
- Fancy restaurant or picnic?
- Beer or wine?
- Favorite author?
Far too many to narrow it to just one. Depends on 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.
- Smooth or hairy?
Are we talking fruit, jackets, or cats?
Maggie will be awarding an eCopy of Outback Promise to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour, and choice of 5 digital books from the Impulse line to a randomly drawn host.