I’m now three chapters into the writing of A Turn off the Path, and already I’ve noticed I’m handling the writing of it a little differently to when I write a novel intended to go to print. For a start, I am reading each chapter aloud as I finish writing it, and go back over it, reading it aloud again to check if the sentences sound right when they are spoken. Don’t get me wrong; I always ‘hear’ the sentences in my head when I write a novel, and very often I’ve read passages aloud to know exactly where the rhythm of a sentence is faltering. But this is much more marked, in this one.
I’m not finding that I’m writing shorter sentences, as I’d half-imagined when I started. There’s a mix, as usual, of short and long sentences, and I’ve always used punctuation, including the dreaded semi-colon(which I think is very much unfairly traduced!) to mark natural pauses in the soundtrack in my head that gets translated into words on the page, or rather screen, at this point. I’ve also always treated each chapter as a mini-story but with a twist, small or otherwise, that carries you onto the next. That’s the same, in this one. And I’ve often used different forms of narrative to carry a story forward and to express different points of view. That’s similar too, A Turn off the Path–the main narrative is from the point of view of Helen, who gets left behind in Saint Jean while her sister Alex keeps to the plan and the Camino, but you also hear Alex’s voice through the blog posts she writes to update family and friends about the walk. It’s working well, so far. I’m also very much a visual writer, and love to paint word-pictures of places and people and atmospheres; but in this novel, I’m also very focussed on sound, not just the way that the sentences sound, but also other things. For example, I’m putting in small references to Basque words in the novel: but I’m very much aware that it’s one thing to think of what you can put on the page, in an audio version you also have to consider how the narrator might pronounce such words, and give extra clues to it. There’s also other sound elements to flag, like saying that someone has a slight accent you can’t quite place, and the sound of bells over the town. It’s not that I wouldn’t include those things in a novel normally, because I do; it’s just that I’m more conscious of it in this one, and more conscious too of how it might sound coming through your earphones.
What if there was scientific proof not only that the afterlife existed, but that everyone had an afterlife marker, similar to a genetic marker, that coded them irrevocably for their existence post-life? What if that explosive proof had been hidden from the general public by a worldwide conspiracy of silence, supposedly in order to protect the population from panic, but actually to facilitate secret experiments being conducted to push the boundaries of government surveillance and control, even beyond death itself?
In the world of The Ghost Squad, everything seems normal to most people, the new normal that is, with all electronic communication strictly controlled and social media banned. Twenty years previously, a major solar storm had caused a massive electro-magnetic pulse which not only knocked out all computer-controlled technology and power around the world for quite some time, but triggered what became known as the Anomaly, the first indication of the afterlife markers of human beings. Since then, the followers of Hermes, a secretive whistle-blower, who operate out of an underground network, the Base, have been attempting to bring knowledge of the secret to the population in general. They are locked in a constant clandestine struggle with the forces of the Ghost Squad, who work for secret government research centres known as PLEIFs (short for Post-Life Entity Index Facility) , who are known to abduct people whose unusual afterlife markers show them to be of particular experimental interest.
The Ghost Squad is set in a contemporary/near-future time, in places which have deliberately not been tethered to real-world geography, though several settings are inspired by real-world places, including in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, and Russia.
Readers of this blog may remember that just before Christmas I got some very welcome news: I was awarded a grant by Create NSW, the NSW Government’s arts-funding body, to create the ms of A Turn off the Path, a short novel for adults which I’m writing specifically for the audio format. This will be then submitted by my agent to Audible for consideration for their Audible Originals list.
It’s an exciting new challenge for me and I’m so delighted to be able to work on over the next few months, thanks to the generous Create NSW grant. I’ve been doing a bit of background research for it since early this month but have now started work on it, with the draft of the first chapter begun yesterday. Over the next few months, as I write it, I’m also going to post regularly about the book and what it’s like to write a novel with an eye(or rather an ear!) to the audio format: thought that might be of interest to other writers contemplating the possibility of doing the same. This post introduces that series with a bit about what A Turn off the Path is about, and in future posts I’ll write about the background to it, why I wanted to write it, and how or indeed if the writing of an audio novel differs from one that you intend for print.
Something about the story:
Set in the picturesque French Basque town of Saint Jean Pied de Port (Donibane Garazi in Basque) in May 2017, A Turn oﬀ the Path is centred around twin Australian sisters, Helen and Alex Dorian, who are in the town at the start of their planned walk on the famous Camino, the pilgrim route to Santiago del Compostella. It’s something they’ve wanted to do since they were very young, but it’s only now, as they approach their fiftieth birthday, that they’ve finally found the time to do it. But when Helen injures her leg on the very day of their arrival, she has to stay behind in the town while Alex proceeds with their plans, and a very diﬀerent experience to what they’d hoped for unfolds for the sisters. And when Helen unexpectedly meets an old schoolmate who is in Saint Jean to explore his Basque family roots, events really take ‘a turn oﬀ the path.’
This will be a lively, warm and thoughtful novel, exploring relationships, the past’s eﬀect on the present, and the dream and reality of the modern pilgrim experience. It also has a strong sense ofplace and culture: as my mother’s family is part-Basque and has always lived in the Basque country, and two of my own sisters now live there too, I know the area well and I’ve been to Saint Jean Pied de Port itself many times from my childhood onwards.
In the next few weeks, leading up to the release of The Ghost Squad, I’ll be posting snippets about the book, its background and inspirations, but I thought I’d start today with a short outline of the story, which includes the back cover blurb but expands a bit on it…
Imagine a world where all seems normal and yet nothing is – a world very much like our own, yet jarringly unlike. A world where two clandestine organisations, the Ghost Squad and the Base, are engaged in a secret battle for control of information so dangerous it could literally change life as humans have always known it…
Sixteen-year old Polly Sikorski lives an ordinary life in an ordinary small town with her mother, a homicide detective. But when her mother goes missing while investigating a case, Polly is catapulted into a very different life, where nothing will ever be the same again. Running from the police, she encounters seventeen-year old Swan, a tough young Base operative. On their way to shelter, they come across a little boy, Kel, who’s on the run, and take him under their wing. It is a momentous decision that will take them into the dark heart of the shattering secrets that lie behind the apparent normality of the world. Battling to find answers and protect Kel from his pursuers, they run into greater and greater danger. As the Ghost Squad and the Base close in on them and the story races to its thrilling conclusion in the eerie, steam-wreathed town of Hot Springs, Polly and Swan must face the most stunning discovery of all.
A bold, exciting YA novel with thrilling twists and turns, The Ghost Squad is a novel that will keep readers guessing – and keep them awake at night!
Absolutely delighted with the fantastic review by the wonderful writer Carmel Bird of French Fairy Tales, my book with Lorena Carrington. The review was published today in the Weekend Australian Review, and it’s the kind that every creator dreams of getting…really made my day!
t’s the 6th of January, Twelfth Night in old tradition, and I thought it would be a good day to post something about what’s coming up for me, book-wise, in 2021, both new releases coming out and new projects I’ll be working on this year.
So first of all, I’m soon going to be celebrating the release of my first YA novel in three years. This is The Ghost Squad, which is coming out with MidnightSun Publishing on 1st of February. I am so excited about the publication of this novel, which already got a fantastic advance review before Christmas! Over the next few weeks, leading up to the book’s release and beyond, I’ll be posting some things about the book, its story and characters, but for the moment, you can check out the little introductory video I made about it.
I also have another book coming out this year, a chapterbook for young readers called Four All At Sea, a sequel to my 2020 chapterbook, Four on the Run. Like the earlier chapterbook, it will be illustrated by the wonderful Cheryl Orsini, and will be published by Christmas Press in September this year. Cover reveal coming up in next few months!
And I’ll be working on several new projects this year. This includes a wonderful new mystery project cooked up in collaboration with the fabulous Lorena Carrington which will follow up on our French Fairy Tales book: watch this space for details! And a short audio novel for adults, A Turn off the Path, whose writing has been funded by a generous grant from Create NSW, and which I’m starting work on this week. I’ll be documenting the writing of the novel on this blog: watch this space too for more details! As well, I have ideas for a couple of picture book texts, and the glimmerings of an idea for a possible sequel to The Ghost Squad…I don’t think I’m going to get bored 🙂