Frequently Asked Questions
Warning: Spoiler Alert! Come back after you have read the book. Seriously! Don’t spoil it for yourself.
Why are you so fascinated with Canadian scenery?
Quite simply it’s beautiful, and diverse. With Come What May we get to go to parts of Canada that not many people visit on their normal travels to that country – James and Hudson Bays, northern Quebec and the Arctic Circle. We also visit other regions that Canada is famous for: the stark beauty of Newfoundland, the endless expanses of the prairies, the tree covered taiga and the striking Canadian Rockies.
Aside from my own personal travel experiences, the movie, Map of the Human Heart, and Joseph Boyden’s novels helped bring this country to life for me.
And of course there is the attraction of icebergs. How many countries in the world have icebergs just off their coastline? Not many. The Iceberg Trilogy is about icebergs representing something magical; a sign of lightness in darkness, a sign of hope and endless possibilities and that is the spirit that my female characters – Rebecca, Gene and Lindsay – latch onto, at key points in their lives.
Where did the idea of Sonny come from?
When I lived in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand I used to catch a lot of small light aircraft flights – single and twin prop planes – between the vineyards of Blenheim and the pines around Picton to and from Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. I would fly over the waterways and the ocean, over the Southern Alps and northern mountains. Adding to the journey was the fact that on occasions there were some fine-looking young pilots up front – they would greet you before you stepped aboard the aircraft.
But seriously flying at that level – about 4,000 feet – is a wonderful way to see land and seascapes and I wanted to capture that sense of wonder and delight in this Canadian series. I had Jonathan live out Matthew, his father’s, dream of flying – hence the flight with Rebecca over iceberg alley – but I needed a different man to be Gene’s love interest – someone as captivating to her as Samuel had been to her mother.
Part of Sonny’s spirit I drew from the father of a friend of mine. He was a Sydney-based pilot for many years and ultimately gave up flying to raise his daughter as a solo Dad. He was a very vibrant man and a much-loved father and I like to think a little bit of Ron flies on in Sonny. The name, Sonny, came from a dear man I used to work with who, like Sonny, was completely unflappable and easy going. So, please take a bow Mr. Howitt and Mr. Rodham. There is also a little bit of my older brother in Sonny. He learnt to drive quite well when he was 12 years old. He’s a practical outdoors person and incredibly resilient. Some of Sonny’s trait’s definitely come from him.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I think my readers could perhaps more objectively answer this question. I write epic adventurous love stories. Seldom Come By and Come What May are historical and maybe by the time Come Full Circle is released it will be historical too! (It’s set in the 1990s). And they’re romantic as well…however if you put the words ‘historical romance’ together you might think bodice ripper and if you did, you’d be way off the mark.
I think there are four aspects to my writing that I hope over time will define my style:
Intensity of emotions. I want my characters (and my readers) to go through the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions. Their lives are certainly deeply felt by me as the writer. I cried for them as I wrote about them. And I hope there are passages that move my readers as well.
A sense of place. I love landscapes, seascapes and nature. I want my writing to reveal the visual splendour of a place in a way that has almost a cinematic quality to it. I want to capture the imagination of my readers and transport them to places that are almost otherworldly. There are other books that do this as well so I can’t say that’s unique to my work.
Signature Moments’ are where I combine the two, so where emotions like elation, heartbreak and enlightenment unfold in a sublime setting, creating an intense emotional connection for the reader. The iceberg scene in Seldom Come By is one such example. Gene’s flight to Igloolik in Come What May is another.
The unexpected. Another element, which I do see as a hallmark of my work, is an unexpected and shocking plot development. I can’t really say much more than that other than to say people will be reading along with a sense of where my story is going and then something happens that totally challenges that. Some in my inner circle call this the ‘Gasping Moment’. I know many authors have unexpected moments, particularly thriller writers, however many readers are shocked at some of the happenings in my book.
Significant Sacrifice. The final element is that to date in the Iceberg trilogy and the next novel in development after that, one of my characters ends up making a significant personal sacrifice, a significant denial of their wants by putting others first. I think such sacrifice is incredibly honourable even if at times it is misguided.
Why didn’t we get to see much of Gene’s daughters in this book and know what they were thinking?
No, you didn’t see much of them at all. Likewise you didn’t see much of Rebecca and Samuel’s children in Seldom Come By – Jonathan being the exception. In Come Full Circle you will see much more of both Shane and Lindsay, particularly as Lindsay becomes the main narrator. I wanted this story to be mainly told from Gene and Rebecca’s point of view and to a lesser extent, Sonny’s.
Why do you write what you do?
A starting point was to come up with a story that would explain one unusual woman I encountered during my travels in Canada. That woman was Gene.
But now that her and others’ stories have evolved it’s almost in a bizarre way like I know these people and have been given permission to tell their story, to bear witness to their pain and suffering, but also their joy, and that there are learnings to their stories.
But why did I want to write in the first place? I think it comes down to that Helen Keller quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” I want to connect with people’s hearts.
Was there an inspiration behind Rebecca becoming an artist?
Yes, absolutely! Rebecca was a woman who totally loved icebergs – what better way to express her love of icebergs than to paint them? I have always liked art in its various forms. You may recall Samuel’s mild obsession with Rodin’s sculptures in Seldom Come By. And I think the genesis for Rebecca’s artistic endeavours was her drawing of the iceberg that Samuel had surprised her with not long after she turned fifteen.
When we lived in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand there was a local artist, Rick Edmonds, who was an exceptional painter. His images of the unique beauty of the Sounds and the light on water are exactly as I described Rebecca’s paintings. ‘It’s like a photograph. Better than a photograph. There’s an intensity, a richness that supersedes the natural form.’ I wanted Rebecca to be Canada’s version of Rick Edmonds, with her subject matter being icebergs. In recent months I have come across an artist who does paint icebergs and that is Zaria Forman. Her images are large scale, which I love, but Rick’s are what I imagine Rebecca’s take on icebergs would be like.
Spoiler Question 1
Your novels are about epic adventurous love stories, how do Samuel and Rebecca compare to Sonny and Gene?
I think readers will love Sonny in a similar way to how they loved Samuel. He is a breath of fresh air. He has lived and seen the world but is incredibly down to earth, sincere and pragmatic. And, if anything, Sonny has more direction in his life than Samuel ever had. I think women find men like Sonny to be very appealing – they know their mind and have a vision for their life. Sonny and Samuel are less serious than each of their respective leading ladies; they are more into living in the moment. It is my hope that in Come What May all the men – Wyatt, Jonathan, Morton and Sonny – will be easy to love.
I think readers will warm to Gene the child, but they will struggle at times with Gene the adult. She is not as instantly loveable as Rebecca – but there are parallels between the two:
- Melancholic swings and mounting desperation as teenagers – something which Samuel noted after he first met Rebecca.
- Each suffering a tremendously stressful event in their late teens and how they coped with that – both fleeing in different ways, but both being strong and surviving.
- Some of their decisions as adults, e.g. omissions of facts, white lies, hurt their loved ones, but hurt themselves more in the process.
- Finally, by airing their long held secrets they find the means for their lives to heal and for themselves and their partners to find true happiness.
Gene is a person who has never been great at communicating or trust and part of her arc through this story is that she becomes better at communicating and developing relationships.
Spoiler Question 2
Most people thought this story was going to be about Gene’s love affair with Sonny but it is much more than that?
Yes, it is a love story across three decades touching three major periods in Sonny and Gene’s lives. But equally, it is a study of what happens to a woman in the midst of her deliriously happy-married life when she loses her husband and youngest son through the most mysterious and cruel circumstances. Equally, it is a study of what happens to a young girl when she loses her much-loved father and adored baby brother. How does this consummate event affect their lives forevermore?
Some of my favourite novels have the hero and heroine separated for great lengths of time, with the woman assuming her husband is dead. In The Bronze Horseman series Tatiana thinks Alexander has died in the Soviet Union. In the Outlander series Claire thinks Jamie has died at Culloden. What they discover is that is not the case and through grit, courage, and unbelievable luck, the women are reunited with their husbands. Those were incredibly uplifting moments and wonderful stories. However, I wanted to explore what happens to this woman, to this family if that is not possible. I wanted to be as real and true to life as possible. How does Rebecca rebuild her life when the love of her life is no more? Does she mope and mourn her husband forever or does she pick herself up and have a fulfilling, self-actualised life? What happens to her children? How do they adjust to such misery and what are the long-term effects?
What happens to Gene when she is a young girl and a teenager understandably shapes the woman she is and the woman she becomes in the final book, Come Full Circle. I have a clear vision of her character in her sixties and for Gene, sadly, she had a lot of tragedy in her life that contributed to a lot of mental health issues. Ergo, something devastating had to happen to her and the people she loved. But on the flipside, she had a few rare and wonderful people in her life: two brothers, a handful of friends/ acquaintances and an incomparable husband to help her weather those storms.
So because of this direction and the question I posed it wasn’t possible for this story to start during Gene’s 18th year and not go back in time. It wasn’t possible for it to not cover this soul-destroying incident. My readers would have felt cheated had I glossed over it.
That said, it was a difficult detour. It was without doubt the hardest scene to write in the entire trilogy. I imagine it will be a distressing journey for many readers who have taken Samuel and Rebecca into their hearts. I know there will be some backlash, but please don’t throw your eReader at the wall. It can break. That will make my book the most expensive one you’ve ever bought. Please keep reading so you and most of the characters can arrive at a better place. Samuel and Rebecca were in love for 25 years and happily married for 20, which is a lot more than some.
Spoiler Question 3
Why did you decide to tell Gene’s story rather than Morton’s?
Certainly Morton’s experience was possibly more soul destroying than Gene’s – for she never witnessed the events first hand. One early reader wrote: ‘It was Morton’s experience that devastated me and haunts me. To be there, to have to choose, not choosing – it was very powerful.’
Gene did however lose her beautiful beau, her all-encompassing first love and there was no softening in the way she heard how her one-of-a-kind fiancé came to his ultimate end. Coupled with this was the horror of her father and brother’s uncanny death.
It certainly took me a while to write that scene. I needed Rebecca and everyone to be in a much better place before I could face what had happened to Samuel, Morton and Joel. I certainly felt and saw the blood on my hands that day.
I wrote Gene’s story because ultimately this is a story of three generations of women and their epic love stories – inspiring at times and broken at others. But these novels are also the stories of women – four generations in fact – Morna, Rebecca, Gene and Lindsay and how they relate to each other and ache for each other. So much of Gene’s journey in Come What May will play out to full effect in Come Full Circle.
Spoiler Question 4
How did you form Gene’s character?
Gene is a completely fictitious character, a conglomeration of stories and memoirs I’ve read, research I’ve undertaken, snippets I’ve heard, creative license I’ve taken on some personal family history, and my imagination. Once again the Canadian Medical Association Journal was a useful resource as was Frances Farmer’s Will There Really Be Morning and the writings of Sylvia Plath.
Gene was a tortured soul who at various times was selfless and selfish – a paradox for sure – but often she did not know how to express herself. Her singing was one of her major outlets but after Andrew was killed she didn’t want to sing again for some time as, in her mind, her voice belonged to him. At times she was lonely but she was also incredibly self-reliant and comfortable with her own company. She is like Rebecca in many ways but she is different in one major way: Rebecca is a very open person; Gene is closed. From the opening chapter, it mentions that Gene can carry off a certain nonchalance – that was never Rebecca.
Gene suffered from a mix of mental health issues throughout Come What May. From post-traumatic stress disorders, melancholia, depression, postnatal depression, anxiety disorders through to psychotic disorders (hallucinations). My biggest challenge with Gene was how to make her a sympathetic, likeable character, how to let people see past the sad fractured woman-child and all her phobias to a person who, when she was well, was a great person to know, be around and love.
Spoiler Question 5
Why did you not reveal Gene and Andrew’s relationship right till the end? Why weren’t we privy to Gene’s thoughts earlier?
I think you find the cover reads: A secretive young woman… Gene is secretive. She wasn’t about to share that relationship with her doctors at Freshwater and, like how Rebecca wasn’t up to telling Samuel on her honeymoon about Samson, Gene wasn’t ready to tell Sonny about why she committed suicide. Bear in mind she also felt honour bound to keep what Morton had told her secret. She also doesn’t owe anyone access to her inner thoughts. She shows and shares with us only what she is comfortable sharing, and she shares only when Sonny leaves her with no other option.
Now, if you were to go back and read Come What May you will see some sentences in a different light and you might think, she did hint at it in her own way:
• No one but her knows the weight on top of her each morning when she awakes.
• But thoughts of her father, his head being smashed against the iceberg, his face morphing with Andrew’s…
• ‘The image of a man, his brains and blood oozing out of his skull trickling all over my fingers while I try and hold his head together. The look of regret on my father’s face.’