One of the things I love is finding out where the ideas for the stories we read come from. Some are real places, some dark dreams but most are from the incredible creative minds of my writer friends! What follows is Isobel Blackthorn telling us all about her newest book, it is one you want to read! The link to purchase this awesome book is following her telling of how it all started……
The Making of The Legacy of Old Gran Parks
Stories come from mysterious places, and are often a combination of a number of factors and ideas that come together and form a synergy. Sometimes the story behind the story is special and worth telling in its own right. I think the story behind The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is one of those.
The idea to write a novel set in a remote town in Australia’s south-eastern corner occurred to me over and again every time I stopped on my regular journey up and down the Princes Highway, a road that tracks all the way around the coast of Australia. That southern-eastern section of highway runs between Melbourne and Sydney and takes in rolling green pastures, mountains and dense forests, rivers and an exquisite and pristine coastline. It’s wild, largely untameable, and was passed over by the colonialists in favour of more accessible locales such as Port Phillip and Botany Bay. I’ve had family connections to that wilderness area since the mid-1970s when my grandmother settled in the small country town of Cobargo, New South Wales.
Back in 2014, I moved from the forested outskirts of east Melbourne and returned to live near Cobargo. It was the fifth time I’d lived there. I bought a cottage and planned picking up the pieces of my life after five years away.
My daughters were living back in Melbourne and every few months I’d make the ten-hour coach trip to visit them.
The coach stops for half an hour in a town called Cann River, a tiny town situated midway along a stretch of the Princes Highway that wends its way through two-hundred miles of forest. Cann River lies on the edge of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was I felt travel weary and happy to get off the coach and stretch my legs.
I had my routine. The coach pulled up in the roadhouse car park at a crossroads in the centre of the town. Across the road was the hotel. I would head off across the highway to use the facilities in the local park. I’d noticed the small church tucked on the corner of another street, go back across the highway to the bakery for a pie, and stroll back to the coach where I would stand and survey my surroundings.
Gum trees towered all around. The road heading inland went straight into the mountainous wilderness. There was nothing much out there for a hundred miles and I was told the road was treacherous, the forest full of deer. I hadn’t a clue what secrets lurked down the road to the south. It turned into a dirt road and disappeared into the bush. I knew the ocean was out there somewhere, but I had no idea how far or even exactly where. Somehow, in Cann, I lost my sense of direction.
Every time I stood at that crossroads I thought the place would make the perfect setting for a thriller. I could smell death in the air. Although that probably had a lot to do with the music I listened to every single trip I made. To while away the hours travelling that lonely stretch of highway, I played Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’. I would play it twice. It put me in a gritty mood.
My life didn’t work out in New South Wales and after two years, I moved back to Melbourne. I didn’t give Cann River another thought. Then in early 2017, a former neighbour who’d moved to Cann made a comment on Facebook that went along the lines of, ‘Isobel, you should write a novel set here.’ Something went click and I messaged her and told her I would do it.
Cassarndra Skarratt, who could well be a name to look out for when she finally has a chance to learn the craft and put pen to paper herself, was bursting with ideas and suggestions. She told me all about the local environment. She sent me photos of key areas I’d never heard of, like Tamboon inlet and Point Hicks lighthouse. She told me she’d field dressed a deer. I asked for a full description. She kept bees. She has a market stall. She knows how to fish. Above all, it was her devilish and infectious sense of humour that merged with mine and we had a hilarious time developing the characters as a result.
Others were involved in the novel’s creation. My daughter, Liz Blackthorn gave shape to the male characters in the story in her typically astute and conceptual fashion; and my mother, Margaret Rodgers, was my sounding board when it came to developing a plot. Margaret is a former police officer who has lived in the region for over forty years. She’s also an avid reader of thrillers. She was the perfect litmus paper.
With these three powerful women invested in the work, I wrote and wrote. Each day I became a different one of the four protagonists: Miriam, Frankie, Pearl and Emily. I wrote in first person and became each one in turn. Never had a story been easier to write and I loved every minute of its composition.
For a long time the work had no title. It was just my ‘Cann River book’. Then another character emerged with the help of Cassarndra and Margaret, one that had been haunting the story all along, and once she appeared I had the title. She was Gran Parks, and she had left a legacy.
I kept Cassarndra in the dark for a few months as I wrote the first and second drafts. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. When I finally let her read the results of her huge contribution to the work’s genesis, I was nervous as hell. What if the plot didn’t work? What if I’d captured the setting all wrong, or the vibe was off kilter somehow? What if she simply didn’t like it?
Days later she gave me her feedback. She was blown away. She later told me she read that draft five times. In her imagination, I’d managed to install Miriam, Frankie, Pearl and Emily in Cann River, and she was seeing those women everywhere she went. I thought if she’s the only person who ever reads my book, it will be worth it just to have given her so much pleasure. She made some crucial suggestions too, ones that demonstrated to me a deep engagement with the story and hinted at her own creative potential.
We now argue over who is going to write the sequel.
My gratitude to Cassarndra is boundless. To Margaret and Liz as well. There is something that binds us four women, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the spirit of Gran Parks.