by Christina Brooke
I usually say that I write as if I’m taking dictation from a movie that plays inside my head. The story is there, already waiting for me. I just have to get to it and translate what is happening into words on the page as vividly as I can. I’m sure the sum of my experiences influence that movie in my mind in all sorts of ways but I don’t consciously take events and people from my own life and fictionalize them.
An unsettling thing happened when I wrote HEIRESS IN LOVE.
I live in Queensland, Australia. We had just suffered through a drought period that meant heavy water restrictions. The city looked scorched. Dust blew in from the west and settled in a film over everything.
Then the rain came. Day in, day out, wet, wet, wet.
And it rained in HEIRESS IN LOVE.
The opening image in chapter one of HEIRESS IN LOVE is of my heroine, Jane, watching rain-spattered carriages winding up a long drive to her stately home. My hero, Constantine, gallops past them on a big white horse like a shooting star through the night. He is larger than life, a dazzling flare on Jane's bleak horizon.
As the romance between this gorgeous, charming rogue and my prim, awkward heroine plays out, the rain continues to fall. It's England, after all, and the climate in my fictional world is not hard to imagine. In Brisbane, Australia, it becomes difficult to remember the last decent stretch of sun.
I needed a disaster for this book, my subconscious decided, blithely playing God in my cozy fictional world. So I used a fascinating piece of research on Cotswold woolen mills to create a dam on a nearby property that was full to bursting. Constantine tries to persuade his neighbor to do something about the dam before it floods but the neighbor won’t listen. The resulting crisis tests Constantine’s mettle to the full and ultimately forms the catalyst for a breakthrough in his relationship with Jane.
I wrote this book and handed it in and thought little more about the connection between my story and the reality around me. After devastating floods in 1974, before I was born, a new dam had been built. We were all assured such an event would never happen again. People built houses in areas that had completely submerged in 1974. The '74 floods took on the quality of legend.
And then, for the first time in 37 years our city’s major river overflowed its banks, causing devastation to the lives of countless people. This happened back in January, but the effects of the flood continue to be felt.
My house and family were safe, thank God, but my eight-year-old son’s school suffered extensive damage. My four-year-old’s kindergarten stands, six months later, a filthy, torn apart wasteland that we walk past every day. Every day, he asks me when it’s going to be fixed. Soon, I say. But I know he won’t be going back there again.
Many insurance companies had excluded river flood damage from their insurance policies so the cost of recovery has been prohibitive for some. Many people lost their homes, their businesses. A tragic number lost their lives.
But people have remarkable resilience and it's fair to say that the flood brought out the best in our community. People pulled together during the worst of times and in the aftermath, they are getting on with living and rebuilding their lives.
Work has finally begun on my son's play centre. Too late for him to go back there, but hopefully it will be up and running by next year. I was reminded of this recovery process in another way today. I took my critique partner, Denise, on a detour from our usual walk to show her the house I lived in for a short time after I was married. Some of you might have seen the photo I posted on facebook of this house when the flood was at its peak.
Now, the house has been painted (much nicer colours!) and is in the process of being renovated, too. As we were gawking at it, the owner came out and we chatted. He said that during the flood, he kayaked through the flood water and it was so high, he kayaked straight onto the verandah of the house. He has now raised the house so that the top storey is above flood level. I hope very much that he never needs to kayak to get to his house again, but that's another story.
Has a crisis ever brought out the best in you, or in an unexpected person? Do you like true events to play a part in a fictional tale or would you prefer to leave reality far behind? If you're a writer, have you ever had real life affect the story in an unexpected way?
I'm giving away HEIRESS IN LOVE to one lucky commenter!
Please forgive me if I'm not around much today. I'm at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. And don't forget, you can follow the conference on Twitter: @rwaus11