Author Spotlight: Demelza Carlton
Describe yourself in one word:
What is your background with regard to writing?
I wrote my first novel when I was 12, but I pursued a very different career path until it was published in 2013.
When did you first begin writing with a view of embarking on a career as a published author?
2012, just after I finished my Masters. I took a break from writing research papers and thought I’d write a short story instead, about a shipwreck in my research that hadn’t made sense…unless there were mermaids or miracles involved. Three weeks later, I’d completed the first draft of Ocean’s Gift and I was researching options for how to publish it.
Tell us a little more about the Turbulence and Triumph series:
Now, that actually starts with Ocean’s Gift. In 1921, there’s a shipwreck where a man survives at sea for three weeks, only to drown and wash up on a beach miles from where his boat sank. The first chapter of Ocean’s Gift describes that shipwreck and attempts to explain it…before the second chapter brings the story to the present day. In that ninety years, a lot happens – and the Turbulence and Triumph series is the story of the girl he loved, but after his death. At the start of the first book, Ocean’s Justice, Maria’s adrift on a flimsy raft on the Indian Ocean when she’s spotted by the crew of the steamship Trevessa. They’re a superstitious lot, so they don’t want her on the ship they already think is cursed, but William McGregor, an engineer fresh out of Scotland and on his way to a mining post at Christmas Island, insists on helping her and brings her aboard. But…she doesn’t speak much English, so she can’t tell them what happened. Now, I won’t hide that it’s a romance – William’s quite taken with Maria.
What kind of research was involved in the planning of this series? Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process?
So much research into the National Archives and the National and State Libraries…I’ve been blown away by how many photos there are Fremantle from the 1920s, holiday snaps of the Abrolhos in 1930 – not to mention the captain of the Trevessa, Cecil Foster, wrote a bestselling book in 1929 about his experiences in the Indian Ocean. The series starts on the Trevessa, but moves to Fremantle and the Houtman Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia, as well as Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. And I have photos of every ship and building mentioned in the series, to make sure it’s accurate. Plus present day photos from site visits – the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour may have changed, but it’s still there. Whether it was the shop owners’ names, the toilet paper, the motorcycle race winners or the price of fish, I checked it all. In case you’re wondering: yes, there was toilet paper on the Trevessa.
The oddest thing I discovered was some photos that were taken outside the house where Maria lived in Fremantle, which coincided with the collapse of the Fremantle rail bridge during flooding in 1926. She would have been able to watch the whole disaster unfold from the front veranda, so I absolutely had to include it.
What challenges did you have in writing Maria’s character and what will endear her to your readers?
How can you write a book in English from a first person perspective when the heroine doesn’t speak English? Well, she does know a few words, but that’s it. So the biggest challenge was deciding how to write it. In the end, I chose to write her thoughts and impressions as if it’d been translated from English – so as eloquently as she’d put them in her own language – but I’d also include everything the others said, though she didn’t understand it at the time.
Am I allowed to give you an excerpt? It’s really hard to explain unless you see it. This is after William’s gotten into a fist-fight over Maria:
William dropped to his knees and rummaged through the locker. Pulling out a roll of cloth, he held it out to me. “Here. All women know how to bandage, don’t they? Natural-born nurses and all.”
I took the roll and examined it. It was barely bigger than my fist – a rolled strip perhaps as wide as my wrist. I stared at the man who now stood before me. He looked expectant, but I lifted my shoulders in a shrug. I had no idea what he wanted me to do.
He made an exasperated sound and snatched the cloth back. William proceeded to unroll the fabric, wrapping it around his chest repeatedly, grimacing in pain as the poorly-applied bandage slipped down his torso.
Realisation dawned. He wanted me to bind his broken ribs. “William,” I said, reaching out to touch him. The bandage slipped from his fingers and slid down to his waist. I smiled as I unwound it. First, I needed to check where he was injured – if I put too much pressure on a different injury to support his ribs, I could do further damage.
I touched my fingers to the darkest bruising.
“Hey! That hurts!” he complained, shrinking away from my touch.
Holding my hand over his injury, I repeated, “Hurts?” I shifted my hand to his stomach, which appeared undamaged. “No hurts?” For what felt like the hundredth time, I wished I knew the words to ask him for what I needed. I wanted to be able to say, “Tell me what hurts, you great big baby, so I know what to tend first.”
Maria’s surprisingly resilient for a girl who’s not only lost the man she loved, but was cast adrift on a raft, then saved, only to find herself all at sea on a ship of strangers with customs that are very strange to her. She’s a fighter and it shows, but she had a sense of humour and joie de vivre that really start to come out, the more time she spends with William. Oh, and her first taste of chocolate, which she doesn’t think is food when William offers it to her…I went through a whole packet of Lindt to get that scene right.
What do you want readers to know about the romance genre?
What I should read next. Recommendations, please! I read almost as much as I write, and it’s always refreshing to include Aussie fiction in my reading list, because I’ll actually know where the places are!
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
I’d be out at some site with a camera – same as I am now, but now I get to pick my research sites.
What’s next for you?
Next? Mmm, my current work in progress is Afterlife of Alanna Miller, the third book in my Nightmares Trilogy. It’s more romantic suspense/psychological thriller than anything else I’ve written, as it’s about a girl who’s abducted from a Perth city street and held captive in the southwest, but the story starts when her barely alive body is found dumped on a beach.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
Well, I just finished EE Carter’s Warrior’s Surrender. I think my Kindle’s still there. Otherwise, it’s the manual for the reverse cycle air conditioner. I figure I might read it one day.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Don’t buy the Nintendo 64. You’ll never play it anyway. Blow your Port Hedland paycheque on clothes instead.
It’s almost Christmas (yes, already!), tell us: what are you hoping to find under the tree this year?
Presents that I didn’t gift wrap. I enjoy shopping for presents for people – all year round, sometimes, but I’m terrible at wrapping them. So to see a pile under the tree that I didn’t mess up with my misguided wrapping attempts…is wonderful.
Favourite Christmas recipe?
My own potato salad. It takes two days to prepare, with chilling things and all, so I don’t make it all that often, but it’s worth it when I do, so it’s my signature dish for the Christmas bbq. You’re after the recipe, aren’t you? Okay, then you get the official name, too, as it’s a modified version of my friend’s recipe.
Bec’s Potato Salad
2kg of nadine potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
300g smoked, shaved ham (optional)
800g of SW whole egg mayonnaise (full fat tastes better, but it’s still okay with low fat)
Boil the potatoes and drain.
Hard boil the eggs. Allow both to cool overnight.
Finely slice the ham. Shell the eggs and cut them into bite-sized pieces.
Toss sliced ham and eggs gently through the potatoes – you’ll need a large bowl for this. Add mayonnaise and mix until all the ingredients are covered in mayonnaise. Serves 12 and must be kept refrigerated: it won’t last for more than 2-3 days.
I’ve occasionally added shaved parmesan or sliced spring onion to the salad.
Favourite Christmas tradition?
Carols by candlelight. I haven’t been in years, but I think it’s time I took my daughter.
Share with us your biggest New Years Resolution for 2015:
Finishing the Turbulence and Triumph series and attend my first signing at Readers and Writers Downunder at the Gold Coast in March.
Favourite travel experience?
Anything on the water with a camera. Or in the water, preferably with my waterproof camera.
Number one thing to do on your bucket list:
Antarctica. And New Zealand. Hmm, do you mean what’s next on the list or what’s higher on the list of things I want to do? I want to see Antarctica more, but I’ll do New Zealand first, even though Antarctica’s closer.
Milk, dark or white chocolate?
All of them, depending on the occasion. Dark for fondue, honeycomb and nougat. White with raspberries. Milk for…most everything else.
Red, white, bubbly?
Bubbly. When it’s empty, then the red. Preferably from Barossa or McLaren Vale.
About the Author:
Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No – Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.
The Ocean’s Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy. She swears the Mel Goes to Hell series ambushed her on a crowded train and wouldn’t leave her alone.
The Turbulence and Triumph series is three books to date:
Ocean’s Justice (#1)
Cast adrift on the Indian Ocean, eighteen-year-old Maria is saved by the crew of the steamship Trevessa.
She can’t tell them her tragic tale, so the superstitious sailors make up their own stories – and some would sacrifice her to the seas to save themselves from the coming storm.
Scottish engineer William McGregor boarded the Trevessa in search of adventure. He finds a crew convinced their ship is cursed, as he fights to protect the mysterious girl and bring her safely to shore.
When the sharks start circling and the storm closes in, are sirens more than just a myth?
Ocean’s Trial (#2)
Smuggled ashore by the kind widow Merry D’Angelo, Maria begins her new life in the colonial port city of Fremantle.
With the help of a young fisherman named Tony, she fights to find her place among a people so different to her own.
Yet danger lurks beneath the surface of the turbulent harbour waters as her past races to catch up with her; threatening her future and her friends, and forcing her to choose between her old love and the new.
Ocean’s Triumph (#3)
Maria thought stowing away on a ship to follow the man she loves was a great idea – but sleeping in the cargo hold and fighting rats for food isn’t at all what she bargained for, and that’s before she reaches her destination: the desolate colonial outpost of Christmas Island.
Now the man who was once her world won’t even look at her. Perhaps she’d be better off swimming hundreds of miles home.
It’s time to lay the ghosts of their past to rest…or are some ghosts not dead at all?