Tell Us Your Backstory with Anthea Hodgson
The Drifter Backstory:
As the release of my second novel, The Cowgirl, approaches, I wanted to thank her elder, less well-behaved sister, The Drifter, for arriving on my doorstep at 3am with a bottle of champagne – and some random she’d picked up at the pub.
I wrote The Drifter in five weeks. It flew out of me in a burst of laughter, but it wasn’t the story I thought I was writing.
I had thought I was writing a simple love story in which a mysterious drifter comes to town. And then I realised that my heroine was actually the drifter, moving aimlessly through her life, without a real home for her heart. And then, because my dear dad had just died of alzheimer’s disease, I realised that the Drifter was becoming a story about death, but an often funny, heartfelt tale.
I sat down and wrote like my computer was on fire. I drank gallons of tea, I went to bed fully dressed, rolled out of bed at 4am and went straight to my computer to write. Thrilled. Alive. Then I realised I just couldn’t get up at 4am anymore, so I got up at 3am instead. Bursting to open my computer and go home to Windstorm again, to listen to the comfortable chatter of the girls who run rural communities, to see the sunsets across the paddocks and watch the mountain ducks on the dam. To visit my grandma, Ida, and to pat our old dog Mac, alive once more on the page. To push some sheep through the yards, and hear the rough clang as I slammed the ute door.
And then Cate drove into town in her tiny car, escaping the death of her best friend, Brigit. She was heartbroken and guilty, and determined to help her old aunt Ida, suffering from ill health and in need of a new friend to whom to tell her stories.
And Henry had already made his way up the drive in his old EH Holden, parked it behind the hay shed and started to camp in the old shearers quarters. He didn’t mean to stay long.
And then, there they all were. My cast of characters, all of them so real to me. Would Ida survive her heart? Would Cate? Would Henry?
What is there to be found on a rundown old farm in late summer?
And if death is coming, is it always an enemy?
In the end, it was a friend to my father, who was a wonderful gentle man, an excellent farmer, and a fine musician. When alzheimer’s had taken everything from him but his name, he finally died, surrounded by those who love him still. Of course, in a broader sense he was surrounded by a supportive and loving community of people, who cared about him, and looked out for him, who knew so many of his stories, and who have known our family for generations. I wanted to capture that in Drifter; the families who live side by side across the years, who know each other’s secrets, and I wanted to capture the idea that we never really lose the people we love, because we can take them with us, wherever we go.
I wrote so much of my life into Drifter, but I couldn’t bring myself to put Dad into the story as well, it was too hard and too soon. I felt as if I’d never be able to capture him as he really was, so I left a space for him, to come along and visit the farm again. And then, of course, I looked back through the pages, to realise he was right there with me, in every word.
So now I have sent my Drifter out into the world, looking for a home, knowing that home is where the heart is – and that’s where my dad is now, as well.
‘Life isn’t just the breathing part, dear. It’s being here, with you.’
Cate Christie is a drifter, moving restlessly through her carefree youth until tragedy strikes, and her life is changed forever. She flees the city, seeking refuge at her great-aunt Ida’s farm in the wheatfields of Western Australia. There she finds Henry, a swagman whose dark eyes and heavy heart hold secrets he’s not willing to share. When Ida is no longer able to go on, Cate and Henry are put to the ultimate test. Together they must embrace the true meaning of family, community and love so they can lay their own ghosts to rest.
The Drifter is a moving and highly original story from an exciting new voice in rural writing, about what it takes to make a good life and a good death – and how to capture the magic in between.
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