Is "A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove" set in a particular place?
Yes, it is set around Fraser Island and two nearby towns, Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay. My parents retired to Rainbow Beach in 1990 so I came to know the area when visiting. I had to change the geography a little to suit my story, so I have changed the names.
Are any of the characters real?
No. I know Rainbow Beach, Tin Can Bay and Fraser island very well, but I don't know the people of these places at all, apart from my own parents. The characters are either an amalgamation of people I have met in my life, perhaps the odd relative included or else they are completely invented to play a particular role in the story. Skip Duncan is a bit like a salty old sea captain. You almost expect him to start speaking like a pirate - "avast there, me hearties. Ahr, ahr". I've seen a few boys like Harley in schools, even in my own classroom from time to time. All kids like Harley need is a bit of love and patience and a firm hand and they are fine. Unfortunately, without a fair go, they end up bitter and outcast.
Where did the ideas come from for the story?
I had always wanted to do a story set in the beautiful surroundings of Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island. After a few novels with strong social themes, I just wanted to write an engaging story. I wanted to show how a boy could win through, with determination and a bit of help and love.
I was asked to speak at a conference in Melbourne in 1995. After my session, I sat in the audience and heard the next speaker, the psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg. He said something interesting: that all teenagers eventually ask themselves this question. Am I normal? I knew what he meant. As a teenager, I had worried that all the new and, at times, difficult changes and emotions happening to me. I realise now that everyone was going through the same thing but at the time, I didn't. I made Carl worry about that. He comes to believe that he is unlovable, until the people and events of the story show him otherwise. He helps to heal himself but he couldn't have done it without Joy and Justine.
The idea that Harley would be lost on the bay came from seeing half a dozen young boys puttering about in a two metre long "tinny" with no life jackets and no idea of the risks they were taking. As for Harley being chained up - I've been challenged about this - that no one would be so cruel but let me tell you, children are regularly treated a lot worse than Harley is by Beryl.
For the injury and death caused by Dessie Matt, Carl's grandfather, I relied on an actual incident I witnessed while working in a factory over the school holidays. One young guy had the hots for the pretty young secretary. He thought he'd impress her with his driving ability in the car park one day but lost control of the vehicle and slammed into her, breaking her leg.
What influenced you in writing the book?
I have always liked the books, "A Bridge to Terebithia" and "I am David" and I think these influenced my book. I had also read the following books in the few years before I started "A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove."
"Goodnight Mr Tom" by Michelle Magorian
"The Shipping News" by Annie Proulx (adult book)
"Homecoming" by Cynthia Voigt and
"Missing May" by Cynthia Rylant.
The Italian movie ‘Il Postino’
If you know those books, you will probably see similarities here and there eg. the death or disappearance of a mother, a gentle character of great inner strength making a new life for himself and his loved ones. There was no conscious copying of these books, but they were an influence. All authors will tell you a similar story. Ideas and concepts from what we read or what we see on screen meld into our thinking the way flavours mix in food to create something special.
Who is on the cover?
I took the cover photo of the boy myself. He was in year 12 at Marist College Ashgrove at the time and reminded me of what Carl looked like in my mind. The picture was scanned by Peter Evans who designed and produced the rest of the cover. The pretty blonde on the back caused a problem. In my story, Maddie was dark haired but Peter Evans showed her as a blonde. I didn't notice until the cover was printed. However, since the text hadn't yet been printed in book form to glue inside the covers, I was able to change the references to Maddie.
In 2001, the publishers and I decided we needed a new cover. The same designer, Peter Evans, came up with the osprey soaring over a sparkling blue ocean. I like this new cover but still have a lingering affection for the original. Year later still, UQP redesigned the covers of all my books and this resulted in a third cover for the novel which I don't like much, to be honest.