“The Maori call this place Ata Whenua—Shadow Land.”
Television reporter Callie Brown likes safe places with good coffee. But she joins friends from the past on a trek into New Zealand’s most brutal wilderness, in the hope of healing a broken heart.
What she doesn’t know is that someone wants them all dead. Lost in every sense of the word, the hikers’ primal instincts erupt. Surrounded by people who have harbored secrets for a decade, Callie must choose the right ally if she doesn’t want to be the next to die...
“A breathtakingly fast-paced and original eco/wilderness thriller.” Karin Cox, Author
When I published my debut mystery/thriller Poison Bay just before Christmas, it was the culmination of many years of research, writing, editing and worrying.
The idea first began to fester in my head nearly 20 years ago, when I was travelling around New Zealand’s South Island on holiday. I was awestruck by the glacier-carved mountains, sharp and steep, that rose abruptly from ground level.
Locals boasted that it was one of the wettest places on earth, with that peculiar pride we humans have that says, “You think it’s hard to live where you come from? Beat THIS!”
I heard stories of narrow escapes in the wilderness… people being thrown bodily off hiking trails by the wind, becoming disorientated in sudden summer blizzards, or endangered by “tree avalanches” – after heavy rain, dense rainforest can slide down off the mountain leaving in its place hundreds of storeys of bare near-vertical granite.
As an aspiring mystery writer and all-round nice person, I thought, “This landscape would make a good murder weapon.”
I’d also been reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, about a group of people with past secrets who are assembled by invitation in a remote place and then begin to die one by one.
The two concepts merged in my head, and when I saw the name “Poison Bay” on a map, that settled it – I had to write this book!
The manuscript remained one page long for a decade, partly because as a former journalist I found it hard to begin without facts to launch from. I decided there was nothing else for it but to undertake a research expedition, which would include hiking the Milford Track, a famous four-day trek through Fiordland National Park, far from any roads or towns.
I have bad knees and a fear of heights, plus I was recuperating from a chronic mosquito-borne virus at the time, so I found the whole escapade highly intimidating. This turned to my advantage as several of my characters are certainly not athletes, so I was able to understand and describe how they would feel. I took many photos and wrote a lot of notes.
After surviving the hike (just!), I spent ten days in the nearest town of Te Anau, reading local reference works in the library, interviewing police, search and rescue organisers and others. People were very willing to help me, and enjoyed teasing me about being “world famous in Te Anau” (population 2000).
The long haul
I wrote 11,000 words during my research expedition, but then a serious illness in the family shunted the book to the backburner for a while. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever get back to it.
In 2010, I decided to get serious about my novel, and began entering the partial manuscript in various “development” competitions, to give myself concrete goals and deadlines. Each time I failed to make the shortlist, I would feel glum and lose momentum. But then I’d pick myself up again, write some more, and enter another competition.
I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my name on the shortlist for a publisher fellowship through Varuna, The Writers House in the mountains west of Sydney, Australia. It was a turning point for me – a validation. Someone else thought my book might be worth writing! Even though I went on to win that particular award, strangely enough the memory of winning is secondary to the joy of making the shortlist.
There was much more work to do: sessions with a manuscript consultant; feedback from a wonderful group of beta readers; self-editing; rewriting. I realised I needed further expert input, and located specialists in NZ police procedures and Type 1 diabetes who generously checked my facts.
The sprint to the finish line
In early 2014 I decided to exit the agent-go-round and self-publish. Despite my resolve, perfectionism still held me back. A wise person once said to me, “You never really finish writing a book. You just stop.” In September 2014, I decided to “just stop”. I made the public declaration on my blog that I would publish by Christmas. Three months of insanity followed in which Poison Bay was finalised, edited, typeset for paperback, formatted for ebook, proofread and PUBLISHED.
Whew! The journey finally ends. But no – now I have the joy of connecting with readers, sharing my imagination with other imaginations. The journey is just beginning.
# # #
About the Author
Belinda Pollard is an award-winning former journalist who loves mountain hiking despite bad knees and a fear of heights. She has been a professional writer and book editor for decades, and a contributor to the British Closer to God series since 1999. The words “Poison Bay” on a map of New Zealand triggered her journey to the sinister end of the bookshelf. Spooky and remote, it was a location just begging for a mystery. Poison Bay, her debut novel, was awarded a Varuna Publisher Fellowship in 2011. She blogs Real Life on a Beautiful Planet at www.belindapollard.com and writing & publishing themes at www.smallbluedog.com. As a speaker, she addresses audiences ranging from business people to writers on topics that are both practical and inspirational. Belinda lives in Brisbane, Australia where she undertakes ball-throwing duties for a dog named Rufus, and turns on the air-conditioning so she can dream of snow. You can find Belinda on Twitter @Belinda_Pollard