Two years after launching Bad Oil and the Animals, I enjoyed a party to welcome The Fire Keeper’s Girls, my most challenging book to date, almost twice the size of the earlier two. After more than two years work, it was good to see it safe inside the colourful cover designed by Kris Locket. The seeds of the story have been with me for years as I considered a community able to embrace the gifts that every girl brings with her at birth. This would be a real community, rich with strong women already enjoying the best of themselves. Through this community girls could easily recognise where they belong and be inspired to live the same way.
It took months to locate, research and write about these real-life role models for girls; 25 women from 25 different countries. Each has overcome immense obstacles to acknowledge her abilities. I avoided the usual clichéd selection but choosing still wasn’t easy. Only a week before going to print, two women had to go as I felt compelled to add new ones. The 25 brief biographies with photographs appear at the end of the book.
These women form part of a mysterious Game that my two troubled teenage protagonists encounter when they’re sent to spend summer at a remote beach with an eccentric woman they barely know. The girls eventually embrace the Game and become The Fire Keeper’s Girls. But when they return home, their new skills are severely tested. People from her past threaten Gemma’s life while Alice’s tormentors wait in her own family, both at home and abroad.
I chose a new (for me) writing formula, giving each girl’s point of view in alternating chapters and tested my early ideas with a Creative Writing class from a local Girls’ College. Two students offered to read an early draft manuscript and their feedback encouraged me to continue. The alternating chapters gave me extra scope for character development and a chance to introduce some interesting contradictions. I kept to my fact-based fiction writing style, although researching is, for me, perilously addictive!
Like my earlier books, this YA novel ends with sources for further reading and study. The Fire Keeper’s Girls was accepted onto the Women’s 125 Suffrage Site and the Howard League as almost its first purchaser. They continue to use all my books for reading recovery in prisons.
Please ask about The Fire Keeper’s Girls at libraries and bookstores; it’s an effective gesture for creating demand and very much appreciated by authors.