Vanessa McCausland on family, journalism and fiction
Updated: Jan 10
I raced through The Valley of Lost Stories in just a few days. In fact, I had only planned to read a few pages as I was in the middle of a new novel, but I was instantly hooked and couldn't put it down. The story is told from several viewpoints, including a historical aspect, with the central story hinging on a group of women winning a weekend away. Although their friendship is a loose, school-gate association, each is yearning for a getaway.
New friendships, old secrets, past hurts and a whole load of mother's guilt make for a compelling plot. McCausland does a fabulous job creating flawed but immensely rich characters and an evocative setting. As a mother, I found so many aspects of this storyline immensely relatable and felt the eerie, secluded setting was a perfect fit. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending The Valley of Lost Stories to anyone looking for an enthralling story this summer.
Thanks to Harper Collins for the giveaway and review copies.
Five fast minutes with Vanessa...
Do you have a good luck charm or a special token in your office?
I am lucky enough to have ‘magic creativity dust’. It’s what every writer needs, according to my ten-year-old daughter! It’s purple and sparkly and it sits in a little vile next to some beautiful postcards of artworks that I love. I find myself staring at them and out the window at my garden a lot. I have been tempted to sprinkle the dust onto myself more than a few times when inspiration has deserted me.
Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?
Walking. I live near the coast and after dropping my daughter at school I often walk around the harbour from Fairlight to Manly. It is the best way to start the day, being out in nature. It’s also important to help me think on plot issues and to just free up my mind for being in a creative space – so I don’t need as much creativity dust back at my desk!!
What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?
Roast chicken stuffed with garlic, lemon and rosemary, with salad or veggies. It’s so simple, easy and gives leftovers and a nice stock for days.
Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?
Oh, this is an interesting one. I’m a journalist and author so the thought of not writing is so foreign to me. I used to be fluent in French and absolutely love language, so maybe a translator! Or a psychologist. People are so fascinating. I love understanding what makes them tick.
Favourite book from your childhood?
The Secret Garden. It was so magical and I just loved the idea of a garden all to yourself behind a wall. I read it again recently and still fell in love with it. The Narnia series, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven and anything by Enid Blyton also had a big impact on me.
Worst writing/book related injury?
Ha. A bad back/neck from sitting for hours in the one spot!
Which jelly bean do you eat first, and which do you leave until last?
I like the black ones!! No one else likes them so I’m lucky. I don’t like the orange. It tastes too fake!
Have you done anything special with any of your advances?
I do allow myself to buy a beautiful dress for my book launch. I love clothes, so it’s an extravagance I can very easily justify!
Spot where you seem to get the best bursts of writing inspiration?
Sometimes I write in bed if I need extra inspiration. I love to read in bed with a cup of tea so writing in bed feels like an extension of reading. I write into a story without planning very much so I imagine that I’m just reading my own book while writing it.
Which book and ‘essential’ item would you pack if you won a week in the Whitsunday Islands?
Maya I would take your latest book Bottlebrush Creek… and a bottle of champagne!! Essential, non?! (Note from Maya - I LOVE this, Vanessa!)
Aussie novel you’re most looking forward to in 2021?
My lovely author friends Jessica Dettmann and Alexandra Joel both have books coming early in 2021. This Has Been Absolutely Lovely is so witty and warm and droll and it’s about a woman finding herself after a lifetime of being a mother and giving everything to her family. And Alexandra’s The Royal Correspondent is just gorgeous. It’s set in 1960s Australia and London and is based around an ambitious newspaper reporter trying to make her way in a man’s world. I was a cadet on a daily paper and it still rang so true. And I loved the royal and historical aspects.
Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?
I loved this one about The Valley of Lost Stories by @bouchthebookworm because that connection with readers is why we do it.
“And here’s the thing; as a mother and a wife, I have felt so much of what these women feel that this story becomes a classic example of fiction that may not be fact but is definitely truth.”
The Valley of Lost Stories
Beautiful, beguiling and treacherous ... Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock in a secluded valley over the Blue Mountains.
Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains.
Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.
As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie, with a damaged marriage; Emmie, yearning for another child; Pen, struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra, hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.
But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.
Praise for The Lost Summers of Driftwood:
'McCausland is a natural storyteller who weaves love, loss, mystery and secrets into a satisfying tale' Herald Sun
'Full of mystery and romance, this is the perfect atmospheric summer read' Who Weekly