Where does a novel start?

For the reader and the writer, a story starts in vastly different places. You, the reader, will (I hope) shortly be reading a book called The Last Stormlord. You will open the cover and find the first page. That will be your beginning. But for me, that same story started a long time ago.

Imagine this. A five year old, standing in the kitchen of an Australian farmhouse back in the 1950s. It is January, so she is probably tanned, and the feet scuffing at the green linoleum would have been bare and grubby because that’s the kind of kid she is. Then her mother utters the words that will change everything that summer.

‘The water in the rainwater tap smells bad.’

It did too. Dead-rotting-rodent bad. Somehow, a thirsty rat had performed a feat of contortionist daring-do to enter the overflow pipe of the water tank and drown in the drinking water. The tank had to be emptied and cleaned. Which meant no drinking water until the first spring rains came, still several months away. (River water we had. My father pumped it up and we used it all the time, untreated, for everything from bathing to watering the garden – but no one wanted to drink that, especially not in summer when the flow was sluggish.) And so water was bought and carted, and a five-year old child learned the true value of rain. Taps never dripped in our household.

The child grew up, but the lesson remained. She married and moved to a tropical land, where rain was plentiful and housewives washed up under a running tap, car owners washed their vehicles every other day and everyone took twenty minute showers. Yet, because she lived at the top of a hill, her house could go days without water in the pipes. This developing nation had neither learned the value of water, nor how to distribute it equably for a burgeoning population. She stayed at the top of the hill for twenty years and watched while others squandered what she didn’t reliably receive.

She travelled and one clear day she looked down from a plane and saw a series of holes many miles in a line across a dry landscape, ending in a village. In wonder, she sought answers and learned about 2,000 year old tunnels still bringing water to Iranian villages. In the Algerian Sahara she saw the width of slits in garden walls determined by a village committee. When it rained and the streets became rivers, those slits allowed water to enter underground cisterns. The first rains that year came on December the tenth.

Back in the tropics, she worked as an environmentalist on a government dam project. Her job was to study the bird life of a river valley for a year, because the loggers were coming and a dam to supply a huge city with water would flood the valley. The rainforest type there was particularly rare, and so were the birds. That was the place where she finally understood the true cost of water, and realised she was recording the doomed. The forever lost. Part of her heart was lost with it.

And she vowed that one day she will write a book about the preciousness of water.

Of course, she never does, not really. Instead, she writes a book about people and conflict, about love and courage and hard decisions. About brothers torn apart by violence. About a friendship forcibly sundered by greed and magic. About the war (yes, over water) that engulfs a fledgling nation.

You will start that story soon, and read the first book in a few hours. But I, the writer, I’ve been living it my whole life, a piece here and a piece there, until one day it all fell into place and I sat down to write the story of a stormlord of the Quartern.