Heather – Against All Odds

I considered changing the title of this novel to ‘Against All Odds’. Not due to the content–although in one way it does reflect the theme–but due to the string of events that slowed, and at times inhibited, progress, and then ultimately obstructed my efforts to publish.

Heather cover image

It is now three and half years since I left Australia in pursuit of a lifestyle that would facilitate writing. From the quiet comfort of Tamborine Mountain, I recalled that period of my life when I was sailing from place to place with, what I recalled as, abundant free time. I remembered tranquil days and months in the Caribbean, where time became meaningless, and leisure a way of life.  I guess there was also an appealing romanticism to the image of writing on a yacht anchored off a tropical island. Sitting in the cockpit beneath an awning, tapping at the keyboard and glancing occasionally at the crystal water and white sand.

And then there are the days at sea. The long insulated passages of time that one spends sailing across oceans. I pictured myself relaxed at the salon table, contemplating the next chapter or reviewing the previous line.

And so it was with these idyllic images in the forefront off my mind that I set about buying and preparing a cruising yacht.

Six months later I anchored in the Canaries, and opened the manuscript I had written during my spare-time in Australia. It was semi-autobiographical, and not very good. Ok, it was rough first draft, but not one that I wanted to pursue.

However, whilst reading it I was reminded of some notable events from my past. As I sat and pondered, I realised that among the digital dross and detritus, there might be one or two small nuggets that could be mined and used. And that is how Heather was born.

However, my chosen lifestyle was soon to prove more of a hindrance to writing than a benefit. Tranquillity eluded me. Calm anchorages turned to chop-filled ponds and those days of endless time whilst on passage, became rigors of sail changing and watch-keeping in foul conditions. It was an unusual weather year, one that I had to endure. The following year would surely be better.

I set out across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and soon fell into the daily routine of life at sea, filling every spare moment at the keyboard. For the first few days it went well. The solitude of singlehanded ocean sailing  seemed to be what I needed. Then the weather turned foul and made writing impossible. That foul weather lasted for most of the remaining 2500 miles of the  passage.

After twenty—one day at sea, I anchored off the beautiful island of Bequia–at 02:00 in continuing foul weather and a high rolling sea. I thought that it was just the reinforced trades, known as the Christmas winds. It’ll calm down soon, It didn’t!

This adverse weather, strong winds and rolling anchorages became the norm. I tried to plug on, but the distractions were many and deep thought seem impossible.

I was still in Bequia three months later when Brigitte joined me. The weather was still blustery and with little chance of productive writing time we set about exploring things shore-side.

A year passed with little or no progress on the manuscript. It had taken a back-seat, but was often front and centre in my mind. I was probably distracted and lousy company at times.

However, what lay ahead, seemed to be very promising. I was to sail alone across the Pacific Ocean, about 8000 miles to Tonga where Brigitte would re-join me for the final leg to New Zealand.

That ocean, The Pacific Ocean, was named for its gentle nature and steady trade winds. Right! It wasn’t quite like that. In fact, the first 1000 miles was hell. To be fair, that first 1000 from Panama to the Galapagos, is not quite the Pacific, and it does have a reputation for being unpredictable. It was, and it wore me thin with constant course and sail changes for the fourteen days that it took to cover those thousand miles. With almost no sleep during those two weeks, writing was again almost impossible.

There were however another 7000 miles to go, and it was during the remainder of that voyage, during those long pacific days, that Heather finally started to shape up. I was pleased with progress and became engrossed in the writing to the detriment of sailing. But with no shipping, little chance of strong winds and absolutely nothing else to do I immersed myself in the Sydney underworld.

Toward the end of the first leg to Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia, the wind died away completely and left me becalmed amidst the gentle breathing of a blue ocean. I rolled up the sails and wrote. For days there was virtually no wind. I abandoned keeping watch, ignored any tempting puffs of wind and the manuscript grew accordingly.

By the time I reached Tonga in September, I had completed the first draft and was looking forward to publishing by Christmas. Once again in Tonga, the wind picked up and stayed up. With Brigitte back on-board, we dodged the worst of the weather, but much of the time it was far from relaxed cruising.

And so it went. I was wrong about the suitability of a yacht as a place to write. Other than the passage to Tonga, it was not conducive at all. I left the yacht to be sold in New Zealand, and after a few months travel that again involved no writing, we headed ‘home’ to Germany.

Two months ago we moved into our new home and I was ready to publish. However, I was frustrated once again when I learned that we will not have an internet connection here until January 2015 … AAAHHHHH!!!

I could hardly believe that here in technologically advanced Germany I could live just 700 metres from a small town and not get any form of connection–not even dial-up. Ok, six months is not forever, but …

I prepared as well as I could and then went to Cochem, about 20 kms away where there was an internet café advertised. It no longer existed.

Some days later, I mustered the enthusiasm to try again. This time we went  to Koblenz, which is around 45 kms from home. And finally, after twenty—thousand ocean miles, months of frustration and three hours in an internet café, Heather is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace.

Thank you to all those who have tolerated and encouraged me. To those who critiqued and beta-read. To those who inspired me with their own writing and colourful lives.
And last but not least, to Heather.

What’s Next…
In the meantime, I am hard at work in the boiler-room, working on Carlotta, a prequel to Heather. Carlotta is due for release … well, sometime next year.

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Author: A.J.

I have written as far back as I can recall. Until 2011, that writing was just for me, or as rambling letters to friends and travelogues to the family. I never thought about why, or if others did similarly, and the thought of publishing never entered my head. Since I left England in 1979, I have been collecting experiences, people, and places. From the blood-soaked streets of Kampala, the polluted dust bowls of the Sahara, or the pristine ice floes of the Antarctic, I have gathered and filed them away. Some have recently squeezed through the bars of insecurity and are now at large in the pages of my first three novels. Others await their future fates.

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