BOOK EXTRACT: THE ISLAND HOUSE
Posie Graeme-Evans is best known to Australians as the creator and producer of the hit series, McLeod’s Daughters.
However, when it comes to writing, Graeme-Evans has a penchant for historical rather than contemporary drama and in The Island House she has created both an archeological puzzle and a love story that spans centuries.
You can read Meredith Jaffe’s full review of The Island House HERE.
SHE FIRST saw her house from the sea.
It lay on the cliff above the sheltered cove, long and gray with a roof that was darker than the granite walls. Close by was the crumbling stump of another, much greater building. Above both was the bulk of a hill, a sentinel.
Freya Dane stood up in the open dinghy. She clutched the gunwale as they rounded the headland. There was the crescent of the landing beach beneath the cliff, and she could see the path to the house. The place matched the pictures. She had arrived.
What had she done?
The dinghy plunged over a wave crest, and Freya sat down with a bump. She’d wanted this, wanted to come here, but the cliff had not seemed so high in the pictures. Now she was close to its walls, and that dark bulk was intimidating.
Freya glanced at the things she’d brought from Sydney: her laptop, a backpack, and a larger bag for clothes. Before the crossing, she’d bought basic groceries in Portsolly, the fishing village on the other side of the strait. They were there, too, in a box. With wet-weather gear, she had all that was needed for a quick trip. Why was she feeling such anticipation? She should be angry. She’d made this journey because of him, not for him.
And there was plenty of room for anger because of what he’d done—not just to her either.
Was it only the day before she’d been in Sydney? Freya saw herself, like a clip from a film. One last, brave wave to her mother at the air gate—anxiety unacknowledged on both sides—then the turning, the walking away. The last scene from Casablanca.
She half-laughed. Ah yes, they were all stoic, the Dane women—Elizabeth had trained her well. Stick the chin out, get on with it. So she had.
But she hated flying, that was the thing. When the plane took off, any plane she was on, Freya expected to die. One day, she knew, the joint confidence of all her fellow passengers would falter; and when that innocent, blind belief—the certainty that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tons of metal could (a) get off the ground and (b) stay up in the air—ruptured, it would all be over. They would drop from the sky like a brick, screaming.
But not this time. This time work got Freya through that endless night and the day that followed as the jumbo tracked on, indefatigable, over Australia and India, Afghanistan, the Gulf States and, as dawn broke, Europe.
After all, why terrify yourself picturing how far it was to the ground when you had only to open your laptop to allow another, equally powerful—though less terminal—anxiety to distract you?
“An Assessment of Regional Influences on the Iconography of the Early Medieval Church in the Romance Kingdoms.” It certainly looked like a doctoral thesis on the screen—all those pages and words and footnotes—but, sadly, trying to write her way to the end was just as difficult at thirty-five thousand feet as it had been at her desk on the ground in Sydney.
The usual terror; deadline or not, Freya just could not crack the topic—and she’d chosen it. Her fault.
A wave slapped the bow of the dinghy, and Freya ducked. Too late.
“All right?” The man in the stern shouted over the engine; he seemed genuinely concerned.
She raised a hand. “I’m fine.”
At least the air was cool on the strait between Findnar and the mainland. Freya hated heat—odd for an Australian—but Scotland made it easier to forget the steaming weight of Bangkok’s air on that first night of travel.
But then there’d been sullen London and the hell of Luton on a lead gray summer’s day. Plane delays and zoned-out people in queues were Freya’s own personal vision of Hell, and that final flight north had nearly done her head in. So little room, her knees pressed against the seat in front, and she’d been wedged between two braying idiots in business suits. Both of them pale, one half-drunk with a long, odd face, the other rowdy and sweaty.
An overactive imagination; it had always been her curse. Add jet lag, and Long Face turned into a donkey while Pungent One barked like a dog as the pair talked across her. Brits. They could all patronize for Home & Empire when they heard an Australian accent.
But she’d arrived at the coast in the far northeast of Scotland in the long summer twilight at last.
And, as promised by Mr. W. Shakespeare, there was the silver sea. It really was silver.
She saw that as the cab from the airport dropped her beside the shops in Portsolly and drove away.
Sharp air—real air, after more than a day of canned reek—had rinsed Freya’s mind as she walked down the twisting main street toward the harbor and that glimmering water. She was looking for a pub—always the best place to ask for directions.
Portsolly only had one pub, the Angry Nun. A small building of gray stone with leaded windows and a painted sign that moved back and forth in the gentle breeze off the sea, Freya liked what she saw, and her mood had lifted.
She’d pushed the door open as the barman looked up from polishing glasses. Other faces turned to stare as she entered, and though Freya never had trouble asking for help, the observant silence made her self-conscious. The barman seemed amused as she leaned in close over the varnished counter.
“Excuse me, but would you know someone who could take me across to Findnar tonight?”
The man had raised his brows. “Tonight?” He’d looked around the bar. “Walter, can you help the lady?”
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