Author feature: Outback Promise by Maggie Bolitho

By | March 2, 2016

Sometimes, before you can find yourself, you must lose yourself in the desert. 

Can Ros and Grady move on from the past, or will their pain drive them apart? Six years ago, the Balfours lost their son Cadel to a hit-and-run driver. A few months ago, Ros discovered Grady’s affair. With their marriage fast disintegrating, they decide to take a three-month camping trip into the heart of Australia to try and mend deep wounds and rekindle the fire that once fused them close. 

This trip will decide the fate of their relationship: do they have enough courage and love to move on from what life has put them both through? Trust and forgiveness don’t come easily, and Ros and Grady have to navigate not only the wilderness of the Outback and the challenges of other travellers, but also the chasm of grief and bitterness they have sunk into over the last six years. Their only hope for survival lies in facing the secrets they have both tried to keep buried…

I receive a lot of emails from authors and publishers – I guess most book bloggers do. It gets quite difficult sometimes to decide who to read, who to feature, and who to quietly ignore (if that last one was you, my apologies…) – and dealing with emails sometimes takes more time than the reading and blogging. But when author Maggie Bolitho approached me, there was something about her personal story and her latest book, Outback Promise, that I really liked. 

And when I saw that Suze Lavender (who now blogs at With Love For Books – do take a look), a reviewer I always trust, had read it and called it “amazing…. a unique story with a difficult topic which is captivating, gripping, emotional, honest and absolutely brilliant” (you can read Suze’s review here), I thought Maggie was an author you might like to meet.

Welcome to Being Anne, Maggie. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Hello from an island in the Pacific West Coast. Thank you, Anne, for hosting me today. I’m an emerging author. My first book, Lockdown, came out in 2014, followed by Outback Promise (ebook) late 2015. I’ve always been an avid reader but only mustered the courage to start writing novels around 2007.

I’ve been looking at your website, and your life story is quite fascinating – what a journey! Would you like to share the highlights again?

My formative years were spent flying under the radar, building alternative universes and longing to be somewhere far away. Shortly after my 17th birthday, I set out to see the world. I lived in four different Canadian cities before I moved to Melbourne, Australia to marry the love of my life.

While living in Sydney, Australia I started writing short stories. In 2005 my husband and I spent three months camping in the outback.Eventually we moved to Canada and we now live in the same city where I grew up. I no longer wish to be anywhere else, except when the memories of Australia’s beautiful beaches and extraordinary landscapes burn bright.

Your writing’s been widely published for a while, but I know Outback Promise is only your second novel. We’ve all seen that lovely cover, we’ve read the cover description – tell me what inspired the story…

My short stories were widely published in the early 2000’s. It took a long time for me to commit myself to the work involved in writing novels. Then I spent three months in the Australian outback, in the areas that were once home to massive inland seas. Current thinking says that some of the earliest life forms on earth started there. 

All I know is ghosts live in that vast desert. Its cycles of long, deadly droughts followed by periods of fleeting abundance whispered stories of heartbreak and healing, betrayal and reconciliation. At the Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve, aka the Devil’s Marbles, in the Northern Territory, I learned the legend of the Kwerreympe spirits who lived in the rocks and lured children away from their families. A story started to take shape.

The outback was the perfect destiny for two grieving people to try to face their demons and struggle toward renewal. From there I explored how grief skews a person’s perception of life. Ros’ sometimes unreliable narration reflects her personal darkness. 

My husband and I returned to the outback in 2015 for a couple of months. It was more breathtaking than I remembered. We were exploring Australia in a small RV while I was doing the final revisions on Outback Promise for HarperCollins.

Broken Hill sunset (from

How would you describe Outback Promise? I’m not a lover of slotting books into genres, but who would it appeal to?

This book is hard to slot! A recurring description in reviews is ‘heart-wrenching.’ Many people say it packed an emotional punch for them. People who like grand backdrops and searing love stories will enjoy it.  One reader compared it to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: another person told me it reminded her of some of Wally Lamb’s work. I think the book has some elements of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Some perspectives in the start of the book are shown from different angles as the story unfolds. Readers who liked Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret may enjoy the way the layers of half-truths and secrets are revealed as the story progresses. I am unsure about these comparisons. I would be flattered if it got anything close to those writers and their fabulous work. It delves into loss and estrangement but is also filled with hope and love.

With all that wonderful material at your disposal from your globe-trotting life, your first novel Lockdown looked at earthquake survival. Tell me a little about why…

Life in Australia first made me aware of emergency preparation. Our house in Frenchs Forest (Sydney) backed onto Garigal National Park and was classified Red Zone in terms of bushfire risk. After several fires came close to our property, my husband organized a Community Fire Unit supported by Fire & Rescue New South Wales. We, along with a dozen neighbours, trained with professional firefighters in methods of protecting our home in the event of fire.  

That ‘be prepared’ mindset came back to Canada with me. I now live on the Canadian edge of the Pacific Rim of Fire. We hear the message ‘be prepared’ for a major earthquake often. Some people say a megashake is long overdue. Theoretically it could decimate the entire west side of the continent. In California they worry about the San Andreas Fault. In BC, our threat is the shifting plates of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Again I trained in emergency preparation, leading to the first draft of Lockdown during NaNoWriMo in 2010. 

In early 2011, there was a devastating earthquake in New Zealand followed by the massive tsunami in Japan. These events heightened my disaster awareness and contributed to my world-building. I watched reality TV shows like Doomsday Preppers to get a sense of the father in Lockdown. I took a first aid course, learned to handle a shotgun (that part was redacted from the novel) and attended more Emergency Preparedness sessions sponsored by the local governments. The story evolved from many angles.

Postscript: in December we had an earthquake here. It surprised me how unprepared I was for it mentally. It was small, four-point-something but it took a minute to figure out what was happening. I was lying in bed reading. A sharp cracking sound rang out, the bed shimmied, all the glassware in the kitchen rattled. Very little damage occurred. But what if…

And Lockdown was published for the teen market. Was that always your intention? And how would it appeal to an adult reader?

Yes, it was always intended for the teen market. I wanted to contemplate how teens might cope in an emergency of grand proportions. But it was about more than the physical coping. It was about how disasters change people, make them stronger or more anxious. Anxious people make silly mistakes.

I love reading teen fiction myself, as do many of my adult friends. In 2012, The Guardian reported that 55% of readers of YA fiction were adults. Often YA/teen books are faster-paced and have more satisfying endings than adult fiction. They also have less graphic violence and sex than books aimed at an older demographic. I trust that Lockdown fits that bill.

Was writing fiction something you’d always wanted to do? And when the moment came, did you just sit at your keyboard and write?

I’ve written all my life, but mostly for personal consumption. Because I moved around a lot in my younger life, I became a habitual letter writer. When I first moved to Australia, I wrote 10, sometimes 15 letters a week. I didn’t consider myself a writer though. That was a title or role I thought was out of reach. When I got a bit older I decided I didn’t care. It was now or never. 

And tell me more about the path to publication with your novels…

It’s been a low, slow road. I did things backwards: wrote novels, submitted them, got rejected, and finally thought, hey maybe I should take a writing course. More revisions and more rejections. After I studied writing a little longer and found a couple of good critique partners, the journey became a lot more fun and more productive. 

And how do you write – are you writing full time, or fitting it round a busy life?

I have a quiet life but I’m a slow writer. To quote Fran Lebowitz, I write so slowly I could write in my own blood and not hurt myself.

And what’s next? Are you already writing again?

I have four YA novels in varying stages on my shelf right now. Some are at only first draft but one is almost ready to submit to my publishers. I’m polishing that one. Those, and a few other secret writing projects, are keeping me off street corners for now.

Maggie, thank you – I wish you every success with Outback Promise, Lockdown and all your future writing projects.

Buying links for Outback Promise

Amazon UK  |  |  Harper Collins

More about Lockdown

When disaster strikes, where do you turn?

Rowan Morgan thinks she’s ready for the rare great earthquake that devastates the Pacific Northwest but she quickly finds out there is more to emergency preparation than stockpiling food. Disasters change people, make them anxious. Anxious people make bad decisions, take silly risks. 

At their father’s insistence Rowan and her brother have taken first aid courses, learned to fish and hunt, and know to close ranks around the family in emergencies. When she has to put that training into practice, Rowan discovers many situations are not covered in survival manuals.

Buying links for Lockdown: |  Great Plains Teen Fiction | Via Amazon UK

Author links

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

3 thoughts on “Author feature: Outback Promise by Maggie Bolitho

  1. Sheryl Browne

    What a lovely interview, Maggie. I can see you've done your research – and what research. Wow! I love the sound of Outback Promise. If it's half as powerful as I found The Lovely Bones to be, it's definitely one for me. Best of luck! Thanks for sharing, Anne. 🙂

  2. Maggie Bolitho

    Thank you, Anne, for your gracious hospitality.
    Sheryl, thank you for your thoughtful comment.
    It is an honour to have had the spotlight on this busy blog.

Comments are closed.