Sheerwater Author Leah Swann Explains how ‘The First Scene Arrived in my Mind’

Sheerwater Author Leah Swann Explains how ‘The First Scene Arrived in my Mind’

Briefly tell us about your book.

Ava and her two young sons, Max and Teddy, are on their way to Sheerwater on the Great Ocean Road – excited for a fresh start in a new town and leaving the past behind. They’re almost there when they witness a light plane crashing in a nearby field. Ava stops to help, but when she gets back to the car, her sons have gone missing…Will she ever see the boys again? The story takes place over three days and explores the ways the characters love each other and hurt each other, in the stunning gothic setting of the ‘shiprwreck coast.’ The story touches on emotional extremes, tragedy and joy and sacrifice. Do we ever really know each other? Do we ever really know ourselves?

What inspired the idea behind this book?

The first scene arrived in my mind almost exactly as you now read it on the first few pages. I followed the next scene and then the next as they unfolded in my mind, without too much planning. When I had a first draft I began craft it more – I decided to use suspense to keep readers engaged while I delved into the interior life of the characters, which is always my main interest. The story explores the fearsome ambiguity at the core of some relationships—in this case a marriage, where all that was trusted has become slippery—a vortex that’s also what the title, Sheerwater, means to me. The soul or psychic dimension to human relationships is often illogical to outside observers—we so often say things like ‘Why doesn’t he just do this or that, it just seems obvious’. This is a very real part of life, it’s what we spend so much of our time talking about, these painful or mysterious problems that arise in us that we’re trying to make sense of, when we’re ‘at sea’—floating or swimming or struggling in this emotional realm. And when people get desperate it can lead to madness or violence or death. But this is also the point where people can remake themselves, save themselves—and each other.

What was the research process like for the book?

I interviewed this great former detective – Mark ‘Trigger’ Tregales – who used to work in that area, and I spoke with a family lawyer to get clear on what happens with intervention orders and son on. I spoke to a few pilots of light planes and researched priorities of rescue workers, and movements of the tides on the Great Ocean Road. Otherwise, most of my research has really been observation of relationships over many years.

A few years ago I visited the area where the fictional town of Sheerwater comes from, etched in my heart from many holidays. That visit to Peterborough where we used to stay was a curious experience. I could hardly see the beach afresh where we swam as kids, the Bay of Martyrs, because it was so blurred by memories.

That whole coastline near Peterborough is achingly beautiful and somehow brutal too. Many lives have been lost there.

If I looked at your internet history, what would it reveal about you?

I guess it reveals my interests – psychology, spirituality, aesthetics, literature, justice. You’d see images of water in photographs and paintings. Images of light on water. Poems about the sea. Pictures of lost children. Details about light planes and what happens when they crash. Youtube videos on the migration of the short-tailed shearwater.  News reports about family breakdowns, articles on sociopathy and ‘coercive control.’ Also humanitiarian issues (I work for World Vision), interiors (currently obsessed with chandeliers) and fashion (are skinny jeans really coming to an end?)

What are you hoping the reader will take away from reading your book?

How people read is so unique and surprising that I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive – a book’s artistry is demonstrated when it comes alive and is made anew in the reader. I’d like people to feel what needs to be felt. And remember what it’s like to be a child with that clear sense of justice, and that incredible, unconditional love towards the special adults in their lives; their parents and guardians and grandparents and family friends. It means so much. Is our increasingly sophisticated world taking us away from innocence? We need to remember and protect it.

Tell us about your background and what led you to writing this book.

This is my debut adult literary novel – however I have written a short story collection (Bearings) and a middle grade fantasy series (Irina: The Trilogy.)

In my professional life I’m a speechwriter and journalist but I’ve always written literary fiction as I find it a great way to examine the amazing relationship between events and the interior life – Sheerwater is an attempt to do that.

How does it feel to hold your book in your hands?

Almost unreal. The cover is beautiful, and the pages are soft and thick – nice, quality paper – and the typeface is clear. As a book lover who reads too much onscreen I truly enjoy the physical experience of a book.  I can hardly believe I’ve finished writing it as it’s a world I’ve inhabited so deeply!

What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

Suspense, a page turning quality, was something I really wanted for Sheerwater, because I love it when you get so lost in a book that your ‘real life’ becomes secondary. This led to much restructuring and withholding of information and rewriting, which in turn led to making sure everything flowed consistently and there weren’t any wrong details I’d forgotten to cut (very grateful to the incredible editors at Harper Collins for helping me with this!)

How did you think of the title of the book?

I didn’t think of it really – when that very first scene came into my mind, the woman and her children were driving to a place called “Sheerwater.” It never occurred to me to change it.


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        Publisher details

        Leah Swann
        23 March, 2020


        Emotional, powerful, unforgettable. From a stunning new literary talent, you won't be able to put down this novel about a mother's love for her children - it will break your heart.Ava and her two young sons, Max and Teddy, are driving to their new home in Sheerwater, hopeful of making a fresh start in a new town, although Ava can't but help keep looking over her shoulder. They're almost at their destination when they witness a shocking accident - a light plane crashing in the field next to the road. Ava stops to help, but when she gets back to the car, she realises that somewhere, amongst the smoke, fire and confusion, her sons have gone missing...From a substantial new Australian writing talent, Sheerwater is tense, emotional, unforgettable. Perfect for readers of Mark Brandi's Wimmera and Stephanie Bishop's The Other Side of the World, this is a beautifully written, propulsive, gut-wrenching and unputdownable novel - an aching, powerful story of the heroic acts we are capable of in the name of love.
        Leah Swann
        About the author

        Leah Swann

        Leah Swann is an award-winning author and journalist currently employed at World Vision Australia as the CEO's chief speech writer. Her critically acclaimed collection of stories, Bearings, was published by Affirm in 2011. Her fantasy series for middle grade readers, Irina: The Trilogy, was published by Xoum between 2012 and 2015, with some young readers calling it 'the best book since Harry Potter'. Swann was the inaugural first place winner of the Overland Story Wine prize for her story That Inward Eye. Swann's literary fiction, poetry and essays have been published in Meanjin, The Best Australian Stories, The World To Come, Australian Love Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, page seventeen, Review of Australian Fiction, Australian Country Style, Reflecting on Melbourne, and The Glasgow Herald.

        Books by Leah Swann


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