The other weekend while undergoing a massive clean out I discovered my old steel-capped boots. Here they are depicted tossed on the concrete paving of my garage. As you can see, the years have not been kind. Nonetheless, I couldn't bring myself to throw them out. At least not so close to the release of my debut novel with Random House, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots.
You could say these shoes gave me this story. It was this pair of well worn leather soles that took me on my first journey to the Pilbara as a graduate engineer. Like the heroine of my story, Lena, it was all a bit of a shock to me - the living conditions, the type of work I was involved in and the people I had to work with.
The very last thing I expected was to fall in love with the place. Like Lena, I've always been a city girl. While I enjoy exploring and learning about new cultures I never thought I'd find another one in my own backyard. Amongst the dust, the awe inspiring machinery and the rough and ready landscape is a certain camaraderie of larrikins that is quite difficult to describe in a few sentences. The Pilbara is definitely a place of wonders, both manmade and natural. It's just such a unique and wholly Australian place.
Working on the Pilbara was a huge experience for me. It really stretched my limits as a person and as an engineer. I can't say I loved every minute of it. It was very isolating at times and I missed my friends and family a great deal. To keep myself going, I used to write one email home every day to my family, usually detailing the latest drama that had occurred on site. When I finished my stint at Cape Lambert, my mum printed all of my emails and gave them back to me. She was the first person to realise that my experience could be turned into a novel. At first, however, I was too close to the subject matter and it took me almost ten years to distance myself enough in order to write a fictional tale with a real back drop.
Many Australians may not get to see firsthand the size and scope of our mining and export operations even though it is literally the back bone of our economy. When writing this novel, I really wanted to bring that experience and in particular the scope of that sort of project to the page.
There were some events that occurred in real life that I couldn't resist incorporating into the story because they were just so funny. The main one of these is Lena's birthday party. I did have a very similar incident with a kangaroo and also received a stuffed souvenir from my colleagues to remember it.