Message From The Author
Off the Beaten Path with Candice Proctor
...To Tasmania with its exotic beauty and stormy past
There are places in this world which are haunted by their pasts, where the emotions of those who have been there before us were so raw and powerful that the intensity of their experiences lingers, where previous passions or sufferings or joys have become part not only of brick walls and cobblestoned courtyards, but of the wind blowing through the trees and the sunlight gleaming warm and golden on still waters.
Lying in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Australia, the wildly picturesque island of Tasmania is such a place. Perhaps there are those so insensitive they cannot feel the terror that lingers in the dark cells of the Conciergerie in Paris, or the sadness that clings to the string of lonely graves beside the Oregon Trail. But I defy anyone to stand
in the underground isolation cell of a Tasmanian penal colony and not hear the echoing screams of the nineteenth-century men and women driven to madness by the worst of the British convict system.
Tasmania originally captured my imagination when I was living in Australia and researching my first novel, Night in Eden. The world of convict-era Tasmania was surprisingly different from that of early New South Wales, which I use as the setting of Night in Eden. For the free colonists who developed the island in the early nineteenth century, Tasmania was a land of great estates with gracious manor houses and a social system and way of life startlingly reminiscent of that of the antebellum American South. But for the convicts, the darkly beautiful Tasmania was a hell on earth.
My latest book, WHISPERS OF HEAVEN, tells the story of this stark contrast in experiences. Jesmond Corbett is the daughter of a wealthy Tasmanian landowning family, a woman who seems to have everything, while Lucas Gallagher is an Irish convict for whom Tasmania holds little beyond a life of virtual slavery and eventual death. A proud, determined man, he can think of nothing but escaping his island prison until he meets Jessie. Yet theirs is a forbidden love, with no future except heartache and possible death.
I spent a memorable three and a half weeks in Tasmania, exploring its startlingly well preserved colonial estates and nineteenth-century villages, and absorbing its ghost stories and collecting the material for what eventually become WHISPERS OF HEAVEN. In the process, I discovered an island of wild vistas and impossible beauty. Here one can stand at the edge of a cliff that rises sheer and rugged above a sea so blue and breathtaking that reality seems suspended. One can walk half-hidden paths through
temperate rainforests where the silence is broken only by the trickle of a waterfall and the exotic cries of parrots flitting through fern-filled gullies shaded by centuries-old, giant eucalyptus. On the eastern shores of the island, where the Roaring Forties batter a wild coastline, lie impenetrable forested mountains that form one of the worlds last great wilderness areas. Yet in the west, Tasmania is a land of such idyllic, enchanted green countryside that one might imagine oneself back in old England. But this is not the England of today, where the picturesque and historic struggle to coexist beside eight-lane motor ways and endless rows of dull brick council flats and noisy Marks and Spencer counters. Tasmania today is like the England that we imagine Jane Austin knew, the England of verdant rolling hills and quaint coaching inns and thatch-roofed stone cottages half-hidden by a riot of climbing roses. For Tasmania knew no industrial age, no twentieth-century population explosion, no 50s modernization movement. The coaching inns are still there, as are the quaint stone villages of double-fronted cottages nestled close beside narrow winding lanes.
For me, the most unforgettable love stories have always been those where a great love must triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. Tasmania, with its majestic beauty and dark past, provided me with a wealth of inspiration and an incomparable setting for just such a tale in WHISPERS OF HEAVEN.
Write to Candice Proctor c/o Ballantine Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
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