The Drifter is close to my heart. It is a redemption story, a love story and a story about death. I wrote it in five weeks because Game Of Thrones hadn’t been invented yet, and I filled it with everything I love.
It was inspired by a few things, mostly by the death of my dad, but also by the wonderful women of my hometown, known in my family at least, as the girls. They are my mother’s friends. They’re all in their 70’s now, but they ran our community in Yealering, as of course women are still running communities everywhere, be they in the country or in the city. I grew up with the girls; hung about outside Guild meetings, killed time on the swings at afternoon teas on a Friday afternoon, pulled weeds alongside them at busy bees, listened to them exchange casual news about their families. When I first wrote The Drifter, I wrote it with their names still in it, out of laziness mostly, but also because I liked the way it felt to spend time with them in ‘Windstorm’ again. I found the memory of their interactions so comfortable that I slipped into them easily, but I also found that it was important to me to represent them as they were – as they still are – incredibly valuable.
I was sick of seeing older women portrayed as dull, nagging, foolish and irrelevant. In a world where so many of our young women have been lured into obsessing over the shape of their nails, lips and backsides, where everyone wants to be a diva and where Instagram accounts are ruled by boring perfect girls, I wanted to celebrate women who do things. Women who regard ten minutes in front of the mirror as more than adequate, who are too busy to care any more than that. In the face of endless crowing and vanity, I wanted to spend some time these women who offered more to the world than perfect social media.
I wanted to celebrate the value of a person who leaves their house and their mirror to take a cake to someone, to buy groceries for a family in need, to collect someone’s kids from school, or to plant flowers in a garden bed for everyone to enjoy. In the country these things are so important because there is no-one else to do them, but they are also important because they give these generous women’s lives even more purpose, and fill them with comradeship and love. My mum is still friends with the girls, they still catch up for movies, lunch or coffee and they now travel the world together. They have been friends all their lives, and they share the history of each other’s joys and sorrows.
These are the girls who looked after my mum when my dad was ill with Alzheimer’s. These were the girls who included him so kindly in their activities when he could be no longer independent from Mum. These were the girls who cooked cakes and casseroles, who came over and did the ironing when Mum was away, who taught me to play tennis, to crochet, who gave us kids lifts to school in Perth from Yealering, who watched over us from afar while we finished school, went to Uni, travelled overseas, who came to our weddings and who sent gifts when we had babies. These were the girls who were vital members of the local committees and sporting clubs, and these were the girls of whom I often thought when I was considering doing something stupid. What would the girls think? I would ask myself. How will I feel if the girls find out?
These were the girls who came to my book launch, who laughed when they recognised in The Drifter Deirdre’s weak tea, Margaret’s tardiness and Luise’s famous sponge. These were the girls who knelt beside me as I signed a book and murmured ‘…now, I’m very sorry Mrs Beswick can’t be here, she’s having a terrible time with her poor cousin…’ These were the girls who posed for a photo in a bookshop, who’s proud and comfortable faces are as familiar to me as my own mothers. Who’s kindness and grace inspire me. And who are the most beautiful women I have ever seen.