Lizzie Pook is an award-winning journalist, travel writer, and fiction author. Her writing assignments have taken her to some of the most secluded parts of the world, from the uninhabited coast of Greenland to the foothills of the Himalayas. Greatly inspired by her own research, Lizzie’s new fiction title “Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter” will be released early next month!
Telling the story of a daughter, a family, a place, and a hidden history – this incredible novel is set in 1886 Western Australia. How far will Lizzie go to solve a mystery and save the ones she loves? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way? Because the truth may cost more than pearls – and she must decide if she’s willing to pay the price…
Exclusively for QBD Books, Lizzie explains the inspiration behind her new title:
The idea for Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter came to me in stages. The first wave of inspiration struck while I was travelling around WA with my twin sister. One sunny afternoon in Freo, we stumbled upon the Shipwrecks Museum and decided to take a look inside. Tucked away among the old boats and rusting anchors was a tiny exhibition about a family called the Broadhursts – British settlers who sailed across to Shark Bay in the nineteenth century to set up in the pearl shell industry. The matriarch, Eliza, was an independent woman and early feminist who survived shipwrecks, droughts and storms. And while her husband was not particularly nice – he was known to mistreat his divers and exploit Aboriginal labour – Eliza was hard-working and strong-willed, constantly questioning contemporary social attitudes and customs. I was hooked.
For several years I had the vague idea of a British settler family with a headstrong woman at its centre. I wanted to write a sort of feminist Jules Verne tale (I’ve read a lot of nineteenth century adventure fiction, but there is always something missing: women!). However, I had no idea of where to place my characters. Until I visited Broome.
With its rich pearling history and brooding landscapes, Broome was one of the most beautiful places I had ever clapped eyes on: a land of sprawling mangroves, crimson cliffs and milky aquamarine seas. I soon learned that it had dark secrets to tell, and it became the basis for my fictionalised town of Bannin Bay. I was fascinated with stories of hard hat divers, sharks, storms and crocodiles. I wanted to know everything about this industry, so I visited lugger museums, tried on hard hat diving helmets and walked the jetties and beaches that had seen so many things over the centuries.
Back in London, I got my hands on as many resources as I could, spending months ploughing through archives and poring over books for hours in the British Library. I travelled back to WA whenever I could, returning to Broome and the Dampier Peninsula, spending time with Indigenous guides, touring pearl farms and walking the landscapes that my characters would have walked. I learnt how to spear mud-crabs; I visited Beagle Bay church with its intricate pearl shell altar; I interviewed everyone I could find from crocodile experts and naturalists to bus drivers.
Eventually, all of my research came together to help me create my own fictional family, and Eliza Brightwell – a nuanced, flawed protagonist with nerves of steel – stepped forward as the very best person to take us through our story. I knew I wanted an unusual ‘leading man’, too – someone who doesn’t conform to what we’ve come to expect from alpha males, and so gentle Axel raised his hand. The resulting novel – about a young woman searching for her missing father in a lawless pearl-diving town – has been a labour of love and something of an obsession for years. But I feel like it’s part of my own story now too, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose my fascination for this hidden part of history.