New Middle Grade fiction novel coming…EVIE AND RHINO

I’ve got my first MG novel coming out on October 5th with Walker Books Australia. It’s for 9 -13 years, although it’s a read anyone can enjoy. Middle Grade fiction is my favourite reading genre, as it is for many grown ups.

EVIE AND RHINO has been a while in the making. I wrote the first draft in Adelaide on a May Gibbs Creative Time Fellowship in 2017. I re-wrote it a few times after that, but didn’t really re-write it properly until the first lockdown in 2020. The main reason for this was that I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to do a structural edit. My story meandered in the middle and I didn’t know how to fix it. Anyway, after several re-writes, I worked my way through.

Isn’t the front cover beautiful? Everything on it is symbolic. After you read the story, the front cover will mean so much more.

1891
On a stormy night off the coast of southern Australia, a ship transporting a cargo of exotic animals tosses and turns in enormous seas. Rhino senses they are in grave danger. . . Not far away, ten-year-old Evie and her grandfather shelter in their crumbling, once-grand old home. They know too well how deadly storms can be. When all is calm, Evie treks over the dunes to the sea and makes a discovery that will change her life, and Rhino’s, forever. Will the tragedies of their pasts finally be put to rest?

A young girl with a tragic past and a rhinoceros facing life in captivity form an unlikely and magical bond after a fateful storm and a shipwreck bring them together. A moving tale about love, connection and the healing power of friendship.

EVIE AND RHINO is also a story about monkeys and exotic parrots, a chicken named Albine, and a devoted milking cow called Dominique. There’s an old crumbling house and as many apple pies as you can eat.

The most common question…where did I get the inspiration from for EVIE AND RHINO?

INSPIRATION

I’m originally from the Shipwreck Coast that stretches along the south-west coastline of Victoria (born and raised on a farm halfway between Port Fairy and Hamilton). Anyway, from 1840 to the late 1800’s, 638 known cargo and passenger ships were wrecked along this coastline. A lot of people don’t realise Bass Straight is so treacherous. It has incredibly unpredictable weather, frequent gale force winds, currents, rips, and shifting sandbars.

To quote Mathew Flinders’s: “Seldom have I seen a more fearful section of coastline.”

RESEARCH

So, I love shipwreck stories and was determined to write one. I’m obsessed about researching shipwrecks and through the State Library of Victoria, one can read witness accounts of all the shipwrecks along the Shipwreck Coast. At the time, the Maritime Board of Melbourne had to investigate any ships lost at sea. They interviewed witnesses and survivors i.e the captain, the crew and passengers. These first hand witness accounts gave me an incredible insight into the terror of the situation these people found themselves in. More often than not, poor navigation was the cause of these shipwrecks, but that’s another story for another day.

This is a wooden engraving I found of the Steamship Bancoora, which ran aground in 1891.

Image: State Library of Victoria

TRUE STORY

Anyway, the Steamship Bancoora ran aground at Breamlea in 1891. They were sailing from Calcutta to Melbourne with a cargo load of exotic animals bound for the Melbourne Zoo. There was a young elephant, a rhinoceros, six monkeys and several exotic parrots. The whole story took my breath away.

Image: Additions to the Zoo, 1891. State Library of Victoria

FICTIONALISING SOMETHING THAT REALLY HAPPENED

From the moment I read this account, an image was burned into my mind. I imagined the animals had washed ashore, and that my main character, Evie, found the rhinoceros asleep in the shallows and led it home by the horn.

Image: ‘Rhinoceros Unicornis’, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Smithsonian Institute, U.S.A

 There are some other very special ephemera that inspired the story of EVIE AND RHINO, and I shall blog about them soon.

Next week, I’ll be posting an interview with the amazingly talented, Astred Hicks, who designed and illustrated EVIE AND RHINO.

EVIE AND RHINO will be released on 5th October but is available now for preorder.

 

 

 


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Neridah McMullin

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