On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. The mayor flipped a lever and everyone cheered as Old Lower Grange was submerged beneath five thousand swimming pools’ worth of water. Now, twelve years later, Cassie feels drawn to the manmade lake and the mysteries it hides — and she’s not the only one. Her classmate Liam, who wears oversized swim trunks to cover the scars on his legs, joins Cassie in her daily swims across the off-limits side of the lake. As the summer heats up, the water drops lower and lower, offering them glimpses of the ghostly town and uncovering secrets one prominent town figure seems anxious to keep submerged. But like a swimmer who ventures too far from shore, Cassie realizes she can’t turn back. Can she bring their suspicions to light before it’s too late — and does she dare?
(I love a hero who is a righteous whistle-blower!)
you tell us what inspired you to write "Below"?
I was about 13 when I went on school camp to a place called Tallangatta, a lovely little town in northeastern Victoria, Australia. An earlier version of the town was flooded in the 1950s to make way for the expansion of a nearby dam complex and in certain areas you can see the tops of trees and so on protruding from the lake surface. When we were there, the water was particularly low, after some years of drought, and as I stood with my friends on the edge of the lake, I realised that what I had thought were just stones beneath my feet were actually the remnants of an old road.
I really enjoyed the build-up of suspense in the novel’s first half, especially pertaining to that “certain something” Cassie and Liam find beneath the water’s surface. Was it your intention to keep the mystery submerged, just out of reach for the reader, much like Old Lower Grange?
I love how you put that, and on reflection, I think you're right. I say 'on reflection' because I often don't realise that I've done something until I've done it (and so the question as to why I might have done it that way comes later still).
When I realised I was writing a mystery, I wanted the revelations to be gradual, analogous to the dropping of the water level in a certain sense. I didn't want a big 'aha!' moment too early; I felt like that process of a more gradual movement towards suspicion and then awareness was more authentic for the context, in which I have relatively young children who have grown up believing certain 'facts' about their world. I wanted that dismantled slowly rather than abruptly.
With great difficulty and over multiple rewrites! Hearing the voice of the characters is more important to me than knowing what direction the plot might take, and for me, this became a story worth telling the moment I heard Cassie's voice saying The day that I was born they drowned my town, even though I had no idea what her story was going to be.
Somewhere along the way, I realised I was thinking about secrets and that perhaps there was a mysterious figure in the town who had left something behind in the old one, something he wanted to retrieve. But of course it wasn't possible to do that and the council was always telling people to look forward and so on. And then I started thinking about the slippage between official discourse and personal narrative and the council/mayor as symbols of authority and so on. And I came up with Mayor Finkle as an embodiment of that.
2) Are you the type who tries to touch the bottom, no matter how deep you are?
3) What’s your favorite swim-stroke?
I’m going to say freestyle. I grew up swimming competitively (and worked for several years as a swimming teacher) so I have a decent style and I love that feeling when it all comes together and I’m powering through the water.
I would say that it did place a certain kind of pressure on me, but I wouldn't necessarily describe it as 'undue'. Writing this book was quite challenging for me and it collapsed completely on a couple of occasions. If I hadn't felt the additional responsibility of having received the grant, there's a good chance I might have abandoned it completely. I'm very grateful that didn't happen, so the pressure was useful to me, really. It was quite a good lesson in many ways, as I feel very proud of this book now, despite it having seemed utterly unsalvageable at times.
However, as things have worked out, I absolutely love the US cover; if I'm honest, as much as I couldn't have imagined liking any cover more than the original, I've warmed to the new one so much that I think I do prefer it. I think the depth of colour is really striking and I love the way the town beneath the water becomes apparent only as you look closer, which really reflects the story itself, the way the mystery is slowly revealed and explored. Something else that's important to me on the US cover is that both Liam and Cassie are depicted. I never considered this as an omission on the Australian cover, but as soon as I saw the new one, I thought, “Oh, of course!”. Their relationship is so important to the book and I'm really glad to have it represented on the cover.
I should add that I was involved in all these changes; there was a lengthy consultation process and lots of time taken over the decisions.
How does being a poet affect your prose?
If you would like visit Meg's website you can do so here: Meg's website
Long Story Short:
Submitted homeschooling article to online magazine, website server problems, then article posted with substandard formatting! No graphics!? Aaargh!
I also submitted a story to "Chicken Soup for the multi-tasking Mother" or some such rot. Seriously!