Lizzie Pook's Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter is shortlisted for the 2022 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.
1886, BANNIN BAY, AUSTRALIA.
The Brightwell family has sailed from England to make their new home in Western Australia. Ten-year-old Eliza knows little of what awaits them on these shores beyond shining pearls and shells like soup plates – the things her father has promised will make their fortune.
Ten years later and Charles Brightwell, now the bay’s most prolific pearler, goes missing from his ship while out at sea. Whispers from the townsfolk suggest mutiny and murder, but headstrong Eliza, convinced there is more to the story, refuses to believe her father is dead, and it falls to her to ask the questions no one else dares consider.
But in a town teeming with corruption, prejudice and blackmail, Eliza soon learns that the truth can cost more than pearls, and she must decide just how much she is willing to pay – and how far she is willing to go – to find it...
About the Author:
Lizzie Pook is an award-winning journalist and travel writer contributing to The Sunday Times, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Condé Nast Traveller and more. Her assignments have taken her to some of the most remote parts of the planet, from the uninhabited east coast of Greenland in search of roaming polar bears, to the foothills of the Himalayas to track endangered snow leopards. She was inspired to write Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, her debut novel, after spending time in north-western Australia researching the dangerous and fascinating pearl-diving industry.
She lives in London.
WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?
Lizzie: I think adventure can be anything that takes us away from ourselves and our normality. It can be small (talking to a stranger), or big (climbing a mountain). So adventure writing can cover these things, too. But there has to be an element of risk and a whole lot of thrill involved. The writing process for me encapsulates adventure – it is escapist, it is transportive, it is freeing… and it’s scary!
WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you?
Lizzie: Sense of place, for me, is the thing that lingers long in my mind after I’ve finished reading. There are some authors who I think do this brilliantly: Michelle Paver, Natasha Pulley and Stef Penney (who never went further than the British library to write the Canadian-set The Tenderness of Wolves). I also love the swaggering Western feel of Outlawed by Anna North and the sweeping settings of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang. But one of my favourite books of all time has to be Life of Pi by Yann Martel. That book left such a lasting impact on me. It made me want to try and create magic with my words.
WNSF: Can you tell us about any adventurous experiences in your life? Have they influenced you as a writer or your writing?
Lizzie: In my day job as a travel journalist, I’ve been lucky enough to have plenty of ‘big’ adventures – tracking snow leopards in Ladakh, running into hunting lionesses while trekking in the Maasai Mara, scouring the remote east coast of Greenland for roaming polar bears. Adventure has had a huge influence on me and has got me through some difficult times (here’s an article I wrote about the healing power of adventure for The Times.
But while I’ve travelled a lot, the biggest adventure I’ve ever actually had (as trite as it sounds) has been writing a book! I’ve never experienced such a rollercoaster of emotions, I’ve never been flung so far out of my comfort zone and I’ve never strived harder for anything in my entire life. It’s been wild.
WNSF: Can you tell us about a particular relationship between two characters in your novel and how you made it feel genuine?
Lizzie: I wanted my book to be a sort of series of love letters - to the natural world, to family, to resilience and to adventure. But at its heart Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is a love letter between a father and a daughter, and a testament to how far we can push ourselves to protect the ones we love. I lost my father when I was nineteen. It was the single most formative thing that has ever happened to me. It also meant that the easiest thing about writing this book (and there weren’t many easy things; it was a slog) was creating an authentic father-daughter relationship where one of them was largely absent. I also wanted Eliza and Charles’s relationship to explore the notion of whether someone is ever truly ‘lost’, and how grief can sometimes act as rocket fuel – propelling us to achieve things we never would have dreamed we were capable of.
WNSF: A strong sense of place is vital to any great adventure story. What role does research play in your writing? How did you make your setting feel realistic?
Lizzie: The research for Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter was an almost decade-long labour of love that took me from the corridors of the British Library to pearl farms in the remote reaches of the Dampier peninsula in Western Australia.
The most important thing for me was getting my feet on the ground – walking the landscapes, talking to people whose families have been there for tens of thousands of years, interviewing everyone from bus drivers and crocodile wranglers to botanists. I immersed myself in the history, trying on hard hat diving suits, exploring muddy mangrove creeks and trawling through historical archives for little gems of information and inspiring tales of life at sea. It was a privilege to be able to travel to Australia multiple times and do all that research; I hope it shines through in the finished product.