I’m excited to welcome Zoe Deleuil, to the attic this week. Zoë is from Perth, Western Australia, but now lives in Berlin with her family. I remember running into Zoe at the Perth Writers Festival a few years ago (in the women’s loos, of course!), and chatting at length about her book and finding it a home, so I’m thrilled that the The Night Village is now out in the world.
Zoë studied creative writing at Bath Spa University and worked as a sub-editor and feature writer prior to becoming a freelance writer. She has always loved gothic novels and psychological suspense, from Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson to Susan Hill and Anna Snoekstra, all of whom inspired The Night Village, her novel about motherhood and family secrets. Her short fiction, feature articles and essays have been published in many places, including Westerly, Green, Indigo, Overland, The Big Issue, Cordite and The Guardian.
The accidental novel
Writing a psychological suspense novel was not something I set out to do. Looking back, The Night Village was a complete accident. With one unpublished manuscript behind me and no new ideas, I’d hit pause on trying to write at all, let alone get published. It all felt like something that was happening far away from my life as a mum to two small boys in Perth.
So I packed away that part of my life and focussed on the present. Finger paintings, picture books, getting excited about fire engines and trying to explain to a three-year-old why the earthworm he’s been playing with for twenty minutes isn’t ‘working’ anymore.
Parenting toddlers is much like being an unpaid bodyguard to short, egotistical rockstars with no capacity to reason or avoid danger or tolerate the word No. They are adorable and funny and soft precisely because they are wild creatures that require you to be completely obsessed with them, thinking of little else, so they can survive those dangerous years of high mobility and no fear.
I loved it all, but I also missed my old life. Around that time, the movie Wild came out, based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I could tell from the previews that it was a hopeful story, that nothing bad happened to the main character. She just went a really long walk along the Pacific Crest Trail. And for some reason, I desperately wanted to see it.
I looked forward to it all week. For the length of that film there would be no protecting small bodies from moving cars, no tantrums, no banged heads or bee stings or sibling violence. No spilt drinks or nappies or brain-snapping questions like What’s inside blood? or Did statues die? My phone would be on silent and even my kids, who always found me, would not be able to track me down in that crowded theatre.
On Sunday afternoon I slammed the car door with a mix of guilt and pure anticipation. I would soon be in a dark theatre, vicariously experiencing solitude and wilderness and freedom. I missed walking through new places. I missed being alone. I missed the world beyond the demands of small children. And for the next two hours it would all be mine again.
Except that when I got to the Luna cinema in Leederville it became apparent that I was not the only local woman with this particular vision for her Sunday afternoon. The line stretched through the door, the foyer crowded with women. As I stood there, still hopeful of buying my ticket, a SOLD OUT sign went up.
It was so disappointing, and also unexpected. A film about an ordinary woman hiking? There wasn’t a handsome male lead. There was no violence. I could see the appeal of this simple, hopeful story, but I didn’t realise so many others would. That crowded foyer, that Sold Out sign, got me thinking.
Maybe I could start writing again. Just for myself, about the ordinary but universal journey of being a parent? And instead of resenting my current lack of freedom, I could set my story in London, and travel there in my imagination? I might not be able to walk the Pacific Crest Trail alone at this point – or even, apparently, watch a movie about it – but I’d have a creative outlet again. Maybe that would be enough.
I’d love to say that I went home that night and produced a pristine draft in six weeks then galloped towards publication within the year. But it took a lot longer. I did write a memoir submission for Mslexia magazine, which was rejected. A while after that I was looking around for a writing sample for a writer’s development programme and dug out that memoir submission. I read it, thought, that will do, and sent it off. I was rejected for that, too, but the assessors invited me to submit the sample to Westerly, and it was accepted. A short story in the 2018 Margaret River Press anthology gave me another boost and finally, finally, it felt like something might be happening.
Coincidentally, I was reading a lot of psychological suspense at that time, and in those novels I found an atmosphere that chimed with my current default mood of exhaustion mixed with over-caffeinated panic. What started as a straight account of early motherhood in that original memoir piece became something darker, and I knew it was working as a story when I found myself wanting to get back to it, to find out what happened next. I wanted to write about the joy of small children, and the connection I felt with other women, but I also wanted to write the moments of ambivalence, which were harder to articulate.
Eventually I submitted my work – now a novel manuscript – to the Hungerford Award, and though it didn’t win, publisher Georgia Richter shared her thoughts and invited me to send me it in again when I felt ready, which I did after much dithering and re-drafting. When I received the phone call from Georgia saying that they would like to offer me a publishing contract, my main emotion was massive relief, along with delight that someone understood what I was trying to do.
The regular emails from far-away Fremantle as we worked on the manuscript were the saving grace of 2020, where I was in lockdown for much of the year in Germany. This month, some five years after that Sunday afternoon in Leederville, The Night Village is finally on bookshelves.
Unexpectedly, now that I’ve got to this point I find myself wanting to go back to the start. To writing workshops and scrappy first drafts and reading for the pure joy of it. Writing, it seems to me, is much like raising children. The joy is in the process, and in seeing what happens next.
Zoë has kindly donated a copy of The Night Village to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on this blog or any of the social media posts about Zoë’s book.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 2nd September, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.