Two years after launching Bad Oil and the Animals, I was able to throw a third party to welcome The Fire Keeper’s Girls, my most challenging book to date, almost twice the size of the earlier two. It was an immense relief to see it safely housed within the colouful cover designed by Kris Locket. The seeds of the story have been with me for years as I considered a community able to embrace the gifts that every girl brings with her at birth. This would be a real community, rich with strong women already enjoying the best of themselves so girls could easily recognise where they belong and be inspired to do the same.

It took months to locate, research and write about these real-life role models for girls; twenty five women from twenty five different countries who have each overcome immense obstacles to embrace their talents. Their brief biographies with photographs appear at the end of the book. Only a week before going to print, I removed two women and added new ones; choosing wasn’t easy.

These women form part of a mysterious Game that the two troubled teenage protagonists encounter when they’re sent to spend summer at a remote beach with an eccentric woman they barely know. The girls eventually embrace the Game and become The Fire Keeper’s Girls. But when they return home, their new skills are severely tested. Gemma’s life is threatened by people from her past while Alice’s tormentors wait in her own family, both at home and abroad.

I chose a new (for me) writing formula, giving each girl’s point of view in alternating chapters and tested my early ideas with a Creative Writing class from a local Girls’ College. Two students offered to read the draft manuscript and at their positive feedback I decided to continue with it. The alternating chapters gave me extra scope for character development and a chance to introduce some interesting contradictions. I kept to my fact-based fiction writing style, although researching does get perilously addictive!

Like my earlier books, this YA novel ends with sources for further reading and study. Reviews are already coming in, all good so far. The Fire Keeper’s Girls has been accepted onto the Women’s suffrage 125 site and the Howard League have bought a set to add to my earlier books, all used for reading recovery in prisons.

Once again, please ask about The Fire Keeper’s Girls at libraries and bookstores; your support of local authors in this way is very much appreciated.