Generally for a story I need a mood, an opening scene and at least one character. Swift Runs the Heart began with a mood. Standing in a paddock north of the Waitaki River one day I looked south. On my side of the river, the clouds had swept in and a cold wind blew but on the south bank, the side of the river I came from originally, the sky was blue and the hills shone in the late afternoon sun. Summer hills covered in golden grasses, and a longing for home. That was the feeling that started Swift Runs the Heart.
The Waitaki is one of New Zealand’s unique braided rivers, and divides the Otago and Canterbury province. As a child, I remember the building of the large hydro dam projects that still supply a large part of New Zealand’s electricity but the river was more than that. For me, south of the Waitaki was home and north was not-home.
About that same time I was exploring the history and stories of the Otago gold rush including The story of Wild Will Enderby. It’s a real Boy’s Own type adventure novel, written by Vincent Pyke, one of the first administrators of the Dunstan goldfield. There is something very exciting and hopeful about the start of a gold rush. Thousands of young, mostly men flocking to a raw unknown land in search of a future. They worked hard and played even harder.
Those old stories completed my setting; the Dunstan gold field and inland North Otago in late 1862, the mood set by those golden hills also meant my heroine had to be born in the country south of the Waitaki, like I was. However, there would have been few Europeans in the area at the she must have been born; only a whaling settlement and a small farming community on the coast. So what had made her parents leave everything and emigrate to such a very isolated part of this new colony?
My own ancestry is primarily Scottish, with Irish and Polish, and that gave me her parents’ story. It’s barely mentioned in the book, but her mother is the outspoken daughter of a prominent Irish family who must flee Ireland after getting involved with a rebel group and her father is a Nova Scotian ship’s captain of Scottish descent, hired to take her to freedom. One look, and all plans are changed. The lovers flee to Otago, a place too new for laws or officials.
As for the hero, the man Geraldine cannot resist despite herself? For the daughter of renegade Celts who better than the son of a very English, aristocratic family? His accent alone is enough to set her back up, let alone what he does at their first meeting — and there I had my opening scene. Swift Runs the Heart was born.
Mary Brock Jones lives in Auckland, New Zealand, but her childhood years in the stunning Otago region of the South Island live on in the romantic adventures of her heroes and heroines. When not office bound or being towered over by her four grown sons, much to their amusement, she writes historical romances and science fiction.