Book extract: Debut novel tugs at heartstrings
Day 14: Every day this month we are publishing an extract from a book by an Aussie writer so you can add a few new titles to your 2021 reading list. Today's extract is from the debut novel by Olivia Wearne, a screen writer with several film credits to her name. Olivia lives in Ballarat, Victoria and wrote The Grand Tour at the kitchen table of the home she shares with her filmmaker husband and two sons. The novel is a heartwarming and funny story about what happens when two friends shake up their lives and hit the road in a motor home.
Extract from The Grand Tour by Olivia Wearne:
Angela prowled the motor home's interior as though casing the joint, sweeping her hand over surfaces and resting it on seating options, curtseying at each window to appreciate the view.
'It's fabulous,' she whispered.
'You don't feel claustrophobic?' Ruby asked from the doorway where she was cautiously stooped.
Angela gasped at the idea. 'It's positively vast.'
Ruby contemplated the glossy brochure in her fist, a page of white vans, each one a slight variation on the other, like a spot the difference. 'I don't know how we're going to choose.
I can't tell which one this is.'
'I feel like I'm on set.' Angela draped herself across the dinette's leatherette bench. 'Mrs Brakenberg, they're ready for your close-up.'
'It'll take some getting used to. We'll have to start off slow, take a few shorter trips, just like we discussed.'
'Scaredy-cat.' Angela sprang to her feet again. 'A sink, a microwave, it's even got a water filter - they thought of everything. I've stayed in five-star hotels that weren't this swank.' She began opening cabinet doors. 'There's more storage here than in our units. Here. And here. And here, and here, and here - ' she laughed, 'and here, and here …'
'It doesn't say anything about price. How do I know how much they cost?' Ruby was feeling deflated. Of all the things she could spend her money on, this trumped-up donut van had topped the list. She'd equated motor homes with freedom: safe, comfortable, manageable freedom. She'd foreseen spontaneity and adventure, something to stop her from stagnating. The idea now seemed oppressive. Escape was never on the cards; you can't break free from yourself.
Angela's enthusiasm took her as far as the bathroom. 'Oh dear.'
Ruby took a step forward to see through to the WC.
'It's practically a commode,' Angela said. 'It's like a bathroom you'd find in a prison cell, or a submarine.' She turned to face the basin and made a sound like a deflating bagpipe. 'The mirror's unkind. The light's too blue. I look like a corpse dolled up for a viewing.' She angled herself out of the niche. 'We'll have to pick one with a better bathroom.'
'I'm not sure our budget will extend that far. What do you need more room for? It's not like you'll be doing yoga in there.'
'I'll be doing yoga every time I try and use that toilet.'
Angela's admiration was clearly on the wane. She plopped down at the dinette and tilted her head back to see the TV bracketed to the wall. 'I'll get a crick in my neck if I watch a film.'
Ruby opened the under-sink cupboard and a pair of bins unfurled. 'One for recycling,' she marvelled. 'Goodness, they really have thought of everything.'
'I'd happily downsize to a double bed, if it meant a little more space at the basin. I can be flexible.'
'Flexible? You wouldn't let me hang my jacket on your coat rack.'
'It's not a rack, it's a display. Didn't you notice my vintage hats? You almost flattened my silk turban.' Angela slipped her white pump on and off her dangling heel. 'I think we should look at some more models. This one feels like a bunker.'
That's it, Ruby thought to herself, that's what it is: a portable panic room.
The Winnebago growled contentedly as it gobbled up the highway. This was the second model they had viewed, after Ruby discovered the price of the first, which entailed tracking down an elusive salesman and teasing the figure out of him like a confession. She requested point-blank that he show them something in their price bracket.
Ruby shifted her grip on the steering wheel. Her elbows annexed her ample bosom, soft and pliable. She occasionally joked that her physique matched her personality - they were both well rounded. For thirty-seven years, Ruby McPherson had manned the sick bay at Ballarat East Primary. Her ward, the small, off-white room with its two wire beds, served as a refuge from the scholastic social order. Desperate outcasts stood anxiously in her doorway complaining of sore stomachs (always the stomach; like method actors, they drew from what they knew), while the vibrant and potentially terrifying whoops and playground chants drifted in through the open window. Ruby's days were spent administering to the bloodied knees and noses, sunburn and sprains, allergies and ailments of an ever-changing, never-changing procession of five-to twelve-year-olds.
She had been honourably put out to pasture two years ago, an occasion that called for a paragraph in the school newsletter that read like an obituary and a morning tea attended by the less socially active members of staff.
Ruby's passenger wriggled irritably to emphasise her discomfort. Endless hours strapped in one position made it feel like Angela's coccyx was boring a hole through the car seat. Unlike the driver, Angela was incapable of sitting quietly. She was forever fussing and fidgeting, allowing little hushing sounds and broken passages of thought to slip from her lips. Her every movement was accompanied by the pleasant jangle of gold jewellery scaling the length of her
arm - a living wind chime. Every now and then, in ode to their princely conveyance, she was inspired to warble what little she knew of 'King of the Road', amounting to a jaunty 'Dum de dum-King of the road …'
'Half the country has the same idea,' Angela murmured, as two four-wheel drives toting tin trailers passed by. Their all-in-one motor home seemed both practical and luxurious by comparison.
Want to know what happens next? The Grand Tour (published by Harper Collins) is available at bookshops and as an audiobook. For details go here