'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 23 November 2023

Guest Post: Lucy Hawkins on The Salvager's Quest

When I was a little girl I was passionate about animals. I did sponsored swims for Greenpeace, knocking on local businesses’ doors to ask for the money they had promised me to give to the dolphins. 

Dad got me a subscription to National Geographic magazine and I scoured the pages. I decided to make my own magazine profiling a handful of animals in each edition, illustrating my stories and selling it at school. 

I don’t think I sold many to be honest, but I have vivid memories of watching with delight as the pages emerged from the colour printer at the local print shop.

I went to university to study Journalism and then worked at Cosmopolitan UK magazine. When I was 29 I moved to Mexico to teach English and volunteer on conservation projects with an organisation called GVI, and when I later returned to Australia I worked for them going to universities to talk to their students about the different humanitarian and environmental programs GVI ran around

the world.

When I met my husband and had my daughter we moved to the Yarra Valley where we were surrounded by wildlife. I was so inspired by all the birds and animals that visited us that I started painting them, developing my own style with bold, block colours. I created a website to sell prints and greeting cards of my work and then began printing on fabric, making a tea towel and apron line which are now sold in stores around Victoria.

It was towards the end of my second pregnancy that we watched the devastating bushfires rage through Victoria and New South Wales. Like everyone, it deeply upset me seeing all those animals die and our planet suffer so greatly. On my daily walks holding my young daughter’s hand and my pregnant belly, I had the idea of writing a children’s book about climate change, but with a view to empowering the kids to change their future rather than fearing it.

My second daughter was born the day before the first Melbourne lockdown. While things on the television were terrifying, having my husband at home enabled me to write the children’s book in between caring for my daughters. I wrote and wrote, it burst forth from my fingertips and took on a life of its own. 

It started as a love letter to my young daughters, so I made them the heroines. But as I wrote I realised I had too much to say for a picture book, so it progressed to a 26,000 word novel for middle grade readers. 

It was hard to imagine what my daughters would look like when they were 9 and 12. My eldest daughter was only 3 and had blond curly hair and my youngest daughter was quite dark when she popped out, so they were the physical descriptions I gave them, although they’ve since changed completely. I also didn’t know what their personalities would be like, so I had to invent two little girls. Now that they’re older I tell them the characters are loosely based on them and that, while I hope they care about the environment, they are under no obligation to single-handedly save the planet, that seems like quite a lot of pressure. 

I changed the characters’ names from my daughters’, Josephine and Georgina, to Stella and Dot, far less of a mouthful. I found an editor and she pointed out what was good, and what wasn’t. I went over it and over it, sending copies to friends and family for their feedback and reading snippets to the girls before finally feeling satisfied that, dare I say it, it was quite good! 

The pandemic went on and on of course, and Melbourne became the longest locked down city in the world. But my book was finished and I nervously and lovingly sent it off to publishers before moving on with my life as we all emerged from an extraordinary two years in history.

When I got the email from Olympia Publishers in London I was thrilled, children other than my own would read my story about two little girls from Australia who rescue endangered animals on Earth and take them to Planet Beatrice, where woolly mammoths roam and children make the rules. In the book, bushfires are raging across Australia and the girls must figure out how to work with these strange children and harness the power of the magic ship, the Salvager, to save as many animals as they can. 

As the plot thickens we discover more about Planet Beatrice and the girl it was named after, but I also intended Planet Beatrice to be a metaphor for ‘plan B’. Planet Beatrice doesn’t exist (as far as I know) and neither does a plan B for us on Earth, we have to save what we have. 

The sisters in The Salvager’s Quest get to meet animals that became extinct and learn about the hunting and environmental changes that precipitated that. And they meet endangered animals on Earth right now and discover what can be done to stop them from dying out also. It’s a rollicking fantasy adventure with pirates, tundras and rainforests and it’s educational, without kids even realising that it is. Because knowledge is power and I think that’s what kids need in order to feel like they have some control over, and hope for, their fabulous futures.

Lucy Hawkins is a writer and artist who lives in Australia's Yarra Valley with her husband and two young daughters. She studied Journalism at the University of the Arts in London and worked at Cosmopolitan Magazine and The London Paper in the UK as well as newspapers and magazines around the world. Her original artwork, prints and homewares are sold in stores across Australia and her first children's book, The Salvager's Quest, is available online and in all good bookstores now.

Connect with Lucy via her website or on Instagram.