Today I have Charity Norman, author of the thrilling See You In September on the blog, sharing with me about how she chose New Zealand as a setting for her fifth novel. Don’t forget to scroll down for more info on this powerful story of family, faith and finding yourself, as well as check out the other blogs on the tour!
The Rotorua lakes of New Zealand are haunting as well as beautiful. The area’s steeped in Maori legend, alive with geothermal activity: steam and bubbling mud, hot pools and earth tremors.
The lake and mountain at Tarawera have a particularly dramatic history. Legend has it that once upon a time a dreadful sorcerer, Tama-o-Hoi, lived nearby and preyed on travellers. One day he was vanquished and flung into a chasm on Mount Tarawera. He was trapped inside the mountain for centuries, waiting to burst out – in other words, to erupt.
Fast forward to the mid 1800s, when the region became a world-famous tourist destination. They came to see the pink and white terraces, a natural phenomenon made of silica. The terraces were on the shores of a small lake called Rotomahana, at the foot of Mount Tarawera. The local Maori made a living as guides and boatmen.
In the early hours of 10th June 1886, it all came to an end. Mount Tarawera erupted catastrophically. The entire bed of Lake Rotomahana was hurled into the air; villages and landscape were buried in the pyroclastic flow, in rocks and mud and ash. At least a hundred and twenty people died, perhaps many more. People watching the eruption saw the stars go out, and thought they were witnessing the end of the world. To this day you can visit the buried village at Te Wairoa, New Zealand’s version of Pompeii. It’s both fascinating and sobering.
When it came to writing a story about a doomsday cult, I knew exactly where I wanted to set it: on the shores of Tarawera, among all that beauty and peace, in the shadow of a volcano.
It was supposed to be just a short holiday… but when Cassy is lured to an idyllic valley called Gethsemane it’s years before her friends and family see her again. Can her family rescue her before it’s too late? A dazzling, gripping new novel about a young woman lured into a clutches of a doomsday cult by its charismatic leader, Justin.
Cassy smiled, blew them a kiss. ‘See you in September,’ she said. It was a throwaway line. Just words uttered casually by a young woman in a hurry. And then she’d gone.
It was supposed to be a short trip-a break in New Zealand before her best friend’s wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they’d see her again.
Having broken up with her boyfriend, Cassy accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Overcome by the peace and beauty of the valley and swept up in the charisma of Justin, the community’s leader, Cassy becomes convinced that she has to stay.
As Cassy becomes more and more entrenched in the group’s rituals and beliefs, her frantic parents fight to bring her home-before Justin’s prophesied Last Day can come to pass.
Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law in the northeast of England. Also a mediator, she is passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. Her first novel, Freeing Grace, was published in 2010 and her second, Second Chances, in 2012 (published in the UK as After the Fall). The Son-in- Law, her third novel, was published in 2013. Her fourth novel, The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone (published in the U.K. as The New Woman) was published in 2015.