He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his latest novel, Water, Stone, Heart, and reported the following:
I like to call Water, Stone, Heart a prickly love story for grownups. In a sense, it asks, “What happens when two damaged adults meet in extraordinary circumstances and find their usual defenses utterly ineffective?” Nicola Rhys-Jones, painter, is a woman in hiding from a history of abuse. Andrew Stratton, professor, is a man hiding from the pain of divorce. They meet in Boscastle, a tiny village on Cornwall’s stormy Atlantic coast. From the start, Nicola and Andrew are both drawn to each other and at daggers drawn, their witty flirtation serving as both sword and shield. For all the humor, however, there is a very serious issue at the core of the story, the question of whether a woman who has been sexually abused as a child can ever find the trust to enter a normal intimate relationship in adulthood. It takes Lee, a nine year-old girl wise beyond her years, a catastrophic flood, and a touch of Cornish witchcraft to break down both Nicola’s and Andrew’s walls and reveal how much they mean to each other.Read an excerpt from Water, Stone, Heart, and learn more about the book and author at Will North's website and blog.
On page 69, Nicola is walking her Siberian husky, Randi, in the narrow, wooded valley of the Valency River, which empties into Boscastle’s little harbor. She’s distracted by her confused feelings about the visiting American, Andrew:#
They’d passed the wide part of the stream behind the weir that once had shunted water to the mill down by the bridge, when Randi stopped and looked up into one of the trees. He looked at Nicola, looked up at the tree, and looked at Nicola again. Lost in a reverie of her own having vaguely to do with the American, she kept walking. But Randi didn’t follow and eventually he barked once. This was unusual. She walked back to the tree by the river and the dog looked up again.
“What?!” Nicola said, exasperated.
The dog barked again, but kept looking up.
That was when she heard the giggling. She recognized it immediately.
“Lilly Trellisick! What are you up to?!”
“I’m up to about half the whole tree,” Lee said, giggling louder now.
“Well you’re driving Randi around the twist, so come on down and walk with us.”
There was a scuffle of boots on bark, a shaking of leafy branches, and then a pair of skinny, tan legs emerged from the canopy. Nicola caught Lee as she dropped the last few feet to the ground and gave her a hug.
“Listen here, you ragamuffin; you’ll break your neck one of these days.”
“Will not, ‘cause that’s my special tree and we have an agreement.”
‘Yup. If I climb it carefully, it won’t let me fall.”
Nicola looked at the girl and realized there was no rebuttal to such an argument. So she changed the subject.
“So tell me about this Andrew Stratton.”
“I told you.”
“He’s a nice man. We’re chums. That’s all. Why? Wait! You like him, don’t you!”
“You do, you do! Nicki and Drew, Nicki and Drew!”
“Stop that! What’s he doing here? That’s what I want to know.”#
Because adults are exceptionally adept at avoiding the truth, especially in relationships, I like to have a “truth-teller” in each of my stories. Sometimes it’s an elderly character, who has seen it all and has nothing to lose by saying what he or she sees plainly. Sometimes it’s a child, whose clarity of observation and candor in speech are as yet uncorrupted by societal rules.
Water, Stone, Heart is about recognizing and finding the courage to seize second chances.
Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.