Book extract: Stunning story from debut novelist is unforgettable

Day 15: This extract from Sheerwater by Leah Swann will leave you wanting more. Leah is a journalist, speech writer and poet but she’s also published Bearings, a short story collection that was shortlisted for the Dobbie Award. Sheerwater is her first novel and it is one you should add to your 2021 reading list. Each day in January we are publishing an extract from an Australian author and this is one book you should put at the top of the list.

Sheerwater by Leah Swann.
Sheerwater by Leah Swann.

Extract from Sheerwater by Leah Swann:

AVA

Ava felt the sea move in her blood before she saw it.

She turned onto the Great Ocean Road and the sea filled the windscreen with all its dark blue eternity. After the hours they had travelled they were nearly there! Having lost the tailgater some miles back she could touch on the brake to slow down. She turned up ‘Everything in its Right Place’ by Radiohead. ‘Everything, everything,’ she sang out of tune, and the boys also sang that single word, the only part of the song they knew, their young voices catching her excitement. She watched the sea coming towards her, fresh thoughts tumbling through her mind.

She smiled, she couldn’t help it, some buoyant, forgotten self was stretching out and humming nearly there, nearly there, when she caught sight of something wrong in the sky.

‘Look at that, Mum!’ cried Max.

Hurtling, glittering, its trajectory making no sense; Ava blinked, feeling all that hardness and brightness falling. Was it falling towards them? A meteor, a diamond – no, not a flying diamond, you idiot. Should she accelerate or brake? She chose to brake, checking the road and the sky, the road and the sky, over and over.

‘Aeroplane!’ said Teddy.

Yes, that was it. She recognised the distinctive design of a Cessna with the wings on top like a bird’s. She’d flown in them before. ‘Looks like it.’

Later, Ava would think of the phrases out of the clear blue sky and a bolt from the blue. The four-seater was flying dangerously low and rattling. She closed the windows to muffle the thunderous sound and a thin sweat, the body’s panic tide, broke between her shoulders as Max said with certainty: ‘That plane’s gonna crash.’

She heard the engine cut out and feared the Cessna would drop from the sky onto the road ahead. She braked again and the three of them watched as the plane nosed into a grassy paddock close to the cliff edge.

Ava waited for the plane to burst into flames but it did not. It lay utterly still, smoking slightly. She gripped the steering wheel so tightly her hands seemed glued to it. ‘Oh my God.’

She inched the car forward and looked around. No traffic, now when she needed it most. She knew what she must do and she didn’t want to do it. Veering left, she drove a little way into the paddock – she wouldn’t leave the car on the side of the road with the boys inside in case a truck approached at monstrous speed. Nor would she park too close to the plane in case there was an explosion. What she wanted more than anything was to simply keep driving. Oh why this, why now?

‘Okay, boys,’ she said, turning around to look at them while fumbling in her pocket for her phone. Max had the dog on his lap. ‘I’m going to run up to the plane and check on the people. Okay? And you must stay here. I might be a little while but you can watch me. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t get out of the car. Stay in the car. Max, you look after Teddy, okay? You have to be a big boy and look after him. Tell him a story, sing him a song.’

‘I could tell him golden star.’

‘Good boy.’

Ava got out, slammed the door, jammed the keys in her pocket and ran towards the plane, tapping triple zero into her phone, yelling directions to the operator. Her eyes watered in the strong wind. The plane lay crumpled in the field of glary light and wavy grasses with the dark sea beyond. Two heads visible in the cockpit. A black-haired man in a flannel shirt was slumped over the controls.

Inside, she gauged the state of the occupants: the woman next to the pilot had her eyes closed and her head flung back into the seat. In the back was an unconscious boy and a small, staring girl. All needed help. She’d have to act fast. Ava took a breath deep into her belly to calm herself as she’d been trained to do. She was steadier than this, she was known for being good under pressure – always a much easier feat with a trained team around you.

She grabbed the pilot’s shoulders and eased him back against the seat. His face was dripping blood. It seemed his head had been flung forward into the compass. He was breathing.

She unclasped the pilot’s seatbelt, hooking her arms under his armpits and pulling until his body flopped onto the ground with a thump.

More people were gathering, cars were pulling up, a handful of bikies and a truck driver, quite a crowd. She just wanted to get out, get herself and the boys moving as fast as she could.

Ava ran. The plane’s engine exploded behind her and she cried out. The ground shook beneath her feet. Dust flew up.

Her ears rang. She got to her car and fell forward over the bonnet, looking through the windscreen, expecting to see her sons’ terrified faces looking back at her. She saw nothing.

She shouted their names. ‘Max! Teddy!’

Were they hiding? Yes, that must be it, they must have taken off their seatbelts and hidden behind the front seats! Ava ran around to open the door and found the back empty. They weren’t there. The only thing looking up at her from behind the seats was the dog.

Sheerwater by Leah Swann (published by Harper Collins) has a RRP of $32.99 and is available in all good bookshops and online.


$400m cannabis farm to create 1000 jobs

Premium Content $400m cannabis farm to create 1000 jobs

Australia’s fledgling medicinal cannabis industry is ramping up

ANNOUNCEMENT: Maranoa council opt not to purchase Roma cinema

Premium Content ANNOUNCEMENT: Maranoa council opt not to purchase Roma...

Maranoa Regional Council will not be proceeding with the purchase of the Roma...

53 Queensland bank branches close in a year

Premium Content 53 Queensland bank branches close in a year

Queensland banking customers have been hit in a huge wave of bank branch closures...