I have loved reading since I was a child, and have always been impressed by the power of stories to entertain, enliven and transform. My mum Ruth Homes writes children's books, and it was a wonderful experience for her to read them to me chapter by chapter as she wrote them. I also loved hearing stories, made up and true, from others in my family, including my father and grandmother.
With the Peridot Pendant, I started with an idea of writing about a girl who discovers a pair of magic shoes belonging to her mother. Whenever she wears them, strange things happen. When it actually came to writing it however, my imagination led me off into a whole other world. Instead of being about shoes, it became a book about a girl who is desperately searching for her missing mother, and uncovering secrets through a magical green pendant, and with the help of two good friends and her enigmatic cat.
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The Peridot Pendant - Chapter One Missing
Fabrina’s mother, Louisa, was tall and willowy with sleek black hair that bounced as she walked. She smelled like butter cookies and jasmine flowers. She was often laughing, and made everything look easy. She loved Fabrina very much, Fabrina knew. Which was why it was so strange that she had suddenly disappeared.
Fabrina had kicked off her shoes at the back porch and pushed open the kitchen door. The oven was on, and the kitchen was filled with the delicious smell of apricot chicken casserole. Dappled light fell from the apple tree onto the white curtains behind the sink. The house was very quiet.
“Mum?” Fabrina called, up the stairs. She dumped her school bag in the hallway, then checked the end of the backyard, down near the little stream. Her mother was not at the vegie patch or chicken coop, and the studio was deserted. Louisa’s car was sitting in the driveway, and her shiny vintage bicycle was leaning against the garage wall, with the orange helmet neatly stacked in the wicker basket at the front.
Mr Whiskers, their elegant white pawed black cat, was sitting on their low front brick fence, flicking his tail and staring into the distance with an inscrutable look on his face. Fabrina stroked his velvety back and he stretched and looked into her eyes for just a moment and then walked away.
Fabrina reassured herself that her mother had probably just popped out to visit a neighbour, or return a book to a friend, but already, deep in the back of her thoughts, she wondered if this was the beginning of some awful and unimagined time. She felt it – something was wrong.
Fabrina’s father Craig returned from the fire station late in the evening. He found Fabrina curled on the couch in the lounge room, with a pile of finished homework and the few remaining scraps of her dinner sitting on a plate beside her. Every light in the house was on. She had dished up a meal each for her mother and father, and they both still sat, hot and dry, in the oven.
After calling all Louisa’s friends and even her mother, and finding that nobody knew where she might be, Fabrina’s dad called the police. The next day, Louisa was officially a missing person.
Louisa was missing, but it seemed the house was always full of people. There were neighbours, dropping in stews and slices, friends of Louisa from the community garden with bunches of onions or sunflowers, or from the chess club or women’s singing group with home-made cards and bottles of cider. Fabrina wondered why they did it, but then she supposed it gave them something to do, something to show that they cared. It was the most terrible thing, not knowing what to do.
Even the police did not seem to be doing much. They sat and talked to Fabrina and her dad, and even took him to the station a number of times for longer interviews. Two divers turned up to search the little creek that skirted the backyard, but it wasn’t deep enough and they ended up wading along with the cold water swirling around their thighs. When her dad saw the divers, he started breathing in a kind of choking way and she realised he was trying hard not to cry. It was odd, but Fabrina knew that her mother was not dead. She might be in danger, or a long way away, but she was still alive. It was like something you just knew was absolutely true, without words.
Fabrina stood with her father on the verandah, watching as the divers stepped sopping onto the bank. She slipped her hand into his and looked up into her father’s eyes.
“She’s not dead,” Fabrina said. Craig nodded, kissed her on the head and stumbled back into the house, wiping his eyes. She wasn’t sure if he believed her.
After a week, Louisa’s mum, Nonna Toni, came to stay, and Fabrina started going to school again. The kids crowded around her but didn’t seem to know what to say beyond some awkward hellos. Vicky, her best friend, elbowed them aside and led her away, glaring at the other kids over her shoulder. “Give her some space, will you? Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it.”
But as soon as they were alone, down near the bike sheds, Vicky’s own questions started to tumble out. Fabrina saw Harry lope past, the eldest of the boys next door, and he nodded and gave her a little half smile. Harry never said much, unless you got him on the topic of dinosaurs or bushrangers, and he never asked a prying question. Fabrina almost wished she was sitting with Harry, and not Vicky.
“What happened to your mum?” Vicky asked.
“I don’t know,” said Fabrina. “Nobody seems to know. I think maybe somebody kidnapped her, or forced her somehow to go away with them. The police have checked and nobody has used her phone or her bank accounts. Her passport is still in the drawer at home. She’d been at the community garden in the morning, but then she went home and nobody has seen her since.”
Vicky was staring at her agog, as if a show on TV was happening right in front of her eyes. The school bell rang and they hoisted up their bags and headed to class. Vicky slipped her arm through Fabrina’s. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the police will find her, and if they don’t, I’ll help you and we’ll find her together,” she said.
Fabrina tried to picture it, the two of them as junior detectives tracking down her mother. But where to start when Louisa had simply vanished?