Book - The Torrent

The Torrent: Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley, January 2011

University of Queensland Press.

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How the book was written

At my home on the Toowoomba escarpment, within a couple of hundred metres from the top of Mount Lofty, an intense rain storm sent run-off flowing down the road. It was obvious there would be a major flood. I reported the disaster for three weeks for The Australian, realising with each passing day that there would be long-term impacts for the families and friends of those who had died, or those who had narrowly escaped perilous situations. The young children involved would one day ask, ‘What happened?’ I decided to swap the subject to my Master of Arts Research and spend the year interviewing survivors and writing a book to explain what happened so people here and around the world who were shocked when they saw it on their television screens would understand why the disaster unfolded as it did, with little or no warning to most people.

After three months of interviewing survivors in Grantham, I made my first presentation on my research to my University class. A lecturer suggested I approach a local publisher. I phoned the following day. UQ Press publisher John Hunter asked me to send him a chapter that weekend. On the Monday he phoned back and said he was interested if I could deliver the final manuscript in 10 weeks. If the schedule for editing, typesetting and printing was condensed, the book could be published possibly before Christmas, or at least in time for the first anniversary of the flood.

My journalist training helped me rationalize that I could write a 5000 word feature, or chapter, each week for ten weeks. I set deadlines. Monday to Wednesday each week I recorded interviews with survivors. On Thursdays I transcribed the recordings and on Fridays I shaped the separate stories into chronological order. There was no more time to attend lectures. QUT agreed to accept the first chapters of the book as my written assessment item.

I worked every day for ten weeks but I did not dare to sign a book contract because I could not guarantee that the severely traumatised people would be ready to talk about what had happened. As I spoke to more than 100 survivors and rescuers I found they were determined to tell the stories, so that those who died would not be forgotten, so that lessons could be learned, so that warning systems could be improved, so that if another similar disaster occurs here or somewhere else, the cost in lives and possessions will not be so devastating.

I often typed the transcripts with tears running down my face. When the stories overwhelmed me with grief, I walked outside for a few minutes and recalled the many people who had hugged me after their interviews, thanked me for listening and begged me, with tears in their eyes, to keep going. I returned to the computer and kept going. At the end of the ten weeks I signed the contract. Some survivors volunteered to read their chapter to check the facts. Some read the whole book and found it had helped them to understand what had happened and why. Melbourne editor Lorelei Vashti worked with the manuscript and with me, making first a structural edit and then a fine edit. On January 3, 2012 the book was published. The first print run sold out within weeks. The second print run also sold out. The book is available from the publisher, UQ Press.