A rare quiet moment of peace on this beautifully calm morning in the Bay of Islands.* Jack, our effervescent two-year-old is down on the beach with mama, his beloved ‘JoJo’, and Charlie, our three-month-old latest addition to the family, is blissfully sleeping downstairs. And I am taking this moment’s repose to finally sit down and do what I love most – write.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 months since I last wrote here but also not so surprising considering all that has happened during that time. Nath was lucky enough to be retained by the Sail GP circuit throughout 2020 – he wasn’t able to sail or travel but there were plenty of meetings, which, thanks to an international team working on different time zones, mostly took place early morning and late night, meaning the days were free to spend with Jack while I battled morning sickness and increasing fatigue as my body went through its remarkable transformation. My swelling belly grew and grew as new life bloomed within me and at last, on 5th January, 11 days after his Christmas Day due date, our wee Charlie entered the world, mercifully missing his brother’s birthday by one day.
At the same time, Nath resumed work outside of the house for the first time since the initial March lockdown, commentating on the 36th America’s Cup racing which took place on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. I was so happy for Nath to be involved, albeit in a rather different capacity, in the event which has always been such a huge part of our life, but it was overwhelming to be suddenly without him after a year of never being apart. When Charlie was just 6 days old, Nath headed off to work and I was incredibly grateful to have my muzungu sister, Kirsty, come up from Wellington with her 5-year-old Mateo, to help me through those early days. She tag-teamed with mama, who spent most of the summer staying with us, helping so much through that crazy time.
I couldn’t have survived without mama and will always be eternally grateful for her help, as not only was life with two children incredibly busy but, in between chasing a toddler and rocking a baby, another new life was taking shape – my book.
Ever since I first arrived at KAASO back in 2009, I have been writing about this incredible part of the world, sharing the stories of children in a little corner of East Africa that often go unheard. In an apartment in Sydney’s Bondi Beach in 2010, I wiped off my dusty notebooks and first pieced together my stories, working the late shift at Ariel Booksellers in Paddington by night, and writing by day. It was truly living the dream and, a year and a half after I first began, I felt immensely proud to have ‘finished’ my book. I submitted it to a Melbourne based publisher before moving to Paris at the start of 2012 and was devastated when they came back saying that while they loved my story, they were unable to publish it at this time. That was the beginning of what was to turn into a decade-long journey and, looking back now, I’m so grateful that they did turn me down. I didn’t know it at the time, but what felt like the end of the road turned out to be just the first step on my path to publication.
The years that followed saw me globe-trotting in my role as Event Manager for the Louis Vuitton Cup, working in Paris, Nice, Monaco, Venice, Naples, Newport, New York and eventually San Francisco. It was there I met my love, Nath, and, in the months following the 2013 America’s Cup, with Nath’s encouragement, I enrolled in an intensive writing course down at UCLA under the instruction of an incredible woman named Jennie Nash, someone who would change the course of my book – and my life. A few days in, Jennie pulled me aside and asked if I’d be interested in working with her after the course to completely rewrite my story from scratch. It was a daunting prospect but I agreed and together we set to work. We broadened my story from a blow-by-blow account of what had happened during those first 6 months in Uganda, and widened the scope to encompass the years that followed and the effect they had on me and my continued work at KAASO. Most importantly, the book came to include both my world in the village in Uganda and the one I continued to inhabit as part of the international sailing community. I learned that I didn’t have to renounce one world for the other and that in fact, moving between my two worlds was where I was meant to be. I learned over time that it wasn’t simply a case of one side helping the other – the flow went both ways: finding a meaningful cause to support helped enrich the lives of my supporters around the world who were thrilled to find a project that was truly making a difference – and they could see the tangible change they were making on the lives of those in the village.
I wrote from makeshift writing desks around the world as Nath and I travelled to his various Olympic and America’s Cup events, setting up my creative space everywhere we went. When I finally completed the first draft of the manuscript, we were, rather momentously living on a houseboat in an inland waterway just north of Buenos Aires while Nath was competing in an Olympic world championship event and I’ll never forget rowing ashore in torrential rain with my laptop in a rubbish bag tucked in my wet weather gear so that I could get an internet signal to send the manuscript off to Jennie. What a journey we had shared!
That was late 2015 and the year and a half that followed was spent trying to get my manuscript ready for submission while supporting Nath in Bermuda where he was working as the Skipper of Artemis Racing for the 35th America’s Cup. I was also working on the America’s Cup managing their VIP hospitality and life was very full – but incredibly fulfilling and a whole lot of fun! I sent my manuscript off to a bunch of New York agents and received various expressions of interest but ultimately they all declined my work. I was disappointed but I had come to learn that my journey was not necessarily going to be an easy one and that I just needed to persevere. I had a lot else going on anyway – I had been organising major fundraisers in Bermuda through my amazing new network of supporters there and we had managed to fund not only a school bus for KAASO but also an entire water harvesting system encompassing four 20-thousand-litre water tanks and gutting on all school buildings.
The America’s Cup ended and Nath and I hit the road once more and my manuscript submissions resumed – this time to UK publishers as we were Europe-based and spending a lot of time in London with my brother and his partner there. Again, some encouraging responses but ultimately no offers of publication.
Nath and I finally travelled to Uganda together where we celebrated our much-awaited Ugandan wedding at KAASO with both our families who had made the trek to be there with us – along with the 1,000-odd guests from Uganda!
After a summer working with Nath in Australia on a new sailing event called SuperFoiler, we moved back to NZ and I got pregnant with our first son, Jack. He entered the world in early January 2019 and we spent the rest of that year on the road following the Sail GP events at ports around the world. My book was well and truly relegated to the backburner as I took on my new role as a travelling mama, bouncing around continents with a baby as we cheered on daddy.
We flew back into New Zealand in mid-March 2020, expecting to be home for a few weeks and then something we never could have imagined possible happened – Covid hit and the world locked down. Borders shut, planes were grounded, doors closed and streets emptied. It was a shock beyond belief but I, like so many, believed that it would ‘just be for a year’, that by 2021, we’d all be back to ‘normal’. Little did we know.
In the meantime, we lived a simple life, stayed at home, planted vegetable gardens, planned meals to make our supplies last and spent time together as a family of three. As the year went by and New Zealand’s lockdown was slowly lifted, Nath managed to get back out on the water, relishing his new hobbies of wind foiling and winging. Every afternoon he would come home buzzing from the thrill of it, his eyes shining with excitement as he recounted the new discoveries he’d made in techniques, settings and manoeuvres.
Meanwhile, feeling decidedly average, I was staying close to home feeling rather sorry for myself battling all-day morning sickness. Then, one day in late July, I realised that I was actually feeling better but I still wasn’t up to much and that it was time to find my own spark. Seeing Nath fizzing each day kicked me into gear that I also needed to be learning and growing and feeling the buzz that comes with doing new things, which make you feel truly alive. My unpublished book was still hanging over me but I had convinced myself that to get published I needed to have a well-established platform of thousands of followers and to be a household name before I could start submitting the manuscript – something I had never had time to do. I chatted it over with Nath and realised that, with a second baby due at the end of the year and Nath likely to start sailing around the world again in 2021, I was never going to have as much time in my whole life as I had right now with a husband at home and ‘only’ one child to look after between us. I decided not to wait any longer and to just give it my best shot now: it was finally time to find a publisher for my book.
I set to work but quickly realised that to get anything done, I needed to leave the house or Jack would come and find me and want to help work on ‘mummy’s book’ on my computer which wasn’t really all that helpful. So, each morning, I would go down to our local plant based café, The Living Room, and set up my writing studio. It consisted rather simply of my laptop, a notebook and a soy latte but it was all I needed to get back into it.
I researched every publishing house in NZ and Australia and made a list of those for which I thought my book might be a good fit. I had come to peace with the realisation that I might still be met with a stream of ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ emails, but I had identified a few good self-publishing houses which were my back up so that, no matter what, I would end up with a copy of my book to put on my bookshelf and, quite literally, close that chapter. It felt good to have a plan.
I sent out my first submission on 8th September and held my breath in the days that followed. A week later, while chasing Jack around our local playground, I received an email requesting the full manuscript. I was overjoyed. Jack and I celebrated with a little dance and then I spent the rest of the afternoon pushing Jack on the swings, grinning from ear to ear. I felt a glimmer of hope – this felt right for the first time – but tried not to get my hopes up too much. Within three weeks, my wildest dreams had come true – I had received not one but two offers of publication! I never imagined I would have to turn down a publisher and it was hard to do as both were incredible publishing houses, but I ultimately went with Allen & Unwin NZ and what a dream it has been to work with them. I have loved the process from start to finish – although I’m not sure life has ever been so busy as trying to edit an entire manuscript with a newborn baby and a toddler and a husband coming home at 9pm each night! But somehow (thanks mama!), we got there and I can’t believe that I now have my very own (advance) copy of my book – my two babies of 2021 to cherish.
The book is due for release on 25th May so in less than a month, it will be on the shelves and people far and wide will be able to get an insight into what has held me captive the last 12 years in a little corner of the world down a red dirt road.
Thank you so much to the incredible team at Allen & Unwin for believing in me and for bringing my story to life. Thank you also to Jennie for helping me shape my story – I’m so proud of what you helped me to achieve. And a huge thanks to all those who have supported me along the way – anyone who has met me within the last 12 years has been hearing about this book. I hope you all feel as relieved as I am that it is finally going to be on the shelf! Now I guess it’s time to start working on the next book…
*The reality of life as a mama meant that this took me four mornings to finish, punctuated by picking up Jack when he fell over and bumped his head, going downstairs to pat Charlie back to sleep, tripping over the toys Jack had left lying about on the way back up the stairs, making Jack a snack, going back downstairs to pat Charlie again, filling Jack’s water bottle then allowing him to sit on my lap to ‘help’ mummy on her computer, eventually giving in and picking up Charlie and bouncing him while trying to one-handedly insert photos, proofreading with Jack pulling my top demanding MUMMY PLAY WITH ME. Ah, life.