The first time I heard Grace’s voice in my head she described to me how frightened she was to stay too long in the Thames when the tide came in. Her accent was a gutsy cockney as she told me of another mudlark she knew who disappeared beneath the muddy water while searching for some last bit of coal. Grace’s story made me shudder, but I knew I had found her. Though her surroundings were mist-covered and grey, I learned that a light glowed inside this character as bright as the red apple she steals from the costermonger’s barrow. The apple became an early symbol of hope and survival on the dark and merciless streets of London in the 19th century.
Grace’s love of horses defined her for me as a character; they represent everything worth living for – kindness, dignity, grace and strength. Grace’s fierce love for horses reflects her own inner-strength and potential for life. When Grace’s story begins, her passion for horses is private. Keeping her feelings to herself gives Grace her fuel for survival. Later she learns that it is safe to share her inner world and that doing so brings joy. In the final book of the series Grace and Hannah stand together looking at Grace’s beautiful new foal. The girls acknowledge that dreams can come true – it is one of the important messages in the books.
But unless Grace connects with people early in her journey her life is at risk – she will be tempted to leave the cruelties of the human world behind, and drift into a spirit world of horses. And in the course of the four books she shows that she is able to connect with others. She has the courage to transcend the abuse of her past and to love first Hannah and Liza, then later Beth and Alice, and eventually Tom too.
I also discovered nature as a healing force in Grace’s life. Grace came from a world where nature was obscured. The industrial revolution established a world of machines. It stripped the land of its trees, muddied its rivers, covered the land with buildings and roads. Humanity adjusted to the demands of this world, crowding in on itself, obliterating beauty and peace. When Grace is taken from the city and put to sea on a convict ship, she sees the horizon and it becomes a symbol of expansion and possibility. Later she encounters the Australian landscape. Grace is soothed and healed by the bush that surrounds the hut in Rose Hill. It gives her the same sense of space and openness as seeing the horizon at sea. Grace is changed by the land – it teaches her resourcefulness and encourages her sense of adventure.
I needed to know for myself what Grace’s destiny would be as soon as I began the series. I saw a family and a foal and a friend for Grace in the course of her journey. None of these things would come easily to her, but then when they did come, the victory would be sweeter for the struggle.
Grace directed her own future – her decision to steal for a horse she loves ultimately leads her to a new land. Each time Grace extends herself, she is rewarded, though the reward may be difficult to recognise at first. It takes great faith to endure all that she does. I hope Grace is an example of the resourcefulness, courage and determination on which the foundations of Australia are built. I really enjoyed writing her.