The Life Swap
The heartwarming new uplit novel by the bestselling Australian author of The Garden of Hopes and Dreams and The Happiest Little Town.
Tess is feeling burnt out from her uninspiring job and her busy city lifestyle. Even her personal relationships make her feel as if she’s simply drifting through life rather than living it to the full. Having tragically lost her mother a few years earlier, she knows she owes it to herself to make so much more of the precious opportunities life offers.
Her godmother Luna, who leads a very simple existence in a rustic cottage in the North Queensland rainforest, is also at something of a crossroads. Keen to expand her jewellery-making business, she needs the new connections that a bustling city offers. When she suggests to Tess that the two of them might swap homes for an extended period, it seems the perfect solution.
Tess soon finds herself in a new world, adapting to life off-grid, dodging cassowaries, working in a charity bookstore and falling for the gorgeous but unavailable guy next door. Meanwhile, Luna gets far more than she bargained for, with police on her doorstep, old lovers turning up out of the blue, and the possibility of having her biggest secret exposed.
Are they about to discover that taking great risks can bring even greater rewards?
Release date August 8th 2023
The Life Swap
The conversation began calmly enough, but it wasn’t long before Luna realised that her daughter was exceptionally tense and had been stewing over her question for some time. Until that point, their afternoon had been close to perfect, with the two of them together in Luna’s workshed – mother and daughter tinkering, taking turns to use the soldering iron, then back to pliers as they gently shaped their jewellery projects. With their tasks complete, Luna had gone to the cottage to make them a well-earned cuppa – not with tea bags, but with leaves from a local Atherton Tablelands plantation, properly brewed in a pot.
They’d taken their mugs to the timber garden seat, poised just above the point where Luna’s rainforest block dropped steeply away to offer a view through a gap in the trees to distant farmland. Late afternoon was ideal for enjoying this view, when the sun gave the faraway hills a warm, rose-tinted glamour.
As they sat there, companionably side by side, chatting about their jewellery, Ebony said, ‘So I’ve been thinking . . .’ She spoke slowly, almost cautiously, but the words that came next followed in a rush. ‘I really need to know about my father.’
Luna flinched, spilling tea onto her jeans. Luckily, it didn’t burn too much, but she hastily covered the splash with her hand, hoping Ebony hadn’t noticed. Somehow she managed to speak. ‘I thought we’d agreed.’
Ebony shook her head. ‘No, Mum, we didn’t agree on anything. I just gave up asking you about him.’
And Luna had to admit she’d been extremely grateful for her daughter’s silence in this regard. Back when Ebony was little, Luna had managed to brush aside any questions about the girl’s father. She and Ebs had been an awesome twosome, with the same long, curly hair, similar heart-shaped faces and grey eyes that changed colour like the sea.
In those days, Luna had presented her unconventional, artistic lifestyle to her small daughter as a fun, almost magical fantasy. And later, while Ebony’s questions about her father had become more of a challenge, Luna had usually managed to fob them off with vagaries. It’s complicated . . . best to leave him as a mystery . . .
Luckily, by the time Ebony had reached young adulthood, she’d turned her attention to travel and adventure, setting off overseas, just as Luna had done when she was that age.
But now, Ebony was back, and in her mid-twenties, taking her art career and her life goals seriously. She was even talking about settling down . . . perhaps, of all places, in Brisbane.
‘The only thing you’ve ever admitted to me is that my father wasn’t an anonymous sperm donor,’ Ebony reminded Luna now.
At least Luna had always been honest in this regard, even though an IVF excuse might have encouraged her daughter to give up any further awkward searching.
On this afternoon, however, Ebony was clearly restless. Setting her now empty mug aside, she launched to her feet. ‘Sorry, Mum, but I’m fed up with this.’ She threw her arms wide to emphasise her despair. ‘I have to be just about the only fricking person on this planet who doesn’t know who their father is.’ She shot Luna a sharp frown. ‘Or was.’
‘He’s not dead, is he? I know it can’t be as simple as that.
’Mentally wincing at the frustration in her daughter’s voice, Luna shook her head. ‘No, Ebs, he’s not dead.’
This was met by a dramatic eye-roll from Ebony. ‘So why the huge secret? Is he someone famous? Oh, God, please tell me I’m not some politician’s love child?’
‘No, of course not. You know I don’t mix in those circles. Don’t be ridiculous.’
Now Ebony gave a noisy sigh and let her head fall back as she stood, hands hanging loosely by her sides, staring up at a patch of sky rimmed by towering treetops. ‘So, here we go again,’ she said wearily.
‘I’m sorry, love. I wish I could —’‘I’ve tried DNA testing.’
Luna gasped. ‘You haven’t?’
‘Of course I have, but I’ve only registered with a couple of companies so far and they couldn’t give me any useful matches.’
Oh, God. Luna realised now that she’d had her head in the sand. She should have known that any contemporary young woman might follow this route.
‘I’ll have to keep trying, I guess.’ Ebony was staring up at the sky again where threads of thin clouds drifted. ‘I want to know what he’s like, not just what he looks like – what he enjoys doing, how he talks, what he thinks about. It would be so much easier if my dear mother would just fess up with the truth.’
‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I —’
‘Is he in jail?’ came the swift interruption. Her daughter’s gaze was intense. ‘Has he done something you’re ashamed of? Honestly, I don’t care, Mum. I just need to know.’
‘No, it’s nothing like that.’ But Luna couldn’t hold back an uncomfortable grimace. She did feel guilty. For too long she’d avoided discovering the truth. And as far as her daughter was concerned, Luna’s sins of omission could be interpreted as deceit.
‘Come on,’ Ebony pleaded. ‘Even if this guy lives on the other side of the world, it would be helpful to have a name. That’s not a lot to ask.’
‘I can’t give you a name.’
‘What?’ The word dropped in a shocked whisper. ‘You mean, you don’t actually know his name?’ Ebony gave a shaky, embarrassed little laugh as she stared at her mother. ‘What the hell happened? A one-night stand? You were both blackout drunk? Or stoned?’
‘No,’ Luna protested, although later, whenever she looked back to this moment, she almost wished that she had agreed to one of these possibilities. She could have saved them both a huge amount of heartache and stress, if she’d simply lied and said that yes, that was how it had happened.
Of course, Ebony wasn’t prepared to leave it now. Her eyes glistened with tears. ‘Not knowing is killing me.’ Her voice was tight and angry. ‘And I hate the thought that there’s a man out there who doesn’t know he’s got this amazing daughter.’ She managed a brief, rueful smile as she said this, before shooting her mother another quick scowl. ‘At least, I’m assuming he doesn’t know.’
‘No, he doesn’t.’
‘Doesn’t he deserve to know?’
‘It’s a bit hard, love. I honestly can’t give you a name. I – I mean there were a couple of fellows around at that time.’
Ebony sent another mocking eye-roll skywards. ‘My mother, the player.’
A fair enough comment. Ebony had, after all, been witness to Luna’s string of casual relationships.
Now, with a frustrated sigh, Ebony flopped heavily back onto the seat. Luna would have liked to reach out, to slip her arm around her daughter’s shoulders, but she suspected she would be roughly shrugged off.
‘You know, it’s not too late to ask the possible fathers for a DNA test,’ Ebony said.
Luna shook her head, desperate to finish this conversation. ‘I couldn’t, not after all this time.’
‘You mean these guys have families?’
‘Are you telling me I’ve spent all these years as an only child when I have half-sisters or -brothers out there?’
When Luna didn’t reply, her daughter also fell silent, as if she needed to absorb this latest news. But she wasn’t ready to give up. ‘What about back when you found out you were pregnant? Or after I was born? You could have had the tests done then.’
Luna shivered, remembering the stress of that time. ‘It was already too late. Too complicated. Honestly, Ebs. I’m sorry. I understand it must be hard for you.’
‘I don’t think you do, Mum.’ Ebony was back on her feet again now, hands clenching and unclenching. ‘I don’t think you have a bloody clue,’ she cried. ‘I don’t believe you’ve ever tried to look at this from my point of view.’ And then, eyes blazing, she roared, ‘You’re a totally selfish bitch.’
Turning abruptly, she stomped off into the gathering dusk.