Welcome to my author website where you can find snippets of research behind some of the real characters and scenes that appear in The Aerial Queen, my (as yet unpublished) novel about two sisters who parachute from smoke balloons in the 1890s — a story of courage and ambition, and the consequences of secrets and lies.

Interested crowd watching Suratura Tea Balloon at Days Bay, 1910, Wellington, by Zak (Joseph Zachariah), Walter Francis Tibbutt. Purchased 2013. Te Papa (PS.003332)

The balloon now fully inflated was restive and impatient, straining at the circle of men and boys holding it. Lillian’s scanty costume attracted more admiring glances. All eyes stared at her in a blur of dread and desire as she positioned herself on the trapeze. ‘Ready, I mean right,’ she squeaked, and the Professor gave the command. The men holding the balloon released their grip and stepped back.

Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Aerial Queen

For those prepared to chance their luck, the 1890s are an opportunity for hucksters and flamboyant theatrical characters to make a name for themselves using illusion and pretence.

Haunted by her brother’s death, daredevil Lillian tests her courage by joining the Van Tassel balloon act with her sister Ruby. Together they risk their lives for fame and fortune by parachuting from smoke balloons throughout Australia, but the feisty Lillian struggles to choose between love and her perilous career.

Determined to take control of the balloon circuit and provide for her children, Lillian travels to New Zealand only to clash with charlatans, showmen, and disgruntled crowds when her exhibitions fall short of their expectations.

A cascade of betrayals and reconciliations leads to one last-ditch ascent from which there is no turning back. Many years later, as Lillian relates her fanciful version of those events, she must find a deeper courage to reveal the truth about her past.

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