Australian authors have been in high demand in Hollywood. Reese Witherspoon’s production company adapted Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies into the Emmy-wining series she starred in alongside Nicole Kidman. Witherspoon also has the rights to Melbourne author Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry.
Melbourne screenwriter-turned-author Graeme Simsion has also attracted lots of attention. Tri-Star optioned his bestseller The Rosie Project. He even penned a script, though years later there’s still no sign of that one, sadly. Meanwhile, Toni Collette optioned his The Best of Adam Sharp.
Now Ellen DeGeneres’ production company has called first dibs on his latest offering Two Steps Forward, co-written with partner Anne Buist, who is a mental health expert and the author of the Natalie King thrillers.
Set on the breathtaking – in more ways than one – 780km Camino walk from France to Northern Spain, it’s an adventure Simsion and Buist have undertaken twice. Alternating chapters reveal the innermost thoughts of widowed American Zoe and a recently divorced Brit, Martin.
“It’s a bit surreal,” Buist says of the DeGeneres move. “It would make a beautiful film. Quite aside from anything else, the scenery in France and Spain would be spectacular.”
A fun misadventure of misunderstandings, Two Steps Forward is first and foremost a novel about overcoming self-doubt. “It’s a great escapist read,” Buist agrees. “You can disappear into it and feel good without having to walk further than turning the television off.”
Simsion says they have always helped plot and edit each other’s novels, so working together wasn’t a challenge. They did approach it rather unusually, however.
“We had this crazy idea that we would write two separate novels, a his and hers, and you would read them both and get different pictures,” he says.
But delivering them they got a wake up call, Simsion reveals.
“Our publishers said that’s a really stupid idea and our first readers agreed. They were actually swapping between the two books, so Anne took the whole mess and cut and pasted it together, then I took the scalpel to 140,000 words.”
A 19-year-old Belgian they met the first time they undertook the route suggested the idea for the book. He insisted they had to write about characters their own age, rather than rom-com staple 30-somethings. Buist and Simsion felt that was a great idea.
“What was important for me was the affirmation of Anne and my relationship. Spending 90 days in the close company of one other person on a quite difficult quest, you know pretty quickly if your marriage is in good shape or not.”
Buist recalls how a romantic Simsion carried a pair of high heels for her in his pack so she could wear them on her birthday in San Sebastian on their first walk.
“We went to a really great restaurant and I’ve gotta tell you, putting heels on after walking all that way is not something you want to do, so we threw them out!”
Two Steps Forward, by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist, is published by Text Publishing on October 2.