Anni Taylor lives on the coast north of Sydney, Australia, and has written several top-selling psychological thrillers. She enjoys the beach, boating and discovering new places with her partner, four sons, and a little dog named Wookie. Before becoming a fiction writer, Anni worked as a copywriter and features’ editor for a major Australian media company.
Interview by Sandra Hoover
Q. Tell us a little about Birds in Flight.
Anni: Birds in Flight is about loss and forgiveness and finding a place to belong.
Two estranged sisters—Lily and Iris—reunite in an attempt to find out why their mother vanished on a road trip when they were young. The story follows the younger sister (Lily) as she navigates this deeply traumatic path.
Lily discovers a tantalizing poem her mother wrote, which speaks about the one big mistake she made. Iris is certain that their mother’s big mistake was having children. Is it true? On that stormy night 24 years ago, did their mother decide to run away and leave her daughters behind? Or did something terrible happen?
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from? What compelled you to write this story? What’s the significance of the title?
Anni: I was enchanted by the idea of an endless summer, of a mother who felt compelled to take her children and follow the sun up and down a coastline. I had a strong sense of this person, but I wasn’t sure what was driving her. Was she seeking truth? Or was she running from something or someone—or herself?
The title, Birds in Flight, was just a working title at first. It came from a line the mother told to her girls—that they were birds in flight—forever free. Over time (the book was a year in the writing), it began to seem perfect.
Q. The setting for Birds In Flight is Australia – one you’ve used in your other books. What’s special about this place/setting for you? Why was it the perfect setting for Birds In Flight?
Anni: In Australia, the caravan/campervan holiday road trip around our coastlines is something very familiar to Australians. In my story, a familiar, ordinarily happy thing takes on a dark tone.
The two girls—Lily and Iris—don’t understand why their mother dragged them all the way to another country after she left their father. They feel like fish out of water, especially when their mother yanks them out of their new school to take them on a road trip (a road trip with no definite end). The sisters are footless and falling through air, with no one to catch them. When their mother goes missing, that sense of freefalling is magnified.
So, the setting was all about magnifying the feeling of being completely lost and out of place—and about the characters trying to find a way out of the wilderness in their own minds. Also, the setting mirrors the mother’s mind in the eyes of her daughters—strange, unknowable and wild.
Q. What do you see as the role of the estranged sisters Lily and Iris in Birds In Flight? What makes them the best choice of characters through which to render this story?
Anni: In 1998, 12-year-old Lily is bewildered by the circumstances that landed her in a foreign country. But life turns unexpectedly blissful for her—travelling & exploring & (importantly) developing a close relationship with her mother. But fifteen-year-old Iris is resentful and rebellious, being at the stage where she wants independence and interaction with other teenagers and boyfriends.
After their mother goes missing, Lily is desperate to reconstruct what she’s lost, while Iris is equally as focused on making up for lost time.
The two sisters are both very driven characters and neither of them forgive easily. With Lily being certain that Iris knows something about their mother’s disappearance, it makes for an intense dynamic between the two sisters.
Q. In Birds In Flight, you use the mother’s missing journal to reveal her past story to her daughters and to readers. Why did you choose this method of including her story vs. having her story revealed through flashbacks?
Anni: I wanted those scenes to play out as if Elsa (the mother) was in the room telling her story to her daughters in person. The journal allowed me to show the immediate reactions from her daughters—the shock, disbelief, heartbreak, despair and rage.
Q. Talk to us about what’s next for you. Are you working on something you can share with readers?
Anni: I took a break over January, with my youngest son home from school (school holidays in Australia run the whole of January). The problem for me now is having so many ideas for a new story and being unsure which idea to go with!
I have two exciting ideas that I’ve started. The way it always happens is that a character begins standing out in my mind so vividly that they take over and take the lead. For example, in 2019, I was writing the story of a young police officer, and I had a detective near retirement age showing her the ropes. This older detective (Kate Wakeland) completely dominated every scene I put her in—so much so that I had to throw out the story I was writing! I ended up writing three books about Kate Wakeland (Tallman’s Valley Detectives).
With Birds in Flight, Lily, Iris and their mother seemed very real to me. I could sense these three women and their inner lives. I need that strong sense of character in order to write a story about them.