This reading group guide for Walking on Trampolines includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Frances Whiting. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Introduction Walking on Trampolines
is a story about the thrill of first loves, the crushing pain of betrayal, and how to put the pieces back together after heartbreak.
In the small town of Juniper Bay, Tallulah “Lulu” de Longland and Annabelle Andrews are inseparable. Together they bond over their off-kilter mothers, titter about prudish Sister Scholastica, and spend hours devising an endless compendium of their very own language. When Tallulah meets the irresistible Joshua Keaton, a love triangle begins that will shape the rest of their lives, inextricably linking these three friends together even as their paths diverge and the years fly by. No matter how long the absence, no matter the distance, Lulu’s first loves are bound to her forever. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. At the beginning of their friendship, Lulu and Annabelle tell each other everything. However, once Lulu falls for Josh, she begins to play her cards closer to her chest, admitting, “I could have told her that he tasted like almonds and smelt like lemons and that the softest place on his skin was everywhere. I didn’t tell her those things, but in the end, it didn’t matter—she found it all out herself” (pg. 38). Why do you think she begins to conceal her true feelings about Josh to her best friend?
2. Walking on Trampolines
is populated with characters who play with words, using them to create special bonds or leave multitudes unspoken. Consider Annabelle and Lulu’s mishmash neologisms, such as “glamorgeous” and “disapanish.” How do these function in their relationship? Also consider the names for Rose’s dresses. What does it mean when Harry remarks she’s wearing “Doris,” or when Lulu is relieved she’s wearing “Betty”? How do these names fill in for tacit feelings and underlying understandings in this family?
3. As their time at school draws to an end, Lulu notes, “Annabelle had grown a different skin, shedding who she used to be when I wasn’t looking. A new, brittle layer masked her softness. I saw less and less of her as the year wound down; we didn’t always walk home together, and when we did she would walk slightly ahead of me, and I could never quite catch up” (pg. 84). What marks this change in Annabelle? Might it precede her fling with Josh, or develop because of it?
4. On page 90, Annabelle and Lulu argue about Annie’s affair: “And if people are too stupid, or don’t care enough, to see what’s going on right in front of them, Tallulah, then they get what they deserve.” Though Annabelle is speaking of her parents’ relationship, this statement causes Lulu to immediately realize what Annabelle and Josh have been doing behind her back. Why does Lulu finally reach this conclusion in this moment? Do you think the circumstances lend any sympathy to Annabelle’s actions?
5. When Lulu first meets Ben, she notes, “Our lives blended neatly one into the other with no messy edges” (pg. 123). Is this a good or bad thing for Lulu? Ultimately, why is it not enough?
6. After Lulu discovers Josh and Annabelle’s affair, Josh tries to apologize to her by saying, “ ‘It’s complicated . . . it just kind of happened; I know it’s really bad for you . . . But I love you, Tallulah-Lulu. I always will.’ He leant in toward me. ‘You’re my girl,’ he whispered’ ” (pg. 138). Why does Josh say this after committing himself to Annabelle? How does it meet or differ from Lulu’s expectations of his apology?
7. While working on a new piece, artist Frank Andrews consults Harry de Longland: “I can’t get the black right.” Harry replies, “Black’s black, isn’t it?” Frank answers, “No, mate, there’s all kinds of blackness” (pg. 144). There is a complicit understanding between the two as they think of their wives. Consider the many shades of both Annie and Rose’s “blackness.” How does it manifest for each woman? How does it affect their respective families; their respective daughters?
8. When Lulu receives the invitation to Annabelle and Josh’s wedding, she despairs, “What had I been thinking? That Josh would leave Annabelle for me? That Annabelle would leave Josh for me? That they would take me with them wherever they traveled to next? That they would realize that out of all of us, I was the one worth hanging on to?” (pg. 189) What outcome do you think Lulu would prefer—that Josh would come back for her, proving her the more desirable of the two women? Or that Annabelle would leave Josh so they might rekindle their friendship? At the end of the novel, is either Josh or Annabelle the greatest love of Lulu’s life?
9. Frank Andrews reveals the tree house in his backyard needs to be taken down, as ordered by the neighborhood council (pg. 285). What does the tree house symbolize for Lulu? Why is she determined to fight against its destruction?
10. When Lulu first senses the advances of the charming Will Barton, Duncan’s friend on Willow, why does she seemingly try to avoid him at all cost, claiming she doesn’t deserve him (pg. 289)? What ultimately allows her to give into her own feelings and give in to Will?
11. Discuss the role of guilt and forgiveness in Walking on Trampolines
. How do the two intertwine and develop in the following relationships: a) Annabelle and Josh vs. Lulu, b) Lulu vs. Ben, c) Annie vs. Frank, etc. Most of all, think about how Lulu experiences guilt and forgiveness within herself.
12. Before Lulu sees Rose descend into the ocean, her mother whispers, “There is no such thing as afar” (pg. 320). After Rose’s funeral, Lulu says the same to her father. What does the sentiment mean to Rose? Does it mean the same thing to Lulu?
13. Consider Duncan McAllister’s role in Lulu’s life, outside the realm of employer/employee. Why do Duncan and Lulu have a consistently platonic relationship, despite Duncan’s famous philandering? How does his friendship compare to Annabelle’s? How does his mentorship compare to Harry de Longland’s? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read Frances Whiting’s column for the Courier-Mail
about her childhood and her appreciation for her mother: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion-thanks-for-always-being-there-for-me-mum/story-e6frerdf-1226437571360. How does Whiting’s relationship with her mother compare to Lulu’s? How does her childhood compare? How has time caused their respective relationships to grow or change?
2. Write a letter to your first love. Where do you think he, she, or it is now? How have they changed in your eyes? How do you think you’ve changed in theirs? Discuss your emotions and any new revelations that arise.
3. Imagine you’re writing a column, much like Frances Whiting, and young, heartbroken Lulu de Longland has written in to ask for your advice: she’s just discovered that the love of her life and her best friend have been having an affair behind her back—what would you say to her? Then, fast forward years later: Lulu has just received the invitation to Josh and Annabelle’s wedding, and she’s agonizing over what to do—what do you tell her? Discuss with the group; you may be surprised by the varying advice! A Conversation with Frances Whiting You’ve written a weekly column for Australia’s Sunday Courier-Mail for twenty years next August. How did your experience as a column writer prepare you for writing your first novel?
Probably the discipline of it. Because for nearly two decades I've had to write a Sunday column in Australia, I am accustomed to regular deadlines, so in terms of sitting down to write, I think I've had a lot of practice!
Also, while they are two very different forms of writing, I would say the first-person style of the column, which has a warm intimacy about it, may have influenced the first-person style of the book, which I'm hoping also has a nice intimacy about it. Walking on Trampolines took you seven years to write, while you were working part time and raising two children. What was it like to return to these characters as time passed in their lives as well as in yours, and what motivated you to continue writing?
was such a stop/start process for me, very much fitted in around my work and home life. There were times over the seven years that I did think, “I just can’t finish this, it’s too hard,” but the thing that kept bringing me back to it was the characters themselves. Every time I did sit down to write again, and sometimes it could be after a space of some weeks or even months, it was like taking up again with old friends. Particularly with Tallulah and Annabelle, I would start writing them again and it was like having a conversation with an old friend who you know so well it doesn’t matter how long between meetings, you just pick up right where you left off.
I found that enormously comforting and it gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. The other major motivation was a strong feeling that I needed to see all the characters through to their finish, that I couldn’t abandon them halfway, and that I really wanted to tell their story. What have you learned from your first novel-writing experience that might inform your second?
That I don’t have to get it absolutely right the first time around, that there is much to be said about the rewrite! As a writer I have a strong tendency to want every sentence to be perfect the first time around and have had real difficulty in moving on from a paragraph if it is not just right. I have learnt that the rewrite is such a valuable tool, that you can get it almost right, not become fixated on it, and return to it later. I have found that very freeing as a writer, and I suspect there’s a life lesson in there somewhere as well! What was it like to tailor Walking on Trampolines to an American audience? Which parts are universal, and what, if anything, could be lost in “translation”?
I found it very exciting, actually, the process of thinking about American readers and wondering if they would “get’’ the story line, the characters, the quirkiness of the book, the humor of it, some of which is very Australian. But I came really quickly to the conclusion that its themes are universal, the agony and ecstasy of first love, the intensity of female friendships, the awkwardness of the teen years, the stigma of mental illness, the family ties that bind, the way laughter can dissipate our fears—I think everyone knows of these things and feelings, no matter what side of the globe we live on. At least I hope so. No, I know so. The only things I thought might get lost in translation were some of the Australian products and brands, things like Tim Tams and Iced VoVo biscuits, which I guess would be called cookies in the States. Where possible, and working with my American editors, we tried to find ways to describe some of these things hopefully in a not-too-obvious manner! Tim Tams are delicious; by the way, everyone should try them at least once! Why do you think it is important to portray a character like Rose, a woman who has a mental illness but is not defined by it?
This was really important to me. In my work as a journalist I meet all sorts of families in all sorts of situations—single mothers, same-sex parents, homeless parents, homes where domestic violence sheds its ugly skin, very affluent households, multicultural households, and very so-called “normal’’ households, with nuclear families, mum, dad, two kids, and a dog. And also many families where a member had some sort of mental illness, be it depression, or bipolar, or anxiety, and what I found was that often they were living very successfully within that family.
That is to say they had found their place in it, and the family had found a place for them. They were both loved and loving, and I didn’t see a lot of those sort of stories or families in mainstream media. So I wanted very much to have a character with a mental illness who loved her family fiercely and was loved in return.
Not in a conventional manner or setting, but in a way that worked for them, which is what many families do every day. What first sparked the idea for this novel, and how did the narrative shift as you wrote it, if at all?
Gosh, long story. I’ve been such a voracious reader since childhood, and I’ve realized I’ve always been attracted to stories where there is some sort of secret room or garden where the main character can go to find solace or escape. So originally the book was going to be about a girl who was given anonymously her own flat in the city and somehow that morphed into Lulu/the love triangle/the house on the island. So the narrative changed quite dramatically from my original idea, which was more about a woman leading a double life, and somehow became about a woman dealing with the life she had. What made you decide to write Walking on Trampolines from Lulu de Longland’s perspective?
Truthfully, my Australian publisher! Originally the book was written in both first and third person, but it was felt by my Australian editor that this was very much Lulu’s story and it needed to be told from her perspective. Once I started writing it only in her voice, I realized this was the only way to tell the story, and I found it an easier process. Looking at what happened through her eyes made it a much more intimate process for me as the writer and I hope for the reader. Which character was the most enjoyable to write? The most challenging?
Oh that’s easy! Duncan McAllister was so much fun to write; in fact I would say he wrote himself. The funny thing is I had no plans for this character at all and it is fair to say that one night while I was writing he just kind of entered the room and demanded to be written. I loved writing him, he was so much fun, so irreverent, so appalling in so many ways but so lovable. I loved that he was very flawed, but was very aware of each and every one of those flaws. Writing Duncan was like spending some time with the naughtiest kid in the school!
The most challenging character was probably Annabelle, because on the surface, there was probably not a lot to like about her; she was not, I don’t think, a character people would warm to, or empathize with. But I really didn’t want her to be the villain to Tallulah’s heroine—the Veronica to Lulu’s Betty! I wanted her to be multilayered, and for people to see that she was basically a good person. I am not sure if I succeeded; readers often tell me that they don’t like her, so perhaps I didn’t! But I liked her very much; I liked her feistiness and her vulnerability beneath it. Share with us what the title Walking on Trampolines means to you, and what it means to the characters in this novel. Walking on Trampolines
is a very nostalgic book, I think, a bit of a bouquet to my own childhood. It was a far more innocent time in many ways, and I really wanted to capture that. I also wanted it to be a visual snapshot of my childhood, and I remembered as a kid trying to walk on a trampoline with my friends. We would take these big, exaggerated steps and it would feel both exciting and unsteady. Which is how the teen years feel, the feeling of exhilaration and imbalance, of not quite knowing how to find your feet. So it’s a metaphor for those years. It means the same to the characters, the setting out on a journey, not knowing where it will lead you, and feeling unsteady on your feet. But doing it anyway, as we all must.
Sometimes I feel like I’m still walking on trampolines! Where do you think Tallulah de Longland is today? What about Annabelle Andrews and Joshua Keaton? Do you think you’d like to revisit these characters in another novel one day?
A lot of readers have asked if there will be a sequel, if we will see what becomes of Lulu on the island, if Annabelle and Josh remain together, and I would not rule that out, because I think I’d like to know myself!
Having said that, I am happy with the way the novel finished, with the loose ends it tied up and with a happy ending—of sorts. I am happy with where everyone ended up, and who they ended up with! I wrote the epilogue because I wanted that sense of full circle. I think Tallulah is still on the island, I think she is with Will, and I think she is supremely happy. I think she has found her niche and her true love. At least I hope so! I think Josh and Annabelle are together, because I think, as Tallulah comes to realize, they are made for each other. But their relationship will always be volatile, passionate, and full of twists and turns. I think that’s who they are. Tell us about your first love and your greatest love. Are they different?
Gosh! I’d say my first love was my high school sweetheart, who I can see—she says blushing!— elements of in Josh. He was a surfer, he was cheeky, and we had the same sort of relationship Lulu and Josh did, kind of charming and innocent in many ways. My greatest love would be my husband, John, and I guess the difference is there’s a maturity to it, a steadiness, maybe not that heady rush of first love, but that contentment of knowing someone’s got your back, and is eternally in your corner.