The Woman Behind the Waterfall

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Heartbreak and transformation in the beauty of a Ukrainian village

For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.

All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother’s fateful choices.

Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?

Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.

Press Reviews (3)

Kirkus Reviews

"Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world"  Click to read full review

Fiona Adams, The Richmond Magazine

"The language is lyrical and poetic and, in places, begs to be read repeatedly for the sheer joy of it... A literary work of art."


"Rich and poetic in detail, it is an often dreamy, oneiric narrative rooted in an exaltation of nature... A lovely novel."

Reader Reviews (3)

Esther Freud, author of Mr Mac and Me, Hideous Kinky, Peerless Flats

“A strange and beautiful novel.”


“A beautiful tale of love, loss, dreams and reality. Themes of motherhood, womanhood, destiny and choice are explored against a backdrop of a beautiful Ukrainian springtime with lyrical and fantastical elements intertwining with the narrative.”  Click to read full review.

Amazon Reviewer

“A rich and sensory story of love, heartbreak, happiness and self-discovery. Evocative, dreamy descriptions transport the reader to rural Ukraine, whilst the author’s attention to detail submerges us in the day-to-day lives, and struggles, of the characters. A fairytale of truly literary quality, perfect for relaxing.”  Click to read full review.

Book Club Questions

Thank you for reading The Woman Behind the Waterfall.

I wrote this novel when I was at a major crossroads in my life, when part of my life was finishing and the future very uncertain. I was filled with burning questions – what was the purpose of living? What should we be doing with our lives? What did it mean to be a good mother? How do you recover when everything you expected for the future is suddenly shattered? Can you believe in life again after being broken? How do you protect children from your mistakes? Are the blows that occur in life mistakes or is it all part of the experience of living?

These, and many more questions were circling unresolved in me as I tried to draw a new vision for my own life.

I don’t think that I answered any of these questions in the book. I don’t think any of them have clear answers, or universal answers. Perhaps they have answers which are correct for one person at one stage of their lives. Perhaps living through them is answering them, each in our own way.

I hope, through exploring them in this book, that they have brought some perspective to the burning questions in your own lives. I hope that my own experiences have contributed to the conversation we are all having as we build our lives: how to live; how to live in imperfection; how to carry the legacy of our generations; how to be happy.

If you would like to contact me, I would love to hear from you. Please write to me at

Mothers and Daughters

  • What does it mean to be a good mother?
  • How far should we try to protect our children from our own mistakes?
  • What do we tell our children, when their lives are tied up in mistakes we have made?
  • How much do we carry the influence of our mothers through our own lives?

Depression / Periods of Grief

The main character, Lyuda, is trapped in her unhappiness. Sometimes when traumas are too great for us, we can be overwhelmed by grief or negative emotions for long periods – months, or even years.

  • How have you managed to overcome periods of grief and being overwhelmed?
  • Have any of your most precious dreams been shattered in the past? How have you coped?
  • What advice would you give to Lyuda? How would you help her to follow it?


Angela can transform herself into birds and leaves, into clouds and air. In literature and art there is a rich history of transformation, starting with the Greek and Roman gods who transformed themselves and mortals into an array of forms, for example in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Two thousand years on Kafka’s Gregor Samsa transforms into a giant beetle. In art, Chagall’s villagers fly over the rooftops of houses, and Magritte paints human bodies made of water and clouds of stone.

The theme of transformation necessarily plays with the line between imagination and reality. For Angela, her reality mixes with the nature around her. For Lyuda, her reality mixes with her emotions from the past. The physical world around us is often only a part of what constitutes our experience of the world.

  • What different realities do you include in your day-to-day life? Future plans? Past joys or sadnesses? Dream lovers? Flying over the rooftops of your town or village?
  • Should we dream more in our everyday lives? Is using our imaginations always positive or should we stay more rooted in the physical around us?
  • Should we encourage children to imagine and pretend and live in their multiple realities (the grown up world / the children’s world / made-up worlds), or should we teach them one reality?
Download pdf of Book Notes


I open my eyes to see falling white flowers.

I am lying on my back, a young girl dreaming in the springtime of Ukraine, and the branches of the lilac tree above me are moving from side to side in a warm wind. Syringa, buzok, lilac in a trembling morning light.

The sunshine touches my face as it tumbles between the bright leaves. It moves from side to side with the wind and brushes gently over my skin, painting it golden, shadow, golden, shadow. A girl in a white dress, painted gold and warm and springlight. I open my eyes and close them. This spring, the nights and days are stretching themselves out in a half-heat sleep, the garden is full of high grass and early poppies, and the fragrance of the lilac draws out the sunshine hours in a heavy flowered dream. Barely open, barely closed.

There is another scent here, quite distinct from the white star lilac. The smell of the black earth. I turn my head to the side, so that the sunshine is brushing just one cheek golden, and my skin is close down, touching the soil. Above me, the wind moves the leaves before my eyes between spectrums of light. White to gold, gold to white. I slowly turn my springtime head. Golden to black. I close my eyes. The smell of the dark earth enters my senses and I breathe deeply.

It is Ukraina. It is home.


I live in Bukovina, in a village that lies between the black and golden flats of farmland and the wolved forest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains. I am seven years old. The house where Mama and I live is a faded brick red, and our windows are painted in a cracked white and bright turquoise blue. There is a wooden gate with a broken latch that opens onto the dusty village street, and a path through our garden leading to a narrow white-painted bench next to the kitchen door. Our land stretches in layers of high grass and scattered flowers down to the woods below.

I am sitting now on the wooden bench, the lavochka, and I swing my warm legs up and down. Next to me, the kitchen door is open. Across the garden is the lilac tree and I watch as tiny flowers are carried down in the breeze, drifting to the ground below, to the pressed dark earth where I love to lie, daydreaming, gazing up into a panoply of lilac stars.

This garden, this spring, this dazzling sunlight, the sound of a solitary bird singing, feels like a dream shimmering around me. The white lilac, my thin dress, the constant deep smell of Ukrainian earth; it could all be a dream were it not for a streak of dirt on my skin and the touch of cold water when I wash it off. Cold water splashed from a silver bucket on a spring day. A dog barking in the distance. A faint smudge of dirt and my skin rising against the droplets. I look up into the light. Streaks of memory now forming against a background of falling gold.


Sometimes I prefer to sit in the tree above. A bird. A leaf. A single star from a cluster of lilac. I catch a thread of song across the garden and release myself into it, shift the girl into a quiet background and enter the breath of music, which carries me into the bird.

And for a moment I am that music, shimmering against the air, and then I am creating the music. It is I who am singing. I am within the spirit of the bird. And I look around me at the springtime garden and I know why I am singing. The insistent green that is everywhere! The birds that are returning to familiar gardens! The flowers exploding into bloom with every new instant of sunshine!

I look down and see that the lilac cups are filled to the brim with night-time dewdrops and I stop singing and urgently dip my head down and push my beak into the yellow centre to drink the delicious liquid. The scent and the taste are sunshine flowers and I dip again and again and splash my wings into the dew so that my feathers are sprayed with the droplets.

The rush of so many sensations makes me suddenly dizzy and I clasp the branch with my claw feet and open my wings, letting the warm wind calm me, blow my feathers dry.

I jerk my head from side to side, dark eyes darting around, and below I glimpse the outline of a girl, a star in a black-earth sky. I see her, a flower from the tree, a gleam of sunlight, me – a bird! And then I look up from the middle of the branch of bright leaves into the whiteness all around me. The wind touches my damp feathers. The river is not far. I turn my head, checking the air above and the girl below turns her cheek to one side. I open my wings and rise up out of the tree, flapping hard, a song gathering itself inside me. I fly towards the river.

[Extract taken from Chapter 1]

Download all of Chapter 1