Arlo and the Vortex Voyage

Winner, IP Picks Best Junior Prose, 2010, Arlo and the Vortex Voyage is a fascinating fantasy. When Arlo and Kate go rock-climbing, the last thing they expect is to be caught up in a vortex and transported through to another universe. The absence of television and junk food is the least of their problems.

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Winner, IP Picks Best Junior Prose, 2010

When Arlo and Kate go rock-climbing, the last thing they expect is to be caught up in a vortex and transported through to another universe. The absence of television and junk food is the least of their problems.

In the tiny island village – now their whole world – the disturbance caused by their arrival makes them Public Enemy Number One to those in power.

Can they make a life in this place if they’re trapped there forever? Or will they succeed in reaching their own universe again?

That’s if they can survive long enough to find a way to make a choice…

Juliet Blair

Juliet Blair has seen many changes in her native Sydney. (Her school transport was a steam train.) A teacher by vocation, she has taught languages and ESL from Kindergarten to Year 12, while bringing up three boys. Her credits to date include short stories in Woman's Day and other mass market magazines. Now, in retirement, a new career beckons. It's never too late!


So there I was, at ten past midnight, sitting like a seagull on a rock. A very wet rock.

I was wondering whether Kate would show up, and whether it would be better if she did or she didn’t, and feeling like a complete nigel.

My name isn’t Nigel, by the way. It’s Arlo, which is just as bad. I’m called after a folk singer from the distant past, like the seventies or something. Get used to it. I had to.

She was ten minutes late. Maybe I should go home, I thought. A deserted beach at night – there’s no place lonelier. And it was freezing cold, too. I tied the string of my hoodie tighter. It didn’t help much. And what was I there for? To do some midnight rock-climbing. I hate rock-climbing, even in the daytime.

Kate loves it. What we had planned for tonight was nothing to her. “It’s a cinch,” she’d told me. “Even for a beginner. And the rock shelf is only half-way up. Perfect viewing platform.” Perfect for her, maybe.

I wanted to do the climb in the afternoon, but there’s a ‘danger, falling rocks’ sign there, and Kate said that someone would be sure to stop us. “No, it has to be midnight,” she said. “It’s nearly as bright as day, with the floodlights, and there aren’t so many people around.”

I moved further into the shadows. Kids hanging around the beach at night attract attention. Not that I thought I was a kid – I was thirteen, after all – but that’s what a guy in a car had just yelled at me: “Watch where you’re going, kid!”

The more I thought about this climb, the less I liked it. But Kate was set on it. She said she had something to show me.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s a sort of spiral of tiny lights. You can hardly see it at all in daylight, but in the dark you can’t miss it.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“Neither have I. Or I hadn’t till last Saturday. I call it the Vortex.”

It sounded dangerous to me, like something that would suck you in if you weren’t careful. I stepped back and looked up, but of course I couldn’t see anything. Only the tower of the castle, with the moon rising above its tooth-edged stone battlements.

Is it a real castle? As if. This is New South Wales, not Transylvania. No, it’s a community centre, built by a mad mayor from Scotland with a passion for all things mediaeval. Or rather, it’s one half of a community centre.

It was split in two, fourteen years ago, one night when there was a terrible storm and an earthquake. The other half of the castle disappeared, along with a headland, a small bay and the land behind them. The newspapers called it the Cataclysm, and the name stuck.

The sign over the door of the building, which once read ‘SCHOOL OF ARTS’, now reads ‘SCHOOL O’. I think it would have been better if we’d kept the other half. Then it would have read ‘F ARTS’.

The castle may be phoney, but the sinister atmosphere is real all right. Some people say that the ghosts of the people who died in the Cataclysm still haunt the place where they were last seen. Seventy people, waiting out the storm in their houses, thinking they were safe. One of them was Kate’s great-aunt Norma.

You’d have expected something to be found – debris, bodies, washed up later perhaps – but no. All the houses, animals and people were lost without trace. All the people but one.

His name was Warren Mills. He was found on a beach in Tasmania, barely alive, battered and broken, amid the wreckage of his boat. Strangest of all, it was four years after his disappearance. Where, and how, had he been living for those four years? No-one knew. And Warren couldn’t tell his story. Brain damage, memory loss, speech defects – he held his story locked inside his mind, and no-one could discover it.

He was still living in Southcliff, in a shack, looking after himself in a basic way, a scruffy old loner to be greeted and then left to himself, as he preferred.

“Oy, Arlo! What’re you standing there for? You’re getting all wet!”

Uh-oh. Kate. Rock-climbing was on.

“Just being haunted by the ghosts of the Cataclysm.”

“Why would they bother haunting you? Forget it. Just a sec, I’ve got to put my rock-climbing shoes on.” She took off her sneakers and tied them to her belt.

Kate had brought a pile of equipment with her: ropes and webbing and clips, and two shiny helmets.

“Helmets?” I said. It made the climb seem more dangerous.

“Have to. I promised Dad I’d never climb without one.”

She was stuck on obeying her dad, but she hadn’t told him a thing about the climb we’d planned for tonight. I hadn’t told mine, either. For obvious reasons.

I tried on the blue helmet for size. Not bad. Kate’s helmet was red. The rock-climbing shoes she was putting on were thin and delicate, like athletic ballet slippers. I looked at my clumsy sneakers and felt more doubtful than ever.

“Kate, is this a good idea? If anyone sees us, we’ve had it.”

“Who’s going to see us?” Kate stood up. “There’s nobody here. Not a soul.”

“Euarrgh.” The sound came from the other side of the rocks. We both jumped. Then we heard the clanking of a bucket.

“Warren,” we said together.

Warren it was. Shuffling and grimacing as always, carrying a bucket and a fishing rod, he came into view round the cliff.

ISBN : 9781921479663
Weight N/A
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Ebook, PB


ePub, PB, pdf

Customer Reviews

1-5 of 5 reviews

  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Well done, Juliet Blair! What a great read. Juliet has created a whole new dimension in a believable world, so much so that I imagine young readers may be inclined to search beach rock faces for swirling vortexes. A piece of paper with a scribbled note may never look the same again, in case it is a message from another place. You will not be disappointed if you pick up this book.

    Arlo and his friend Kate are often up to a bit of mild, harmless trouble; normal for a couple of young teens. Kate, who is an experienced young rock climber, drags Arlo out for a late night climb to see her unusual find. They soon discover there is a whole lot more to the swirling rocky formation then a pretty pattern though.
    The beach community of Southcliff, where they live, had an unusual land shift many years ago where an entire section of the town was swallowed up; it seemed that no one involved survived. But as Arlo and Kate soon discover, they were the victims of a large vortex opening. They find themselves in the very place the missing piece of Southcliff ended up. While some things have stayed the same, much has changed. The small community of Spindrift, as it is known, has had to survive without modern technologies and conveniences, and very limited resources. The locals have created their own laws and rules and it becomes clear very quickly that Arlo and Kate are a long way from home. With family, school and normality so far away and their lives in a danger they could never have predicted, how will they adapt to their strange new world? Will they find a way to get home? With Spindrift’s bizarre rules, which make life for an outsider impossible, will two inventive modern kids find solutions before it is too late?

    Take the plunge with Arlo and the Vortex Voyage; you won’t regret it. Juliet Blair has added the right features for a brilliant junior novel which can cross into a wider audience. The characters are full with individual relatable traits and personal circumstances, such as divided families and the deep-seated emotions that arise from absence. I love that the mysterious world is not too unusual, as it really creates such an element of the possible that you can consider the reality of the situation. Like being on a deserted island without your ipod and gameboy; it could happen under the right set of circumstances. The Spindrift residents are a well created mixed bag. Imagine the isolation where a cult-like commandment rules over the community, some who follow by the letter and agree whole heartedly, others who do because they don’t have a choice, and those who are secretly looking for a way out. Power, greed, adventure, friendship and a whole lot of other juicy contributions really make this book a gem. Get your hands on it!

    – Angela Hall, Bug in a Book

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    This is a novel about the adventures of the title’s hero, Arlo and his friend Kate. One day they are rock climbing at the beach … at midnight. During the climb they are sucked away through the rock into an alternative version of an Australian Beach town. Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of modern comforts, like television and junk food. There is, however, a large quantity of intrigue and adventure.¨

    The small town in the story has been sucked there because of a cataclysm some ten years earlier. In that time the local committee has engaged in a little social engineering to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. The plot centres around the protagonists’ attempts to navigate the politics of the local town and to find a way home. It all hangs together fairly well and the language is descriptive and solid. Suitable for older primary children and up.

    – Reading Time

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    When Arlo’s friend, Kate asks him to meet her to do some rock climbing up a cliff on the beach at midnight, he is intrigued and nervous. What they see when they climb the cliff mesmerises then captures them as they are accidentally drawn into a vortex.

    They emerge into a beachside settlement that they discover is the part of their home community that disappeared mysteriously without trace in the Cataclysm some years earlier, during a storm. Arlo and Kate are confronted by having to live in an isolated community that is surviving with limited resources. There are no mobile phones, no school as they know it, no shops, no junk food, no internet. Priorities are different and so are the rules of this community as they soon find out.

    This fast-paced story explores many issues associated with authority, survival, relationships and independence and will keep the reader intrigued to the last page as dramatic events unfold. This book is suitable for readers aged 10 plus.

    – Margaret Warner, Buzz Words

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    Arlo’s pal, Kate, inveigles him into a midnight cliff-climb to see a strange swirl of lights she’s found. The pair are sucked through that vortex into a part of their town which cracked away in a storm years before. The breakaway town is completely cut off from the ‘real’ world and has evolved a social structure, with governing body and legal system. One basic rule – no discussion of the world they used to know is permitted! How difficult is that going to be for Arlo and Kate, who just slipped through from there? The castaway colony has evolved ingenious strategies for survival using whatever was still available to them. At compulsory school, part of the curriculum is work experience, such as gutting fish, or cleaning out human waste! The teens spend their free time trying to find a vortex to take them home, which is of course considered against the rules by the governing body. The tale is cleverly told an the ingenuity and bravery of the two children, the obtuseness of most of the castaways, all are convincingly described. A satisfying story; not just boys, but girls too will relate to Arlo and Kate. Holiday reading for young teens.

    – Crisetta MacLeod, AurealisXpress

    July 12, 2023
  • IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

    This is a book that I would buy, and would re-read with pleasure.

    – Sally Odgers

    July 12, 2023

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