Authors Simsion and Buist on reinventing yourself

It's said the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the famous pilgrims' walk through France and Spain, changes its wayfarers irrevocably.

After hiking 2038 kilometres in 87 days in 2011, Anne Buist made a decision to worry less, write more.

Husband Graeme Simsion picked up an abandoned screen script that became The Rosie Project, the international bestseller of late-blooming first love.

Six years later their path to personal reinvention has resulted in a collaboration, Two Steps Forward, a novel of mature love and self discovery set against the scenic backdrop of the pilgrims' walk.

It's the story of a British engineer divorcee and a recently widowed artist who meet for the first time on the Camino and has been optioned by Ellen De Generes for the big screen, one of four film projects Simsion and Buist have in development or optioned.

"Back in my day grandparents didn't go to the gym, they knitted or pottered in the garden and you were seen as old in your 60s and yet there were many people in their 60s and 70s walking the Camino," Simsion said. "Part of the motivation of writing a book about reinvention is that we have both reinvented ourselves to some extent."

Buist, a psychiatrist, took to the Camino after finishing a six-month sabbatical at a peri-natal mental health unit based at Yale University where she watched her senior colleague struggling with work demands and raising triplets.

Buist was also coming to terms with the death of a patient. "We did the debriefing and all of that; I was holding everyone together and I never acknowledged my own grief and just buried it."

The Camino was a chance for the couple, partners for 28 years, to rethink their priorities.

The couple walked out of the door of their French farmhouse with backpacks and walked some of the less known routes of the Camino from Cluny to Le Puy, then St Jean Pied de Port, then through the Pyrenees to join the Camino del Norte and finishing on the Camino Primitivo.

"We would have some twinge and we'd think, 'this is our last day','' Simsion said. "There was this one time when Anne had her knee all iced and we thought this was the end of it but every morning we got up, we could walk again.''

While younger walkers were brought to tears by blisters, the couple carried their own gear. "No taxi, not a one," Simsion adds.

For Simsion, walking the Camino was less a spiritual journey than a "useful time out" at a critical phase in the development of The Rosie Project.

"I became a lot more aware of my surroundings, I became much more centred in place, if you like, instead of constantly in my head. The Camino forces you to live on a bit of a day-to-day basis, to be very conscious of what's around you, to be very much in the moment."

"Within a few weeks of the walk he was videoing butterflies," Buist chimed in. "I was thinking, 'Is that my husband, there?'."

Buist wrote from Zoe's perspective, Simsion from Martin's. They then merged the two journeys. Simsion reduced the manuscript to half its size and they edited each other's chapters.

In between drafts Simsion turned the screenplay for The Rosie Project, the story of a genetics professor who embarks on a quest to find a wife by way of a 16-page questionnaire, into a novel. Simsion wrote it's sequel The Rosie Effect and The Best of Adam Sharp. Buist, true to her word, published 10 erotic romances, and a trilogy of psychological crime thrillers beginning with Medea's Curse.

"It's probably been 18 months of quite intense work together on this book, and I would say in that period of time we would have had two hours of being annoyed with each other," said Simsion. "All the rest has been remarkably smooth."

Simsion's next writing project is a third book in the Rosie series with Professor Don Tillman as a new father. He's adamant there will be no fourth.

Two Steps Forward is published by Text Publishing from October 2.

This story Authors Simsion and Buist on reinventing yourself first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.