Australian New Releases

Two newly released novels for young readers! I look forward to reading, by the very talented Australian authors Jackie French and Gabrielle Wang. The book covers are gorgeous.

	The Beast of Hushing Wood - Gabrielle WangMiss Lily's Lovely Ladies - Jackie French

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism. Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Each year at secluded Shillings Hall, in the snow-crisped English countryside, the mysterious Miss Lily draws around her young women selected from Europe’s royal and most influential families. Her girls are taught how to captivate a man – and find a potential husband – at a dinner, in a salon, or at a grouse shoot, and in ways that would surprise outsiders. For in 1914, persuading and charming men is the only true power a woman has.

Sophie Higgs is the daughter of Australia’s king of corned beef and the only ‘colonial’ brought to Shillings Hall. Of all Miss Lily’s lovely ladies, however, she is also the only one who suspects Miss Lily’s true purpose.

The Beast of Hushing Woods

A powerful magic realism story about Ziggy Truegood, a young girl who has a premonition that she will drown on her 12th birthday.

Ziggy Truegood lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. The townspeople are fighting, Ziggy feels like something is hunting her, and her beloved woods have become dark and hostile. When exotic Raffi and his grandfather arrive in town, Ziggy finds herself strangely drawn to them. But are they there to save Ziggy, or are they the hunters?

Chatting with Claire Varley (interview published by The Regal Fox)

Claire Varley is a Melbourne-based author and community development worker. Her debut novel The Bit in Between, a witty story of love loss and travel was published by Pan Macmillan in 2015. Her second novel is set to be released in 2017.

Varley’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many publications, including The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, and The Regal Fox. Varley is a supporter of the Australian literary community and frequently reviews Australian novels in the form of haikus. MAGGIE JANULOSKA and CLAIRE VARLEY had a chance to talk books, the joys of writing and creativity.

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MJ: The West Australian described your debut novel as “full of heart and humour.” It starts with two unlikely people meeting in an airport lounge and forging a somewhat turbulent relationship. What inspired you to write your novel, The Bit in Between?

CV: I wrote the novel while I was working and living in the Solomon Island and originally I wrote an entirely different manuscript and then put it in the bin. It had a sci-fi idea running through it, I was enamoured with Terry Pratchett growing up and thought sci-fi and the Solomon Islands would go together. After I finished it, I knew it wasn’t the book I wanted to write, I wanted to write something which would better engage with the island and people. I wanted to write about the different people living and passing through the Solomon Island and tell more about these people and what their stories were.

MJ: How would you describe your publishing process? How long did it all take and what advice would you give to writers who might be pitching their novels?

CV: My biggest bit of advice would be to be patient. When I came back from the Solomon Islands, I sent my manuscript out in the world and it was rejected for a year by publishers. I think chance plays a part, especially when it comes to the slush pile. It depends on when publishers go through their slush pile and if they put your manuscript in their maybe pile, then if the publisher decides to look in the maybe pile and if the story resonates with them. Obviously you want to submit your best work and remember that when someone says no, it doesn’t mean your work is the worst piece ever written, it just means it isn’t the right thing for publishers at the moment.

MJ: What can you tell us about your upcoming 2017 novel?

CV: I just got my first lot of editorial feedback and I’m quite hesitant to say what it’s about because it may all change. It’s set in the north of Melbourne and it’s looking at some of the different people living in the inner and outer north. I wrote about where I was living and I wanted the novel to look at the idea of people living suburbs away from each other, but having completely different lifestyles and experiences of the world.

MJ: Describe your writing process; do you set yourself daily goals? Are you a planner or do you just let your story take you to new and exciting places without premeditation?

CV: I used to think that I was not a planner and I went with the flow, but I’ve actually realised I do plan everything. I do a lot of planning with novels because I write about multiple characters and I’m interested in the characters’ intersections and exploring how their journeys mirror or differ from each other. Often I know where I’m starting and know where I’m ending and have some idea of the middle.

MJ: How does an idea for a novel start? Is it a single idea or a character or scene?

CV: With The Bit in Between the first thing I wrote was the end scene and once I had the characters and knew where they ended up, I wanted to explore how they got there. With the new novel, it came out of a rubbish first attempt at a manuscript when I realised I didn’t like anything in it except this one character, so I wanted that character to have their own story. What about you? How do you find your own process?

MJ: It starts with an idea which keeps nudging me in the back of my mind. It wants to be written. If the idea isn’t that good or memorable I usually forget it within a day, but if it’s a good idea it stews up for a week or two and once I sit down it flows out on paper. The idea for my children’s novel came after teaching historical fiction to a class and one student wanted to write about vermin exterminators in medieval times. I thought the idea was really original and strange, so it stayed with me for a while and after my student forgot about the task, I ended up starting a story about a young girl in 1600s France who is sent out of home to apprentice for a rat-catcher.

CV: How do you prepare for writing historical fiction? My biggest fear would be getting things wrong. How do you get over your anxieties about getting things historically inaccurate?

MJ: I’ve studied history throughout university and I’ve had to reference events which happened at the time. My novel involves a plague, so I had to research real plagues and ways people protected themselves. I’ve tried to make the language accessible, without being too old or too modern. Research has been half the fun for me. Is there a mantra which keeps you motivated during the writing process?

CV: Not so much a saying, but I think what’s the worst that can happen? If you write something terrible, it doesn’t matter because you can edit it and improve it or you can write something better. What about you?

MJ: I like to think quitting isn’t an option. I also like the saying, “only dead fish go with the flow,” it reminds me to persevere and stick to what makes me happy. Australian stories are very unique. What’s your favourite thing about the Australian literary scene?

CV: I think it’s a really interesting time for the Australian literary scene, particularly with the changes recommended by the Productivity Commission in terms of copyright and parallel importation laws. I think it’s a really troubling time for the Australian literary scene. It’s an amazing scene and we are producing important stories and moving towards having more reflective writing. There’s still a long way to go in terms of who’s getting published, but we are at a time where the diversity of writers are reflecting the diversity of the community and we are realising that to be an Australian writer means there’s not just one Australian story. We are finally celebrating the fact that Australian stories look like a hundred different things and that’s what excites me.

MJ: I remember growing up and Looking for Alibrandi was the only book which was so radical in the sense that it was about being ethnic and embracing your identity.

CL: There’s value in our stories being about all kinds of people and families, but not necessarily being what the book is ‘about’. That a character might have a background or sexuality or identity that differs from what we’re used to reading about, but that the story isn’t necessarily ‘about’ that point of difference. These stories are all part of ‘Australian literature’. What excites you about the Australian lit scene?

MJ: I like the camaraderie between Australian authors and the quality of work in the last few years and the push towards celebrating what makes Australian stories different.

CV: I agree. Any writer knows how difficult it is to write and maintain any kind of lifestyle. With the proposed changes it would be harder for Australian publishers to publish Australian books. We got to a point where we are reading so much of our own writing, why would you want to step back from that?

MJ: If only Australian writers or creative minds were paid or respected as much as athletes. What’s been a memorable Australian book you’ve read recently?

CV: I found myself reading so many Australian novels last year not by conscious choice but because there is just so much good stuff coming out at the moment. I recently read Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident. I’ve also just read Charlotte Woods’ The Natural Way of Things. It was wonderfully written and it was a wonderfully put criticism on the treatment of women.

MJ: I just finished Lee Kofman’s The Dangerous Bride, your novel and Laurinda by Alice Pung. Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you combat it?

CV: I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block, but I believe that you have to give yourself time and not to put pressure on yourself. It doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. For me, it’s more about being unhappy with parts of the story and not knowing what fits where. It’s important to give yourself time to get there. It helps with space and time. What about you?

MJ: Leaving your story for a few days, exercise and a change of scenery work for me. Also doing something out of my comfort zone, seeing a foreign movie or reading really helps.

CV: Reading is fantastic for working out problems. If I get frustrated with writing I’ll sit down with a book and two pages in, I’ll suddenly have an idea. I don’t write every single day because I have a day job and I’m too tired after work, but I still think.

MJ: What’s been your proudest writer moment to date and what are your goals for your literary future?

CV: When the box arrives and you see your book for the first time it’s a hugely validating moment. That was a pivotal moment for me, being able to hold my book and see it in bookshops. Also I’m proud that I’ve been persistent since writing is a difficult thing, especially finding time for it and setting up your life so you aren’t penniless and desolate. It’s difficult to find a balance in your life and I’m proud because as difficult as it has been I’ve been persistent.

At the moment I have a vision for where I see the next book and also during the extended period of waiting to hear from publishers, I researched and plotted a third book. My goal is to deliver my stories as I see them in my mind and tell the stories how I think they should be told. What about you, what’s been your proudest writer moment?

MJ: This year I was published in the Award Winning Australian Writing anthology. I don’t know if it’s a big deal but seeing yourself featured among amazing Australian writers has been validating. Not giving up after many rejections and having a tough skin has taught me a lot about myself. Which book has had a profound influence on you and shaped you as an author?

CV: Zadie Smith novels are some of my favourite, not that I think I in any way write like her. I admire her characters and her complexity. She is a profoundly talented writer who writes so well about life. Growing up, Terry Pratchett was one of the most important writers in my life. I read his work from a young age and although his fantasy writing is different to what I write, I’ve been influenced by his ability to take serious or important social issues and write in a funny approachable way. What about you?

MJ: As a child, I read The Count of Monte Cristo. I fell in love with mystery and adventure stories. Recently I read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and the story has been with me for months. It’s so haunting and descriptive. It’s not an easy feat to feel sympathy for a murderer by the end and hate you for doing it at the same time. After writing it Capote declared he couldn’t bear to write another novel. Also The Shadow of the Wind series of books have had a profound influence. They are very noir and gothic, with Dickensian elements and lot of heart. If you could have a dinner party with three creative figures who would they be?

CV: Zadie Smith, even though I’d feel very intimidated talking in front of her. I would invite Neil Gaiman who is one of my favourite writers. Also I’d invite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. She’s fabulous and wonderfully insightful. I love her feminism and her approach on women’s issues. It would be an interesting dinner party because I’d just be quiet, serve hors d’oeuvres and listen.

MJ: For me it would be Patti Smith. She’s one of the last survivors of that era. I just read M Train and I loved reading about her daily life. Next would be Frida Kahlo who I discovered as a teenager and I fell in love with her art and her spirit. She had a hard life and suffered growing up, but her story resonates with so many women. The last would be the wonderful Leonard Cohen. I was lucky to see him live in 2013. I cried for a week after his passing, it was like losing a dear teacher or a grandfather who’s been there in a strange way. His music is always with me.

CV: I was a wreck when Terry Pratchett died. It’s amazing that people you’ve never met can have such a profound impact on your life and your grief is so real. It just shows how important the arts are how they can reach people and connect with people oceans away.

MJ: That’s why people write, sculpt, paint or make music. The point is to share your story and voice and touch someone. Pursuing a creative path is never easy, but it is so rewarding. What has your creative experience as a writer taught you? Can you imagine yourself not writing?

CV: I can’t imagine myself not writing because it’s something I’ve always done and it’s something I’ve done for myself primarily. It’s taught me a lot about patience and having confidence in myself. In the creative process you get to a point where you are never done. The creative arts are not a linear thing. Every new project you approach as a student and you have to learn and relearn how something needs to be done. It’s a process where you have to be kind and patient with yourself. What about you?

MJ: The creative process has taught me that I can do it, I can write. I can be as good as other writers. Writing is not a passing fancy. It’s something I do and something I have to do for my own sanity and happiness. Claiming the title of ‘writer’ is also a big deal. I’d be miserable if I worked in my day job without a creative outlet.

CV: I work out who I am and how I process things through my writing. I learn so much about myself. For some people writing is a part of their self-care.

Claire Varley and Maggie Januloska

Short Story – Treat

Treat

She was exhausted, buried by her tweed school uniform, waiting for the tram. The heat was stifling, early summer. That was the fateful day it first happened.

After two sleepless years of cramming, expensive lessons and university-level textbooks, the exam for a Year 10 scholarship was over. Alice’s brain felt dissected. Alice, along with six hundred other anxious girls, pushed through the three-hour ordeal, prudently shading in bubbles on an answer sheet that would determine their future.

Things were black and white in the world of exams. Things were black and white in her parents’ world too. If Alice was accepted into the leafy suburb college, she’d be considered worthy. If she wasn’t, she’d be considered a failure, not as smart as so-and-so’s daughter. It seemed there was no in-between.

The tram was delayed and the heat was scorching, so Alice walked into the air-conditioned Carlton bookstore. Her eyes widened, the store was bigger than her entire home and there were books from floor to ceiling. She circled past the new-releases, memoirs, adventures, classics. Alice picked up a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel and winced at the $32.00 price tag. She placed the novel where she found it, but a wicked little voice whispered inside her mind. Do it, this can be your secret, you deserve it. No one has to know.

Novels were forbidden at home, an unnecessary frivolity, a hindrance to exams, chores and homework. Novels were for indulged, lazy girls, according to her mother. Novels could fill her mind with silly ideas; fray away all the years of moulding a perfect student.

Yet, the scholarship exam was over and Alice thought she deserved a treat for all her efforts. She looked over her shoulder, the sales assistant was gabbing on the phone. Alice carefully peeled the book’s barcode and slid the book in her blazer. Her heart was thumping; she had never felt so wicked. She felt wicked, but alive. She was defying her parents, she was rebelling against order. In that moment, she was everything she had never been: brave, a rule-breaker, a criminal. Cavalierly, she walked out, alarms were not raised, and no one stopped her.

She returned to the tram stop, climbed aboard and once the tram started rattling, retrieved her prize from inside her blazer. She caressed the embossed sepia cover and dove into post-war Barcelona, a realm where her anxieties did not exist.

Alice devoured the book in two days, tucking it under her mattress as if hiding love letters. Knowing the forbidden item was with her made her giddy, in control of her destiny.

Yet Alice could not keep the novel. That was never her intention. She would read it, copy out her favourite lines and memorise them, allow the words to seep into her soul. Then she would return the book back to the shelf. Her guilt would lessen; she wouldn’t be a thief, just a book borrower.

Returning to the bookstore, Alice placed the book where she found it, careful not to leave any creases or marks on the pages and covers. She was not spotted, so Alice browsed the other shelves, her eyes mesmerised by a book of poetry by Lang Leav. Her hands twitched and she licked her lips. Within moments, the book of poetry was inside her blazer. Alice returned home ecstatic.

As the last term of Year 9 trickled away, Alice’s book acquisition continued. The bookstore was sleepy during the 3pm slump. In the summer months, she read Nabokov, Orwell, and Emily Brontё. She read the words of rebels. She plunged into a pool of vibrancy. Alice felt alive, unchained in those final days of freedom.

Two months after her first book acquisition, Alice received a letter. The prestigious inner-city college accepted her to start Year 10, the following year. She was one of the lucky eighty girls. Her stomach was in knots. This was all she ever wanted, wasn’t it?

That afternoon her parents showered her with attention, they phoned overseas and boasted, bought Alice mud cake and balloons. Yet, the same words flooded her mind: law, engineering, medicine, Maths Methods, Physics, and Chemistry. She was returning to the world of black and white.

The new school year dawned and Alice’s book acquisitions did not recommence. There wasn’t any time to read for pleasure. She was drowning under the weight of glossaries, formulas and scientific journals. She was gasping for air. Her hair fell out in clumps. Her nights were sleepless, with purple rings circling her eyes. Alice carried a mountain of pressure on her back.

The year passed, so did others. Alice’s days were full of academic responsibilities. She seldom thought of the novels she once read and her desire to read others waned. The prospect of reading was exhausting, not worth her limited time. Weekends were spent revising or consulting frazzled friends on their assignments.

Alice’s hard work paid off. She finished high school with immaculate grades and was accepted to study medicine at Melbourne University. Another six years passed in a blur.

One rainy morning, Alice walked past the familiar bookstore. She has just returned from her first serious job interview at a goliath medical research centre. She was offered a salary that doubled her parents’, a neat little office too. She walked home with a spring in her step. Yet a familiar itch found her. After a long break, she walked into the bookstore. The familiar smell met her, but the displays were all different. It was like returning to a home you once grew up in. Alice prowled around the best-sellers, fingering a wartime romance which had been adapted into a film. Her parents no longer cared if she read novels. For once, she had a bit of time to spare. This time, she could easily afford to buy the novel, she had the money.

Yet she wanted to do it again, for old time’s sake. After years of hard work, she deserved a naughty treat. She wanted the thrill, the ill repute. Alice wanted to secretly rebel after over two decades of obedience. She took the risk, sliding the book in her handbag. She exited the bookstore with the same adolescent bravado.

But Alice was rusty. She did not remove the security tag on the book. The alarm was triggered. “Miss, excuse me,” the sales assistant pointed and stomped towards Alice.

In a state of panic, Alice ran. One moment of foolishness could unravel all that she had built. She would be handcuffed and dragged to a police station, her parents would be mortified. Channel 7 would flash her face, a would-be doctor caught stealing books. Who would hire her? She ran in her uncomfortable heels, jostling past people on the footpath. The sales assistant did not slow down. Alice retrieved the stolen book and threw it. She lost the evidence. She looked back and saw the sales assistant stop and pick it up.

Alice ran across the road, not bothering to look out for traffic. A Volvo’s tyres screeched, but it was too late.

New Short Story, published by The Regal Fox

Word by Word

 

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Seeing the dismal book choices in the prison library, if you would call it a library, I think of the old man. I can almost hear him sneering and shaking his head in disapproval.

The books are in tatters, with frayed spines and water-stained covers. They are all the same moralising tales, same censored swill meant to extinguish any desire to kill or thieve. I rummage through the pile and come across Dostoyevsky. I smirk, the old man must be here in spirit, laughing at me. The book cover is the same seasick colour as the old man’s copy in his bookshop. The same book could fetch approximately eight dollars on the outside. I once told him, he couldn’t pay me enough to sit through reading such a brick, but look at me now. Life has a way of playing these tricks on us.

The summer I was fifteen, I needed money and I hadn’t discovered petty theft yet. My father wasn’t around to take me to his worksite for a few dollars. I preferred to be out of the house and out of my stepfather’s hair, so I roamed the streets  until something purposeful caught my eye.

I could sell books. What did I know about books? Nothing. I hated school, dreaded returning the following year. My writing was appalling, an assault to the eyes as one teacher put it. Yet I wandered into the bookshop, hands in pockets and full of adolescent bravado.

The old man was reclining in his chair. The radio played his jazz tunes and he languidly smoked his pipe, immersed in a book. Despite the scorching heat, he wore a suit, his pants bore a sharp crease and his collar was white and crisp. He looked impeccable, unlike anyone in my neighbourhood. My stepfather didn’t own a suit and my father only wore his at funerals.

I can’t say what he saw in me, perhaps it was companionship or the need to mould me into someone with a purpose. He didn’t pay much, but then again the job wasn’t that difficult. For a few hours in the afternoon, I’d sort the shelves, dust, check inventory, and assist with any inquiries. The old man was there to correct me. No, that’s not how you spell the author’s last name, no that doesn’t belong on that shelf, move it. To him, books were salient things – who would have thought I’d use one of his big and fancy words? “People will disappoint you and abandon you, but books never will. You’ll never be alone if you read,” he said. I didn’t believe him at the time. I regret not finding out his story. I was curious, but I was shy and proud to ask him questions.

Business was never great, but he had enough money to live on and throw a few dollars to me. He seemed content, brewing his coffee on the stove, listening to old world music I couldn’t decipher, twirling his worry beads in his leathery hands. He talked with a lilting accent, deep and harsh. He’d open a Russian volume of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky and he’d pull a blank sheet of paper. He’d read a sentence in Russian, pause and write it out in English, his lettering neat and graceful.

“Um, there are English translations of that book,” I’d shake my head.
“I am aware, but where is the fun in that?
So you are going to translate the whole book, how can you be bothered? It will take you forever, you are not getting any younger.”
I’ll get there, step by step, word by word, page by page. Patience is a virtue, friend.”

He didn’t force books upon me. I learnt what sold and what didn’t; I learnt what was trash and what was treasure. There were times when I watched the old man and envied the joy he felt when he read. He’d retell me the story, but I’d snort and pretend not to care. When he’d leave for dinner, with a carnation habitually attached to his lapel, I’d sit in his chair, smoke some of his cigarettes and rummage through his belongings.

I never took anything from him. I just opened his favourite books, the ones which were not for sale and were kept hidden behind the counter. Taking a breath, I would power through, first a paragraph, then a page and then a chapter. There was history, philosophy, poetry, Dickens, Victor Hugo, James Joyce. When the old man returned to lock up, I’d run away from his spot and feign indifference. What I regret most is not telling him how much I appreciated the books I sneakily devoured and how much I appreciated him.

I can’t remember how my employment ended. Summer ended, I returned to school, got preoccupied by other shenanigans and pushed away the people who reached out to me.

One year, when I was in my blurry twenties, I heard the bookshop burnt down. The old man survived, but I never saw him again. I never found out where he moved to. Why didn’t I ever try to find him? Today the bookshop has been rebuilt as a Chinese takeaway shop.

In my cell, all I have is time. My hand caresses the cover of The Brothers Karamazov, I smell the dusty smell of the yellowed paper.

“You must be feeling brave, if you are about to read all of that. I haven’t touched a book since primary school,” my cellmate smirks.
Got to keep the mind sharp, I’ll get there. I’ll read step by step, word by word, page by page. Patience is a virtue, friend.”

I find myself repeating the old man’s words. Wherever he is, in that moment, I feel the old man close to me.

Books I read in 2015

Finding time to read is a challenge, but this year I was lucky to tackle over 20 books. Some were good, some were great and a few were sub-par, but each was a journey. I’ve read and discovered some brilliant Australian authors and delved into some Y.A and children’s fiction.  I’ve highlighted some of my favourites.

The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville

Stasiland – Anna Funder 

No Regrets, Edith Piaf biography – Carolyn Burke

A Story Lately Told – Anjelica Huston

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

Drink, Smoke, Pass Out – Judith Lucy

A Feast for Crows – George R.R Martin

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

Peaches for Father Francis – Joanna Harris

A Movable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

The Star of Kazan – Eva Ibbotson

Almost French – Sarah Turnball

The Woman in Black – Ann Hill

Caleb’s Crossing – Geraldine Brooks

The Orphan Choir – Sophie Hannah

The Post Office – Charles Bukowski

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Velvet- Mary Hooper

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The Star of Kazan

Book Recommendation: The Star of Kazan

I recently had the pleasure of discovering a lovely children’s book, The Star of Kazan by the late Eva Ibbotson. It has been a while since I have read a book aimed at children, but Ibbotson’s  2006 offering left me feeling awe and delight, teleporting me back to my youth of reading Heidi by Yohana Spyri.

Precocious Annika is a foundling,  as a baby, she is found by two maids in a church on an Australian mountaintop. “It was a lovely church – one of those places which look as though God might be about to give a marvellous party.” The maids decide to raise the child in the kitchens, in the home of their three employers,  three delightfully eccentric professors. However, Annika’s normalcy is disturbed when her aristocratic mother decides to find her and takes her away in her country abode, shrouded with secrets.

Ibbotson masterfully captures the beauty of 1908 Vienna, especially in the first few chapters. She is a master of characterization and the characters are vivid and memorable, especially the maids and professors.  Yet at the same time, the novel hints at England-based Ibbotson’s nostalgia for an earlier time and her motherland Austria. “The world was so beautiful in those days, Annika. The music, the flowers, the scent of pines…”

The novel is 380 pages, but it flows beautifully and it’s ideal for seasoned readers ages 10 to 14. Intrigued to read more of Eva Ibbotson’s work, especially her Y.A books.  The Star of Kazan is a heart-warming , timeless  story which takes me back to my own childhood. Instant classic!

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Inside the Mind of a Writer

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented,” writer Milan Kundera once said and it got me thinking about the people us writers birth in our texts.We breathe; we think and live in the skin of our characters. If a writer does not feel what their character feels, then they are not good writers. So where do our characters come from?  Where do these weird and wonderful figments of imagination spring from?  Many writers project their own experiences and personality in their characters. Characters can show a glimpse of the writer’s soul, which might have otherwise remained hidden. Through our characters we reveal inner forgotten memories or longings.

What about characters who are like rebellious children? These characters are everything we as writers are not. Every writer has that once character who strays from the planned plot and becomes a lucid entity, trotting ahead and leaving the writer miles behind. These are the characters that slay dragons, break rules and melt chains.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” William Faulkner  said.

So where did my own heroine, twelve-year-old Marie Perrin stem from and what have I learnt from her? I get inspiration for writing at all ungodly hours – usually after 2AM. Some ideas quickly come and vanish even quicker. In my opinion, this is what separates a quality idea from a sub-par one.  A story you must write will not leave your mind. It will gnaw you and brew, until you put ten to paper and then the story will simply pour out.

For me, it all started with the crazy idea of two children being vermin exterminator’s in 1600s Europe.  Since then it took shape into a story of an audacious girl who is sent out of home to apprentice for a rat-catcher. She must navigate through poverty and alter her identity to suit her settings and she must be strong and persevere during a contagion outbreak which destroys her hometown. In addition, she must be reunited with her twin brother, help the people she despised and find and lose love, only to find love again.

Through creating Marie Perrin, I have observes female strength and confirmed the idea that we all seek home and belonging, whether we are a famished girl or gnarly rat-catcher. She has taught me to never give up and never be silent in the face of injustice. In a weird way, she’s my friend and my child.

In the words of William S. Burroughs,  “my characters are quite as real to me as so-called real people; which is one reason why I’m not subject to what is known as loneliness. I have plenty of company.”

Books