Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anatomy of a novel: Five Parts Dead

Anatomy of a Novel: Five Parts Dead
Guest post by Tim Pegler 

1. Lighthouses
Lighthouses have always drawn me in like a dizzy insect. One of my final jobs as a newspaper journo was to interview the last lighthouse keeper in Bass Strait - an adventure in itself that informed 5PD's plane crash scene. Later, I took my family to stay at a remote lighthouse keeper's cottage on Kangaroo Island. It was here that the story really started to take shape. The isolation of the lighthouse seemed the right location to explore the darker themes I already had in mind. 

2. Car accidents/smash repairs
Before I made the lighthouse connection I knew I wanted to explore questions to do with teen risk-taking, survival and fate. I destroyed 2.5 cars in my first year of driving and escaped with barely a scratch; I reckon I've used up seven of my nine lives so far. I'm acutely aware that others aren't so lucky. 

3. Beer stubby
 The first scene I wrote for 5PD was the party where things turn ugly for the narrator, Dan. I didn't drink as a teenager so I tended to be the sober observer on the fringe of such gatherings. As a journo, I've heard numerous examples of how parties can trigger tragedy and I wanted to give a sense of this, along with the social forces at play. The stubby also represents a conversation I had with an ambulance officer - once heard, never forgotten. 

4. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code
There must be an unwritten rule that every Australian beach house has two copies of this book. I read it (like everyone else, apparently,) and it made me wonder whether I could include cryptic puzzles in a YA novel. This led to the nautical flags, Tarot scene and other mystical elements, many of which were cut or played down during editing. I also read Victorian ghost stories and books on death and grief, such as Lia Hills' The Beginner's Guide to Living. 

5. Ghosts
I wasn't really a believer in ghosts until I started hearing first-hand stories that I couldn't explain any other way. Two of the spookier scenes in 5PD are based on the experiences of close friends/family members. Others are adapted from true stories at Kangaroo Island. 

6. Japan
I've long been interested in Japan and wrote the party scene mentioned above, on a flight to Tokyo. Hiroshi is named after one of the people I met in the Japanese capital and inspired by intrepid tourists I've seen in central Australia and elsewhere. 

7. Coldplay/Bon Iver
Coldplay's Viva La Vida begins in a London cemetery and ends with Death and All His Friends. There's also a track called Lovers in Japan so it felt like the right soundtrack when I was trying different elements for 5PD. Bon Iver's debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was apparently written and recorded in a log cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness when the artist needed time out for healing. The album is raw and lonely and fits with Dan's character. (And I'm attracted to the idea of going solo in the bush to see what stories emerge.) 

I'm a bit of a bower bird so these are just some of the shiny things that went into Five Parts Dead.

Anatomy of a novel is an occasional series where authors dissect their books for your delight. Pass it on!



  1. this is one of my fave anatomy's in this series yet. it just feels like the heart and sould of the book.

    so cool that tim himself was a survior guy and used that for his book. i loved how he put all this and more in such a riveting 200 page novel.

    also, love the mention of lia hills book. another beautiful book :)

    i really enjoy this series ~ especially when i'm familiar with the book. it's like visiting it again from another angle.

  2. Glad you're digging it, Nomes! I agree Tim packed a lot of power into that book ... lia's anatomy is coming soon (ish) - happy new year!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.