Guest post by Fiona Wood
Sometimes art skips the usual routes, reaches into your ribcage and grabs your heart. For me this happens with Fra Angelico’s frescoes, Radiohead’s music, films like Wonderland (the Michael Winterbottom one) and The Thin Red Line, and Cy Twombly’s paintings… So when I looked for a concrete signal for Dan’s mother Julie’s state of being fragmented and sad, I wanted to give her something visceral, engaging and comforting: only Thom Yorke would do. This is a song she would have listened to over and over when Rob first told her he was gay. A bit of denial, a bit of self-pity. There are so many details about your characters that will never make it onto the page, but they lie under the surface, providing ballast (you hope). I love this clip – it’s vintage Radiohead, way back when Thom Yorke has his rockstar blond hair, for which he later bagged himself. But it does make him look like a Fra Angelico angel.
Teenage years are when frustration and yearning and hope and self-doubt and arrogance all bang up against the walls of family life and school. It’s a fantastic time to read romantic poets like Keats and Byron whose writing is so beautiful and so full of big ideas about love and life and death. I remember reading for the first time lines like ‘Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance’ (Keats, When I have fears) and just longing to escape from the land of plaits and peanut butter sandwiches and compulsory sport and start My Real Life. So, there’s a little bit of Byron in the prologue, and the word ‘yearn’. Dan is a character full of longing and capable of tenderness, as lots of boys are, but there’s still plenty of social pressure not to advertise that side of your nature.
characters from way back
Giving Dan a moral conundrum is no doubt influenced at least in part by some very early reading - Edith Nesbit’s books. Her characters are so fallible and sweet with an appealingly flawed nobility; they mess up but always try to do the ‘right’ thing.
When our family house was being built we lived with my grandparents in their cosy womb of a house. We moved into the land of modern architecture and ‘upstairs’ when I was three, and I hated it. I missed the old environment’s hug. The memory of that feeling becomes Estelle’s attic. She has built herself a little nest up above the stark interiors of her parents’ life. She has her treasures and her art and her secrets there. And it’s where Dan finds out who the real Estelle is – when he reads her diaries. My other grandparents had piles of ancient luggage and steamer trunks filled with stuff like old pleated dress shirts, embroidered silk shawls and forgotten linen. It felt spidery and forbidden. That leaks into Dan’s side of the attic space.
Dogs are wonderful people. I’ve spent a lot of my working life in the last ten years talking to my dog. I gave Howard (the elderly poodle) to Dan so he would have someone to care for - a great antidote to feeling miserable, and so he’d have someone to talk to, because he’s alone a lot. Because Howard is always with Dan, he is a witness to the choices Dan makes, and a good sounding-board.
The place Dan works is called Phrenology, owned by Ali. So this is an example of how details from everyday life can feed the work. The provider of very nice coffee at 80 Spaces in Prahran has a shaved head, and that was the first fragment of the character Ali; it also prompted the café’s name. 80 Spaces has a very hip modern interior, but I wanted Phrenology to be warmer and more colourful, so I used the interior of Sugardough in East Brunswick as a starting point for that.
Anatomy of a novel is an occasional series studying what goes into some very awesome YA books ... thanks for reading! Let me know what you think ...