On writing A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
The seed for this story was planted a long time ago when I saw the heading ‘Urban Tribes’ in The Age newspaper. It stayed at the back of my mind until I read an article about Freegans; people who survive on what other people waste. From there my thoughts progressed to wondering what life would be like for a young homeless boy. Would he have a support network of some kind? Would he become part of a group? How would the group form? Would it be by choice or some other reason? Perhaps they might be thrown together by circumstances beyond their control. Could that group become a substitute family?
The other ingredient in this story is war. I didn’t want to write a story ABOUT war, but the indomitable nature of hope even in dire circumstances.
I had the idea for the book for a long time before I started, mainly because when I had mentioned to a relative that I was considering writing a story for children set in a war zone, he commented that no matter how resilient the human spirit is, war is disempowering. That is true, I told myself. But still I longed to be able to show that where there is a sliver of hope, it enables us to strive towards our goals whatever the cost. So after a while I decided to follow my own sliver of hope and I began to write.
Once I started the story I wanted to show the reason why Skip, the main character, had taken to living on the streets. I didn’t want him to be a loner. I wanted to show his craving to belong. He wanted to be with people who accepted, even loved him. He wanted family. Through disastrous circumstances he is thrown together with an assortment of characters that he comes to care a great deal about. Further to that I wanted to show the depths of this desire for family was so great that Skip behaved in ways that might not have been characteristic of a boy of his age, to keep his tribe/family, together.
This is the first story I have written in first person. I think I did this to help me express Skip’s feelings and thoughts in a way that was true to character.
Interesting facts that are not, necessarily, about writing
I was born in Castlemaine, in the goldfields region of central Victoria.
I left school when I was 15.
I have always been a reader.
I have always been a storyteller.
I became a writer by accident when I was about 45.
I had enrolled at TAFE trying to learn how to become something else.
I wrote my homework in essay style instead of the required report style (which I found very boring).
My lecturer suggested I might be happier doing a creative writing course.
I took his advice and had a picture book published as a result.
Other Writing Trivia:
I don’t plot my stories before I start writing.
I do think about them A LOT, though. But it is mostly about the people; trying to understand what makes them the way they are, to understand their emotions and to find out how they would express themselves.
I like to look at things when I’m deciding what to write about.
I look at photographs in magazines and newspapers, paintings in art galleries and curios in junk shops.
I also listen to music.
I try to allow the story come to me, instead of chasing after it.
I try to clear all the day-to-day clutter out of my mind, so fresh ideas can float through it like butterflies, or dreams, or red kites and sometimes if there’s room, they settle there.
I love surprises and most of my stories surprise me, because when I begin I don’t know how I’m ever going to get to the end and what will happen along the way.
Some little known, but very interesting facts that are not about writing:
My animal friends:
A little girl ferret called Peanut who frolics in the garden amongst the parsley and mint.
A Jack Russell terrier called Monte Carlo Gordon Millard who has almost learnt to talk.
Things I’ve rescued:
Slaters out of the bath
A swan with a droopy neck from Lake Tom Thumb
A water hen with a fishhook through its beak
Things starting with ‘R’ that I love:
Reading ‘The Wind in the Willows’ out loud, to my husband and Monte Carlo Gordon Millard, in bed.
Riding my bicycle
Things NOT starting with ‘R’ that I love:
Hot air ballooning
Sucking the chocolate off Clinkers lollies
Guessing what colour the middles are.
Playing my beautiful red piano accordion.
Cooking sourdough bread and pizza in the wood-fired oven in my back yard.
Things that make me go 'aah'
Monte Carlo Gordon Millard, sleeping in my accordion case.
Things I hate:
Skin on coffee
Swimming in dams where there are leeches
Most embarrassing moment:
I once lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone else. When I was sixteen my father told me to buy some Bob Martin (the brand name) worm tablets for our dog on the way home from work. No big deal, you might say, but in those days you had to buy them from the Chemist shop. When you are sixteen and you are trying very hard to be cool, buying worm tablets from the chemist is not something you want to do. I worried about it all day. Eventually I convinced my sister to come with me and went into the shop. I inspected every item on the shelves before I finally I plucked up the courage to go to the counter. I took a deep breath and said to the girl,
‘I want a packet of BOB WORM martin tablets.’
When I realised what I’d said, I burst into hysterical laughter. Tears poured down my face and I couldn’t stop. I almost wet myself and the poor girl who was serving me just stood there staring.
If you are good at maths you will be able to work out how long ago that happened and you will realise that it must have been a VERY embarrassing moment for me to be able to remember it for so long!
Other odds and ends:
I used to jump off the roof of my Nana’s shed and try to fly.
I was the second fastest runner in Grade Six.
I’ve spent most of my life up to now, trying to be what other people thought I should be.
Now I’m being what I want to be – an author.
Two young boys, an old tramp, a beautiful lost dancer and her baby - rag-tag survivors of a sudden war - form a fragile family holding together in the remnants of a fun fair. This is a vivid, poetic story about life in the margins and the power of empathy and imagination to triumph over adversity.