Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: Angel Creek

Anatomy of a Novel: Angel Creek
Guest Post by Sally Rippin


1) The Merri Creek
This is the obvious one. The Merri Creek runs beside the oval not far from our house and it is the place I go to hang out with my kids. I find it constantly inspiring: this rambling piece of wilderness cutting right through our clogged-up inner-city suburbs. I had been struggling with different versions of my novel for years, it had begun as an angsty YA novel; a mash-up of angels and rebellious youth, but I kept hitting walls and was close to despair. A walk along the creek with my seven year old inspired me to start again with a younger fresher story, a story of magic and possibility and wildlife and daydreaming – everything the Merri Creek represents for me.
2) My 1970s childhood
As a child I spent four years in Perth, from grade two to grade five. I remember these years as endless summers, going shoeless for months on end until the soles of your feet became hard like plastic, hanging out at the park on the end of the street where all the neighbourhood kids would climb the big tree and the girls would flash their flat chests at the boys. There was no sunscreen or bike helmets, no hovering parents and loose curfews. As long as you didn’t go further than the park you were only expected to return at mealtimes and bath-times, if that. It was the days when a 20-cent bag of mixed lollies got you a long way. Even though childhoods are quite different today, in Angel Creek I try to recreate that feeling of lawlessness in a contemporary setting, where kids rule the streets.
(The photo is out the back of our house celebrating someone’s birthday party, I imagine, which is why we’re all dressed up. I’m on the right, my two best friends in front. Don’t know who the sullen blonde is in the back. Someone’s poor big sister, perhaps?)
3) Books
I’ve chosen three that have had the greatest influence on this novel:
‘I’m Not Scared’ by Niccolo Ammaniti
This book blew me away when I read it a few years ago. Ammaniti’s 1970s childhood contains even more anarchy than mine. In the remote Italian countryside, a gang of kids mooch around the village streets and the surrounding wheatfields while their parents bicker or snooze in the midday heat. They find something terrible in the ruins of an old farmhouse and this leads them to an even more horrifying discovery about their very own families.
The ‘Black Juice’ short story collection by Margo Lanagan
When you choose to write about angels, or any other mythological creature for that matter, you are already encumbered with a whole lot of previous assumptions about what an angel looks like. William Blake and Jeanne d’Arc claimed to have seen angels in blinding visions, through science has now attributed this to visual migraines. So, assuming that no one other than perhaps the Virgin Mary has really seen an angel (and even her accounts are a little dubious), how has it become a given that angels have long flowing hair and long white dresses and play harps? In true Margo Lanagan style, the description of the angels in her short story ‘Earthly Uses’, is unlike anything I have ever read and gave me the confidence to create an angel-like creature free from all existing stereotypes.
‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
I first studied this book at school and remember being deeply moved by the characters and the terrible injustices that take place. Reading it again only recently I recognised how much this book has influenced me as a writer. I realise I am particularly drawn to stories of bad things that happen, witnessed through the eyes of a child and skewed by their mostly innocent perception of the world. Nothing as bad as what happens in Scout’s world happens in Angel Creek, I am, after all, writing for a younger audience than Lee, but once again that sense of the rules set in place by a childhood hierarchy is definitely present in my story.


  1. An intriguing peep behind the curtains of your mind, sally! Also, cool idea for a post. Thanks for sharing, sally and simmone. jxx ps you've gotta love merri creek...

  2. Thanks, Jen. Yeah, it's a fabulous series. YOU should do one! You'd be great! -- Simmone?

  3. what a fun series! i write short stories, so i love this look into the inspirations and influences of other writers. it's pretty inspiring in itself!

    ps - simmone, thank you so much for your very sweet comment today! it was really touching and i loved hearing from a strange person across the seas! :)