Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: Little Paradise

Anatomy of a Novel - Little Paradise
Guest post by Gabrielle Wang

What do I know?
My novels are usually a combination of my experiences and my imaginings - a series of what ifs and therefores. But with Little Paradise the story had already been lived, told to me by my mother since I was small.
I knew very little about World War Two. What was Melbourne like in the 1940’s? What was China like? What did the clothes, hairstyles, schools, shops and so on look like? What were people’s attitudes, feelings, common knowledge?
I realised I didn’t know very much at all.

The Process
My first step was to interview my mother. I recorded her over the next few months and ended up with 5 hours worth of tapes. She has a fantastic memory for detail so it was easy and fascinating. But what she didn’t tell me was how she felt. She just got on with life, she said, without suffering over it. Perhaps that’s what it was like back then. Everyone experienced hardship. They had lived through the depression and many people lost loved ones. On the home front there was rationing of food and clothing and the threat of being bombed. Life was difficult.

There has been a lot written about World War One but not so much in Australia about World War Two. I’m not sure why. It was an important time for us. It was the first time Australian women joined the work force, the first time we encountered American culture, the first time we knew we were a part of Asia and not the British empire. And it was the first time war in the shape of real bombs rained down upon Australian cities.

The difficulties of melding fact and fiction
Three major challenges.
1.     I had never written a YA novel before
2.     or an historical one
3.     And it was a romance based on my parents!

What to leave out is one of the major problems when writing historical fiction. During my research I was told me so many fascinating anecdotes but they didn’t move the story forward. For example, while interviewing my mother’s best friend in her Adelaide home, she told me she was psychic and that she warned my grandfather when he was visiting not to catch the plane back to Melbourne as something was going to happen to it. My grandfather was not a superstitious man but for some reason he listened to her. The plane, the Kyeema, crashed into Mount Dandenong in 1938 killing everyone on board. This accident sparked off major reform of Australia’s air navigation system, with benefits to air travellers to the present day.

Who does the story belong to?
This was a major stumbling block for me until I realised that it was my story, not my mother’s (sorry Mum). I was writing fiction not a biography. From that moment on I gave myself the freedom to make stuff up and what a liberating feeling that was.

The Drawings
Many of my novels are about the power of art to transform. In Little Paradise, Mirabel, the heroine, is a wonderful fashion designer as in real life my mother was. In the 1940’s, teenagers had no choice. They had to wear either women’s clothes or children’s clothes. My mother used to design all her own clothes and was amazingly stylish. The fashion illustrations on the inside front and back covers of the novel are drawn by her when she was 14 years old.

As Time Goes By
As Time Goes By from the movie Casablanca was the song that played through my mind as I wrote Little Paradise. It is one of the greatest movies ever made and was showing in Australia during the war.  

I was unable to embed the video due to copyright, but I have provided the link here. It is such a beautiful scene. A must see. Enjoy!


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