Sunday, April 24, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: Thyla

Anatomy of a Novel: Thyla
Guest post by Kate Gordon

1. The Cascade Female Factory
    I've only actually been inside the Cascade Female Factory once. And only for about five minutes. When Leigh and I first moved to Hobart, we did all the “tourist” things like going up the mountain, and climbing the shot tower. And we went to the Female Factory. The Female Factory was created to house the growing number of female convicts being sent to Australia. It also had other incarnations as a lunatic asylum and a hospital for sufferers of contagious disease! I have always been really interested in convict and colonial history so I was the one who suggested we go and check it out. It is, without exception, the saddest, most ghost-infested place I have ever been inside. I walked through the entrance and was immediately overcome by despair. And the feeling that the women who were imprisoned there never really left. I made my excuses to Leigh (who, as always, rolled his eyes at my wussyness and my belief in “ridiculous” supernatural things), and went and sat in the car. I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I also resolved I would, one day, write about the Factory. Since I'm not a historian, and have no desire to write a purely historical novel, it took until I had the idea for Thyla for me to make good on that resolve. I drove past the factory a couple of times while researching. But I never went back in. 

    2. The thylacine
      I've always been fascinated by thylacines, ever since my dad wrote me a story when I was little, about a baby thylacine called Tessa (I shamelessly pilfered the name for the main character in Thyla). I love the idea of creatures that are thought to be extinct but are, secretly, hiding in shadowy forests. People spend their lives looking for these creatures – I suppose to them they represent meaning, in the same way gods or religion represent meaning to other people. They represent hope. If a supposedly extinct creature really does exist, that means the world is so much more full of possibility. And magic.

      3. Countess Bathory
        Again, I have always been intrigued by the idea of Countess Bathory – the 16th century Hungarian murderess who bathed in the blood of virgins in the quest to achieve eternal youth. When I created the baddies in Thyla – the Diemens – I consciously wanted to avoid existing monster “tropes”. I didn't want them to be vampiric creatures. Instead, I looked to Countess Bathory. The Diemens achieve what she didn't – they maintain their immortal state by bathing in virgin blood. As long as they have access to virgin blood, they never die. I did add an extra facet to the evil of the Diemens, though, by making them eat the hearts of the virgins as well as bathing in their blood – well, if you're going to make a race of evil creatures, you might as well go the whole hog! 

        4. Sonata Arctica and Kamelot
          When I'm writing, I like to listen to music that has the right feel for the work I'm producing. My husband thinks I have a bit of an attention deficit taste in music. One month I'll be obsessed with pop music like The Spice Girls and Pink; the next I will only listen to – Opeth or Pain of Salvation. At the moment, I'm listening to a lot of Xavier Rudd, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Dan Sultan. The reason for that is I am writing a story where the protagonist is indigenous and from the country, so that music inspires me. When I was writing Daisy Blue, it was all about the bubblegum pop when I was writing Daisy's diary entries, and classical music when I was writing Paulina's. When I was writing Thyla, I listened to Sonata Arctica and Kamelot. They are what's known as “power” metal bands. I'm not great with metal genres but the way I can tell a power metal band is they have a driving drum beat that sounds a bit like horses galloping. The music is atmospheric and, well, powerful. I loved these bands already but I really connected with them writing Thyla, partly because of the epic nature of the music, and partly because of the subject matter. Kamelot wrote a suite of songs about Countess Bathory, and Sonata Arctica has several songs about werewolves! Enough said! 

          5. Romeo and Juliet
            Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet came out when I was about fifteen years old – the exact right demographic to be completely entranced by this story of forbidden love. Of course, we'd studied the play in school but, like so many things you study at school, whether it's good or not it seems boring and stuffy. The movie brought it to life. Of course, it didn't hurt that it had the gorgeous Leonardo Di Caprio as the lead player (although I was more taken at the time with Harold Perrineau's darkly manic Mercutio). Ever since then, I have really wanted to write a story of forbidden love, but it seemed to trite and “done” to do it in a “straight” story. When I started work on Thyla, I thought this might be the perfect chance to write a story where two characters who couldn't be more different fall in love, despite the mores of their respective societies. I won't say more than that as the two characters who fall in love in Thyla aren't revealed until the end (but it's pretty clear early on who they might be), so you'll have to read to find out more! 

            6. Mount Wellington and The Butterfly Man
              The Butterfly Man – by Tasmanian author Heather Rose – was the beginning of my preoccupation with Mount Wellington. I read it long before I moved to Hobart and, when I did, I found myself spending great swathes of time staring up at the mountain. The proposition presented by Heather Rose is that the murderous Lord Lucan – who was never apprehended after he "offed" one of his household servants – escaped to Tasmania and took up residence up Mount Wellington. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but Heather Rose makes it completely believable. Ever since I read her book I couldn't look at the mountain without thinking what might be hiding up there! Of course, since I love paranormal fiction, it couldn't just be some guy hiding up there; it had to be a shapeshifter!

              7. Metal (of the non-musical variety)
                I liked the idea of the contrast between the wildness and bestial nature of the shapeshifters contrasting with the rigid, cold, clinical nature of the Diemens. I got obsessed with the idea of the Diemens being metallic. They are like machines. Their teeth are metal fangs; their skin has a metallic sheen; their hair is streaked with silver. When they are hunting, the victim – or the shapeshifter patrolling – sees a flash of silver. When I was writing this, anything silvery or metal caught my eye and obsessed me!


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