Please welcome Kate Constable, author of Crow Country, to the blog today:
Are you a daydreamer too?
Not so much these days, but I drifted through the first thirty years of my life wrapped in an imaginary world that seemed much more vivid to me than reality. I still love to go for a long walk and let the daydreams rip!
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I knew it was something you could be. I created my first masterpiece at age four, Jingle and the Robbers, complete with violence, nudity, and crayon illustrations. I like to think my writing has improved since then; sadly, my drawing skills have not. I've been writing stories ever since.
Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Melbourne, but I grew up in PNG. Now I live in a house in Preston a few streets away from where my parents lived when I was born, just behind the primary school my mother went to, and which my daughters now attend. I love that my family has come full circle like that! When I'm not writing, reading, doing author-stuff, and looking after the family (husband, two daughters, bearded dragon, dog and rabbit), I follow the football.
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for Crow Country?
I wish I could say it came to me in a flash, but it was a more calculated and difficult process than that! Having written a fantasy series that was set in an imagined world (The Chanters of Tremaris), I decided I wanted to write a fantasy that was set firmly in the Australian landscape. It only occurred to me afterwards that if I wanted to write about Australian magic, that would mean Aboriginal magic. That started a long journey of research and thinking and discussion and reading, and a few false starts before the story of Crow Country arrived in my head. A few different elements wove themselves together: the legend of Waa, the ancestral Crow spirit; an internet article about a dried up dam exposing its hidden secrets; a visit to a country town for a family reunion; curiosity about Aboriginal Anzacs; the idea of mistakes repeating themselves, generation after generation. Once the story came, it just poured itself out quite quickly.
How extensively do you plan your novels?
I love planning, and I love revising and rewriting; but first drafts are torture! I do like to write an outline before I start, it's like having a rope to guide you through a dark maze. But you have to feel free to drop that rope at any time and pick up another one. I'm always prepared to throw the plan away and rewrite it, depending on where the story seems to want to go.
Did you make any astonishing serendipitious discoveries when writing this book?
Oh, so many. The biggest one was this: my first draft of Crow Country
was set in a town I'd invented, which I called Cross Creek. I knew I wanted to set the story somewhere in mid-north-western Victoria, in Dja Dja Wurrung country, but I was wary of writing about an actual town, since I wasn't familiar enough with any specific towns in that region.
So I set myself free to invent all the things I needed for my story: a war memorial, an abandoned rail line, a footy club, cemetery, pubs and shops and most importantly, a dried lake. But when Gary Murray, a Dja Dja Wurrung elder, read the manuscript to check it for me, the first thing he said was, 'This town you've written about - this town is Boort.'
I'd never even heard of Boort, but it's a real town, way up in northern Victoria, and when I went to visit there, I found every single thing I'd written into my 'imaginary' town including the dried lakes. The pubs, the cemetery, the memorial: it was all there, just as I'd written it. And Boort used to be an important Indigenous meeting place, the lakes there are surrounded by scarred trees and ceremony places. So Cross Creek became Boort.
I've even had someone tell me, 'I come from Boort, and I know who all the characters in your book are.' I was too scared to tell him that I'd invented them all… or at least, I thought I did!
Another strange and spooky thing that happened during the year I wrote Crow Country
was that a family of crows came and took up residence just outside our house. Every time I walked out of the front door, there they'd be, strutting up and down the street, making remarks to each other: waa-waaa! They hung around all that year, but after I finished working on the book, they went away. I do think that they come to keep an eye on me, and just make sure I was doing the right thing.
Where do you write and when?
While my kids are at school. It's hard to get much done in the holidays. I have a laptop and I carry it around the house as the mood strikes me. Sometimes I sit on the window seat in the family room and stare out at the garden, sometimes I huddle on the couch in the library, or sit on my bed. I have a study/spare room, which is a bungalow in the backyard, but our nephew is staying in it at the moment, so I'm a nomad.
What is your favourite part of writing?
Revising and rewriting. It's so much easier and more fun to work with words that already exist, than to struggle to fill a blank page (or screen).
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
It changes all the time, but off the top of my head, and at this precise moment, I'd say: Rumer Godden, Helen Garner, Nancy Mitford, Antonia Forest (she wrote school stories, no one's ever heard of her), Penelope Lively, Edith Nesbit, Gerald Durrell, CS Lewis, Susan Cooper, Noel Streatfeild.
(I just have to say that these are many of my favourite writers too, and I have heard of Antonia Forest, though its been a long while since I've read any of her books ...)
What do you consider to be good writing?
I find myself drawn to what I think of as 'transparent' writing, where you're hardly conscious of the words, but just being drawn along by the author's voice and the story. Rumer Godden and Noel Streatfield have been big influences on me in that way. I very much admire Helen Garner's writing, she is so sharp and she chooses her words with such perfect precision, but it's never flowery or over-written.
Advice for someone dreaming of being a writer?
Read a lot. Practice a lot. Don't be afraid to imitate writers you love when you're starting out, your own voice will find you. And be patient! I called myself a writer for ten years before I had my first book published.
What are you working on now?
I'm in the middle of revising a piece for an anthology of collaborations between Indian and Australian writers, illustrators and graphic artists, called Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean. I've never worked on anything like this before, so it's very exciting. I've been paired with an Indian artist called Priya Kuriyan, it's been so thrilling to see the wonderful illustrations she's produced to go with my text it's completely altered the way I saw the words and I'm making changes accordingly, so it's been a fascinating process.
I'm also working on a final volume for my Chanters of Tremaris fantasy series, which focuses on Calwyn's daughter. It's lovely going back to this magical world which I haven't visited for so long.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!