Writers in Conversation - Rosanne Hawke
Even though I dreamed of being a writer as a child, Pakistan was where I started writing seriously. One night when we were working there as aid workers with an interdenominational mission, my daughter, Lenore asked me to tell her a story. One of our friends had been kidnapped by freedom fighters in Afghanistan and she wanted a story about an Australian girl being kidnapped by a young Afghan freedom fighter. She asked me to write it down and that story became 'Jihad' in the trilogy 'Borderland'. My daughter turned me into a writer.
So much of my writing has grown from living totally in the culture in the Middle East – learning language, wearing national clothes, shopping, sharing in weddings, funerals, travelling in the mountains, feeling so enclosed by the landscape. There was magic, beauty, rawness of life, kindness from the people, but what I missed most was the feeling of space I had as a child growing up in the semi outback in Central Queensland.
I am inspired by something that happens to me, or by something that I may not understand, and so I write a novel to explore it. The research for the novel becomes my own journey, the things the hero may learn are often things that I learn through writing the book, or the way the hero becomes may be something I secretly wish I was like. For example, I felt the displacement coming back to Australia from Pakistan just as I did when we returned from Queensland when I was 14; it found its way into 'Re-entry'. Researching family history, finding a cultural identity and exploring a relationship with an Indigenous person turned up in 'Zenna Dare'.
Joel Billings in 'The Keeper' and 'Sailmaker' is learning to control his mind. He's attacked, he lashes out, but Dev Eagle, the biker, helps him see the battle is in his head. Joel finds that if he can fight his battles inside (whether they be worries or feelings about someone), and stop the fighting there, he gets along a lot better with other people. I am still learning that one too.
Often stories come from the research I've done. When I discovered in the little Edithburgh museum the old story behind the 'ghost' in the Troubridge lighthouse, I had to put it in a story. I read the old keeper's log and also an article by Max Fatchen.
Joel in 'Sailmaker' finds an old tinny in the bay and the mystery of it parallels the story of the lost lighthouse keepers.
'Wolfchild' grew out of research too. I read the legend of the Lost Land
of Lyonnesse and was captivated. Many believe it was a special land –
the Cornish called it Lethowsow. The romantic poets began calling it
Lyonnesse, with stories about King Arthur's burial place being there. In
the Cornish legend, the last man to reach the coast of Cornwall alive
before the land was flooded escaped on his white horse. He had the same
name as my family, Trevelyan, and to this day the Trevelyan family have
on their coat of arms a white horse rising up out of the sea. This
fascinated me so much I had to write about it.
'Across the Creek' grew out of Cornish folklore. I read a story about a Cornish boy who was lured into a dark grove and was shown an underground cavern with crystal pillars. When I was walking round the Kapunda mine, I thought of a boy called Aidan who finds a strange land within the mine. Lost children is a big theme in Australia, and in 'Across the Creek', children have been lost for centuries in Aidan's town, including his friend, Jenice the year before. When Aidan goes into the strange land across the creek he finds the children and Jenice alive, but can they be rescued or will Aidan be frozen there in time like them? 'Across the Creek' is a fantasy based on Cornish folklore but it also can be a way to talk about what is beyond death.
I wrote 'Soraya the Storyteller' because I couldn't believe we put kids in detention centres in Australia – I had to write their story, to try and make sense of it for myself. In Pakistan the government put up tent cities for the 3 million refugees who streamed across the border when we were living there. I thought of Sheherezade in the Arabian Nights and how she stayed alive by telling stories for 3 years, the same time as a Temporary Protection Visa. I collected Afghan folk tales and Persian stories from the Arabian Nights, and thought how these will keep Soraya's spirit alive too. She writes her own stories – about the things her family has suffered, things most of us would never imagine. And through it all the ebony horse from the Arabian Nights flies through Soraya's dreams and helps her find a place where she can be safe.
Character and Place are very important to me. I don't start writing
until I know the characters and what they are like, and how they'll
react to a situation, what they want, what they fear, how they need to
grow or what to learn. My characters are also rooted in Place. Joel
would be a different person if he didn't live by the sea. Taj from
'Mustara' wouldn't be the same if he didn't live in the desert. Soraya
is becoming a different person because she is displaced – she's learning
to live in Australia under the shadow of a Temporary Protection Visa.
But for children and for me, the story also matters a great deal. 'Sailmaker' is a mystery and an adventure. So is 'The Keeper'. 'Across the Creek' is a quest. 'Wolfchild' is maybe more character driven than story driven but there is certainly the tension of whether Raw and Morwenna will survive the tidal wave.
My latest book for young adults, 'The Last Virgin in Year 10' is my first book where the main character grapples with her spirituality and sexuality. Caz is trying very hard to hide herself to fit in with the popular crowd at school but she finally finds the courage to be herself.
I've just finished writing a story called 'Camel Driver', the sequel to 'Mustara'. It traces Ernest Giles' expedition to Perth from Beltana through the eyes of the Afghan boy, Taj. It's like creative non fiction and is the first book I've written with real people as characters. For Rumi, the Persian poet, desert poetry was an allegory for the spiritual quest of the soul journeying into the infinite. Taj in 'Camel Driver' is also finding that there is more than one desert – there is a desert inside that will also not survive if it doesn't get enough life giving 'water', in his case, love.
Whatever age group I write for, I know the writing has to be my best. I believe a good children's book is a work of art that can be enjoyed at any age.