There is alchemy in the business of writing. Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. Divine inspiration, shells on a beach, talk-back radio … Sometimes I can pinpoint a moment, more often a story grows from linked moments of wonder or interest. As ideas come together and bubble, a manuscript grows, and sometimes, with luck, this mash turns into a book. Some moments that sparked The Shark Caller involved diving on reefs in PNG’s New Britain area as well as snorkeling in Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and WA’s Greens Pool.
Greens Pool was especially significant as it became (in my mind) the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’.
In the opening scene of The Shark Caller a teenage boy dies in mysterious circumstances at Abalone Cove. A blue-ringed octopus is involved. I once saw a blue-ring in Greens Pool; just a surprised flash before it turned sandy brown and crept away. Greens Pool is a magical place to swim. When I lived in Denmark my regular loop involved a long lap, from a rock that sometimes hid a wobbegong to the far end where a Gloomy Octopus lived under a large rock. Her garden of shells gave away the entrance. These shark and octopus encounters swirled around in my imagination, along with the evocative rocks that guard Greens Pool. I added PNG diving experiences, environmental worries and my own sense of communities being linked by oceans. This all gave me a strong sense of setting to draw on during the long writing process.
Greens Pool, WA
If you’d like to read more about The Shark Caller, here is a post from last World Octopus Day.
The first time I visited this site, the hospital building was fenced off and in disrepair. Travelling back in 2015, the most I’d hoped for was to be able to take photographs through the wire fencing. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at dusk to find lights blazing in a newly renovated building. I went inside, ordered a coffee and walked along the verandahs, imagining the scene in World War Two when dozens of burnt patients were evacuated from Broome after the strafing of Dutch flying boats. It’s just one of the passages in my novel which was enriched by being able to walk through the old hospital rather than view it through holes in a fence. Thanks DOME, I love your policy of keeping our heritage alive by restoring historic buildings.
Cafe’ manager, Hannah shared interesting renovation details and even mentioned a ‘presence’ felt by some visitors (perhaps there’s another story there). Thanks to the Town of Port Hedland, Librarian, Gill Westera and Port Hedland SHS for inviting me to Port Hedland to share The Dog with Seven Names. I look forward to visiting again in 2020 when I’ll also travel to other book settings such as Marble Bar. In the meantime, you may like to follow these links to see photos from previous research trips to Broome and Port Hedland.
Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies beside their red ones on Anzac Day?
prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds
Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.
Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.
Horrie was a special dog, so special that two books have been written about him. The first, Horrie the Wog Dog by Ion Idriess was published in 1945. A subsequent book, Horrie the War Dog(2013) written by Roland Perry, explores aspects of Horrie’s story which were raised by Anthony Hill’s research and book Animal Heroes. Each title adds to the mystery and controversy surrounding this beloved WWII mascot.
Horrie was an Egyptian terrier, adopted by Private Jim Moody and the men of the First Australian Machine Gun Battalion. He is credited with saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. When Horrie heard enemy aircraft he barked, giving men time to run for the trenches before their camp was strafed. Horrie was smuggled on board a troopship bound for Australia, that much is agreed. The next chapter in Horrie’s life is steeped in controversy.
One account reports Horrie being destroyed by quarantine officers, another claims an elaborate ruse was carried out with Horrie being substituted by a pound dog on death row. Two weeks ago I was in Corryong (where there are said to be many Horrie lookalikes) and visited a beautiful statue dedicated to this enigmatic mascot. The statue was unveiled during the 2016 Anzac Day service and shows Horrie in an alert pose on a kerosene tin in Egypt. He looks happy.
Besides reading the books dedicated to this little terrier, there are interesting accounts from the AWM here, on a site dedicated to Ion Idriess here and ‘The Australian’ here. Aspects of the varying reports can be compared here. I like to think Horrie survived. What do you think happened to him?
What a wonderful thing it is to receive artwork inspired by one of my books.
Kelby Murray is a Year 5 teacher at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar who has been reading The Shark Caller with her Year 5 class. Some of her students created beautiful drawings, inspired by different scenes in the novel.
Molly drew the villagers having a discussion and also the evocative scene later in the story where Izzy summons her courage to swim back to the boat. This is exactly how I imagined the boat would look from below. Grace drew Izzy diving through the cave. In the larger original, you can notice finer details and see how Izzy’s toe webbing is growing back, what clever crafting …
The writing process can be solitary and it’s lovely to see how readers imagine these scenes. Thank you Kelby, Grace and Molly for sending your artwork. Your pictures make me smile every time I look at them.
Students and teachers aren’t the only ones taking a break this week… School holidays are a great time for authors to catch up on reading (and writing). Here are some books that I’ve been enjoying this week.
Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean’s The Happiness Box is historical fiction at its best. The story gives deep insight into our shared history with Japan and Singapore in a way that’s accessible for young readers and despite the wartime backdrop of Changi, the tale is uplifting. With it’s interesting endnotes The Happiness Box will be a valuable reference for teachers.
The cover of Frané Lessac’s Under the Southern Cross is beautiful and I smile every time I see that cheerful dolphin popping it’s snout out to smile at Banjo the dog. Children will love searching for Banjo on each page, exploring fun facts and looking for different constellations. This book is joyful and it also has wonderful endnotes.
Cristy Burne’s Off the Track is a super-fun holiday read. Hurrah for books that celebrate ’embracing the great outdoors’ without mobile phones! This is a story for anyone, but I especially loved the WA references to Bibbulman Track markers, snottygobble and so on …
And my current ‘age-appropriate adult read’ is Laline Paull’s The Bees which was recommended by my friend Venetia because she knows I love anthropomorphic stories. The Bees is told from the point of view of a bee, which was strange at first, but once I adjusted to this unusual perspective, I’m loving it. Who knew that drones could be so badly behaved and how rigidly in-hive hierarchies are maintained. This is one of the oddest books I’ve read but it’s strangely compelling. Has anyone else come across it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll post again once I’ve dipped further into the ‘want-to-read’ pile by the bedside.
To honour the villainous characters in The Shark CallerI felt that a short post was needed celebrating these amazing cephalopods.
As well as having three hearts, octopus are super-intelligent. They can solve mazes and are able to contort their muscly bodies to escape through tiny crevices. Octopi are also clever camouflagers. Some are small and highly venomous, like blue-ringed Pyrena in my story, others like the Pacific Octopus are enormous. My favourite fun fact about octopus is that their blood is blue.
Here’s an extract from The Shark Caller. It’s when Izzy meets a Giant Octopus.
The massive octopus flicks a tentacle, thick as my neck. It slaps the wall beside me. I give in to the terror clutching my throat and my scream ricochets over dripping rock. the octopus slurps and a deep rasping voice fills my mind.
No others can hear. We are the only ones …
My scream turns into sobs.
Your noise will bring shadow creatures.
Dreadful images fill my mind. I steady my breath, forcing myself to face the octopus. its tentacle arms curl as I try to stop trembling.