Willful Children and Tempestuous Novels


This time on Thursday night I will feel a little easier. This time on Thursday night the launch of India Dark will be over and I will have that strange sense of release that a book launch can give an author. After the launch, you know the fate of your book belongs to other people. Before the launch, you can still pretend the story belongs to you.

But in many ways, India Dark never really belonged to me. Because it’s based so closely on a true story, I always felt it belonged to other people, to other places, to other times. It was a difficult child that I kept trying to dress in its prettiest clothes and send out into the world. And for years on end, week in and week out, it would spit and cry and and stamp its foot and say ‘no’, I’m not ready to go outside. So I would rewrite the wretched story all over again.

Now its shoes are shiny, its hair smooth, its dress clean and pressed, its soft skin smelling sweetly of sandalwood and roses as it skips out of warehouses and onto the shelves of bookshops around the country. I can only hope it finds people to love it.

A couple of days ago I received an email from someone whose opinion I value hugely in regard to this novel and it’s gone a long way to salving my fear and worry about its release. The email was from Peter Downes, the fabulous New Zealand theatre historian who is the only person to have written a published history of Pollard’s Liliputian Opera Company. (His excellent book is a history of the New Zealand branch of the extensive family company and is available through his website).

In many way, Peter has been a kindly ‘grandfather’ to this most difficult child/novel of mine. He wrote to me after he’d received his advance copy of the book:

“I just have to write and say what a wonderful job you have made of it. You portray those children and the adults associated with them in exactly the way I had imagined them. It’s quite uncanny. They leap off the page at me and I can hardly believe that what I am seeing is so real. And it’s not only the characters; their individual attitudes, the context of their surroundings, their clothing, their behaviour, their language, their interaction with one another — oh everything about them — is so exactly right. You have totally gotten under the skin of each individual and brought them not only to life, but true to life. The fine detail of your research
must have been immeasurable and you have my admiration for being so thorough. It has clearly paid off.”

Perhaps only an historian can really appreciate the fine line between truth and fiction so I’m thrilled that Peter felt I got it right. It makes me feel all the blood, sweat and tears really were worth it.

PS. The Melbourne launch of India Dark will be held at the Sidney Myer Asia Centre at The University of Melbourne on Thursday evening at 6.00 pm. If you’re in Melbourne, drop by to see my most wilful and tempestuous novel find its place in the world.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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