Have books, will travel
Tomorrow morning I’m heading out to Tullamarine airport to fly to Perth. The next three weeks look like they’ll be action packed. I will be ‘in residence’ at the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre, conducting workshops and meeting hundreds of keen young writers on the Centre’s Youth Literature days. During the course of my residency, I’ll also visit Albany, Bunbury and Geraldton.
I love Western Australia. It has a distinctly different flavour to the eastern states – even the quality of the light is different. Its landscapes are hauntingly beautiful and hum with a deep magic. I’ve set several books in WA including ‘A Prayer for Blue Delaney’, which won the WA Premier’s Book Award for YA writing in 2005. It’s a book that has travelled in its own right.
Last year, excerpts from the novel were published in a German textbook for students of English as a foreign language by Cornelsen. The textbook has a huge print run because English is a compulsory subject for German high school students. Not only do they learn the English language but they also study the history and culture of English speaking countries. The volume that the ‘Blue Delaney’ excerpts appeared in is used in schools by 14-15-year-old students.
The editors and publishers were so pleased with the excerpts that they also decided to publish an abridged English language version of the book, for young readers who want to extend their understanding of English and Australia. I haven’t seen the final abridged version yet but yesterday I replied to an email from Germany enquiring about the pronunciation of various Australian words mentioned in the novel, particularly place names in Western Australia and South Australia: Bindoon, Ceduna, Raukkan. Clontarf, Gnowangerup, Katanning, Kojonup and Pingelly.
It’s not often that I stop to think about the different rhythms of Australian place names, the way we separate some syllables, merge others together and almost sing the vowels in the back of our throats. I sat at my desk reciting the place names out loud, testing them, weighing them, thinking about how to explain their pronunciation. I know, at its worst, the Australian accent can sound flat and nasal. But yesterday I heard the bouncy, snappy joy of the language and the twang in the vowels sounded musical. Maybe the landscape affects the inflection of our words. There’s something about WA landscapes that sing so loudly it gets right inside you. No wonder the place names have such a fantastic rhythm. Can’t wait to get there.