Julia Lawrinson and researching the details
To celebrate the release of That Stranger Next Door - my YA historical romance novel set in Melbourne in the 1950s - I have been inviting some great Australian writers to visit and talk about their latest books.
Today's guest blogger is Julia Lawrinson who writes for both young adults and younger readers.
Enjoy her take on writing historical novels.
Julia Lawrinson was born just after the first moon landing and grew up in the outer suburbs of Perth. She was extremely shy as a child, but made up for this by joining the WA Youth Theatre Company as a teenager, and then performing, touring and appearing on television with comedy group Novak n' Goode in her early twenties.
As a result of this performing background, Julia loves writing dialogue and character: to her, they're the things that make writing jump off the page.
Julia left school at age fifteen, and worked in various jobs, including at the supermarket checkout, and as a chambermaid, barmaid, roadhouse attendant and weighbridge operator.
Fulfilling as it was, Julia felt that there was more to life than flipping hamburgers, and returned to study at Murdoch University in her late teens. She completed a PhD in writing in 2004 and also has postgraduate qualifications in education.
She's written seven books for Young Adults – including Losing It, The Push and Bye Bye Beautiful; and four for younger readers including Chess Nuts and The Girl Who Fell Into A Book.
The thing with writing historical fiction is that it's easy to get it wrong.
For example, when I was first writing Bye, Beautiful, I wanted to set it in Karratha in 1966. The problem was, after a little bit of research, I discovered that Karratha didn't exist in 1966.
I also had one of the characters watching Saturday morning cartoons. Except turns out they didn't have those either.
That's an obvious mistake, but there's so much more that you can inadvertently get wrong. So, when I was writing Bye, Beautiful – once I managed to set it in a town that did exist – I made sure that I researched everything, from the cycle of the moon to the weather to the cost of a tin of coffee.
I read newspapers, The Women's Weekly, police occurrence books, autobiographies of people who were there at the time; and I talked to as many people who remembered 1966 as I could. I was told about tipping Weeties on the floor to make ladies dance better; about sneaking out of louvred windows to meet boys; of having to sit in church every Sunday morning; about making your own clothes and making your own fun.
All the historical details I learned gave life to the novel.
It also helped that I had spent a lot of time in a country town as a child. Some country towns don't change too much from one generation to the next. I could smell the chlorine from the pool, feel the scorching heat off the stubble and the sting of dust whipped up by summer storms. And the emotional flavour of the novel came from my experiences of my mother's family; that was what gave the story its real power.
But it wouldn't have worked if I hadn't had the right details to wrap it in.
Writing The Push was different because it was set in Sydney, so I needed to research even more for that. I even got Duncan Ball to walk the streets of Glebe telling me what trees were in what street.
But perhaps because I hadn't lived in Sydney for long enough, or because The Push was too obscure a group for most people to relate to, the novel wasn't as successful as Bye,Beautiful.
Which showed me that you can have all the right details, but details don't make a novel.
You can find out more about Julia by visiting her website.
My next reverse blog visitor will be Pauline Luke.