I met author Carole Poustie at a meet-up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It was my first time there, and I didn’t know anyone. Carole very kindly chatted to me and introduced me to other writers and illustrators.
Her second middle-grade book, In the dark, has just been released. It follows the adventures of Ish, a thirteen-year-old boy, who was nicknamed Ish by his parents in the hospital after his birth because he looked Michael-ish. Ish is spending the summer with his Mum and older sister at his Gran’s place close to the Murray River. He seems set for a perfect summer, except that he discovers a letter his late Grandpa wrote to his Mum, begging her to tell Ish the truth about his identity.
Thank you, Carole, for answering my questions about your writing process!
1. How did you come up with the idea for In the dark?
Even though I have written In the Dark as a stand-alone book, it is actually the sequel to my first novel, Dog Gone, published in 2010. Celapene Press is re-issuing Dog Gone with a complementary updated cover design next month. When I originally finished writing Dog Gone I knew I wasn’t finished with the characters. They stayed with me whispering ideas about what they could get up to next and so there was no choice but to start typing. The setting for the novels in the books is a fictitious place called Mt Selview, but in my mind the actual setting is Corowa, where my grandmother used to live, and where I spent time as a child. Her garden still contained the old cellar from the hotel that used to occupy the site. The cellar was my starting point and the story took off from there.
2. What was the hardest thing about writing it?
Because I hadn’t planned to write a sequel originally, I had to think carefully about the plot of In the Dark, to keep the characters consistent but to allow Ish and his sister Molly to grow up a little bit but with more room to grow over the course of the novel. Knowing how much backstory to include for a reader who may not have read Dog Gone was a challenge.
3. How long did it take to write?
During the time of writing In the Dark I was completing my Masters in Writing and Literature, so although I had the first draft completed reasonably quickly, the revision process took a good couple of years.
4. Describe a typical writing day.
I’m not sure I have a typical writing day but I do know that when I have the time to write I usually take my dog for an early morning walk which helps me to enjoy some reflective, meditative time to clear my mind and to engage my muse. Usually the story starts shaping itself in my head while I am walking. Season permitting, I sit on my back deck to write. I live in a treed area and find that the birdsong and outdoor setting is most conducive to being creative. Fortunately, my study overlooks a park so in winter at least I can see outside. I lose all sense of time and often find myself eating lunch at dinnertime!
5. As a writing teacher for adults, what is the most common question your writing students have about the writing process and how do you answer it?
Many of my writing students are working on creative projects with the hope of becoming published. So, there are always questions on that topic. But of course, you need a good quality product to publish in the first place, even if you are going to publish it yourself. Whether my students are writing fiction or creative nonfiction, I spend a lot of time helping them to grasp the concept of writing in scenes. Many beginning writers present their stories exclusively in narrative. My mantra is leave room for the reader. By helping beginning writers create scenes where something is happening – as it would on screen or on the stage – the reader can become involved in the story and make their own judgments about what is going on. They don’t have to endure a narrator telling them everything.
6. What do you love most about writing?
The best thing about writing for me is when you lose yourself in your work and the characters take you off in directions you never anticipated – sometimes changing course so dramatically the whole novel shifts gear and you find yourself in the passenger seat hurtling towards some unexpected destination you never knew existed.
7. Which middle-grade writers do you admire and why?
Ursula Dubosarsky is an author I have a huge admiration for. Her characters are always authentic and extremely well-drawn. Her books have a certain wonderful sense of unspoken foreboding or mystery about them that, as a background presence, produces a source of tension that drives the story forward. Sonya Hartnett’s ability to produce unique, authentic and stunning characters is to die for.
8. Are you working on a new project?
I’m revising a suite of short stories at the moment and hoping to devote more time to writing some poems. That said, Ish and co have begun to whisper more ideas …
Thank you, Carole!