Canada’s Elizabeth Hay and New Zealand’s Tanya Moir and Emma Neale talked with Morrin Rout about their novels - all of which feature a boy finding his way.
Each author talked about their boy before reading a passage from their novel. Elizabeth Hay introduced Jim, ten years old, and in a car on the way to Lake Ontario, asks of his parents “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” Jim is a boy out of step with where he is in life, a cross border boy (a Canadian mother and New Yorker father) sorting out who has claims on his love and loyalty.
Tanya Moir introduces us to Winstone Blackhat at age 12, he is living on his own, living rough above the dams in Central Otago, sees himself as an outlaw and is surviving by fishing and stealing food from tourists.
Each author read a passage from their novel. There is something magical about authors reading aloud from their own work, the characters come to life as the writer intended and the audience is left wanting to know more.
Morrin asked how did they each decide how to tell the story of their boy? Elizabeth said “His Whole Life” came about from a long drive she was on with her own son and he asked that question “what is the worst thing you have ever done?”. She was unable to answer that question at the time and he was unable to tell her in return his worst thing but the question remained. She wanted to explore that question further so created her fictional characters and set them on a journey to further explore the mother / son bond. The character of George the husband explores the notion of the husband as a fifth wheel.
Tanya said “The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” told Winstone’s story through the mechanism of a Western film inside his imagination. Winstone’s thoughts and feelings are described by a third person character, not by him directly.
Emma “Billy Bird” said she wanted to write a verse novel with three distinct voices, the three voices are those of Billy, his mother and his father. This allowed her not to be limited to the child’s perspective but his voice was playful and madcap and lifted the book when the subject matter deals with tragedy.
Elizabeth’s novel deals with the question “what’s the worst thing you have ever done?” but links in Canadian politics and the question of “will Quebec ever leave Canada?” Canada and Quebec is described as a bad marriage – where Quebec really needs to leave. Quebec can also be described as an adolescent who will never achieve independence without leaving Canada.
Tanya’s novel is cinematic, she has taken the devices and clichés of cinema and put these back into words. She described writing her novel as imagining it as a movie scene with a camera tracking though the shoot and taking that and turning it into a sentence doing the same tracking with words.
Emma explored the family seeking counselling help to deal with their tragedy. Billy’s bird behaviour is a problem so she looked at what options would a family have to get help? She did this through researching and talking to professionals – but noted that sometimes the writer needs to abandon the research and let the character lead.
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