WRITER’S TAKE Lucy Christopher, the author of Stolen, talks about the inspiration behind the book, story setting and the research that has gone into it. JANANI GANESAN
Is the place you have spoken about for real? If yes, where is it and what is it called?
Yes, the Great Sandy Desert, where Stolen is set, certainly exists! It is a huge desert (covers three per cent of the Australian continent) in North Western Australia. It is an extreme landscape: an arid place of isolation and harshness, and yet it is also an incredibly fragile ecosystem and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The Separates don’t exist as such, but are based on the many rock formations I saw as I was driving through the Great Sandy desert to do my research. There are boulders like this all through this desert.
Is it necessary for an author to visit the places where the plot is building up?
For me, it was essential to visit the Great Sandy Desert in order to write about it effectively in Stolen. The reason is that an understanding of the setting of Stolen is essential for an understanding of the book. Through the story, Gemma learns to love what needs saving….part of this is for Ty, sure, but part of this is for the desert landscape too. However, if the setting wasn’t so important to a novel’s plot, then perhaps it wouldn’t be necessary for an author to visit the place where the plot is building up. I always seem to write novels where the setting is important!
When you mix reality with imagination - for instance a description of a real location interspersed with a writer’s own version of it - wouldn’t it leave the reader confused?
I think this is something that can’t be avoided. Whatever one writes about, or describes is inevitably the writer’s version of it. It’s the same with re-telling a story; it always gets a bit twisted in the telling! And as a result, perhaps writers do live in a kind of twisted reality. And books will always be swayed towards this.
However, with Stolen, one thing I tried to make accurate were my descriptions of the desert. I spoke to entomologists so that my description of the insects would be correct, I spoke to cameleers to make sure my descriptions of camels were correct, and I spoke to indigenous peoples, tour operators, snake handlers, venom experts, read countless books about the topography of the land …. the research was really important to me! The desert played such an important role in this text that it was my duty to describe it as accurately as I could. Personally, I think research is a very important step in writing fiction, and one of my very favourite parts!
What was the starting point for the novel?
I had two starting points. Firstly, I knew I wanted to write about the Australian outback. I have long been fascinated with this landscape, having visited it several times as a young person growing up in Melbourne. I was always simultaneously terrified and in awe of it. This is a good starting point for a piece of emotional writing.
Secondly, the first line of the book popped into my head one day, and I could vividly imagine a scene of an older, Australian man watching a younger woman at an airport. I thought a little more about this scene and realised that this man was from the Australian outback…and bingo…my story started to take shape.
When you started writing, did you know exactly how the story was headed or did you let the story take shape as you wrote?
Well, this is an interesting question, because I thought I knew where this story was heading, but actually, the original ending that I was heading towards changed a great deal by the time I got there. I wrote a plan for how I thought the book would take shape, but then, my characters took over, and the novel headed in a different direction entirely.
Can’t do without the standard question. What brought you to writing?
I’ve always written. I was an only child who moved houses and countries several times. As a result, I was constantly writing letters and diaries. It was to be fantastic practice for me (especially as Stolen is written as a long letter!). In school, English was always my best subject, and then after school I studied Creative Writing at University. At first I tried to fight it by trying to become an actor, then a nature guide … but in the end, it was writing I was really good at!
Janani is a student at the Asian College of Journalism.
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