When I was doing my Professional Writing diploma, I had the utter privilege of being taught by Cath Crowley. On the simplest level it was a privilege because she’s generous and engaged. I mean really generous. Like, How do you have time to write? generous. But she’s also – in love with words. I don’t know how else to put it, even though that makes me pause and think, Well aren’t all writers? But she is besotted, enthralled, inquisitive, patient. In love, in love.
Her YA novel Graffiti Moon won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award, and was short listed for just about every other award. It’s about a girl, Lucy, who’s just finished school and rides around the city trying to find the graffiti artist, Shadow, who paints his heartache on walls. And the boy, Ed, who she doesn’t like, who says he knows where to find Shadow. It is a gorgeous romance, and it has the best (re-)meet-cute ever.
It takes me the longest time to get to the heartbreak and kissing because at first there’s nothing in the new world but shadows and space.
I keep hoping that one day I’ll find a shortcut, a door that takes me from one novel into the next. Takes me straight from Ed and Lucy’s kiss, through a small gap in the air, onto the street where Giselle and Charlie are waiting. Or even better, couldn’t I just walk a little way down the road, and have them existing on different streets in the same world?
But for me there’s no door or small walk. I go the long way around.
I leave the dark parks of Graffiti Moon and arrive on a highway. I’m in a car at night, and there’s not even a sling of moon. The only light comes from the car. Every now and then the driver flicks the headlights to high beam and makes a ghost of the world. There are two people, three if you include me, and we’re heaving all over the road. It seems as if the driver’s heart is hooked to the breaks. The two people in the front are eating Fruit Loops from a snap lock bag and for some reason one of them is wearing pajamas. There’s a flickering light in the car and it takes me a while to see that it’s their conversation.
I write it down.
I write down all their conversations. The book is nothing but talk and driving through the dark. The world outside is shadow. Other people appear in the car and I write what they say too.
I write stream of consciousness. I talk to other writers about it. I plan, I plot, I re plan. I make character maps.
I confide in one good friend that I can’t get them out of the car. They’re in the front seat talking, and thinking about kissing, driving on a ghost highway and tossing Fruit Loops to the air and they won’t get out. Maybe the setting is the car? I can’t write a whole novel in a car.
I write a page without stopping and the characters’ words are sweet lights that they roll around their tongues and swap when they kiss. They’re in lust, driving towards love, maybe. Why would you get out of the car?
They have all the expectation and none of the risk. You can’t get physically close in a moving car; you don’t have to stop at any of the points in the landscape that you don’t want to look at. You don’t have to face up to the howling that’s going on outside the window.
What is that howling? I ask.
I think it’s a boy, Giselle says. She’s not getting out of the car to investigate.
I take away their Fruit Loops and give them a flat tyre. We’re getting out of the car.
I force them into a world they don’t want to be in, out of the safe place.
And slowly, putting together all my notebooks of conversations and thoughts and fears, the plot of the story comes.
I know what happens between Charlie and Giselle. I know them so well now. We’ve been on a very long road trip together. I know how they kiss and I know their heartbreak because I’ve been with them so long.
I know they arrive, two characters on the corner of a dark highway. Waiting for the lights of something beautiful.
Note: every comment puts your name in the hat for an accidental housewife e-reader cover.
What is that howling? Oh, that would be me screaming because ahhhhh! I’m so excited to meet Charlie and Giselle.
😀 I know!!! Every couple of months I’m like, “So, Cath, you know if you ever need another set of eyes when you have a draft together, I’m, like, available.”
Wow. What a fascinatingly beautiful description of how you get to know your characters. It kind of makes my brain hurt. Although, perhaps if I tried to write down how I get to know mine, it would be just as disorienting. Thanks for that literary and lovely journey into your process, Cath.
Oh Cath – how I have missed you and your stories and your words and how you can turn the process of writing into something both tangible and unreal.
I just don’t even know how to process what I just read, so i won’t. i’ll let it linger until it grabs hold.
Anna, your blog is divine.
Hello Marisa – are you still New Orleaning?
And Maggie and Carla and Amber – I hope the book turns into something beautiful for you.
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