Sunday, September 12, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] Kaaron Warren on Botanica

This Sunday a new feature debuts on Temple Library Reviews. I had the idea back during my hiatus, when I thought I wanted more [because I do always want more in any regard] from the authors I enjoyed. I wanted an insider on how novels are created. I also realize how much effort, research and inspiration is involved behind a novel-length work, which is there on the pages, but the reader, well at least the average reader, doesn’t see how the wonders are created. What the reader sees are the pages and the words. So my intention is to take the reader beyond the wordcount and introduce him to the authors’ adventures in the land of writing, research and publishing.

My first guest is a personal favorite of mine, Kaaron Warren, whom I asked to write on the creation of the island named Botanica from her novel Walking the Tree [review by me to follow next month]. If you follow Kaaron around the Interwebs, then you will know that Botanica was inspired during her stay on Fiji and this is exactly this story that I wanted to learn.


My novel, Walking the Tree tells the story of the people who live on Botanica, a large island almost completely filled with an ancient tree.

I live in Australia, and while I’ve spent many days at the coast in my life, this is not the same as living on an island. You couldn’t walk around Australia, unless you had half a lifetime.

So when we found out we were moving to Fiji for three years, I knew that this would help me write the book. It would give me an understanding of what it’s like to live on an island, and what it’s like to circumnavigate that island.

We stayed on a number of small islands while we were there. Our favourites are the less ‘multi-national’ type ones, like Cagalai (pronounced Thangali), Leleuvia and Naigani (pronounced Naingani). The first two were easily circumnavigated, and there is something very fulfilling about walking the whole way around an island.

Pretty islands

I used this feeling in the novel. Most of the young women who set out from their home communities in Walking the Tree stop along the way, and make a new home. They live there for many years but then many of them are compelled to walk back to their birth communities.

I already knew I wanted this to occur, thinking about the many people around the world who live elsewhere but then feel a great desire for ‘home’ after many years. But circling those islands gave me a sense of how it feels to complete the circle, and how it would feel not to complete that circle.

Whenever we stayed on an island I took many photos and notes of how the water looked, the sand, the vegetation. I felt the sense of isolation and I understood that the people who live on the islands are not often compelled to leave. Again, it’s the sense of completeness, of being whole, you feel when you live in such a place.

One experience I had which made it, mood-wise, into the novel, was the time I was abandoned for less than 30 minutes.

We’d gone out to the deep sea for snorkeling. It was a small boat, with about 15 passengers. The boat dropped us variously about the place, and we drifted, and the boat drifted too. At one stage, I felt that even if I called, he wouldn’t hear me.

But he knew what he was doing, and we were all collected.

The Boats

On the way back, he stopped to let us climb onto a very small island, maybe 100 metres in diameter. I think he said there had been families living here once and there was small evidence of that; some rusty tin cans, a deeper hole right in the centre of the island. My friend and I, fascinated, looked in detail at the things left behind, as did another couple of people.

When we looked up, we were the only ones still on the island.

The boat was taking off with everybody else on board.

“We’ll come back,” the driver called. One man onboard held up a fishing line.

“Fishing!” he said, which explained nothing.

The Deserted Island

There was no shelter on the island; none at all. We had water bottles, which were almost empty. There was no vegetation bar some stringy bushes. It was really, really hot.

The four of us sank into the water to keep cool, and we kept calm by talking about how we would build a fire, how we’d catch fish, how we’d find water, if, you know, this was real and we had been abandoned.

It was 30 minutes before they returned. The arrogant fisherman had nothing, which meant we had to drive slowly home for him to find fish. We were sunburnt and thirsty.

That experience, that sense that I was alone and that there was nothing else in the world; that, I used in the book as well.

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