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Story Behind the Story Redux

September 14, 2009

As part of the Chinese Whisperings project we’ve asked the writers involved to share how their stories came into being. It is a personal indulgence I admit because as a writer and a reader I am fascinated by “the story behind the story.” For me, there is something special about seeing how every day moments and ideas coalesced into something bigger; to be able to back track to simple ideas, interactions and spaces from where stories spring. It is also both humbling and a source of encouragement when we hear about critical junctions in the creation of a narrative – especially when a story almost didn’t become a story.

Nick Earls’ most recent adult novel The True Story of Butterfish comes from a seed planted when he stood on an iron bridge in Germany, on the cusp of releasing three books in three different countries in three weeks. He went to buy a five euro belt but couldn’t part with the cash. What if all three books bombed and in a year’s time he needed that five euro?

How do you deal with that moment when you know everything is coming to an end? Where to from there?These are but two of the questions  Butterfish explores through the eyes of Curtis Holland, who has returned to his hometown of Brisbane to rebuild his life after his band’s third album tanks and the record company dumps them. And yes – there’s a moment in the book where Holland is on an iron bridge in Germany trying to process what has just happened. Earls also weaves part of his own experience as being a person  “recognised” into Butterfish. You’ll have to read it to find out where the stripper fits into the narrative equation though.

Stephen King’s first novel Carrie came about in part from a summer job working as a janitor cleaning the girl’s locker room and showers. A mundane moment surrounded by tiled showers and sanitary disposal units transformed into an intimate insight into a character.

The best part for me about Carrie is the fact King tossed the first pages of the story into the bin, to later be retrieved and read by his wife Tabitha who encouraged him to write on. She promised to provide him with what he needed to know about teenage girls to ensure the text was authentic – one of the big sticking points for King to continue the story. The paper back rights were sold for $400,000 (half going to King) in 1973.

Karen Foxlee, an emerging Australian author tells how she struggled for years to find a way to tell Beth Day’s story. One morning Foxlee she sat down telling herself if she didn’t get it right today then she was giving up on the story. That’s when the voice of ten year old Jennifer Day came to her and the story gushed forth.

The innocence of Jenny’s perspective allows the serious issues confronting the Day family to be observed from a ‘safe’ distance but without diminishing the emotional impact. Anatomy of Wings went on to win the Queensland Premier’s literary award for best emerging author in 2006.

This is why I find the behind the scenes stories fascinating. Sometimes it is the seed of a thought to be explored, sometimes it is weaving real life into fiction, when other times it is what happens to support the writer to tell the story. There is much to learn from hearing authors talk about story creation and the process of constructing a narrative. I for one will never stop wanting to know more.

What’s your favourite behind the scenes story? Do you feel sharing stories such as these diminishes the craft of writing, or adds to it?

One Comment
  1. September 14, 2009 4:37 am

    I love the story behind Stephen King’s Carrie. And the fact he wrote it all in the laundry room of a trailer and they were dirt poor before those paperback rights sold.

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