I was very lucky this year, to receive an advanced copy of Kirsty Eagar's highly-anticipated new young adult novel, 'Night Beach'.
Ms Eagar is a favorite Aussie author of mine, for a lot of reasons. Her debut novel 'Raw Blue' was exquisite; a painful but vital book about one girl's battle with the trauma of her past. Her second novel, 'Saltwater Vampires' was an Aussie-Gothic extravaganza. But I also adore Ms Eagar because I was lucky enough to interview her in 2010. She is so wonderful, funny and kind - and that just makes her writing success all the sweeter!
I truly, truly believe that Kirsty Eagar is one of the most important voices in Australian YA at the moment, so I was over-the-moon when an early copy of 'Night Beach' came my way. And I've got to say - Kirsty Eagar meets, and exceeds, fan expectations with her third book. It is incredible: a goosebump-inducing tale of obsession and mystery, at once a coming-of-age tale and a mesmerizing Gothic-horror story. 'Night Beach' is definitely a favourite book of 2012 for me, and it should be on everyone's must-read list!
I was so thrilled when Kirsty agreed to do another Q&A with me. Just a little FYI, you'll find that in this interview I have included images of many different artworks by a collection of Australian and international artists - some of these works are intrinsic to the 'Night Beach' story, and are mentioned by the book's protagonist, Abbie. Other images included in this post are just ones that I thought reflected the story (like Jacob Sutton's incredible 'Underwater Girl' collection'!)
Without further ado, I give you my interview with the wonderful and talented, Kirsty Eagar!
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Night Beach’, from first idea to final manuscript?
That's going to require some thinking! I had the original idea and started writing it just after Raw Blue was accepted for publication, so around September 2008. The first 15,000 words came very quickly (and they never changed much). But then other things got in the way - edits for Raw Blue, my second child, the experience of being published for the first time, edits for Saltwater Vampires ... I didn't get a chance to work on Night Beach again until December 2010, and it was only the looming deadline that got me back into it. I finished the first draft in February 2011, and I was pretty wrecked by the end of it. I didn't work on it again until midway through 2011 when I did the structural edit. Life got in the way again after that, so the final edits were completed in February and March this year. I guess, looking back on it all, that book came about in three or four short, intense periods of writing, with long waits in between.
Q: Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’? – That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
Every time I finish something I tell myself that next time I’m going to plot it all out before I start. But it never works like that. Eventually, I just give up and start writing, and the final outcome never has much overlap with my original plotting attempts. In my case, I sometimes think that the urge to control it all stems from fear – fear that I’m not going to be able to do it again, because I’m never really sure how I did it last time. Plotting works best for me when I do it on the hop: say, by having a rough idea of where the next three scenes might take me, and something to aim for further in the distance.
Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
That’s such a great question. For me, the main character always arrives at the beginning of the process, but the idea itself is pretty vague. It’s more like a number of things I want to explore that I know are somehow going to be woven together in a story.
Q: ‘Night Beach’ references many famous and beautiful pieces of artwork. Abbie cites a great mix of Aussie artists (like Brett Whiteley), and classics (such as René Magritte’s mind-bending works). Were all the paintings and artists mentioned your personal favourites, or did you start researching when you decided that Abbie was influenced by these masters?
All of the paintings mentioned in Night Beach are works that I love, but that said Abbie’s tastes are slightly different to mine. I went overboard in the early drafts and there were a lot more references. Luckily my editor, Amy Thomas, reined that in and got me to cull it back to only the works that were significant in terms of where the story was going.
Q: Something I loved about ‘Night Beach’ was learning about artists and artwork that I had never seen before. I had a lot of fun reading Abbie reference a painting, and then looking it up and getting new insight into her emotions. . . in particular, her mention of Giorgio De Chirico’s ‘Mystery and Melancholy of a Street’, gave me chills to look at that menacing shadow around the corner. And Dorothea Tanning’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ is so beautifully strange, and no wonder Abbie feels like it reflects current circumstances. How hard was it to find pieces of artwork that resonated with scenes, and complemented Abbie’s mindset and the story?
It was actually a pretty organic process. ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ was always going to be there because it directly inspired that part of the story (the hair, the door). I first came across that painting when I was seventeen and I felt like it was the key to a secret – all I had to do was find the secret! Overall, what helped narrow things down was that I was picking paintings as much for the ideas behind them as the art itself. So the Surrealists had to be represented (in view of their focus on dreams and the unconscious), and the Romantics did too (the power of nature, Gothicism, the supernatural, the artist’s individual journey).
Q: ‘Night Beach’ is definitely scary. You have readers literally jumping at shadows . . . Have you always been a fan of horror/spooky stories? And how do you know something is scary enough when you’re writing – do you test scenes out on certain, trusting readers and gauge their scare-factor? Or do you aim to scare yourself?
You know what’s funny? Before now, I had never given this any thought. I’ve been surprised that people find Night Beach so scary. I definitely enjoy spooky stories, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable reading them – I always lie awake afterwards. And I’m the biggest wuss when it comes to suspense in movies. I cover my eyes AND block my ears, and (if I’m in a movie theatre) I usually embarrass my husband by repeatedly asking in a loud voice: ‘Is it over yet?’
It didn’t occur to me to test anything, but I did scare myself. The first draft of Night Beach was written at night, usually between 9pm and 2am. Normally I’d be writing in a sleep-deprived trance, but there were a couple of scenes that bumped me out of it. I was checking behind me, feeling like the air had suddenly become very cold.
Q: [SPOILER question]. There’s a bit of Djinn (jinn/genie) mythology in ‘Night Beach’ that really harks back to the ancient, even Qur'an, origin of those ‘demons’. How did you settle on Jinn as your supernatural creature in ‘Night Beach’ – and how was it different writing about them (when they have Islamic mythology origins) versus the more commonly known supernatural villains in ‘Saltwater Vampires’?
Danielle, you put so much thought into your questions – thank you! I became interested in Jinn mythology when I decided I wanted to go on a surf trip to the Maldives. But in writing about it, I was definitely conscious that it’s a mythology based in a culture that’s quite different to mine. So I left things open to interpretation as much as possible. It’s up to the reader how much they attribute to the workings of a Jinn, and how much they attribute to the workings of Abbie’s subconscious.
Q: The title ‘Night Beach’ is a very apt one. There is something about a beach at night that is so changeable and fearsome. In the moonlight it can be beautiful, but crashing waves can sound deafening and menacing in the pitch black. I feel like you captured this beautifully in ‘Saltwater Vampires’, when the beach became a Gothic setting. . . and you do it again in ‘Night Beach’. How much time did you spend wandering beaches at night? And was that a fun/frightening way to get the creative juices flowing?
A lot is the short answer, but it’s something I’ve always done. While I was writing Night Beach we were in a place that was on the beach. I could see and hear the waves from my desk. I’d walk out and take a look at it whenever I felt like it. And I often surf until after dark (especially in summer when it’s crowded). The other thing is, when I was growing up, my grandmother had a house right on the beach. There was no back fence, just sand. You’d be lying in bed in the sleep-out and you could hear the waves as though they were just outside the window. I feel more at home there at night because there’s nobody else getting in your way. It’s usually just you and it.
Q: Something else really interesting in ‘Night Beach’ is the focus on human connection, particularly between Abbie and Kane. . . because it is so one-sided, and Abbie has invested so much into her feelings for him (feelings Kane doesn’t necessarily deserve). What was your inspiration for writing about this sort of ‘romantic’ relationship?
I’m not sure why I chose to write about it. I know that even though it’s not always healthy, there’s something addictive about the intensity of obsession. You feel more alive. And I think in that sense, Abbie is using Kane (which might seem like an odd thing to say in view of that one-sidedness you’ve mentioned).
Q: Your first novel, ‘Raw Blue', won the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Young Adult Fiction. That novel, about a girl called Carly; a lone surfer with a suffocating secret, really resonated with readers and has quickly become an Australian YA favourite, while also gaining popularity overseas. It was a very intense novel, and Carly’s journey was a difficult one. . . Even though the novel came out in 2009, do you still find yourself thinking about Carly? Is it hard to let a character like that just go, even though the book is out and, for all intents and purposes, ‘done’?
Yes, definitely. I still think about a lot of the characters from that book, and I miss them. When it was published I went through a form of grief - that was it, I was cut off from them. But every now and then I get a nice email from someone that makes me feel like they live on.
Q: What was the last great book you read?
The Good Daughter by Honey Brown. She leaves me breathless.
Q: Favourite authors of all time?
Tove Jansson, James Lee Burke, S.E. Hinton, Cormac McCarthy, Harper Lee, and I’m going to say Shirley Conran, too, because I read Lace at eleven and that goldfish scene has never left me.
Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit shelves?
At the moment I’m working on what could only be described as a big mess. It’s got a long way to go before it gets anywhere near a shelf!