The very talented award-winning author of Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr has dropped in to talk about her fabulous new book, Dragonfly Song.
Wendy is the author of many award-winning books, including Nim’s Island, Nim at Sea, Rescue on Nim’s Island, Raven’s Mountain and Peeling the Onion.
Today I’m reviewing Wendy’s beautiful new book, and she’s sharing some fabulous tips on how she wrote it.
DRAGON FLY SONG – ABOUT THE BOOK
Although it’s set in the Bronze Age, Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr is a story for any time.
It’s a story of optimism in times of adversity, of clinging onto hope when there appears to be none. It’s a tale of resilience and courage. Any reader who has ever felt unloved or outcast will feel inspired by Aissa’s story. Anybody who has ever felt powerless will be empowered by it.
“The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.
Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.”
There’s so much to love about this book. The fascinating setting, the lyrical writing and the fast-paced page turning action. But it’s Aissa herself, who really draws you into her story. She takes the reader into her heart, so deeply into her world that we feel every stab of pain, every triumph.
I was also drawn to the exploration of destiny in this book – that sometimes there is a path we must follow, even if it’s at first unclear.
Dragonfly Song is a combination of narrative and verse, but the transition is seamless, with the narrative reading like prose poetry.
It has clearly been meticulously researched and the author takes us back through time to the age of flints and spears. To a hierarchical society in which bloodline and position in society dictate survival, a time of superstition and folklore in which children can be cast out to fend for themselves because of a physical or mental impairment that is seen as a curse.
It’s rare that you find a fast-paced adventure that’s so beautifully written that you’re caught up in both the language and the story itself.
I couldn’t put Dragonfly Song down till I’d read the last word.
INSPIRATION BEHIND DRAGONFLY SONG
Wendy has always been fascinated by the Aegean Bronze Age. Doodling on a finger-paint app in 2010, she sketched a dark, curly-haired girl with a twisted mouth, and knew that she had to find this unhappy girl’s story.
The plot and Aissa’s fictitious island formed as Wendy researched and read, but the story was sparked to life by serendipitous, seemingly unrelated events, such as finding a piece of chipped flint on a Danish beach, and taking a wrong turn and ending up at the extraordinary deep blue Source de la Sorgue in France. Most mysteriously, every time that she made a significant decision or discovery about the story, Wendy saw a dragonfly the following day.
Wendy’s beautiful new book is a combination of verse and prose and she’s going to talk about why she wrote it like that, and give us some fabulous tips on how she wrote it.
Why did you write this in a combination of verse and prose?
I often hear my stories in free verse before I start writing, but Dragonfly Song was quite insistent, and continued to be in verse in the early drafts in 2011 or 12. I felt that the story and setting were too complex for verse and kept transposing it back into prose. However, I knew I hadn’t got the right tone, and so put this book aside while I wrote Rescue on Nim’s Island. After starting again in prose, though I was still hearing it in verse, and still wasn’t satisfied with the tone, I woke up one morning thinking, ‘I could write it in a combination of verse and prose.’ I got up the nerve to tell my editor, and when she didn’t have hysterics, I started, and it began to flow.
My plan was that the verse would express more of Aissa’s interior life, and the prose would be more expository, for background, and for any other character’s point of view – and sometimes just to break a section of verse so that it wasn’t too long. I continued to find it easier to write in the free verse, and so when deadlines approached, it tended to have longer verse sections that sometimes had to be rewritten as prose. (Editing the verse, however, is much harder than editing prose, because changing a word changes the rhythm for the whole section…)
Writing in free verse also demanded a completely new way of working for me. After having written everything, even personal letters, on a typewriter and then computer from the time I left school, I had to write this by hand. And instead of writing in complete silence or with a meditation cd, the verse was written to a soundtrack of Sigur Ros. I heard them on the radio once, several years before I was consciously planning this book, and knew they were the soundtrack for it – so when I started writing, I went to iTunes and found them.
WENDY’S WRITING TIPS
- How much research to do for historical novels is a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. You could spend the rest of your life learning and never get to the writing. Try to get a good feeling for the period before you start, and then hone in on what you need to know once the story is plotted.
- Tiny facts and details add verisimilitude to your story and immerse the reader in its life. They can also smother the reader with their weight. Listen to your editor or beta reader when they ask, ‘This is a fascinating fact, but does it really add anything to the story?’ (Hint: the correct answer is No.)
- Once you have a reasonable background knowledge of the period or the subject, don’t be afraid to read other fiction, or watch films, set in the era or the region. I tended to weigh up other novelist’s interpretations of the history against my own reading of the theories, but I read a lot of books – novels, travelogues, memoirs – about Crete and the Greek islands. Sometimes they added one fact, such as when figs ripen; more often they just solidified my image of the islands.
- The earlier the history – particularly in an era like the early Bronze Age, with no written records apart from tax lists – the more disputed theories there are. Choose the one that makes sense to you and stick with it. Remember that it’s a novel and you’re the creator – the internal logic or integrity is the most important thing.
- Similarly, you may need to simplify or condense some events or characters to let the novel flow. If it’s a serious history, you can always add an author’s note at the end to explain. For example, although I believe that every peak, cave and natural feature on Aissa’s island probably had its own goddess or god, I felt that it would have added too much explanation or confusion for something that was not integral to the story, so I’ve condensed them all into one mother goddess. There are no right and wrong answers for this type of question: go with what feels right for the story.
Listen to your heart, and the words in your head, when you write something new. Experimenting with new styles and formats brings a much greater risk of failure – but it is also the way to find your own true style, and write not just the best book you can, but the book that only you can write.
MORE GREAT TIPS, REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
Wendy has been visiting some other fabulous blogs as she tours through cyberspace.
Check them out here: