Today, the wonderful and talented Claire Saxby is visiting DeeScribe Writing to talk about her first historical fiction, Haywire, published by Scholastic Australia and she’s sharing some secrets about her writing process.
Claire writes award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. Her books include ‘Bird to Bird’ and ‘Dingo’, ‘Seadog’ and ‘There Was an Old Sailor’. Her books and poetry are published in Australia and internationally.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ HAYWIRE
In 1939, 14-year-old Tom lives in Hay where his family runs the local bakery. Max Gruber is nearly fourteen-years-old. He is sent to his Uncle Ferdy in London, but is then interred and shipped to Australia aboard the Dunera. He arrives in Hay and meets Tom. The two boys become friends and find their lives and their friendship influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe. (from the publisher – Scholastic Australia)
Max’s frightening voyage on the Dunera keeps us spell bound and even once he arrives in Australia, life doesn’t get much easier for him after he finds himself in the Hay internment camp, shunned by most of the outside world as an ‘enemy alien’.
In her novel, HAYWIRE, Claire Saxby documents a little known passage of the Australian WW11 experience.
Tom and Max are both well crafted and relatable characters and readers can connect with their vulnerabilities and the fear and uncertainty that war brings.
Tom’s family life is authentically Australian and rich in the detail and experiences of the time in which the story is set.
Although HAYWIRE is set in a time of great tragedy and fear, we are left with hope and a belief that life for both Tom and Max will turn out okay in spite of the situation and war that their countries have thrust them into.
This well researched work of historical fiction is for readers aged 9 to 12 and has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize. Congratulations Claire.
HAYWIRE – THE WRITING PROCESS
- What inspired you to write this book?
I knew about the Dunera, the ship that brought so many internees to Australia in 1940, but I didn’t know much. I did know that a substantial number of the internees elected to stay in Australia rather than return to England once the British government acknowledged their wrongful internment. I did know that this was an extraordinary group of men, who contributed enormously to Australia. But I knew nothing about how they came to be in Hay and what the locals thought. And I wanted to.
- Who/what inspired the characters of Tom and Max?
Max came first. I had this sense of a teenage boy picked up by a tidal wave and swept from his world to the world of war, where he is judged purely by his heritage, his accent. No one asked how he felt, what he wanted. And the size of the wave that carried him on allowed little time for him to even consider more than surviving. Until he reaches Hay. Tom’s life looks simple in comparison, but he too is caught up in the war at home and it tears at his life, his security too. He, like Max, has little time to really process what’s going on, and what he really wants. I wanted to show that the quiet ones are as ripped apart by war as those who shout loudly.
- Can you talk us through the research process?
Research took a very long time and continued throughout writing and redrafting! There were two main reasons for this. The first is that it’s all fascinating and it’s so easy to disappear down paths that may well lead to more interesting information, but which don’t necessarily contribute directly to the novel. The second reason is because in order to represent both 1939/1940 Europe and Hay, NSW accurately I needed to know so much! I needed the timeline to WWII in Germany and England, in Australia in general, and Hay in particular. Then I needed to know what life was like in Hay at the time (and that involved spending a lot – A LOT – of time on Trove, reading the twice-weekly regional newspaper.
Each reading exposed holes in my knowledge and let to more research. I thought I’d done enough research and was somewhere in the middle of drafting (tenth draft?) when I had the chance to visit Hay (It’s on the way from Melbourne to Canberra, right?). Much of what I’d researched was right, but there were several fundamental errors on my part – and each of those meant that if I wanted the story to be as close to real as I could make it, I needed to rewrite a number of key scenes. Aggh! But ultimately it was worth it.
- What Surprising Things Did you discover through the research process?
So many. There were so many things that I just hadn’t thought about, eg why did they chose Hay for the internment camps? (criteria included being far from the coast, having transport access, being built on sand to prevent escape attempts). Surprises were big and small and ranged from fathers being rounded up for internment in England, even when sons were employed by the army (and vice versa) to the camp having their own currency.
I met a man who had been a child at the time the internees arrived and he told me that there’d been Gatling guns set up inside the station, trained on the disembarking men. The same man told me about his father setting up on the chimney of their house, armed with several weapons and prepared to shoot if any of the men appeared on the street. Another surprise was that around 20 % of the internees were under 20 years-old.
- Writing tips
I use an A4 workbook for my research, in addition to online research. I write notes in it, on only one side of the page, with reference notes (reference book details and page number or online reference details etc). Sometimes I print out pages too, glue them in and highlight relevant information.
Don’t have too many characters. After writing mostly picture books, I thought, here is my chance to have lots of characters, and it is, but beware of having so many that it becomes confusing. Tom had many more siblings, reflecting family sizes of the time, but not all of them had enough of a role to justify their existence. Some had to go.
Research broadly, from multiple sources. Trove was a … treasure trove! It allowed me access to several regional newspapers, each with their own focus. All were helpful. The internet is wonderful and so are books. Each provides some of the same information, which is useful for corroboration, but each also provides different information, which helps to flesh out the historical world I was entering.
You can find out more about Claire and her work at https://clairesaxby.wordpress.com/