My journey as an author started when both Alli Cobby Eckermann and I became joint winners of the first Black and Write fellowship initiated through the Queensland State Library in 2011. As winners we had our manuscripts edited by fellowship editors before being published with Magabala Books in Broome. It has been an intense but extremely inspirational ride.
Initially I wrote the novel to encourage my teenage sons to read. As Fuzzy's story developed I realised other people may also be interested. Many themes relating to the everyday Joe are discussed and argued throughout the novel. The reason I did this was to make people think and to ask questions. Grandparents' bringing up Grandchildren was created as the founding theme weaving its way from front to back. In this case both Nan and Pop are constantly involved in Fuzzy's life and her need to understand the world. Whether it's about immigration, the construction of Gunn's Mill in Tasmania or the rise and fall of poor fella Cane Toad, if Fuzzy needs to understand something, she will ask questions and try to make her own judgement.
Grace Beside Me wasn't written to change the world. I'll leave that up to Bono, World leaders or someone else more inspired to do so. Simply, the novel was written to remind all of us, we don't travel through life alone. Darkness has a light switch; we just need to remember it's there.
Many things inspire the words that tumble out onto my computer screen. Music including classical, country, rock, pop and folk tend to make my life as a writer easier. Movies across all genres, books including biographies, documentaries, TV, all types of art and people from all cultures and socioeconomic persuasions influence how I write.
Yes there are choice words in the book which some may find offensive. I thought long and hard about swearing in Grace Beside Me and came to the conclusion my characters need to be themselves. I believe it brings authenticity and depth to who they really are. Changing a character's vocabulary automatically changes the spirit of the character. It was important Nan sounded like Nan, not some watered down old girl who fluffed around the house never putting a foot wrong, all sweet and nice. Not that Nan isn't sweet and nice ... she just needs to be herself.
I also believe that a questionable vocabulary does not automatically make that person bad. Both Nan and Aunt Nell in the story are more than capable of telling you how they see it. They can be blunt and straight to the point but both have humility with giant hearts of gold.
I do have other stories waiting to be told, that are not related to Fuzzy. It will be interesting to see in what medium they will make their unveiling. There will be a second book about Fuzzy, Nan and Pop. Fuzzy had a big year in 2008 so following years at school will bring maturity, rebellion and more big questions in need of answers.
On a personal level, I'll continue to read deadly books, make music, bake, laugh and be happy. I look forward to hearing from readers. I would love to know if Fuzzy's love of story also inspired you, the reader, to connect with your own rellos, to ask them questions, hopefully motivating you to tell your own story. Grace beside you always. (Review p38) Sue Mac
Natural Disasters: the Inspiration behind Mountain Wolf
The idea to write a book about trafficking first came to me when I was on an Asialink Fellowship in Pakistan. It was just a year after the 2005 earthquake and there was a lot of coverage in the Pakistani media of the first anniversary of the 7.6 quake that decimated mountain villages like Balakot with 50,000 deaths at a time. Wherever we went in the mountains, especially in Azad Kashmir, people were still living in tents. Even schools were held in tents. We too had experienced an earthquake when we were aidworkers in Pakistan some years before. Although it was half the size, I could get an impression of how terrifying the 2005 quake must have been. So it is not surprising that Mountain Wolf begins with an earthquake.
While I was researching for another story in Pakistan I discovered research on trafficked Pakistani children and how they were sold into slavery or sent overseas. I also discovered something appalling: unscrupulous adults were preying on the orphans from the earthquake enticing them with offers of jobs but selling them into domestic service, factories or brothels.
Sometimes parents need money and 'bond' their child to a factory for some time to gain capital to help the rest of the family. The problem with debt-bonding is the families can never seem to find the capital to buy the child out. I found it isn't always poverty that causes trafficking, often children lack protection, skills and education and are tricked or kidnapped.
All this research ended up in Mountain Wolf in some form, often as the experience of the characters. I pictured a boy in the tribal region of Kala Dhaka, Black Mountain, the only survivor in his family from the earthquake, and so Razaq's story took on life. I wrote one page to begin with as I was writing Marrying Ameera, but Razaq stayed in my head until it was time to write his story.
To fine tune details of setting and culture, I travelled up the Karakorum Highway again to see what the road was like since the earthquake. In parts close to the Indus River it looked like one of the world's worse roads. The closest I could get to the tribal area of Kala Dhaka was a police post on the border. A young guard there let me hold his AK47 Kalashnikov. It was heavy and I swung around with it skew-whiff in my arms, to ask him how you shoot it, a very writerly question I thought, since one of my characters might need one. The guard dropped to the ground in front of me and said, 'Don't shoot.' He had forgotten to tell me it was loaded.
An aidworker we knew who had worked in Kala Dhaka during the aftermath of the earthquake told me what it was like and showed me photos. Kala Dhaka is one great mountain range with the Indus River forming the western boundary. Beautiful green fields and terracing cover the lower slopes. As with other tribal areas in Pakistan they are outside federal law. There are no national police or army units stationed there. They govern themselves. I found Pakistani Government reports on the web dealing with trafficking, protection centres for children, nigeban, shelters for children who escape, and reports about street children and child prostitution.
Discovering how trafficked children are rescued was difficult as only two percent in Pakistan escape. I wanted Razaq to be one of that two percent. I also wanted the climatic rescue to be lifelike. This was perhaps the trickiest part of the story to write as people I asked in Pakistan didn't always know how the rescues were conducted.
In writing Mountain Wolf I didn't want to trivialise the suffering of trafficked children; I wanted to tell an untold story as this trade is done in secret. I was appalled at the figures of trafficked children worldwide. World Vision estimates that over 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, as child/human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, the second largest after drugs according to the U.S. State Department. It doesn't only occur in third world countries. Australia is a destination point for trafficked women and children and child prostitution happens here too.
Even though child trafficking is slavery and needs exposing, above all I wanted Razaq's story to show true friendship, and the strength of the human spirit to hope in spite of harrowing circumstances. (Review p36)
Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.