Authors tell you what inspired their work
Evie Wyld, Author of "After the Fire, a Still Small Voice"
One of the most important moments in writing my novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, came when I realized I could reach outside of reality.
I was on the top deck of a train heading to Waterfall, a small town about 50km South of Sydney in the National Park. I wasn't particularly thinking about my book, other than in the general sense that I was constantly worrying that I'd never finish it. There had recently been fires in New South Wales, and I remember looking out the train window at the bush which was dark and burnt out.
I'd been working on the novel for about a year and a half and I'd come to a brick wall with my characters. I knew there was something that had to happen, some quiet but climactic moment involving one of the book's two main characters, Frank, and Sal, the young girl he becomes friends with. But I just wasn't able to see what that would be. At that point in the plot, Sal had gone off to try to catch a monster from Aboriginal mythology called a Bunyip. My initial idea was that Sal had misunderstood adults talking about the bad things that had happened and imagined them as an actual monster that lived in the bush. She thought that if she killed the monster, everyone could relax and things would become good again. But the more I wrote Sal, the more it began to feel patronizing that she would make this sort of mistake, especially when she was so sharp and clever in other ways. It was really getting in the way—the scene of Sal going off to kill the Bunyip felt absolutely right, but it didn't square with who she was, for her to fall for an imaginary creature.
So I decided to make the Bunyip real. Immediately this made Sal into a warrior rather than a confused kid and suddenly I saw who she was far more clearly. But more than that it gave an extra resonance to the threat I wanted the landscape to contain, the noises in the bush and the sugarcane at night. It freed me up to rewrite so many of the earlier scenes with this new piece of information.
If you look carefully, the Bunyip appears throughout the whole book. It's there in Leon's childhood—it comes back with his father from Korea, then it follows Leon all of his life, becomes strong and frightening in Vietnam. It was this thread that helped me write the Vietnam sections, which I'd previously struggled with, so that they felt part of the same book as the scenes in Australia.
The Bunyips are there when Frank reaches the shack—not only has he brought his own with him, but his father and his grandparents' Bunyips are still there in the cane, along with those of his grieving neighbors, the Haydons. I came to see the whole landscape as teeming with Bunyips.
It's one of those things that I'm sure doesn't feel that important to most readers of the book, but it helped me pull the whole feeling of the book together and it came from that moment staring out of the train window at the black gum trees, and thinking—What if the Bunyip was real?
After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is Evie Wyld's first novel. She is Writer in Residence for the Book Trust and has had several short stories published. She works in a small independent bookshop in Peckham, South London, called Review, and lives in Stockwell.
Backstories, where authors share the secrets, the truths, or just the illogical moments that sparked their fiction, come to us courtesy of author M.J. Rose and the Open Letters Monthly blog Like Fire.