Introducing Agatha Grace...
Agatha is here. Everything We Keep by Omnibus Books (an imprint of Scholastic Australia) has just starting to arrive in bookstores and I am beyond excited about it.
In earlier posts, I've mentioned how the character arrives, then a picture forms, an opening line and that I don't know what direction the story is going in until the character takes me there.
So here is how Agatha arrived.
In my teenage years I read a lot. I remember the impact of John Irving's World According to Garp, and my absolute favourite - anything by Agatha Christie. Fast forward to late autumn 2018, and a new movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express was on TV.
For the next few weeks Agatha roamed around in my mind - not the image of the writer but a young Australian girl.
About a month later, I was reorganising the linen cupboard. Our house doesn't have a lot of storage and I like to keep things to a minimum if possible. As I was sorting, I could picture Agatha sitting on a front step, with an orange suitcase beside her. I had no idea why she was there, what she was waiting for, where she was going or why her suitcase was orange.
The following Sunday I left home early to go to Melbourne. I was to attend a three-day Maths conference, starting the next day, and had arrange to meet a colleague in the evening for dinner. We were working on a project together and we needed to plan our work for week.
I thought I would head to Melbourne early and visit some bookshops - one of my favourite things to do.
This next part is crystal clear.
I was driving on the M80, destination Southbank via Lygon Street, and listening to a Sunday morning radio program (I have tried to find this segment online but it is, sadly, elusive). The host said that, after the news break, she would be talking to a guest about the effects of hoarding on children. That got my attention.
The discussion was riveting.
By the time I had reached the hotel it had all started to come together. Agatha was sitting on the step... waiting for someone to take her home... to her parents... who are hoarders.
I checked in, got to my room, went online and watched interviews with children and parents whose lives were impacted by hoarding. I read articles and looked at images. By dinner time the general idea had formed - the only thing missing was the rest of Agatha's name.
I met my colleague, Donna, for dinner. While we talked about the project we were working on, Agatha was also there, in the back of my mind. Donna's phone alerted her to a message. She looked at it and said, 'It's Grace. I'll call her later.'
There it was - Agatha Grace. The child of hoarders. About to be taken home.
I don't write at night. I write early in the morning. I don't write on a laptop, only on my desktop. Agatha sat on that front step for three days; it wasn't until Thursday morning, when I was at home, that Agatha appeared on the page. Why Agatha was in foster care, why her parents were hoarders, and everything else she had to deal with, all unfolded over the next six weeks.
It would be wonderful if I could tell you that the first draft was complete and ready for publication - it wasn't. It was a blurt. What will appear on the shelf in April has changed significantly from that first draft.
Agatha is still on the front step; the orange suitcase is there. What's not there are all the things I put in that needed to be refined - the perspective, pacing, character depth, the things I get from having multiple sources of feedback and reworking the manuscript.
Sometimes I wonder, if hadn't watched that movie, or cleaned out a cupboard, had listened to a different radio program or skipped dinner with Donna... then I stop myself from wondering.
This is how it works for me, as a writer, a thought here, an observation there, a comment from someone. I don't question it anymore - and that's the fun of it.
Agatha has arrived. I hope you enjoy reading her story as much as I have enjoyed the whole process of bringing her to you.