For Educators, For Readers, Q&A 2 years ago

#LoveOzYA Q&A with Jane Godwin for A WALK IN THE DARK

Jane Godwin is an Australian children’s book publisher, and also the highly acclaimed author of over twenty books for children, across all styles and ages. Her latest work is a YA novel, A WALK IN THE DARK.

#LoveOzYA’s Bianca Breen recently sat down with Jane to talk inspiration and creating characters. Watch the discussion on our YouTube channel, or read the full interview below.

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Can you tell us what A WALK IN THE DARK is all about?

It’s a contemporary realistic fiction novel set in the Otway Ranges in Victoria. It’s about an overnight school hike some kids go on with no teachers. Five of them set off, and it’s a night none of them will ever forget. They’re each challenged in their own ways by the elements and also by their own demons. The novel is set over one night in the forest.

A night in the forest with no teachers… what could go wrong! Where did the inspiration come from?

The overnight hike is called ‘a dropping’, and that is a real thing in the Netherlands, it’s a scouting tradition. They literally take a group of kids, usually pre-teen, and drop them in the forest and they have to find their way out. Sometimes they’re blindfolded before they go into the forest so that they become disorientated – which happens in A Walk in the Dark. I read an article in the New York Times about this tradition and was fascinated by it. They want to encourage resilience in children, and there’s a study that Dutch children are among the happiest children in the world. So I took that idea, and in the novel one of the school teachers is Dutch and wants to bring that tradition to the school. It was a challenge to make it believable but also have all these things happen. With fiction, that’s what you’re trying to do – it doesn’t have to be the most predictable way events would occur, but it has to be believable.

All the external elements were so thrilling, but for me it was the characters who really shone. They’re all so distinct and interesting. Did you have them all in your head when you started to write?

I had aspects of them in my head, but the characters develop in the drafting process as well. I really believe that plot and character are completely linked, you can’t separate them. Plot usually springs from character motivations. These characters are not really based on any real people, but I suppose you do take aspects from people you know. With character, I often try and capture the spirit of somebody I know, and Elle is a little bit based on a friend of my daughter’s. But they do develop as I go. I actually often write little essays about my characters as part of the drafting process, and I’ll include aspects of them that will never be in the book, but my aim is to think of them as real people so that I’ll be able to write about them as real people. You know you’ve been successful with a character if years later you can still summon them up. I certainly don’t have that with every character I’ve created, but with a few of them I do.

Do you create those character essays for every character, or was it specifically for this book? How do you normally go around creating characters?

I do it for every main character. There’ll be some aspect of someone I know that fascinates me – if you just know people a little bit and they fascinate you, you can fill in the rest yourself with your imagination. I think about them for a long time, and as I’m drafting I’ll write those little essays – I don’t write them before I start. I read in a writing book once that if you get stuck in a plot, you need to go back to where you felt as though you were forcing the action on the character, or when you felt like a character wasn’t acting authentically, and that’s probably because you don’t know that character well enough. If don’t know what my character would do next, it’s a sign that I need to get to know them more deeply. And to do that, I suppose I just go for a walk and try to immerse myself in a different person’s point of view, put myself in their shoes. It’s an exercise in imagination and they gradually become real people to me.

It’s good advice for aspiring writers – that you don’t need to know everything about your character before you start writing, they’ll develop as you go. So what are you hoping young readers will take away from A WALK IN THE DARK?

I want them to have been really engaged in and have loved the story, and think about how they might handle a physically challenging environment – and see the benefit of challenging themselves, of getting themselves out of their comfort zone. I also want them to see the characters as their friends and care about them, and encourage empathy with each of those characters.

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