Every time I write a novel, I don’t plan to add something I’m passionate about – like art, music, history, theatre, politics, or even digging up fossils. It enters a story because it’s what my protagonist demands.
This thing, this passion, then becomes the story’s narrative device, or icon.
With Secrets of Eromanga, it was a longtime interest in fossils, Australian dinosaurs and geology. With Sweet Adversity, it was a love of Shakespeare’s plays and stage drama in general (perhaps inherited from my grandmother, Grace Margaret O’Neill, who produced theatre and variety musical shows in the far northern town of Innisfail, back in the 1950s. She deserves a post all on her own!!)
My work-in-progress novel, The Four Seasons of Caterina, is set in 18th Century Venice – with the Baroque era’s tremendous surge of innovative music. Of course, the city’s most famous son, composer and virtuoso violinist, Antonio Vivaldi is there with his all-female choir of orphans, and street-urchin, Caterina.
With Tinker’s Girl, the icon is the camera. I didn’t plan it. My protagonist, Lela May Heron needed it – for her spirit’s survival.
A powerful visual aid for this young elective mute to see the world? Absolutely.
It’s the right era to use photography as a narrative tool. The early 20th century saw the development of small, affordable cameras that ordinary people could use.
And they sure did!
Photography has been in my life since I was 7 years old. My father gave me his old Box Brownie camera (like the one in the image above). I remember looking down at the view finder and seeing my family upside-down. But magically, the photos printed the right way up.
Finally, at 25, I learned to develop black and white images in a bathroom ‘dark-room’ – hot and dark with windows covered in black-out curtains, trying to avoid breathing in the fumes drifting off trays of chemicals. And then, printing the photographs.
I’ve owned many cameras since those days – learning through books and experience what makes a good image. I also discovered the magic of photography.
Very much like Lela May Heron does in The Tinker’s Girl.
Image: Princess Ileana of Romania with her mother’s camera, circa 1919