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, Gracie 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 other work-in-progress novel has classical music. 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 my 2022 historical adventure work-in-progress, the icon is the camera. I didn’t plan it. My protagonist needed it – for her spirit’s survival.
A powerful visual aid for this young Welsh Romani immigrant to see the world? Absolutely.
It’s the right era to use photography as a narrative tool. The early 20th century saw the Kodak company develop small, affordable cameras that ordinary people could use. And they sure did!
This was a novel of discovery for both Lela and me – the Kale Romani, culture, history, language, discrimination / the White Australia Policy / bigotry, racism / immigration / coalmine disasters / early photography and cameras.
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 my 13 year old protagonist.
NEWS! I won a bid on a 1915 Kodak #1 Autographic Junior camera. It’s from France and likely was used during WW1, when these cameras because the tools for those who recorded the battlefields in film.
Image: Princess Ileana of Romania with her mother’s camera, circa 1919