From the MWF program: Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave, and friends he used to care about, and a string of one-night stands, and favorite Uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world... Melina Marchetta's brand new novel delves back into the lives of Thomas, Tara and, of course, Francesca, but this time, it's someone else who needs saving.
Melina discusses her life as a writer.
So I had eagerly been anticipating this session since first reading The Piper's Son last month. Also, I'd never been inside any of the venues inside Federation Square or ACMI, so that was pretty cool. BMW Edge, where this session was held, was an interesting venue (though I was very surprised that it only seemed half to two-thirds full). Melina was 'in conversation' with Nikki Anderson, and I had a front row seat. I've decided to attempt to transcribe my notes from the session into dot-point form, so hopefully they make some form of sense:
- Melina has a middle-grade book out shortly. It's called The Gorgon in the Gully and it centres around Danny Griggs (the little brother of Jonah from On The Jellicoe Road) and Melina assured us there be an appearance from Jonah himself. She also commented that it was a bit difficult writing such an innocent character, having been used to very sarcastic voices in her work.
- Obviously The Piper's Son revists "old territory", though Melina had never planned to write a sequel. If she had attempted it earlier, it would probably have focused on Will Trombal or Tara Finke, however, as Melina was writing Finnikin of the Rock, she found Tom's voice kept coming back. After "resisting more than a little bit", Melina said that she "really felt like I had no control over it ... Tom would just be in my ear the whole time".
- Melina spent a significant amount of time getting to know Tom - listening to his music and his conversations before she started writing The Piper's Son. She stated she didn't really want to push for the return of favourite characters, and loved the new characters Tom bought in.
- There was an excellent point raised by Nikki about the connections to the bigger world (politics, current affairs and world events in particular) in The Piper's Son. The novel is set in 2007, following a family still reeling from the aftermath of the London bombings, in which they lost a son/brother/uncle Joe. Then there's the plotline involving Tom Finch, Tom Mackee's paternal grandfather who went to fight for the War in Vietnam and his body was never recovered - so the Finch-Mackees are "a family who haven't been able to bury their dead". 2007 was also the year of a change in goverment in Australia with the election of Kevin Rudd.
- Nikki asked Melina is she thought her teen readers would get bored with adult storylines, which lead to a discussion around Georgie. Melina wanted to write about her generation and was able to do so through Georgie and was also able talk about Tom through her (and vice-versa).
- "I don't want to write perfect characters": discussion then went back to Tom - the way in which he starts out quite unlikeable, angry and ruining relationships and that he needs others to come help him out. Melina then discussed the way she was able to balance the tough scenes with humour and that Tom is a funny guy (which is so true - he can be a total smart-arse and I love it).
- This is about the point when I stop breathing - because Melina started talking about a review she read recently and mentioned that it called him a "loveable dickhead" and that was pretty accurate. Um, that was my review. So I kind of froze for the next five minutes and probably sat there with my mouth agape.
- One of my favourite parts (and I don't even think I mentioned this is my review - gah idiot!) was the relationship between Tom and Anabel, particularly through email. There's so much warmth in them, and as both Melina and Nikki noted, it's a very effective way in getting the reader to care for him "that he has so much time for a thirteen year old girl".
- Then there was a reading and the discussion starts to come back to Saving Francesca. One of the things I resonated most with Melina's statement about teenage girls in YA fiction - that they "always get bad press for bitchiness" and that it's often used to create tension amongst girls. The girls in Saving Francesca/The Piper's Son really love and look out for each other.
- The absence of Jimmy and Siobhan in The Piper's Son - even though neither is physically present, Nikki spoke of the way their absense speaks for them, and are part of the story even if not there.
- The Piper's Son is the first of Melina's novels which really mentions technology (the use of emails, Frankie recording music mixes for MySpace. What I thought was quite funnt was that she mentioned that really early on in Jellicoe Road the characters talk about not getting reception in the area, so that there's no reason why mobiles need to be used in (and would take away from the mystery and pace of the story).
- In the Q&A section at the end, one of the questions was about who inspired the characters and Melina had some great annecdotes. In short - Jimmy is based on a former student (who has now sorted himself out a lot, so she can't imagine writing another story for Jimmy), Tom is a combination of boys she taught, and that an old friend goes around telling people he was the inspiration for Jacob Coote in Looking for Alibrandi. He was not.