Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sydney Opera House - Josh Lacey

I read a story once about John Buchan. I can't remember where or when. If I could, I'd look it up and reprint it here rather than telling it in my own words.

Maybe someone knows where to find it and can point me in the right direction. If so, I'd be very grateful.

Anyway, the story went something like this.

John Buchan was planning to write a novel about Canada. He had never been there and wouldn't have a chance to go before starting work. Luckily, his son-in-law was Canadian and so Buchan decided to ask him for some help.

When they next met, Buchan asked his son-in-law for ten facts about Canada. The son-in-law came up with one fact, then another and a third - at which point Buchan stopped him.

Thank you very much, he said. Now I know enough about Canada to set a novel there.

I thought about this story when I wrote my most recent book, Grk Down Under, which is published this month.


This is the seventh Grk book. Each of them is set in a different country. I've visited most of the countries, but not Australia, and I knew I wouldn't have time to go there.

I thought about imitating Buchan: collaring an Australian and asking them for ten facts about their country. But I don't have his insouciance.

Instead, I read books about Australia. I watched movies. I talked to people who had been there. I imagined the trip that I would have made. And once all that research was almost forgotten, the images fading into the black depths of my memory, I could start writing.

Now, if people ask whether I've ever been to Australia, I hesitate for a moment before replying. Because I almost have. I've imagined myself there. I've stood on the steps of the Syndey Opera House and watched the audience arrive for that night's performance. I've flown over the endless empty miles of the outback and sheltered under the shade of a eucalyptus tree. And, as far as my memory is concerned, that's pretty much the same as actually having been there.

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14 comments:

Anne Cassidy said...

I've never murdered anyone or seen any one dead. I've written about a lot of murders and dead bodies though. I think you can get away with these things with the general public. If I read a book about a brian surgeon I'll believe it if it sounds authentic. A brian surgeon will not. An Australian person might not believe your story????

Anne Cassidy said...

Or it could be a BRAIN surgeon. Duh!

catdownunder said...

Right, I live Downunder - have not yet read the book but when I do I will let you know shall I? The only problem is the Australia is a VERY big place and parts of it are very different from other parts. Sydney is nothing like Adelaide (which is where I am right now). But of course it is possible to write about places you have never visited - and things you have never done!

Nicola Morgan said...

Josh - I loved (and identified with it) when you said you had to hesitate because you felt you'd almost been there. I so know that feeling! It can be quite confusing sometimes...

Gillian Philip said...

I can really relate to this, Josh! I've had to write about places I've never been. It helps that nowadays you can go on a virtual walk round the New York Public Library or read the blog of someone who's just done their daily shopping in Prague (or wherever)... It's difficult but possible, I think, especially if you stick with small details and atmosphere.

I got a kick out of a review the other day (of the Darke Academy series) that said the author had obviously only set the stories in different cities 'so she'd have an excuse for tax-deductible foreign holidays.' The company I write them for are lovely, but exotic hols they do not provide!

madwippitt said...

Hey! Why haven't I ever had an Grk books to review for Your Dog? They sound fun!

Josh Lacey said...

Thanks for all your comments! And I did ask my publishers to send a copy of Grk Down Under to Your Dog - did it never arrive?

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I think a good editor or art director should pick up on things that don't quite fit. I remember seeing Mount Kilamanjaro and proteas all in the same illustrations in John Steptoe's Mufaro's Beautiful Daughter. Like Australia... Africa is a big continent and proteas are peculiar to an area around Cape Town and not Tanzania. It's a small point and sounds pernickerty but it tripped me up each time I looked at the illustrations.

madwippitt said...

Josh - no not arrived as far as I know, I shall check.

Jan Markley said...

As a Canadian I'd love to hear the three facts about Canada. I'm sure it has something to do with winter, polar bears and hockey ;-j

Gillian Philip said...

Ooh, Jan - I was going to add something about Canada and forgot - because Stef Penney famously wrote The Tenderness of Wolves without ever going to Canada. Did you read it and did it ring true to you?

Miriam Halahmy said...

I think that's very brave Josh and I admire it. Its something I'm not sure I can do, although my novel, HIDDEN, has a lot about Iraq in it and I've never been there. But I've heard a lot about the country from family and friends. I still don't feel confident enough to set a book there. I loved the idea that Buchan only needed three facts to write about Canada. What confidence!

madwippitt said...

Grk has arrived safely for review and is having it's cover photographed ... OH is an Aussie so it'll have an extra added interest for me!

Katherine Langrish said...

Mind you, Buchan ended up as Governer General of Canada. So perhaps he caught on rather fast!