Meanwhile, here is my interview with Darren Groth, re-printed with the kind permission of Bookseller and Publisher magazine:
1. Kindling is instantly recognisable as an Australian story. Fear of fire is seared into our national psyche, or at least into the psyche of suburban fringe dwellers. You now live in Canada . Did you have to leave Australia in order to get enough perspective to write the story?
Not at all. Where I happened to be whilst writing Kindling didn’t really factor into getting it down on the page. I wrote the first half of the story before we moved, and had we stayed in Australia, Kindling still would’ve have turned out quite similar to what it is today. Regarding perspective, the Black Saturday bushfires provided plenty; not so much in terms of the story (I was nearing the end of the draft when the tragedy occurred), but more from the point of view of being an Australian living overseas. Looking at the online newspapers, reading the stories, seeing the terrible photos, I felt a very deep sense of shock, sadness and dislocation. I felt I couldn’t adequately convey to the Canadian people around me the horror of the situation, nor the sense that this affected me in a way that emphasized my difference and relative isolation.
2. How did you manage to capture the voice of the autistic boy with such authenticity?
My eight year old son has autism. When I began the work, he was five. In imagining Kieran, I started with what I’d seen and heard and experienced with my boy. Kindling has numerous things going on that are recognizable to my wife and I. A good example is the three books Kieran is interested in at the Garretts’ house. Those books were my son’s favourites (he still pulls out the ‘Golden Retriever’ one every now and again). He would routinely “read” them, looking at the cover and poring over the pages and photos. Tidbits like these were combined with the learnings I’d accumulated as the parent of an autistic child. I also got out the crystal ball a bit, tried to imagine the autistic experience at ten years of age. I’m pleased beyond words that people feel I’ve captured Kieran authentically. Ensuring he was believable and true was important for my son, the autistic community, and obviously for Kindling itself.
3. Is this a story about an autistic boy running away to a suburban fire or is there something deeper going on?
At face value, Kindling reflects much of my work to this point. It is a small, simple story, chronicling small, good people contending with big, bad life challenges. Beneath that, there are certainly some deeper layers I wanted to dig into. The idea of heroism. Of making amends for past wrongs, perceived or otherwise. The prevailing definitions, descriptors and stereotypes that govern society’s understanding (or lack thereof) of autism. And the notion of respect for difference; how we treat others who challenge the construct of what is “acceptable” and “normal”.
4. You describe yourself as an author and a mentor. Did you receive mentoring and how did it affect your writing?
I was exceptionally fortunate to be awarded a mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors in 1999 for the partial ms of my second novel, Most Valuable Potential. I got to work with Veny Armanno and the wisdom I gained from that experience has stayed with me throughout the years. From invaluable and personalised guidance on the craft to industry insider tips; the generous sharing the writer’s journey to the ongoing ad hoc advice…there’s no better external learning resource for an emerging author than a good mentor.
5. There is a distinct maleness to Kindling. Do you think you depicted a particularly Australian masculinity?
I’m not sure if, at its core, the masculinity depiction is specifically Australian. I’d like to think the more noteworthy actions of “maleness” in the story – intelligence, protectiveness, compassion, respect, humour – belong to a notion of honourable manhood that is universal. I’d also argue that Kindling doesn’t have any males that I would term “hero”. For me, the only true hero of the story is Nate’s wife, Liss.
6. Kindling certainly tugs at the heartstrings. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it. What emotions were uppermost in your mind when you wrote the story – forgiveness? acceptance?
I definitely wanted the reader to have a wide variety of meaningful emotional responses throughout the story. The whole gamut really – joy, fear, relief, tension, whimsy, distress, triumph…but no pity. Sympathy, yes; sorrow, no. It was vital that none of the main characters came across as a hapless victim. Everyone had challenging trials to deal with and, in most cases, they got knocked down. But no one stayed down. They climbed back on to their feet and continued forward. In the end, I hope that is Kindling‘s enduring gift to the reader: each frontline person in its pages took up the gauntlet and did the best they could.