You might recall I published my review of The Shark Caller a few weeks ago. Today I welcome author Dianne Wolfer to Just So Stories!
- Dianne, first of all, can you just give the readers a little insight into your passion for writing? When did you first think you could write for an ‘audience’?
I have always loved reading and since high school days, have jotted down ideas. Collecting my thoughts on paper seems to somehow help me make sense of the world. I think we all need a creative outlet, something to be passionate about. For some it will be drawing, music, sport or sharing ideas through public speaking. I began shaping ideas into stories and non-fiction after leaving college, when I backpacked across Asia. I was 21 and taught in a remote part of Nepal for a year. There was plenty of time for me to turn thoughts into stories and think about a possible audience.
- I read some of the history of The Shark Caller’s genesis but can you describe your motivation/inspiration for the narrative?
The earliest idea sparks for The Shark Caller began around 10 years ago whilst diving with family on reefs in Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands. The underwater world fascinated me and interacting with marine creatures triggered my imagination. Those first story ideas mixed with my interest in other cultures and my love of the dramatic south-west, coast particularly places like Greens Pool which in my mind is the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’. As I became more aware of increasing environmental threats to Pacific waters, some of these factors became additional threads and inspiration for the narrative.
- How connected do you feel with the PNG/New Ireland traditions and culture?
As an interested observer, I feel very connected, but have no familial link to PNG. The story is inspired by family travels to several Pacific regions. I’ve snorkelled and dived in the Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and Vanuatu, as well as different parts of PNG (Rabaul, Walindi and Loloata). My sister and brother-in-law worked in PNG for many years and speak Tok Pisin. Through them, I met interesting people.
- Why is it important for young people to be able to explore these other cultures through literature?
Exploring stories through the eyes of diverse characters promotes empathy and our troubled world urgently needs that…
- Is the Shark Caller based on fact and if so, how much research was done and how did you set about finding out these traditions?
There is a traditional cultural practise called shark calling and shark feature prominently in the stories, art and dance of many Pacific communities. I have visited the region near the few remaining shark-calling villages, but not the communities themselves. There are several reasons for this; firstly the villages are not easy to travel to and conditions need to be favourable before the callers go out. More importantly, my story is fictitious; it is inspired by a range of factors. My research involved wide reading and Internet scanning not only of Pacific traditions. I also needed to find out about different sharks and octopus, deep-sea fish, milky seas, rising levels of ocean acidity, logging issues, unsustainable fishing practices, underwater vents and the creatures that live by them. It’s been an interesting journey.
- Can you tell us about your younger life and what the younger Dianne was like?
I had a pretty normal upbringing until was ten; living in outer suburbia, having adventures with friends, catching tadpoles, building cubbies in paddocks and exploring building sites. That all changed when my dad accepted a job in Thailand. My sister and I didn’t want to go, but the move ended up being great. We were enrolled at an international school and learnt rude words in several languages. Living in Bangkok fostered a love of travel and changed the path of my life.
- Have you had personal experience of ‘straddling’ two cultures?
Yes, several times. After my family moved from suburban Melbourne to a traditional area of Bangkok, I was dropped into another very different culture. My parents encouraged us to embrace local customs. We shopped at the market, went to school in a tuktuk and during Songkran threw water over everyone. We had three Thai dogs that were very dingo-like. During a time of recurring nightmares, making offerings at the spirit house in our garden helped me settle. I’ve been open to different beliefs ever since. After graduating from college I worked in a remote area of Western Nepal, and a few years later, lived in downtown Tokyo for three years. My late husband was German, so I have German nieces and Chinese/Canadian/German nephews. Straddling cultures is a normal part of my life.
- What would you like readers to take away from The Shark Caller?
I hope readers will simply enjoy The Shark Caller and become lost in the story. I don’t write to impart messages, but my concern for our marine environment probably comes through. If some readers become interested in helping our oceans and the creatures that live in them, then I’d love that. Having lived overseas I know that people of different cultures share core beliefs. The ‘Golden Rule’, being kind and looking after the less fortunate is the bedrock of most communities. Perhaps through my story readers who have not yet travelled will become curious to learn more about neighbouring cultures.
- Tell us about your preferences with reading – authors, titles etc……..did you read as a child?
There are way too many to list. I read across genres, but love historical fiction and animal stories. As a child, books were given as birthday or Christmas treats. They were read over and over. When a library van began coming to our suburb, I was in heaven. Each fortnight I hurried up the front steps of the bus to receive my 6 tickets and choose my next adventures.
These days I read at least one adult title each month for bookgroup, and try to keep up with the output of YA/children’s author friends. My PhD focus on animal stories has slowed down my general reading and there is a towering pile of books beside the bed. I also love picture books, the collaboration between illustrator and author fascinates me….
- What are your personal feelings about sharks? For example, do you have a strong opinion about ‘shark culling’ in Australia and other places?
I love swimming, snorkelling and diving, but understand that when entering the marine environment there may be sharks. I live on the south-west coast and our sharks are huge, but I don’t agree with current cull suggestions. I believe more research needs to be undertaken to find out why there are so many more attacks. And then we need to act on that research (ie audio or visual deterrents). Luckily for me, the local beach now has a shark net – that helps me feel safer.
- What is your next project?
Completing my PhD. I was fortunate to receive a UWA scholarship to research a PhD in Creative Writing, focusing on Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature. The Shark Caller was one of my two Creative Works and I am completing another YA novel using another animal POV. The second story, exploring the experiences of a dog in northern Australia during WW2, links to the bombing of north-west towns including Broome, Marble Bar and Port Hedland. The narrator is a dog whose young owner has been evacuated south. The remaining PhD task is completing my exegesis.
- How do you approach your writing? What is your ‘office’ like? Are there techniques, activities, feelings etc that fuel your writing?
My office is what my daughter describes fondly as organised chaos. Although I am constantly writing and rewriting a current work, my imagination keeps leading me off on exciting new tangents… The way I manage this is by buying plastic tubs and folders. That’s my secret; when an idea takes off, keep everything relating to a certain project in a separate folder. When it grows beyond the folder, put it in a tub. It’s messy but doable, and every couple of weeks I have a clear-up of tubs and folders. Once I complete a draft I will print it and take it to the balcony with a cup of tea to edit and rework. I then type these changes in and the process repeats itself. I also run my drafts past family and a few friends for their input. As far as a daily routine, if I am not at a school or library, the morning is my most productive writing time. After dinner I often print a chunk of writing to edit. That way I have something to type into my manuscript the next morning; a hook to get back into it. When I get stuck, I take the dog for a long walk.
- What does the private Dianne enjoy? What is important to you?
Family is the most important thing, and I love travelling. With relations living in different states and overseas, I often combine both. Other things I enjoy (besides swimming and snorkelling) are reading, catching up with friends and walking (along the beach/through the bush). Walking helps me solve plot problems and gives me fresh ideas.
- What project is next in your career?
After completing my PhD, my next project will be to research and begin writing the third (and final) novel in the Lighthouse Girl/Light Horse Boy trilogy. This third title will focus on the story of Rose and the experiences of WW1 nurses. And, separately, if all goes well, Nanna’s Button Tin a picture book in production with Walker Books will be released in 2017.
- What other jobs have you done? Was there something that was ‘the worst’ ever?
When we were little, my sister and I came up with all sorts of money-making plans; squashing flower petals to make ‘perfume’ to sell to my grandma, lemonade stands and art shows for the public (not many people attended). Then my aim was to be ‘the lady with the torch’ (an usher) when I grew up, because going to the movies was such a special thing. During high school I worked part-time in my mother’s shop and was a waitress through college years when I trained to be a teacher. Since then, I’ve taught all ages from toddlers to people in their eighties. Visiting schools across Australia as an author is great as I get to work with students without having to do yard duty and reports. As for worst-evers, I’d better not go there, but the best ever (besides now) was teaching at ASIJ in Tokyo. It’s the oldest international school in Asia and their staff and policies were inspiring.
Dianne Wolfer, thank you so much for your time and answers! It’s been such a pleasure to read your responses :-).