Prize-winning Australian author Glenda Millard, best known in the UK for The Kingdom of Silk series and A Small Free Kiss in the Dark talks about her new novel The Stars at Oktober Bend.
What was the inspiration for The Stars at Oktober Bend? Where did it start?
The seed from which this story grew was an article in a newspaper about a young girl who had successfully completed her schooling and won a scholarship to a prestigious conservatorium of music. What made the story stand out, was that this girl was homeless.
Based on the premise of this article, I began writing The Stars at Oktober Bend with the idea of creating a main character with a disadvantaged background who had enough self-belief to beat the odds. Initially I thought that Alice would be gifted with song, but then my daughter began to study for her Masters in Speech Pathology and I became interested in what she told me about speech disorders caused by trauma. The idea of writing a character who was deprived of, or prevented from, self-expression as a result of an acquired brain injury proved irresistible to me.
Alice uses verse to consider the things she can’t say. What was it like to write a novel part in prose and part in verse?
In some ways it was as though Alice and I were both telling the story. I allowed Alice her own form of expression, the poetic, while my prose was more the narrative which melded our individual strands together.
Would you ever consider writing a novel completely in blank verse?
Writing a verse novel would require great discipline and meticulous care in selecting words which express the intended message succinctly. Along with novels, I also write picture books which, I believe, have certain similarities to poetry because of the need to omit superfluous words. For me writing books is not simply about telling a story – I actually enjoy manipulating language and words and paring the narrative back. So I suppose that my answer to your question is, yes, I think I could see myself writing a verse novel.
The Stars at Oktober Bend is about a family tragedy as well as a personal story. How important in your writing are families?
Family is a common theme in most of my books – family in all its many and various forms including community. A sense of belonging is important to me and, I believe, to most of us, particularly to young people.
Setting and landscape, wildlife, are integral to the story too. Is that something you were conscious of when writing the book?
Yes, I was very conscious of setting throughout. Oktober Bend closely resembles the small town where I was born and lived for many years. So I am familiar with the local flora, fauna and weather patterns and I have an insider’s understanding of the way small towns work.
Despite the terrible things that have happened, The Stars at Oktober Bend ends on a note of hope. Was that important to you?
Absolutely. Hope is an essential ingredient to wellbeing, to life.
The Stars at Oktober Bend is published by Old Barn Books, £7.99 pbk.