From 2010 DVD – special features
What sparked the idea for TWTWB?
‘Imagining a world without adults … I had read a lot about WWII when I was a teenager … wondered how I would have coped … could I have survived.’
Books ‘crystallise in my mind and just very very slowly evolve into something that’s ready to be written.’
TWTWB came partly out of a desire to revive the adventure story for younger readers – like when Marsden himself was a kid. From these books he learnt ‘The way you achieve tension is largely by putting in lots of detail and just making the reader suffer through a long agonising period of time which goes contrary to most impulses; you want to get to the action quickly but in fact it’s holding back and just doing it bit by bit that makes it more dramatic.’
Marsden heard Ellie’s voice on a trip back from the tip in a Land Rover. He had been wanting to write the book for years but needed the character’s voice before he could write it. From then on it took eight months to write. The last 6000-8000 words were written in a ‘white-hot’ state: ‘totally engaged with the writing.’
Why someone like Ellie as the main character?
‘She represented a certain group of people … the people who are from farms, who can turn their hand to many things … yet they’re also intelligent reflective thoughtful people with insight with humour.’
Important aspects to Ellie’s character.
‘She’s honest … honest about herself. When she does something badly, when she’s unpleasant to others, she recognises it, she acknowledges it and she’s ready to recognise that’s something she’s stuffed up … She’s got a sense of humour, which is important, she’s loyal to her friends, she’s loyal to her family, she feels very deeply about her family and the land, the heritage, the farm, the whole thing. So all of that I hope comes through in the portrayal in the book.’
Why use a female voice?
‘If I’m writing about someone who’s feeling very powerful emotions and going through a harrowing time, I tend to use a female voice I think because partly I was brought up in an era where men didn’t have feelings or if we did we certainly didn’t know how to express them … I still to this day am a little uncomfortable with the idea of having feelings so I find it easier to five them to a female character or endow a female character with them.’
Are the other characters stereotypes?
‘I try to write about ordinary people so I suppose they would look as though they’re stereotypes to some extent … In real life someone who goes to war does have very strong feelings and ambivalent feelings and conflicting feelings unless they’re completely psychotic and so I wanted to make sure that that was there in the book.’
‘Homer was based a little on a guy I used to teach … He’s very typical of young Australian males who perhaps don’t have enough responsibility in their lives or they don’t have designated roles so they don’t know what they’re meant to do, they go to school and they go home and … It’s like they’re on hold, they’re on pause for ten years and I think they find that very frustrating.’
Homer and Ellie are based on real people.
The role of empathy in the novel.
‘It is the great human characteristic it is so powerful and so essential and the lack of it of course makes you a psychopath. It’s really imagination because if you have empathy it means you can imagine yourself in someone else’s position … To acquire that skill [to be able to walk in someone else’s shoes/have empathy] I think is helped a lot by fiction. And I suspect that people who read a lot probably are more likely to feel empathy than people who don’t or to put it another way, reading is a good way to help acquire empathy because the more you read about other people’s situations the more you start to feel their feelings and thing their thoughts and understand their lives and that makes you less likely to act cruelly or unkindly…