It’s Written In The Stars

australian author Helen Edwards how to start writing a novel

Why does a writer choose a particular story? Or does the story choose them? How are characters developed, and why would you pick a certain town or region to set your book in? These questions and many more fill your head when you start writing a book. If you are creating a world, somewhere that doesn’t exist, there are still so many things you have to consider.

I love to read stories about people and real places. I also love fantasy, having grown up with writers like Tolkien. Anne McCaffrey is an absolute all time favourite, and I have many memories of being engrossed in her stories of the Dragon Riders. But what I really like the best, is to read about human beings and their experiences in real life. One of my all time favourite series of books is the Tillerman Cycle, by Cynthia Voigt. I have gone back and re-read these numerous times over the years. Anne Tyler is also a huge favourite. So when I started deciding on a novel, it was always going to be set in current times, in real places. As a social worker for many years, my passion for stories has only grown stronger as I worked with a diverse range of people.

When I started researching the middle grade novel I am writing, I had a few things pop into my head about the main character:

  • it would be a girl
  • there would be anxiety in her life
  • she would feel small
  • she would discover these things are not weaknesses
  • she would discover her courage

When I started to look at where to set my book, I knew it would be in current times, in Australia. I was captured by all of the news about the impact of the drought on our farming families. I grew up in rural South Australia. We were not farmers but all of our lives were affected by what was happening on the land. The calendar was focused on the cycles of the crops and seasons, sporting events and the way the community would come together. Rain was critical – not too much, not too little, not at the wrong time. Many of the kids I went to school with at our local area school, were from farms. The bus would collect them from all across the peninsula, and bring them to school. I have lived in a city for most of my life, but the country is where my heart is. Whenever we travel to our beach shack where I grew up, I feel the pull to stay. Roadtrips across Australia are my absolute favourite holiday. I love going through all of the little towns along the way, with huge expanses of open countryside. It is incredible how much of Australia is similar, yet so diverse.

So, it was always going to be rural. My muse was telling me that the story was set in the drought. That there would be a significant event connected to that, which would lead to the main character’s discovery of her bravery. In my research, I needed things to align, the time of year, the weather, the temperature, the impact of the drought. I considered areas local to me, but they were not quite right for this particular story. I then came across the issues facing Coonabarabran. It was reported in August that along with the drought stricken farmers, the town’s water supply is critical, with only 23 per cent left in the dam. All of the articles I was reading were filled with people’s courage against adversity. The images filled my head with stories. Added to this was the discovery that this town is also situated in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, with the Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park on their doorstep, and the Siding Spring Observatory.

Australia’s first and only Dark Sky Park is 24 hectares of publicly accessible land with exceptional skies. There is nothing as spectacular as seeing the sky uninterrupted by light pollution. Recognised by the International Dark Sky Association, the park possesses an “exceptional quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” Read more here and see what made me fall in love with this setting.

If there were no barriers or fears for me associated with flying into space, I would be the first person lining up. The sky has always fascinated me, and in particular the night sky. I grew up on Dr Who with all those stories about other worlds, other beings, other possibilities. We are all star dust and the connection to those beautiful twinkling lights runs through our blood.

Siding Spring has Australia’s largest optical telescope, and is within the park boundary. It shares the title of the Astronomy capital of Australia with several privately owned public observatories. This and the National Heritage listing makes the Warrumbungle National Park the perfect place to visit for people wanting to gaze at the stars, walk through incredible bush, experience nature and have a unique experience. It also makes it the perfect destination for my story. So many possibilities!

With all of this decided, I confirmed my memories with my parents that we had visited here when I was a girl. And the story backdrop was set. I have begun researching, contacting local people, and most of all writing. The story is taking shape and I am excited about where it is taking me. Perhaps for me, the story is written in the stars.

Have you written a story and how did you start? I would love to hear your process and journey


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