Carole Wilkinson is the author of the bestselling, award-winning Dragonkeeper and Ramose series. Stagefright was her first attempt at young adult fiction. Visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your book series, Dragonkeeper. How did you get the idea for it? Did you carry out any research for the books?
I’d been to China for a holiday, and I wanted to write a historical book set there. I also wanted it to be a fantasy, a dragon story. The idea that really kicked off the series, the dragon pickling, came from a 2000-year-old Chinese history book called Annals of the Bamboo Books.
Yes, I did a lot of research. The original trilogy is set in the Han Dynasty and I knew nothing about that period before I wrote the book. So I had to find out everything I could. I also researched the characteristics of Chinese dragons found in myth and legend, so that my dragons would have some authenticity (eg. they like to eat roasted swallow, they are afraid of centipedes, they can shape change.)
I decided to set the second trilogy (beginning with Blood Brothers) 400 years after the first trilogy. This was because I wanted the baby dragon to have grown up, so that he was the equivalent of a teenage dragon. So I didn’t choose the era, and it turned out to be a time of imperial collapse and foreign invasion. A complete contrast to the ordered, sophisticated Han Dynasty. That meant more research, searching for the very limited information available about the period written in English. It was quite a challenge to imagine that time.
NAW- You have also written for young adults, can you tell us about Stagefright? How different is it writing for young adults as compared to children and which do you enjoy more?
I feel much safer with younger children. They appreciate a good page-turning yarn. They either like a book or they don’t. There’s no criticism, no putdown. It’s just a matter of taste. When I write for young adults, I am always aware of a more critical reader. Younger kids are loyal readers for quite a while, whereas teens are moving on all the time. So I find YA more challenging, but then I like a challenge.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Velvet S Pye. How did you develop the character?
As with all my female characters, there’s a bit of me in Velvet, but the initial spark for her was one of my daughter’s school friends. I don’t like books where the characters don’t grow much. They start off with a full deck of cards. They’ve always known they’re special and then they go and … be special. I wanted Velvet to have a level of academic confidence and superiority, but to learn that she needed something else — a little more humility, a little less pride. I didn’t know she was also going to be good at writing song lyrics. That was her idea!
NAW- How do you decide the names for your characters? Is it a random process or a well thought one?
Never random. Choosing names is very important. A character is just words on a page. You have to give the reader the information to imagine a fully formed, unique person. The name must be that person. It must reflect the time and the place that the story is set in, and the parents who chose the name(or the fact that the character has rejected the name his or her parents gave).
The names of my Chinese characters all have meaning (as all Chinese names do). I spend a long time working out what they will be. I had a lot of fun inventing the names of the dragons.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I always start with a plot, but it is inevitably thin in places. I like to know where I’m going with a story. I don’t think I’ve ever changed the ending of a story from the one I had in my head when I began each book. However, I often start the book knowing that the special spark that will give the story more umph is missing. I have to trust that it will come to me as I write. In my last book Shadow Sister (Dragonkeeper 5), some of the key ingredients (including ghosts and a lot of insects) weren’t in the story when I started to write. It is a pleasure and a relief when they emerge.
NAW- Who are your favourite authors? Are there any who have influenced your work?
I have favourite books, rather than favourite authors. I love a book that has the power to draw me in, make me live the story and regret that it’s over when I reach the end. There’s not one author that does that with every book. The most recent book that did that for me was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I missed the characters when it was over. Other authors who have achieved that for me are Tolkien, A S Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Tim Winton, Michael Ondaatje and Charles Frazier.
I suppose these writers influence me by making me always want to try harder. I’d be happy to write one sentence as well as these writers.
NAW- What are your upcoming works?
I am currently writing a non-fiction book which is causing me much grief, and I don’t want to talk about it for fear of hexing it. Then later this year I will begin Dragonkeeper 6. I am also researching an Australian history picture book that will have a similar format to The Night We Made the Flag (which is about the making of the Eureka flag).