'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 22 August 2013

Guest Post: Anna Fienberg

KBR is delighted to welcome award-winning author Anna Fienberg, as she tells us the story behind her novel Horrendo's Curse, which has now been given new life as a graphic novel.

The novel Horrendo’s Curse was a joy to write. Creating pirates with dreadful manners and rude ways meant I had to become one of them, and so I felt strangely free (as well as a bit shocked at myself). ‘How far will we go?’ I often asked Squid or Dogfish, as they lay about the deck picking their teeth or squabbling with each other. 

Sometimes I laughed out loud at one of their particularly cunning insults. My dog Figaro, who liked to sleep on my feet as I wrote, probably didn’t enjoy the process as much as I did. He was forever leaping up in fright and bumping his head on the desk as I tried out a pirate curse or a new sword-fighting move.

I had a lot of fun with this book, but the origins of the story were far from funny. One night I watched a documentary about a small rural village where thirteen and fourteen-year-old girls were regularly stolen from their homes. Young men from a distant village came riding by on horses, picking up the girls they fancied. They slung them on the saddle behind, and then made the long ride back to their own village. There they ‘married’ the girls, who became mothers to their children. The girls were treated as domestic slaves, and most never saw their own families ever again.

On the screen, the misery of the girls was striking. And yet the girls’ own families seemed to accept this tradition as the way of the world, an unchangeable law that was even respected. In fact, when one of the girls escaped, she was found and punished by her own family for her ‘sins’.

After I switched off the TV that night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I was too angry and upset. I felt so keenly for those girls who had no choice in their destiny. But what continued to nag me well into the next day and the next, was the mystery of how those young men could live side by side with the women they’d stolen and not feel their misery. How could they? Where was their human empathy? How had they become so unfeeling?

Mostly, when an idea comes for a story, it arises out of an experience that is intense and deeply moving. You think about it constantly, wrestling with the emotions and thoughts … until eventually — enough! — you realise you have to write about it. And this is what happened to me after seeing this documentary.

I wanted to explore how and why people became uncaring, and have no feeling for the humanity of others. I wanted to try to make sense of things. But I knew I couldn’t write about this particular village — I didn’t know or understand the culture. And I wanted to take the subject further, to universalise it. And so I decided to write a story. Fantasy can explore aspects of human behaviour in a way that becomes even truer than real life.

What would happen, I wondered, if a huge dollop of pure kindness were cast into a brutal world? A continuous, unchanging, irritating itch of kindness? A boy called Horrendo, cursed by a charming spell …

The novel Horrendo’s Curse was published in 2001 and won an Honour award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The pencil illustrations scattered throughout by Kim Gamble (illustrator of the Tashi books) are loved for both their tenderness and cheeky scallywag quality. And now the book has become a graphic novel. Alison Koostra, who adapted the novel into this gorgeous comic book, consulted me on the development, and it was great fun! We laughed a lot together and swapped new and outrageous piratical insults. I also learnt a lot along the way. It was a little like seeing how how a screenplay might be written — all thoughts and description are translated into dialogue and action, and the exciting pictures by Remy Simard tell the story. In a way, the pictures become the narrator, and it all moves along at a fabulous pace.

I’m so happy that the story of Horrendo has come alive again in this different way. Maybe it will reach a new audience, who will perhaps enjoy the jokes as well as think a little about human kindness and what a real treasure that is in this world.

Horrendo’s Curse is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now at all good bookshops and online; $14.99 RRP.