We recently caught up with Belinda Castles who kindly gave us an exclusive interview:
Can you tell us about your book ‘Bluebottle’?
Bluebottle is a suspenseful (I hope!) family drama, in which the children of an unpredictable and sometimes frightening father come to suspect him of having done something terrible. Tensions rise over a hot day in a scruffy beach shack, and we see how the events of childhood shape the future for these kids in troubling ways as they grow into adults.
What motivated you to write this story?
The place I live, partly. It’s wild and coastal, separate to city life, and you can imagine all sorts of dramas hidden and revealed amid the bush gullies and beaches. But for some reason, I was also thinking about the effect of a certain kind of father on his children, the kind of man who is mercurial, and a bully, but also fun, adventurous—whose affection is a prize.
What kind of research do you do?
For this book, I deliberately chose a subject and setting that wouldn’t need much research, as I’d done a huge amount of work for my previous novel, Hannah and Emil, which was based on the lives of my grandparents. I did spend a lot of time thinking about the shape of this book, how to structure a story that deals with several perspectives, in two different time frames, and how to use that structure to build narrative momentum rather than stall it.
What did you edit out of this book?
I had a go at various adult perspectives; (apart from those of Lou, Jack and Phoebe Bright as they grow older). As the story took shape in my mind it became clear that the children’s limited knowledge about what was going on with their parents was an important part of the experience that shaped them and the beliefs they carry about their past. I cut out any perspectives apart from the kids’—I wanted the reader to feel that mystery too.
What’s the most common myth about writers?
Perhaps that it gets easier. Every book is its own almost unsolvable riddle!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Winning the Vogel [Literary Award] felt like dream stuff. The affirmation for a young writer is profoundly encouraging and sustaining. It’s like a cosmic tap on the shoulder that says: keep going.
What do you love most about what you do?
It’s very satisfying to fix the glitches. Novels are just big machines made of non-standard parts that have never been put together in this combination before. Sometimes a little bit of canny reengineering can really make it hum.
If you could tell your younger ‘writing self’ anything, what would it be?
Don’t worry. This will be a good life for you.
What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
It’s not necessarily underappreciated, in that it won the IMPAC prize, but Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson is not perhaps as widely known as it might be. It’s a phenomenal novel, perfect to me, about a man remembering his father’s part in wartime people smuggling across Scandinavian borders. It feels as though it’s not about very much at first; it’s slow and focused on practical matters of survival in a Norwegian lake house, and then you realise it’s about everything.
Who or what inspires you?
My daughters, they’re amazing. Funny, artistic, brave girls. We spent a few years in the UK recently and they just went off to school and made lives for themselves like it was no big thing. Other challenges too, some pretty hard stuff, they’ve just got on with it. I’m very proud of them and they make me braver.
Do you have any plans for the future?
More writing—a novel that needs me to pay it some attention, travel, when the stars align. I love to be somewhere else. Long walks on empty beaches. If I can squeeze a few of those in I’ll be happy.
About Belinda Castles
Belinda Castles won the Australian/Vogel’s literary award for The River Baptists in 2006 and was one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists for 2008. Her next novel, Hannah & Emil, won the Asher Literary Award for 2012-13. She has recently returned from teaching in the UK and is currently a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Sydney. Belinda lives with her husband and daughters on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.