From lovelocks to nine-letter words to drinking sea monkeys… author Fiona Wood talks about all the things she researched while writing Wildlife in today’s NOVL guest post.
About the Book: During a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating. New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can’t help but be drawn back into the land of the living. Fans of Melina Marchetta, Rainbow Rowell, and E. Lockhart will adore this endearing and poignant story of first love, true friendship, and going a little bit wild.
8 Things I Researched While Writing Wildlife by Fiona Wood
1. Drinking Sea Monkeys.
The first line of the first draft of Wildlife was, ‘I drank my sister’s sea monkeys, but I didn’t mean to.’ It was all about Sib – one of Wildlife’s two narrators – and her vagueness. I thought it was funny. I’d never heard of anyone doing it. How grossed out she’d be to realise she had drunk brine shrimp! Then I made the mistake of Googling ‘I drank sea monkeys’, which, alarmingly, offered the top response: ‘I drink sea monkeys’. Guess what? The whole world has been drinking sea monkeys. By accident. On purpose. For a dare. For a bet. For fundraising.
The idea lost its lustre. Idle desk research resulted in sea monkeys being demoted from page one and, finally, cut.
2. Wilderness campuses.
Some more methodical research included speaking to people who’d been to the sort of school where Wildlife is set. These schools – we have several in Melbourne – have dedicated wilderness campuses where groups of students board and combine outdoor education with the usual academic curriculum for a semester. I spoke to people now in their early twenties: fresh memories + perspective = ideal candidates. Most viewed the experience as the happiest, but also most challenging, of their school years. One person let me read all her letters home – they were full of beautiful extremes – injustices and triumphs.
I went to an alien (to me) part of the university (the science faculty) and asked an astronomer about lunar eclipses and star mapping and telescopes. “The moon is glowing red-orange and it’s like we’re standing on a new planet. I feel a rush of trust and hopefulness that I’ll be able to figure stuff out.”(Sibylla)
4. Runner’s Toe.
I quizzed some serious runners about injuries acquired in mountain-based cross-country running. People doing a lot of running in this terrain often lose their big toenails because they get so battered and bruised.
5. Solo hiking.
I hiked Mount Timbertop in the Victorian alpine region, where I stood out in the cold night air in the middle of nowhere and felt the fear and exhilaration of isolation, which I wanted to experience before I wrote Sib’s solo hike.
6. Nine-letter words.
When Sib decides she has to write a letter of apology ‘bristling with nine-letter words’ (there’s a good reason for this strange requirement) – I read nine-letter word vocab lists for days on end, and nearly went cross-eyed.
7. Jealousy and Betrayal.
I read and reread Othello. Holly, Sib’s so-called best friend, is partly based on Iago, and the students are also studying the play. “He said, I was wondering if you’d like to talk about jealousy, manipulation, betrayal and murder? For our class paper on Othello. I said, as luck would have it, jealousy, manipulation, betrayal and murder happen to be my favorite topics of conversation. Come on in.” (Lou)
Happenstance research – aka bumping into something that’s exactly what you want for your story. When I saw these lovelocks on a footbridge in Paris, I knew I had to find a way to put a padlock here in remembrance of Lou’s boyfriend, Fred.
By the time I’d finished the final draft of Wildlife, I didn’t even miss the sea monkeys, and I was quietly relieved I would never have to ‘research’ what they actually tasted like.
WILDLIFE has already won the Children’s Book of the Year award across the (big) pond in Fiona’s native Australia. Grab a copy when it goes on-sale September 16.