Paddy Richardson is the author of five previous novels, The Company of a Daughter, A Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind, Traces of Red, Cross Fingers, and Swimming in the Dark. Her writing has appeared in journals, anthologies, and on radio, and she has been the recipient of the University of Otago Burns Fellowship, the Beatson fellowship, the University of Otago/James Wallace residency and the Foxton writer’s residency. Paddy has been a guest author at the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs. She lives in Dunedin, where she writes and teaches courses in creative writing. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her latest novel, Through the Lonesome Dark.
Tell us a little about Through the Lonesome Dark.
‘Through the Lonesome Dark’ begins in Blackball, a West Coast mining town, with three children, Clem Bright, Otto Bader and Pansy Williams, who are growing up together. Despite their promises to hold on to the intensely close friendship they share they are separated, first by the changes that young adulthood brings, and then by the first world war. Pansy remains in Blackball while Otto Bader, because of his German background is incarcerated on Soames Island and Clem Bright joins the New Zealand Tunnelling Company and serves in France.
What inspired you to write this book?
My inspiration for the novel came out of a chance remark from a Belgium family member who commented on the ties between Belgium and New Zealand because of the New Zealand soldiers who served there and then went on to talk about the tunnels discovered beneath Arras in the 1990’s which had been built by the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. What struck me most was that the tunnels and galleys had been given New Zealand place names and that image-the darkness of the closed up tunnels and those New Zealand names still there after so many years -stayed with me.
What research was involved?
Initially I started with the war itself – the background, how it started, what happened – then I moved on to mine warfare and everything I could find out about the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. That was quite difficult – there wasn’t much information about that particular company or, in fact, interest until quite recently. I was lucky in making contact with Sue Baker-Wilson from Waihi who has done a huge amount of research on the tunnellers and has set up a website about them. As well as that I read about Blackball and read diaries, novels and poetry related to the war. As much as I could I absorbed myself in the subject so that I could get the characters and settings as authentic as I possibly could. Then, when I had almost finished the novel I went to Northern Belgium and Arras. Walking around the war cemeteries, seeing where the battles had been fought and being in Arras-yes, I was able to go down into the tunnels!- made the novel come alive for me.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Before I started writing I read as much as I could, made notes, thought about the time and places the novel is set in and the possible characters. I originally started the novel with Clem in France but I wasn’t happy with that so I went to Blackball for my starting point. The novel moves between the two main characters, Pansy and Clem and between Blackball and France and the novel grew organically. In fact, it went off into directions I hadn’t expected and I’ve found that this is the best way for me to work – to write the story as it happens and then go back and do a lot of editing and shaping.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Clem plays the trumpet – I’d have to include ‘ Keep the Homefires Burning’ and ‘Now Is The Hour’ which he plays during the course of the novel. I’d also include ‘ Silent Night’ trumpet with piano if such a recording exists!
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Keisha Castle Hughes would make a good Pansy and I think Liam Hemsworth could be Clem.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
I found the research fascinating but what I really loved was when the characters became real to me. So real, in fact, that I started worrying about them even when I wasn’t writing.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I always celebrate finishing a first draft – that’s the hardest – by flopping onto the nearest sofa with bubbly wine. And a dinner out somewhere nice for the final draft. (I strongly believe in celebrating in stages along the way).
What is the favourite novel you have read so far this year and why?
John Boyne’s ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ wins that one. It is so funny I found myself laughing out loud on a plane trip to Wellington and so sad I cried. It is a marvellous novel, beautifully written and a wonderful main character and story.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m very tentatively starting work on something contemporary – maybe it’ll be crime but I’m just not sure. It’s been difficult to banish Clem and Pansy from my head and I’m wondering about a possible sequel to ‘Through the Lonesone Dark’ but perhaps that will come later.