Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Bunyip Wakes

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist.

The Bunyip Wakes (Post 25)

In Post 23, (Bunyips Don't), I mentioned this 1996 picture book wasn't my first venture into Bunyip territory. That was twelve years before when I wrote The Bunyip Wakes (1984). It's a long time ago, and although I can remember some things about writing it, I don't remember why I first decided to write about a bunyip. I do remember doing some research first, ad being confused by the different pictures and descriptions I found. Bunyips, I concluded, are like dragons. One person's vision is utterly different from someone else's.

Fantasy set in Australia has a few difficulties for the writer. Many of the familiar fantasy creations just don't fit our environment. We don't have any four-century-old houses, or ancient tombs. I made three decisions regarding my bunyip. Bear in mind that these decisions were made in 1983, based on what was generally known/believed then. 

1. I decided to capitalise on the brief period of European settlement in Australia instead of letting it be a liability.
2. I decided I wouldn't be tied to anyone else's vision of a bunyip.
3. At school I'd been taught the original inhabitants of Tasmania were not the same, culturally speaking, as the original inhabitants of the mainland states. Therefore, if anyone challenged my vision of the bunyip, I could explain it was a Tasmanian bunyip and thus different from the mainlanders.

A long time ago, the bunyip went into hibernation in a swamp. Decades passed, and the land changed about it. Fast forward to the late 20th Century, and Adam Penrose's dad decides to dig a dam on his sheep property. All the noise and vibration wakes the bunyip, who surfaces and finds itself in a strange world.

Young Adam meets and befriends the bunyip and, when it discovers its old world is gone, he agrees to help it get up to speed with life in the 1980s. Comic adventures ensue, culminating in the appearance of another bunyip.

The oddest thing about The Bunyip Wakes, I think, is the cover. The bunyip is described in the text as somebody who can be (and is) mistaken for a human in a wet suit. Ahem.  Add an illustration showing an indubitable koala up a gum tree, (thus proving the setting cannot be the real Tasmania) and the plot thickens. Conventional wisdom in the 2000-teens say the role of book covers is to attract readers, and not necessarily to reflect the actual content of the book. I think this interpretation came about at some point in the later 1990s, because that, as I recall, is when book covers changed to incorporate computer-generated and manipulated stock images. I might be wrong there, but that's my impression. The cover art for The Bunyip Wakes isn't a stock image, but it does fit the bill of being more about attracting readers and less about being specific to the story. Perhaps in this area it was ahead of its time.   

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