Welcome Alicia Gilmore to my blog. I recently asked Alicia to talk about how she came to write her amazing novel Path to the Night Sea – here is what she shared with me.
On writing Path to the Night Sea
Path to the Night Sea started as a short story in a fiction class with Sue Woolfe. Sue had given the class a selection of photographs and objects to spark our creativity and give us a physical stimulus to write a short fragment. I remember a small glass perfume bottle and a photograph caught my attention. The photo featured a woman in profile, seated at a piano, her hands poised to strike the keys. There was a cat sitting on top of the piano, and I wondered if these were the two most important things in her life – music and her pet. I started to write about this woman who would sit and play, not looking out of the curtained window, but indoors with her cat. Her face in profile, her ‘good side’… The perfume bottle that perhaps had belonged to a woman who would never get old. A bottle that held scented memories… Ideas and elements came together and what is now a lot of Day One in the novel formed the original short story. Sue read the story, said I had written the start of a wonderful novel and she had to know what happened to Ellie. I realised so I wanted to know too.
The story became darker the more I delved into Ellie’s world. Seven days seemed the fitting structure for Ellie to be introduced to the reader and for her to seek her path, tying in with the religious dogma she’d heard from her Grandmother and Father. Listening to music by Nick Cave and Johnny Cash helped me establish the mood at times and gave me the impetus to embrace the flaws and the darkness within my characters, especially Arthur. When I was writing the first drafts, I was living near the beach and the waves, particularly during storms, formed a natural soundtrack. If I peered out from my desk, I could catch glimpses of the ocean. By the time editing was underway, I had moved to a house that backed onto the bush and had inherited a cat. Listening to the raucous native birds, possums scurrying up trees and across the roof at night, dealing with the odd snake and lizards, plus watching the cat, heightened those natural elements of the story.
I was concerned about and for my characters. I needed to ensure that Arthur in particular had moments, however fleeting, when he was ‘human’, and that Ellie, despite her circumstances, not be passive. Ellie had to find the courage to fight for herself or remain lost to the world forever. I found myself going off in tangents in early drafts with minor characters and subplots but judicious readers and editing brought the focus back to Ellie and Arthur, and the confines of restricted world they inhabit.
I had thought of letting Ellie go one morning years ago when I woke up and heard the news about Elizabeth Fritzl kidnapped and abused by her father. In my drowsy state listening to the radio, the reality of her situation came crashing in and I wanted to put my humble writings aside. What was fictional pain in the face of such devastating reality? As the recent shocking events in California this week have shown – thirteen children being trapped and chained at home by their parents – a nondescript house on the street can hide the most unimaginable terrors. Path to the Night Sea is my way of using language to explore familial dysfunction, small town horror, and ultimately, hope.