So the name is Spanish for ‘miracle’ but that in itself doesn’t have any real significance other than being a really pretty word. The location of Under Ten Thousand Stars, however, is another matter entirely. I’d written in a previous post about the challenge I was having with it. The issue started a few months back when I decided to shift the story from the beautiful Yarra Valley to the equally picturesque Red Hill hinterland. The decision wasn’t made lightly. Indeed, I’d been grappling with the location for a while now – wondering why I couldn’t connect with it, wondering if that might be the reason why the story seemed a little unfocused. After all, the essential ingredients were there: a winemaker and his artist wife living in a bucolic country town. What more could you want? The problem, it turned out, wasn’t them. It was me.
It all boiled down to one thing – something so fundamental and, now, so patently obvious that I’m wondering why I didn’t figure it out earlier – and that was connection. I couldn’t connect with the place because I had no compelling reason to do so. Of course, it’s not at all necessary to be invested in the location of a story to write a good one, because, let’s face it, I’m pretty sure the author of The Martian never actually went there but still managed to write a cracking bestseller all the same, but for me – and for this story at least – it was very important. And the reason for that was even more simple. I grew up in wine country – the exact same place where Under Ten Thousand Stars is now set – and, in fact, my very first memory of lush rolling hills are those of the Red Hill hinterland. Garcia Marquez had said the same thing about Aracataca, his home town, and the inspiration for Macondo. Those rolling hills are the place where I feel my soul is at peace, and now the setting for this novel; they are home. And the thing about home is that it takes your heart and never lets go. This new setting gave the story a new focus, a direction it did not have before. So it was a smart, albeit belated, move.
So now what?
Well, it would be easy to say that everything has fallen into place just beautifully since then, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I’m still struggling with my characters a bit. Take my main protagonist Julia, for example. Beautiful, smart, talented and, as my wonderfully insightful and brilliant editor pointed out, kind of a whinger! She’s got it all, really – an artist on the cusp of greatness, married to a wonderful man, living in a beautiful house, plenty of disposable income from all those commissions, and still she’s complaining. I think it’s because I don’t know her well enough yet; I haven’t delved deeply enough into why she is behaving the way she is. I need to find that connection, because if I can’t connect with her then I certainly can’t expect my readers to do so. It’s the same thing with the other characters – they need to be fleshed out, their motivations, fears and hopes all need to be explored. It is daunting, but exciting too. As I heard someone say recently, authors have the experience and then they get to write about it so, really, they get to live twice. I love that idea. It’s like Groundhog Day, only you are in charge of the story, and can turn it into this thing of beauty that exists in your head. And so, with a couple of big old palm trees planted at the entrance to Michael’s winery as a nod to Macondo, I’m on a roll. We’ll see how long the inspiration lasts, but for the moment it is all going well. I’ll keep you posted!
IF YOU KNOW A LITTLE bit about me you’ll know that my favourite author of all time – and the reason I became an author in the first place – is the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was 18, and the story with its rainstorms that lasted 100 years and the fantastical and fabled Macondo stayed with me ever since. So it’s probably no surprise, then, that the fictional town of Milagros in my current novel pays homage to that great place.
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