Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Interview with Dianne Wolfer:

Dianne, where did you get the idea for Lighthouse Girl?

DW: I began writing Lighthouse Girl after reading an article written by Ron Crittal in The Weekend Australian newspaper on April 23/24th 2005. This is the part that interested me:
Perth man Don Watson tells of his mother, Fay Catherine Howe, daughter of the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper. She was just 15 and stood on the island signalling to the departing fleet in morse code, almost certainly the last human contact with Australia. Numerous postcards came back to Albany from the Middle East, addressed to "The little girl on Breaksea Island".

I live in the south west and so I knew that in 1914 Albany was the last sight of Australian land for many of the young ANZAC soldiers sailing to Gallipoli. Although I was working on other projects, I kept thinking about the Little Girl on Breaksea Island and her soldiers. I tracked down Don Watson to find out more, and he was enormously generous in sharing his family’s story.

In 2006 I applied for a New Work Grant with ArtsWA (now called the Department of Culture and Arts).

Were you successful?

DW: Yes. At last I could take time out from other commitments to start fleshing out my notes and begin writing Fay’s story. I’d imagined a picture book along the lines of Photographs in the Mud, and so I had a 1200 word limit in mind. But the story kept growing. Fay had a lot to say.

Her story became longer and longer… It ended up being approximately 6000 words.
Isn’t that too long for a picture book?

DW: Yes, way too long! Cate Sutherland, the Children’s Publisher at Fremantle Press was great. She encouraged me to write till the end of the story and then we could look at how to structure it.

The book is unusual in that it has a lot of archival material as well as illustrations. How did that come about?

DW: Originally I wanted to include scans of Fay’s postcards, but sadly they were lost after she died. I’d seen some wonderful old photographs of the troopships in King George Sound and of the Breaksea Lighthouse, so I spent many hours tracking down old images and searching through microfilms of Albany Advertiser articles.

Are those articles real?

DW: Yes.

They tie in well with the illustrations…

DW: Brian’s charcoal images are lovely aren’t they? The originals are huge and I think their soft smudgy lines give a beautiful contrast to the archival work. Fremantle Press Designer, Tracey Gibbs also did a wonderful job. Lighthouse Girl was a collaboration between all of us; Cate, Tracey, Brian and me.

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